Women Filmmakers - The Struggle Is Real.

                                                                                                      Pic Courtesy - Julia Hembree

Elisabeth Subrin is a New York-based filmmaker, screenwriter, and visual artist who creates conceptually driven projects in film, video, photography and installation. After studying history, literature and creative writing at The University of Wisconsin, Madision, Subrin received a BFA in Film from the Massachusetts College of Art and a MFA in Video from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Subrin has since held appointments at Amherst College, Harvard University, Yale University, Bennington College and Cooper Union. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Film and Media Arts at Temple University. Recently her feature debut A Woman, A Part was screened at the Kolkata International Film Festival.

Many say, there is no lack of female directors. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give female directors opportunities. Do you believe that?

There is a great deal of empirical research about women in the film industry, both Hollywood and in independent film.  I can give you a million statistics.  One of the facts people talk about the most is out of the top 250 grossing films only 7% are directed by women.  More broadly, only 3-10% of films distributed in America are directed by women.  The bias begins in financing and hiring and continues through exhibition, distribution, and even which films are reviewed, and how they are evaluated. Same with festival selections, where still the large majority of films programmed are by men. It’s just ridiculous. And the thing is, when you look at graduate level film school programs, the ratio of men and women students graduating is almost even it’s almost 50/50 from graduate school.  So where do all those young women filmmakers go?  When it comes to making their first films and even their second, men are at such an advantage.

For example, let's say both a man and a woman make their first feature, most likely a low budget independent film. And then the man will suddenly get a three picture deal with a studio or get to make these big films and women are just stuck in the low budget ghetto repeatedly…even like Catherine Hardwicke who made TWILIGHT, this huge block buster, had a really hard time getting other films financed.  But also, if you look at the math, women's films gross more more.  And we have even worse issues with women directors of color. And also, with actresses. The ratio between the amount of lines women say in a movie, verses how many words a male actor says is dramatic.  I could send you study after study about this.  The industry is unregulated in terms of hiring practices, to the point that the American Civil Liberties Union has initiated an investigation into Hollywood.  So there are starting to be a lot more initiatives to support women directors but there's so much work to be done. The programmers of film festivals, the financing entities, the Hollywood and TV executives, the film critics, etc. - it's all majority white men.

Do you think digitalization and the expanding possibilities both as for the tools (movies on iPhone) and accessible resources(crowdfunding campaigns) can help women to overcome the traditional technical and financial barriers?

I don’t think women are having a problem with technological barriers, but definitely crowd funding and digital output options are helpful as alternative financing and exhibition avenues. But they don't level the gender playing field.

Elisabeth Subrin with Cara Seymour at the
Kolkata International Film Festival
There is a growing tendency to create women-only festivals’. Do you think these movements to raise the awareness and improve the parity in the film industry?

Yes, they do raise awareness but I'm not sure it improves parity. Only if women want to stay marginalized. t’s not going to help them get directing jobs in television.  It’s not going to help them get bigger budgets because they are pushed into that.  I fully support women’s film festivals and I participate in them too.  But until they don’t exist then things are not the same.  "Normal" film festivals are white men’s film festivals.  That should not be normal. It’s very unsetting.

How important are film festivals?

Well for American independents, they are desperately important because distributors don’t want to distribute films that are not commercial.  Most independent film industries  outside of the United States has some sort of state financing Then the pressure for commercial distribution, whether it’s video on demand or theatrical, is less crucial because they have been financed. But for American independent films like ours, where is our audience going to come from if distributors in America say these are not commercial enough?  How do I get my movie seen? Festivals are crucial because it allows the audience and filmmaker to connect, to have a dialogue. Even if you distribute digitally you don’t get to talk to the audience and you really don’t make any money.

A Woman, A Part press conference at
the Kolkata International Film Festival
How much aware are you about Indian cinema?

My interests are in generally in independent cinema, and so I'm very unfamiliar with Bollywood as I've never been into musicals. I know very little about Indian independent cinema unfortunately. Obviously I know and love Satyajit  Ray, but don't know contemporary Indian independent directors. I'd love recommendations! And what about Indian women directors? I don't know if this is politically incorrect to say, but there is an independent Sri Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundara, whose films I really admire and highly recommend.

Which advice would you give to a young female filmmaker or film school graduate?

Since I'm a teacher, I think a lot about how to support young filmmakers. Making cinema outside of the corporate film and television industry is unbelievably difficult.  But I think that making art in general is the only place where you are completely free. I made this very low budget film and it was full of challenges.  But I have never been so happy.  Making art is a place to have your voice and if that’s what you want in your life you just have to find a way to do it.  It’s the most amazing thing and it’s the most difficult thing. You just have to be really resourceful.  Like, what do you have access too. Say you don’t have a lot of money but you have an incredible location to shoot it.  So, write a script around that location.  Or you don’t have a location but you have one actor whose willing to do it. Find what you have and work with that. Don't wait for the perfect circumstances, because they'll never come. It's the ideas and execution of them that matter, not the perfect tools or the perfect production circumstances. To me, that's what's most important: making art that matters: that speaks to our times in smart and interesting ways.

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