It happened to me just last week. I was riding the subway and wound up in a conversation with an older gentleman seated nearby. Somehow we got to talking about our professions.
“I make movies.”
“You what?” He asked, narrowing his eyes as if he could hear clearer by squinting.
“I make movies, films…”
He looked to the fine gentleman standing nearby (my husband.)
“Who directs, he does?”
“No. I do. I’m the director.”
And immediately a simple smile filled his face as if my profession were some cute gimmick, some sideshow attraction. “A female film director? Impossible! It could not be!” But there I was, a woman and a film director, with two feature films already under her belt. Why was it so impossible that I could be the one helming these projects?
Well, to be honest, I never actively thought about whether it was possible or impossible. It just “was.” I never saw a reason to not make movies. I just knew that I enjoyed doing it, and so that’s what I did (huge amounts of credit go to my parents for allowing me that freedom.)
I don’t remember ever knowing about any female film directors before I started film school.
I had certainly seen their movies — “Wayne’s World” was a film I admittedly memorized every single line from. And “Pet Semetary” was always one of my favorite horror films to watch as a kid. But it was years later that I learned those films were directed by women (Penelope Spheeris and Mary Lambert, respectively.) And perhaps that is the hardest part for me to fathom. What if I *had known* those favorite films of mine were directed by women, women out there actually “making it”? Or what if I had actually met one in real life and had a mentor? Not to say that I feel unfulfilled in my current work professionally, but who knows what direction my career path could’ve taken had I had more real-life inspiration.
And that is the nature of the cyclical scenario where female directors don’t pick up a camera because they don’t feel it’s something that they can do as a woman, because they don’t see any other women doing it.
Look at the Academy Awards and the Oscar, an award most filmmakers would say is the highlight of their career: ” …a Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the movie going public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%. Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership.”
No wonder the underrepresented groups of the US are feeling less than enthusiastic about becoming filmmakers — the highest achievement in this field is controlled and awarded by a group of old, white, men who like to promote the work of other old, white men.
A friend of mine recently said, “The problem with the Oscars isn’t that women aren’t being nominated, but that they aren’t making movies.” I responded that I agreed and that “women definitely need more opportunities to direct Oscar-worthy features.” But that it’s also a “chicken and egg” kind of scenario — “if the few but great female-directed films aren’t represented in big arenas like the Oscars, the public won’t know they exist and won’t try to seek them out. Similarly, the lack of representation of women-directed films in the Oscars ALSO hurts the ability to inspire other female filmmakers who could help change the tide to make it more equal for women in the future.”
If there are no female filmmakers publicly visible, and professionally acknowledged for their work, there is no source of inspiration for the generations that follow. The same can be said for filmmakers of color or any underrepresented group: There need to be examples to inspire, and without highlighting a diverse group of filmmakers on national platforms like ‘The Oscars’, those diverse and underrepresented groups of people will never know they can achieve becoming a successful filmmaker.
So yes, while it’s great and good that festivals are accepting and awarding more female-directed films this year (see: Sundance), there needs to be more equality in the numbers, perpetually, in film festivals, awards ceremonies and THEATERS. It cannot and should not be some newsworthy headline that women are being accepted in greater numbers: it should be the norm.
Hopefully then, Mr. Disbelief on the train will hear me say I make movies and instead of looking quizzically at me, will smile and ask if he’s seen any of them.
Katie Carman-Lehach is a film director and producer living in New York City where she’s been creating short and feature films for the past 10+ years. Her films have screened at the Iron Mule Comedy Film Festival, NewFilmmakers NY, KIN International Film Festival and the Long Island Film Expo, among others. Katie is also the official Film Editor for the Viscera Organization, a non-profit dedicated to promoting female genre directors, and is the creator of the “Hollywood, I’m Breaking Up With You” campaign for diversity and originality in the film industry (http://breakingupwithhollywood.tumblr.com/). Katie is also an instructor with the Patton Veterans Project, Inc. and the I WAS THERE Film Workshops a series of mobile filmmaking workshops designed for veterans and military families coping with Post-Traumatic Stress, helping them create short films about their experiences.