How many female film makers can you name?
That's the thing. Having Netflix, Amazon Prime or knowing your torrents from your magnet links does not make you a movie buff, any more than filling a supermarket trolley with groceries makes you a chef.
Our awareness of the existence of a film or documentary is still often equal to the marketing budget. You only have to try catching a bus, train or walk any city street to see a movie advertisement of some sort. And that's before you get hit over the head with digital ads.
As for short films, that's even harder. Around the time of the Fashion Fix Daily launch, we were contacted by Glen MacKay who wanted to bring his short to our attention.
'Gymnast', a fashion film paying homage to the Olympic Gymnast, has the disadvantage of not being part of any brand's Christmas campaign and therefore unlikely to reach Wes Anderson for H&M levels of social shares.
Crucially though, Glen MacKay is to the best of my knowledge, not female and that returns us to our opening gambit. Chances are what many of us know about female film makers could fit on the back of a postage stamp. Good luck bluffing your way out of that one next time you're trying to impress someone on your Tinder date.
Why do I care? Well, our office recently purchased the DJI Osmo Handheld 4K Camera. During the unboxing I realised I couldn't make a female Spielberg reference or even the non-union Mexican equivalent. As a big movie fan that got me thinking... what female directors do I know? The realisation was like watching all those viral video ice bucket challenges simultaneously.
The only one that came to mind is the woman who directed The Hurt Locker who won an Oscar for it and was married to Mr. Cameron Avatar. A quick Google search confirms it to be Kathryn Bigelow. I loved how that film was made, and her winning that award was why it stuck in my mind.
(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:82nd_Academy_Awards,Kathryn_Bigelow-_army_mil-66453-2010-03-09-180354.jpg): Sgt. Michael Connors. Public domain.
The Google search also threw up some Q&A style answer boxes. One of them said:
Who is the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director?
Answer: "Only four women have ever been nominated for Best Directing: Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009)."
I know, Google need to get better at scraping other people's content if they're going to continue in the question and answer game.
Why don't female directors get more kudos?
I asked British Film Institute and documentary film maker Jon Spira (Elstree 1976, Anyone Can Play Guitar) for his thoughts in the hope that he would be kind enough to share his wisdom.
With four female directed films already name checked, here's a few more hidden gems.
"Elaine May would be the biggie. Mikey and Nicky is an incredible, overlooked masterpiece. A New Leaf is a beautifully skewed film in the ilk of Harold and Maude which, again, nobody has heard of. Ishtar is a film which has been lambasted for decade by people who haven't seen it. It's a very funny modern, political take on the 'Road To' films."
Holy hipster film geek Batman! Does Jon know his stuff or what? Like I said, gems that we can now go and seek out. But wait, there's more.
"Penelope Spheeris must not be ignored - her trilogy of docs The Decline of Western Civilisation is one of the best works on the nature of youth and disaffection out there and is still considered relatively obscure. She went on to direct Waynes World and some questionable mainstream comedies but she's always worked and her docs are great."
She directed Waynes World and earned a Grammy Award nomination for the "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene. Talk about getting schooled. I did not know that.
"If you want to get historical, there's a fascinating long-forgotten character called Alice Guy-Blanche. She was Leon Gaumont's secretary - Gaumont being the first French film studio. She went with Gaumont to the Lumiere's legendary first ever projected film screening and it inspired her to have a go."
"It can be argued that Alice Guy-Blanche then went on to make the first EVER narrative fiction film."
"She went on to make over a thousand films, not many of which have survived, and her own film studio in the US. She was a true pioneer not just for women, for cinema. But she seems to have been somewhat written out of history."
Photo Credit ↩︎