I haven’t been posting as much as I’d hoped to these past two weeks, but I have really enjoyed guest-blogging and participating in the Feministe community. Part of my distraction from blogging is my commitment to volunteer work in my community. One of my newest and most time-consuming endeavors has been joining the executive board and heading the special events committee of ImageOut:The Rochester Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival. I absolutely adore this film festival and am so thrilled to be immersed in (and sometimes overwhelmed by) it. We are the 2nd largest queer film fest in New York (second only to NYC) and one of the best in the country, in my opinion. If you live in or near Rochester, NY, I really suggest that you make the trip OUT to see us this fall (October 10-19, Save the Dates!). Clearly, I love this fest. Shameless self-promotion aside, I am blogging about ImageOut as an example of my disappointment with the lack of representation and participation by queer and allied women in the work of our festival and the greater film community internationally.
For example, on our board, there are currently four seats out of thirteen held by women. I’m one of them and two of them are ending their board term next year. I hope we will try to fill those seats with women and people of diverse cultural backgrounds (There are two people of color on the board, both Asian-American, and there are no reps of the low-income or deaf communities that we do our best to reach out to during the festival.). I have faith that we will and you better believe I’ll be encouraging it. Our membership is also fairly homogeneous, with middle-upper class white gay men taking the lead both in membership/sponsorship and event turn-out. And the lack of participation by queer women in ImageOut is not for a lack of “women’s” programming. ImageOut tries to keep an even balance of movies about queer men and queer women. (Last year, Itty Bitty Titty Committee was one of our opening night films.)
Our programming chair is constantly whining about the lack of good films by and about LGBTQI women. And while he is probably being a snotty brat (just kidding, MG), he is speaking to a serious inequity between male and female filmmakers. While women are doing better in the indie and queer film industries, there are truly fewer films out there by and for women than by and for men. This is greatly because it’s much harder for women to break into the film industry than men.
(I’m going to refer mostly to binary genders in this article, but do know that ImageOut tries to find the best films by and about transgender and intersex members of our community. Unfortunately, trans and intersex filmmakers are pushed to the outermost limits of the film industry and experience discrimination, sexism, and homophobia that is exponentially more devastating than what women face. I give a shout out to my trans and intersex comrades out there fighting the good fight and hope for a chance when I can quote statistics on the work that you are doing to break through the “celluloid ceiling.”)
According to the Celluloid Ceiling study, an annual report put out by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women comprised just 15% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2007. Only 6% of the films had female directors, which is down from 11% in 2000. Worse yet, 21% of the 250 top-grossing films last year had no, no, NO women directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, or editors. None of the films failed to employ a man in at least one of these roles. Compared to percentages in 1998, women’s employment in every one of those key behind-the-scenes positions has declined in the last 9 years. And, as you’d expect, women were “most likely to work on romantic comedies, romantic dramas, and documentaries and least likely to work on science fiction, action-adventure, and horror features,” according to the Celluloid Ceiling study. You can see the whole report in PDF form here. Dr. Martha Lauzen, the director of the Center for the Study of Women in Telivision and Film, also published this article on women film critics in the top 100 U.S. newspapers. Sadly, we are not seeing much change happening in the mainstream film industry for women behind the camera. You may have seen this LA Times Article (Film Directing is Still a Man’s World) a few months ago about the dismal outlook for women directors.
Thankfully, there are a handful of fabulous groups and organizations out there supporting women’s work:
Women Make Movies is probably the best-known source for films by, about, and for women. Besides putting out a catalog and promoting over 500 great women-centered films, WMM supports women filmmakers through their Production Assistance Program and is an advisor to international, ground-breaking projects such as the Gender Montage Project which trains filmmakers in the former Soviet Republics and a filmmaking project in Iraq.
Women in the Director’s Chair has a great list of women’s film fests on their website. However, this organization formally closed its doors in 2005 due to lack of funding and support, which is only more evidence of the systematic “celluloid ceiling” for women in film.
Obviously, there are those fierce Guerrilla Girls, who made a big (and totally right on) stink when the 2007 Cannes Film Festival commissioned 34 filmmakers to each direct a three-minute movie on the subject of movies for an anthology titled “To Each His Own Cinema” (Do you see the problem yet?) One woman, Jane Campion, was included in the anthology.
Clearly, there is more work to do. So what are women that want to get behind the camera supposed to do and what can we do to support them? I’m a film enthusiast, not a filmmaker, but I encourage women filmmakers out there, if you are reading this, to please keep creating work and submitting it to festivals and shows. One of the major issues is that there are not as many opportunities for women to have their work screened and there is still major discrimination by the largest film festivals in supporting women artists. And look for grants that support women in film. They are out there.
So that leaves the rest of the work up to us–the audience. And I urge you to take the WITASWAN (Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artist NOW!) pledge to watch at least one film every month (hell, every week!) directed by or written by a women, in your own home or at the theater. Encourage your local cinemas and film fests to spotlight the work of women artists. Go beyond Sophia Coppola and really get to know the famous women of film. Check out Women Make Movies for some film suggestions to get started.
- I Leave New York and They Will Come by Fauzia November 5, 2007
- Wheelchair Diaries: An Interview with the Artist by Habladora July 19, 2008
- Blast from the Recent Past by Jess H. August 11, 2008
- Feminist Porn: Sex, Consent, and Getting Off by KaeLyn July 23, 2008
- The Roman Polanski Humanitarian Award: Ilya Trushevsky & other recipients by Natalia Antonova May 10, 2010