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Sundance is Here and The World Discovers Women Can Direct

by Melissa Silverstein
January 24, 2011 5:10 AM
2 Comments
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It feels like "Groundhog Day." The most visible film festival in the US and one that showcases independent films and SURPRISE there are women making great films around town. It's not news that there is a disparity between the movies released around the country on a weekly basis and the films that appear at film festivals, including Sundance. The local multiplexes are dominated by big action thrillers, sequels, romantic comedies, animated fare, 3-D extravaganzas - you get the drift. They try and target these to the widest audience to make the most bang for the buck before the next film comes along to take over.

This cycle has been going on for at least a decade if not longer. Women, in general, do not (and are not) allowed or interested in directing these types of films. The highest grossing film directed by a woman in 2010 was The Last Song, directed by Julie Anne Robinson which is number 51 on box office mojo's list of films with a domestic gross of almost $63 million.

Of course people think women can't direct because we don't see women's names as the directors of big films. It's the grandest catch -22. We won't hire a woman to direct a big tent-pole type picture because no women direct those types of films; but a woman can't prove that she can do it until she gets hired.

In a NY Times piece this weekend, the new president of Women in Film Cathy Shulman (the producer of Crash) was brutally honest in saying: "I realize this is a little controversial to say, but some women directors need to work harder to cross over from show to business...” So is she saying that the way more women will get more gigs as directors is to make crappy unwatchable movies with big effects and big budgets that can gross a lot of money? Will we achieve parity when women can be as mediocre as their male counterparts? Is that what we are striving for?

More importantly, do women even want to direct these types of movies? For me, it has always been about how women, and women's stories are valued in the culture. We should gauge a director's success of how much money their movie makes compared to how much it cost them to make it. If you make more money than you spent you should be looked at as a successful director no matter if it is $1 million or $40 million. But then I don't run Hollywood.

[A digression: Don't get me started about how the piece continues to push the sexist double standard about how women have to balance work and family more than their male counterparts so that limits their ability to direct. Ask any woman director and she will tell you that in order to get her movie done, she would figure it out. Some women bring their kids to the set. What we should be talking about is how in 2011 is how inflexible the moviemaking industry is to women and people with fmailies, and also about how women are still the ones doing the lion's share of child rearing. Don't blame the women because they want to have kids.]

But at least we have a place like Sundance, which unlike other festival like Cannes, prides itself on diversity and supporting women. It's not perfect -- or equal -- but it is a hell of a lot better. Women directors have won two recent prizes: last year Debra Granik's Winter's Bone won, and in 2008, Courtney Hunt's Frozen River won.

Sundance is the launching pad for women directors and their careers. Ask any woman director. It's a place where you can see women's vision on display "as if women mattered." Isn't that what we want from movies in general? If I was in Sundance I'd be dancing a jig at the options of women directed films to see.

Maybe next year.

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2 Comments

  • Leena Pendharkar | January 25, 2011 5:03 AMReply

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for this post. I found the NY Times to be incredibly condescending and ridiculous, as well. This whole notion that we should all direct action movies just plain sucks. And the baby thing, don't even get me started.

    lp

  • Deb | January 24, 2011 7:05 AMReply

    Nothing annoys me more than the "women want to have babies" argument! I'm sure this would have been an impediment back in the Paleolithic period when we were hunter-gatherers, but women with children work in all sorts of professions now. Also, many female directors who are trying to get their films financed don't have children.

    I think women are less willing to make crap commercial films because it takes them so long to get their first film made. There's also a much longer time period between films, often 5-7 years. If they were getting the chance to direct in their 20's or early 30's and the opportunity to direct a film every few years, they'd probably be willing to do one for Hollywood. But if only have a few chances, you're gonna make sure the subject is close to your heart.

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