Women’s stories this week

The first annual Adrienne Shelly Foundation Woman of Vision Salute was held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City on November 2 to honor the achievements of filmmaker Nicole Holofcener.  The event included a talk with Holofcener hosted by Catherine Keener. On November 1, the Foundation launched an ebay auction with a host of big names in entertainment (Rosario Dawson, Jon Hamm and others) to help raise money for the work of the Foundation.  The Adrienne Shelly Foundation supports many organizations in their funding of women filmmakers and women in film.  An excerpt from the ASF’s mission statement reads:  “The Adrienne Shelly Foundation supports the artistic achievements of female actors, writers and directors through a series of scholarships and grants…”

The ASF was set up in 2006 by Andy Ostroy in remembrance of his late wife’s work as an actress and filmmaker as a way to support the work of women filmmakers.  Adrienne Shelly was murdered in 2006 while she was writing in her downtown New York office.  Her death affected me greatly, having been a long-time admirer of hers and inspired in many, many ways by the first film I saw her in, Hal Hartley’s 1990 film Trust.  November 1 marks the date of her death.  Adrienne Shelly was 40 years old.

After years of working as an actress, she went on to write and direct, most famously the huge success Waitress, starring Keri Russell, Cheryl Hines, Andy Griffith, Jeremy Sisto and Nathan Fillion. (Cheryl Hines later directed Serious Moonlight written by Adrienne Shelly.)  Andy Ostroy wrote an article in the Huffington Post earlier this week in honor of the five year anniversary of Adrienne Shelly’s death.  Also, take a look at a video below of Shelly talking about her inspiration for the film Waitress.

“The War We Are Living,” the fourth film in the five-part PBS documentary series Women, War and Peace aired on Tuesday.  This film focused on Afro-Colombian women in a resource-rich area of Colombia whose land was under threat from internal and foreign corporations and miners.  Colombia’s history of paramilitary groups fighting with guerrilla groups devastated the country and residual effects are still being felt.  Many people within the community of Toma were threatened by terrorist groups in order to force them to leave so the land could be taken over.  These groups also killed many community members in an attempt to scare them away from their communities.

Two women, Clemencia Carabali and Francia Marquez, were strong and vociferous leaders in the community who opposed the terrorism.  They helped to organize their fellow community members to oppose the government’s deferral of responsibility when it came to revoking mining rights given to Hector Sarria under the false pretenses of there not being any Afro-Colombian community in the area (Toma) with whom he should confer to receive the community’s approval.  By saying on paper that there was no Black community in Toma, the government helped to make these Afro-Colombian communities invisible and allowed people with no authority to mine in the area.  Under Colombian law, Afro-Colombians have legal protections.  But the community stood up and said “No,” and the government was forced to back down.

If you missed this episode, you can watch it online at PBS.  The fifth and final film (“War Redefined”)  in the Women, War and Peace series will air on Tuesday, November 8.  You can tweet along during the show by labeling your tweets with #wwplive and follow the series on twitter @WomenWarPeace and Abigail Disney, Executive Producer of the series @AbigailDisney.

Wellywood Woman: For women who make movies.                                                      And for the people who love them.

Marian Evans, author of the blog, Wellywood Woman, penned a gorgeous piece last week about the Mumbai International Film Festival and the seeming increase in support for women filmmakers.  She explores this topic with a journalist as well as explores the films and lives of various women filmmakers to try to find some answers as to why.  In 2010, the Mumbai International Film Festival (MAMI for short) had an all-female jury headed by renowned filmmaker, Jane Campion, and the 2011 festival had a large number of films made by women.

Read Marian’s article, “Going Global via MAMI” and follow her on twitter @devt and on Facebook at Development the Movie.

It was announced recently that there will not be a Birds Eye View Film Festival in 2012.  Last year, the UK Film Council closed and as a result, BEV is unable to continue with its plans for a 2012 festival.  From the BEV website: “Over the past few years, the UK Film Council supported the Birds Eye View Film Festival through their Film Festivals Fund and Diversity Grant in Aid. Since the closure of the Film Council, funds have transferred to the BFI. As yet, there is no provision for either Festivals or Diversity, leaving BEV with a 90% drop in public funds.”

This is a huge loss, but I have no doubt that BEV will be back in 2013.  There is a great informative FAQ-type page on the BEV website you can read here which talks about their plans and how the public can help.  This story isn’t getting nearly enough attention, if you ask me, especially because this is just one of the effects of the closure of the UK Film Council which was predicted.  The closure was a move opposed by many in the industry, including Mike Leigh, one of England’s leading filmmakers (and admired around the world) whose films have depended on the Council.  You can read some mentions in the press below and follow BEV on twitter @BirdsEyeViewFF.

“We can’t run our film festival next year — but we’ll be back” (2 Nov 2011, The Guardian)

“Birds Eye View Festival 2012 cancelled due to funding cuts” (27 Oct 2011, Screen Daily)

Women’s stories this week

“Peace Unveiled,” the third in the five-part Women, War and Peace series aired Tuesday on PBS in the U.S.  This film focused on the work of three particular Afghan women to reestablish their rights and participate in the peace process to have a voice and a place at the table.  The details about the realities of life as a woman in Afghanistan were sobering indeed, many absolutely shocking, and there was a lot that I think most women (at least in the U.S.) would have no idea had happened or was still happening:  women risking their lives to run for political office, death threats against women teachers, routine death threats against women’s children — women who refused to become slaves of the Taliban (“cut off your children’s heads and burn your daughter” types of threats).

The role of the U.S. government in the peace talks was fascinating to hear about, especially as the reality is not something that mainstream media in the U.S. shares with the populace.  The media is called the Fourth Estate for a reason, and is supposed to support democracy and the free flow of information, not suppress it.  Watch Democracy Now! on LinkTV hosted by Amy Goodman if you want to hear more accurate information and hear and see women who are involved in peace movements and political and direct action. Abigail Disney, the Executive Producer of the Women, War and Peace series, was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Tuesday.  Watch the interview here (9m 50s).

Many quotes from the film were shared through the #wwplive tag as we live tweeted during the broadcast.  Prolific tweets abounded, with some of the most active people being Women, War and Peace @womenwarpeace (with the director of the episode, Gini Reticker, leaving her comments labeled with “- GR, ” so we could tell it was her), The White House Project @TWHP, The Opinioness @OpinionessWorld, Katherine Mullen @MullenKat, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon @gaylelemmon, Peace Is Loud @peaceisloud (I LOVE this handle!), all of whom are very much worth following if you don’t already.

Next week will be “The War We Are Living,” the fourth film in the series.  If you are in the U.S., please check here for local listings to see what time the film airs your PBS affiliate.  Come live tweet with us, too, if you can!  Just tag your posts with #wwplive.

If you have missed the other episodes, you can watch the first two online, and each episode is made available for viewing online several days after the original air date.

The 24th Tokyo International Women’s Film Festival ran from October 23-26.  The official selections and directors are:

Angeles Gonzales-Sinde (One Word from You), Leena Manimekalai (Sengadal, The Dead Sea), Yim Soon-rye (Rolling Home with a Bull), Akane Yamada (All to the Sea), Michal Aviad (Invisible), Celine Sciamma (Tomboy), Yen Lan-Chuan (Hand In Hand), Yui Miyatake (Jazz Jii Men), Juana Macias (Plans for Tomorrow), Sumiko Haneda (Nuclear Power Generation Now and The Life of Hiratsuka Raicho)*, Kyoko Gasha (3.11 We Live Here), Carin Black (100!) 

*The film’s subject, Raicho Hiratsuka, was a pioneer Japanese feminist and the film’s director, Sumiko Haneda, is one of Japan’s leading women documentary filmmakers.

Women In Film and Television has launched a chapter in the United Arab Emirates (WIFT UAE), to focus on women in the Middle East and North Africa.  This is very exciting news and I will be following WIFT UAE’s developments!  They’ve partnered with Final Draft for a short script competition.  Read the article here: “Women in Film and Television, UAE joins global film community.”  The organization states, “We endeavor to become a vibrant, productive force in the UAE and to support, educate, mentor and inspire our members.”  Visit the website to read about the mission and much more.  (They launched in August of this year, but I just found out about it this week and couldn’t be happier to know it’s happened.  Where were you in August, google alerts?!)

The 2011 Film Independent Producers Lab Fellows were announced early Monday on indieWIRE and good news: five of the eleven fellows are women.  This is darn near gender parity we’re witnessing, people!  With nine projects in total, two of them had two-person producing teams and four of them had women as sole producers.  The list of women recipients and their projects are:

  • A Day with Dandekar (Megha Kadakia)
  • Lee (Angela C. Lee)
  • Pit (Rikki Jarrett)
  • Raw (Stacy Haskin w/Gil Kofman)
  • Three (Anna Kerrigan)

The Association of Black Women Historians has issued a critique of The Help, giving us an alternative and more historically correct view and understanding of the context of the story.  The newly released The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s book of the same name.  The ABWH states that: “Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.”  The statement goes on to say: “Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness,” and ends with “The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.” (Source: An Open Statement to Fans of The Help. ABWH.)

Read the ABWH’s Open Statement and the story in the Kansas City Star.

I say hear, hear.  While I wanted to see the film based on hearing about the book, I’m bothered by this concern over the historical inaccuracies and distortions present in both the book and film according to this statement.  We all know that Hollywood misrepresents history and the lives of racial and ethnic minority groups and women, and often disinforms us (not just misinforms us — see Black Hawk Down as an egregious example of this.)  Have any of you seen the film or read the book — or better, both?

I really appreciate the criticisms of the ABWH.  To add to the critique, I find the poster in itself embraces regressive thinking, i.e. the “Black women as conspirators and gossips”  stereotype, the young “White girl as the go-between” stereotype, and more, but I think I’ll leave that for another day.  I can’t be the only person who thinks this is a terrible poster (from a socially conscious point of view.)

Last week, Monika Bartyzel of Girls On Film wrote a too-true piece attacking the use of the insidiously disempowering “for women” phrase in movie marketing.  She states, “It’s not about catering to women. It’s about setting up a stereotypical dichotomy between the sexes and catering to the most reductive common denominators.”  Read Bartyzel’s article “The ‘For Women’ Fallacy.”

This started me wondering if there is a positive way to spin the “for women” phrase.  Can it be positive instead of negative, meaning that the issues dealt with, or themes presented, in a film relate to women and help to cast women in a non-objectified light?  Can “for women” only be understood as a reductive, essentialist phrase? What do you think?  I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this, especially as if something’s “for women,” shouldn’t that mean it’s for everyone?  Doesn’t everyone need to see positive images of women and hear positive dialogue about and between women as well as between men and women?  Do you find yourself affected by “for women” marketing?  Do you use it or reject it when it comes to your own projects?  Check out the Bechdel Test if you haven’t yet heard of it.

Veteran director Brian DePalma is quoted in a story in the McClatchy News that about how he “has also been blasted for constantly placing women in danger. ‘I’ve been asked that question for many years and my stock answer is that when you make a thriller I think it’s more interesting to me to photograph women rather than men. But nobody ever accepted that. That’s one of those things like smoking — it went out (of fashion). You can’t do that anymore. Forget about it. Basically you cannot put women in jeopardy anymore. But I think it’s more interesting to put a woman in jeopardy or certainly a child.”

Uh, what?  I’m a bit disturbed by this because it seems as if  he feels it’s inherently more interesting to put a woman or child in danger.  I think that DePalma’s position is completely transparent, and that the vulnerability — or perceived vulnerability — of a woman or child character in a film somehow adds to the entertainment factor.  Is that what we want from movies, though, if we’re being honest with ourselves as (hopefully) discerning viewers?  Do we really want to see some of the most vulnerable members of our society being portrayed as potential victims, targets of danger or even “collateral damage” of violence?  I can’t imagine another argument wherein the vulnerability of a woman or child isn’t the main reason why DePalma — or anyone else — feels that the thrill is heightened.  Is there one?  What do you think?  Read the story “Best horror stories tap into universal dreams and fears, filmmakers say” in the Calgary Herald yesterday.

Christy Jones of the AAUW Dialog Blog cross-posted a great piece by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals (“dedicated to changing the way we think about girls”) about the repugnant treatment of women by ChapStick which has chosen wrongly to use the backside of a woman to advertise lip balm.  What?  That’s right.  Read Wardy’s open letter to the company, “Dear ChapStick, We’re Through.”  This isn’t exclusive to ChapStick, as we all know, and is an issue that is discussed in Miss Representation, a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom which premiered on OWN last week. Read my post on the film and the Miss Representation pledge.