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The Depressing Reality of Women Directed Films in 2012

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by Melissa Silverstein
March 6, 2012 12:08 PM
30 Comments
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I really wish I wasn't writing this but over the last couple of days it has become clear to me that 2012 could be another depressing year for women directed films.  I started feeling sad last week when I was leafing through page after page of the Rentrak list of films with release dates in 2012 and had a hard time finding any women directed films on the list.  I know that list is always a work in progress, but still it was depressing.

Then I became almost despondent with these Indiewire and Playlist pieces on films being tipped for Cannes.  There is only a SINGLE woman directed film on both lists -- the same one -- All You Need is Love, directed by Danish Oscar winner Susanne Bier.

I imagine my colleagues make up these lists from talking with producers, distributors and film watchers who are paying attention to the product coming down the pike that could be ready in time for Cannes.  And the list includes many films that won't be ready but are trying to generate early buzz.  For example Low Life directed by James Gray is listed as a longshot.  That to me is optimistic since I saw it shooting in Prospect Park near my home just last month.  Ready for Cannes?  No way.  But this does illustrate my bigger point.  People are thinking about and anticipating the next James Gray movie. 

Male directors names are on people's minds.  Women...not so much.  We need to change that.  We need to figure out a way to get people to anticipate women's movies.  One way that we can do that is to actually know what women directed films are being made.  I have no real idea until I read about a film somewhere.  I believe if we start talking about women directors with anticipation in the same way that male directors get talked about, that will at least be a beginning.

Last year Cannes had a record four women directed films that made it to the competition so there is still hope that a bunch of women directed films are on the radar screen of the programmers and haven't yet made it to the folks on the internet. 

One can only hope.

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30 Comments

  • Eric Best | May 24, 2012 5:37 PMReply

    As the father of a daughter who just produced a woman-directed movie (Like the Water, starring Caitlin Fitzgerald, directed by Caroline von Kuhn and premiering in Waterville, Maine this July, I was not aware of the dearth of female directors. It is not apparent to me why this should be so in 2012. "Like the Water" was written, directed and produced by women, and I understood this to be relatively rare, although it was there to be done and they did it. I wonder how much the lack of women directors is a function of "someone else" or a male-dominated system and how much it might be susceptible to rapid change if women act to make it so.

  • Becca Thomas | May 19, 2012 1:49 AMReply

    I like what Audrey Lorea has to say. I'm with you!

    My film isn't at Cannes, but some day I'll get there!

    www.electrickchildren.com

  • Tyler Durden | April 24, 2012 10:16 AMReply

    Look, if women were making awesome films, they would obviously be talked about, like the Hurt Locker, that was phenomenal. So it's not about promoting shitty films just because they were made by women, but about trusting women with a big budget, which producers rarely do.

  • Audrey Lorea | April 18, 2012 7:23 PMReply

    That is depressing. But this is why my generation is going to turn the tables and put a whole new face to Hollywood. I'm a woman film director and I intend to change this boy's club industry.

  • Bonnie Weiss | April 4, 2012 4:52 PMReply

    It certainly doesn't seem fair, since there are so many fab ulous female Directors. Watch the trailer for LOSING CONTROL and you will see. Written and Directed by Valerie Weiss and now in 7 cities. Opening at the Laemmle April 13 . Opening this week at the Kendal Cinemas in Boston.
    We can't let them hold great female directors back. Watch the trailer @www.losingcontrolmovie.com and see for yourself!

  • kate | March 26, 2012 5:30 PMReply

    ***within the spirit of what i wrote, i hope you can hear the message of what i was saying YET i give my apologies for the corrections that are needed within this piece, you know what and where they are***

  • D.R. | April 17, 2012 6:53 PM

    I think one way to bring more awareness to Female filmmakers is to create more networks of support such as this blog and film festivals that focus on female film makers, editors, DPs, etc. On that note if your interested in anticipating an up and coming film by a female director and writer please take the time to read about my film Leon House and watch the trailer on my Kickstarter page.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1333732399/leon-house-a-motion-picture-experience?play=1&ref=search

  • kate | March 26, 2012 5:10 PMReply

    this is a bit long and not everybody will like what it says yet, i just felt like i wanted to express my thoughts as i've seen it and have experienced it firsthand.

    whenever i see any group of people who are not able to be effective, i look at the why and then work on figuring out a solution! often i see that then turn into getting stuck in a pattern which appears to be whining and blaming others with no pursuit of a real solution to the problem.

    when i was at sundance last year, as a white woman, sitting listening to the brilliant harry belefonte surrounded by eager black filmmakers - the solution to 'how can they have a bigger voice'.... the answer seemed VERY clear to me?

    when i see the frustrations of the film industry for woman having worked for the last 16 years in many capacities and having been developing my own television project for the last 10 years this is what i conclude.

    woman DO NOT BAN TOGETHER and we do not have WOMAN WITH MONEY backing projects, period!

    the reality of what this business is about, bottom line - MONEY - getting great stories that get people in the theater!

    i told the young black filmmaker at sundance - go up to harry belefonte, all of you here and brainstorm and execute a plan - together! use your resource in mr. belefonte - he has resources to MONEY & PEOPLE WITH MONEY!!!!


    what woman has a studio and finances films?
    how many woman work within the studio system that ultimately is run by men?
    how many woman who have those important positions still are under men?
    how many woman who are in the industry with MONEY put their money into woman projects?
    i have worked with woman in the industry and have concluded often that i would rather work for a guy - and you may hate me for saying that but woman are not good to woman, often!
    we have to start being honest about these things
    MONEY TALKS......!

    if woman films made money - like animated films now do because the family is a HUGE demographic and they get kids and parents into the theaters - they make more animated films, furiously because it makes MONEY, that's it!?!

    meryl streep is really speaking out and its difficult FOR HER????
    woman are critical of HER?
    woman have money - lots of money within the industry - we need woman investors - distributors - films that can appeal to the wider audience - we need to gather together and be smarter!

    its capital - start being a powerhouse with woman investors - great stories - its really simple.
    prove you can make money and it will change - we need to GATHER together and do it right.

    will it change overnight - no but we have to begin by addressing that the solution is within our means - WOMAN have money, right..... lots of money many of them?
    we have to find them and unite and prove we can do it by making money.
    is it unfair and the advantage is for men - yes.

    NOW, lets go out and do it ourselves, figure this out and not complain about the system because we can't change it the way it is set-up right now - overcome it - prove that WE CAN!!!

    that's what i think every time i read why aren't woman able? is it because i don't like the films that are being made by them?
    could THE NOTEBOOK have been done by a woman - OF COURSE..... it wasn't FINANCED by a woman.....!

    so there you have, my thoughts.....

  • online | March 26, 2012 2:53 PMReply

    http://Www.zafergunay.com
    i read your article..the things you have written sound very sincere and nice topics i am looking forward to its continuation.

  • Bigger Brother | March 25, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    Pardon me for asking, but what does it matter whether a film is made by a man or a woman as long as it is GOOD? Oh wait! I know the answer. It matters to misandrists.

  • Korky Day | March 27, 2012 6:32 PM

    I guess the women here are ignoring commenter "BIGGER BROTHER", and rightly so. I apologize that my male sex includes such ignorant people, but why he would seek a feminist forum I don't know. Maybe there's hope for him. To him and anyone else who asks such a silly sexist question, I say, "Read a few feminist books. Make some feminist friends. If you can get a woman to date, ask her what feminist movie SHE would like to see, and go see it with an open mind."

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | March 11, 2012 6:46 PMReply

    Take Action Now! The 5th annual International SWAN Day is 3/31/12. Using Melissa's list, make a pledge now that YOU will go to a theatre on 3/31/12 to see a film either written &/or directed by a woman filmmaker. Use YOUR "Power of the Purse" & make it matter. SWAN = Support Women Artists Now: http://www.films42.com/witaswan/12Mar08PressRelease.pdf

  • Bondo | March 9, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    I've started a year long project (https://moviereviewwarehouse.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/recognizing-female-directors/) to watch a lot of films directed by females, and when I find something I like, exploring individual directors' filmographies. I find that cinephiles tend to embrace auteur theory, giving a lot of attention and credit to directors but like you say, often forget about it when the director is a female.

  • Rachel | March 9, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    Ah Melissa, yes it is so depressing. As a female director member of the DGA - know what gets me? Month after month, year after year, the monthly newsletter that alerts the membership to our free screenings shows page after page of male faces, with rarely a female in sight. I've lived this reality for 25 years and it's gotten only marginally better in that at least some people in power are aware of the inequity. Great work pushing the conversation forward. Even if we have to scream a little.

  • Kerry | March 9, 2012 1:38 PMReply

    Daniel,
    David Fincher is an excellent example of the differential treatment that men receive in the film business. So let's talk David Fincher (nice WASPY name from England) background. He started off directing commercials & music videos. After a few years "honing his talent", as so many men do...he got a chance to direct his first 50 million dollar franchise film. Now there were disputes with the producers, budget overruns, film was panned by the critics and only grossed about 50 million domestic. But he still got another chance...

    Now guess how many women directors would love to "hone their talents" directing commercials and music videos...All of us!!. See it pays really well and you get to work with huge budgets and all the cool toys, plus you build your directors reel. Unfortunately, only 1% of commercial directors are women. The commercial houses won't sign them and the ad agencies wont hire them. If you don't believe me call up Propaganda films or Radical Media...or just look at their roster.

  • Alison Noni Richards | March 8, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    I'm doing my best to change those stats... The biggest obstacle for women directors is getting funded. I've been struggling to get financed for several projects. The first thing they ask is, who will be directing? When I say, I will be... They question my 20+ years in the industry and suggest a man with less than 2 years out of film school. Wow! Low blow to my ego. Anyways, come ____ or high water, I am determined to make my films because I believe there is a huge audience that wants to see sensitive, realistically portrayed human drama without a bunch of shaky camera work and fast cutting. I have good stories to share and regardless of the odds, I'm not giving up. Thanks Maria for the idea, I will look for more women investors for my projects.

  • MAria | March 10, 2012 2:00 PM

    Seriously, I so understand where you are coming from, Alison. I knew the only way I could direct something was if I wrote it myself. I think women investors truly are a great answer to this, they will support you and believe in you, and they will respect the position you are in. All of the women who invested in my film know what it's like to be outnumbered as a successful woman in a field filled with men. Keep it up! Wishing you much success!!

  • Maria | March 7, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    I love this forum. I am a few days away from sending my own film off to Cannes, "The Wine of Summer," which I wrote, directed, produced and co-edited... and I so support you, @Kim for what you have accomplished with "In Montauk" (I just checked out your facebook page)! There are so many factors as to why there are so frighteningly few women directors, but from my own experience, having WOMEN INVESTORS seemed to be the key to enabling me to actually make my film. My film was 99% financed by women. And I felt so much support and love from them throughout the process. Go Kim! Go Marian! And thanks Melissa for giving us this opportunity to support each other as women filmmakers, and please cross your fingers for me as we submit this work of love to Cannes!

  • Maria | March 7, 2012 12:53 PM

    Thanks, Kim!!

  • Kim | March 7, 2012 12:48 PM

    Good luck, Maria! I'll keep an eye out for your film as well!

  • Kim | March 7, 2012 10:37 AMReply

    @MarianThank you again! You get so used to doing everything yourself, you sometimes forget that there are people willing to help. After writing my last post, I started compiling a list of women's fests. Now that I know you have one I'll link to yours and promote it to other women! I'm a huge believer in women promoting women and make my contributions as often as I can! There is power in numbers!

  • Kerry | March 7, 2012 9:41 AMReply

    Is there a way to pressure the talent agencies to represent women directors? The top agencies represent young up and coming male directors that only have a short film and a good screenplay under their belt. It is nearly impossible to make your first (1-3 million) feature film, without an agent to get people to read the script and package the talent.

    I mean, how the hell did "Margin Call" get made with that cast? We need women to have the same opportunites at the financing stage, then you can worry later about who gets into Cannes.

  • Marian | March 7, 2012 12:59 AMReply

    Thank you, Jo. Thank you, Kim. @Kim—I don't know about the 'top' women's film festivals because as I research and list them (http://wellywoodwoman.blogspot.co.nz/p/womens-film-festivals-around-world.html) they all seem so different (& I LOVE the diverse ways that they programme). But you might find it worthwhile to check out the list and see what appeals. I'm really impressed that there's a strong network of Asian women's film festivals (Japan, Taiwan, India, Israel, Korea). We can learn from that? And from the principles behind the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (http://affrm.com/) started by Ava DuVernay (director of "I Will Follow" and "Middle of Nowhere" for which she won the Best Director Award at Sundance)? And I firmly believe that cross-border alliances will help us all to problem-solve about our shared challenges as women filmmakers, as will (this is an idea I first heard from Debra Zimmerman at Women Make Movies) more crossover between women's festivals and the larger industry so we're more likely to find distributors at women's festivals, alongside our audiences. I also think we need to work with online distributors like MUBI so that they list films made by women as a category (as well as by genre etc) which will make it easier for us all to seek out and watch women's films. Marketing is a huge problem, but one I think we can manage if we share ideas and support one another, even if some of our films aren't to our personal taste, or it means reading subtitles. The whole filmmaking process is exhausting, we're all broke, and the only way we're going to increase the volume of films, I believe, is if we look after one another, ask people "Have you seen 'In Montauk' yet"? If we 'adopt' a filmmaker nearby, delivering food during those long long hours that follow production. (I hope some NYers drop treats off for Melissa sometimes, too!) If we ask filmmakers we know, "How can I help?" If we start women's film clubs. Kyna and I are always happy to add news about new films to our FB pages and sometimes to do more. And there are wonderful people like the Hawai'ian Women in Film whose FB feed is terrific and who keep an eye out for new women's films. There's a huge unmet appetite out there for films by and about women and if we do support one another even in tiny ways, I believe, we can provide a wide range of movies to that market. Just about to add your blog to my blog roll, so I'm sure to check it regularly. (I forgot to include Bitch Flicks http://www.btchflcks.com/ which I think is a great site. Also Digital Chick TV, love those webseries and they're a great option for indie women filmmakers; and Busk Films. So much out there...let's embrace it ALL!)

  • Kim | March 6, 2012 5:41 PMReply

    @Marion - I too really appreciate all of your links. I'm a first-time female indie filmmaker who is trying to figure out how to get attention for my film "In Montauk." I've found little support along the way, especially for a narrative feature, although I received some encouragement from Women In Film Foundation, small grants from Queens Council on the Arts and Long Island Film Foundation, but the film has yet to be programmed, although I've been submitting to festivals since October. A lot of the Women's Film Festivals seem to have gone under or scaled back. I read a lot blogs about women filmmakers, but have yet to find a place that lists the top women's film festivals (like IndieWire's list of top 50 regional festivals.) There's so much noise out there, it's difficult to know how to compete. (See my blog post "Naked Filmmaking" at http://sirenstalefilms.blogspot.com/ about this frustration.) I've had several feedback screenings (one thanks to NYWIFT) and one sneak preview and two separate women approached me and said that my film was the best they'd seen all year. (And one had just seen "Tree of Life.") I don't flatter myself that I'm a better director than Terence Malick, but obviously my film spoke to these women. My plan was to submit to festivals, then market the hell out of my film once it was accepted. But that plan only works if the film is accepted somewhere. My next step is to figure out how to get the word of my film out there if I don't get accepted to festivals. Sadly, like most filmmakers, I'm tapped out after having spent every spare dime finishing the film. It seems to me there is more support needed for the indie films that are being made by women beyond Dee Rees. (Not to take anything away from her. I think she's fabulous and I'm thrilled for her success.)

  • jo mack | March 6, 2012 4:52 PMReply

    @MARIAN i really appreciate your comment with all those interesting and useful links, some of them i know, but most i don't, so i really appreciate it!

    @DANIEL sounds like you only watch mostly American, mostly studio movies, so it is an extremely unfair comparison. Check out the films of Lynn Ramsay, Susan Bier and Jane Campion for example, all of whom have a large body of work and all of which have a very disticnt style, unique to the director in question.

    @BB so true so true..

  • Kura | March 6, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    Women need a better network. Men's films succeed because male screenwriters, directors, and producers help each other and male filmgoers support the films. We need a broad organization that puts female writers, directors, producers -- and filmgoers -- in touch with one another. That way, a female director putting together a film could market it to that organization. Filmgoers could know when something was coming up. Right now, we have an organization like Women in Film, but it's not open to filmgoers, and it costs an arm and a leg to belong.

  • Marian | March 6, 2012 4:16 PM

    I think we *are* building a global network, and on a good day that encourages me. Women & Hollywood is an integral, essential, part of the network–of course–and so are the Bechdel Test activists (Feminist Frequency (http://www.feministfrequency.com/) now joined by the Bluestocking series based in Maine that calls twice a year for short films that meet the Bechdel Test (http://bluestockingfilms.com/) and the Bitch List (http://www.lasnark.com/2012/02/18/announcing-the-movie-bitch-list/12470) which is keeping a tally of votes from Hollywood executives, managers, agents, assistants and readers of scripts they see in 2012 that pass the Bechdel Test). There are all the women's festivals (& I dream of women's film festival tourism which I think would help build audiences for films women make). Kyna Morgan at HerFilm (http://herfilm.wordpress.com/) and I at Wellywood Woman (http://wellywoodwoman.blogspot.co.nz/) consistently seek out and interview indie women filmmakers and in my case the interviews, now including podcasts, are usually about process, the things that help and don't help women filmmakers; they're intended to be *useful*, to honour the complexity of the issues and to provide insight into filmmaking processes for women. Lots and lots of us—globally–tweet out the news and have Facebook pages where we post and cross-post info about what's happening including crowdfunding projects where for just a few dollars we can support films we'd like to see. The feedback I get is that women who are filmgoers like to plug into this network and I certainly love being part of it. And I've just started a page which lists competitions, awards and funding opportunities that are for women only, because I think one thing that we all need is information about resources: http://wellywoodwoman.blogspot.co.nz/p/competitions.html. Would love some additions! There's an interesting brand new British site "Watching Women's Films: A place for feminists to talk all things 'Women's Films': http://watchingwomensfilms.tumblr.com/. And I love the women in film who are providing riches for children, the audiences of the future, like Tilda Swinton with her 8 1/2 Foundation: http://eightandahalf.org/. Margot Magowan's Reel Girl blog: http://margotmagowan.wordpress.com/. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/. The Miss Representation campaign: http://www.missrepresentation.org/. On and on it goes. Lots of places where we can all join in and help this movement grow.

  • Daniel | March 6, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    Male directors go out of their way to establish a style for themselves. When you see their films you know the film you're seeing is their own and you would know it without being reminded of it.

    If you watch a Soderbergh, a Scorsese, a Spielberg, a Tarantino, a Nolan, a Michael Bay, a Woody Allen, or a Spike Lee film you know their style because it's identifiable.

    I can't say the same with Kathryn Bigelow or a Nancy Meyers. In fact, off the top of my head the only female filmmaker that establishes a style that you remember is, to me, Sofia Coppola.

    I think style is what gets you into public consciousness and on people's minds. It's not just plot, character, and substance that counts. Packaging matters.

  • BB | March 6, 2012 4:07 PM

    I’m sorry; I have to call bullshit on this. Attributing women directors’ problems to the supposed inferiority of women directors is absolute bullshit. Most male directors don’t have a distinctive style, yet their films get made. This is because Hollywood is run by a good ole’ boy network that systematically promotes men in the industry while excluding women, regardless of talent. Hollywood is teeming with male screenwriters and directors who have no talent. Yet their films continue to get made, while women with talent are kept out. Equality, as they say about the workplace, will be achieved not when a good woman is promoted as quickly as a good man, but when a talentless woman is promoted as quickly as a talentless man.

    Further, how do you think we got a Sophia Coppola? Yes, she has a distinctive style, but do you think that in a bazillion years, that style would have been given a chance in hell in Hollywood if she had not been born a Coppola? She has been a beneficiary of the good ole’ boy network because of who her father is. Think of all the hundreds of Sophia Coppolas out there who had the misfortune of being born a Smith or a Jones, and further, of being born female and thus having absolutely no “in” into the industry at all.

    As it is, women directors do not get enough support from studios to develop their own distinctive style. One can’t put together a list of seven or eight great women directors because there are barely two or three of them even given a chance by studios to direct anything that actually plays in theaters. Your argument is the old, tired, worn-out drivel addressed nearly a hundred years ago by Virginia Woolf (Please catch up! It’s pathetic that I’m having to repeat something written by Woolf so long ago in response to the same sad, tired arguments that she so skillfully blew out of the water.) about how the history books hold no great women writers because women aren’t good at writing. It completely ignores the reality that women have throughout history held the position of chattle, or at best, second-class citizens, banned from even learning to read and write in the first place, and then kept from publishing even when they were allowed an education. Similarly, Hollywood studios are run by sexist jerkoffs, and the work of very few women directors at all will see the light of day in such an environment.

    The men who run the studios decide what movies will be made, and even when they make movies that target the female audience, these are often written, directed and produced by men and are almost always crap. Thus a lot of women simply boycott the movies. It’s why there is such a thriving industry for women’s novels. They have to get their own stories somewhere, and Hollywood is for the most part just a giant circlejerk. Women might do well to take Woolf’s advice to get a room – a studio – of their own, in which to spread their wings. Of course they would have to get a movie-house-monopoly of their own as well, so that their films would have somewhere to play. Still, future technology might put the brick and mortar movie houses out of business and allow for real competition. Once there is real competition between women and men, it’s possible that we’ll even see women outstrip men talentwise, just as they did once the ban was lifted on women getting an education.

  • Daniel | March 6, 2012 12:39 PM

    My comment was in regards to the statement: "I believe if we start talking about women directors with anticipation in the same way that male directors get talked about, that will at least be a beginning."

    I'm saying there's a reason male directors are talking about a certain way. They repeat certain traits that help establish themselves as a brand, so to speak, that helps build anticipation. Fincher I would say is the biggest example of this. You know a Fincher movie when you're watching on.

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