Twenty-five years ago Jane Campion, the Academy Award winning screenwriter and first woman director to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, told the Philadelphia Enquirer she was “lucky to be making movies in Australia … To deny women directors, as I suspect is happening in the States, is to deny the feminine vision."
As I travel to New York to attend the Tribeca Film Festival, I wonder what is the feminine vision? One hundred and nineteen feature-length films will be shown at this year’s festival – an impossible number of films to view in the days my colleague Barbara Castro and I will be there. Thirty-three percent of this year’s feature length films are directed by women, the highest percentage in Tribeca’s history. If we view only films written or directed by women, will we observe a feminine vision?
In both news media and film female representation lags far behind male. According to the Women’s Media Center “women comprised just 9 percent of the directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2013” and on Sunday morning public affairs news programming, “women comprised only 14 percent of those interviewed and 29 percent of roundtable guests.” Yet much of the conversation surrounding women in Hollywood only addresses the correlation between low numbers of female filmmakers and the lack of female characters with speaking roles portrayed positively on screen. The Women’s Media Center also notes a correlation between the number of women in clout positions in the media and the presence of women as guests. Noteworthy in their 2014 Status of Women in the US Media Report is female co-anchors Gwen Ifill’s and Judy Woodruff’s unprecedented 93 percent female presence on PBS’ NewsHour in the last quarter of 2013.
Surveys of both reports out of Hollywood and in the news media provide minimal reference to the social change possible when parity is accomplished. Is there an intrinsic value in women telling stories – all stories – from their voices, from their experiences, from their perspectives? When we see the world through the eyes of women do possibilities open up that we did not see before? From the research, more women directors and writers equate more women on screen in all our diversity – from race to our capacity as leaders – impacting viewers perception of women and our capabilities. So what will the impact of women directors and writers hired and produced on par with men ultimately be?
To be sure, there are some who will conclude that I am assuming categorical polarizations that “women do this” and “men do that.” This is not my intention at Tribeca or my intention as Director of The WIP. But, if such a disproportionate number of films that we watch are directed by men, then surely this has impacted the art form as a whole. Surely the addition of women must lead to something different from what we always see.
The Tribeca Film Festival began in 2002, post 9/11. The goal was to bring a festival to a region of the city in need of something positive, artistic, and revitalizing. Nelson Mandela attended that first festival and spoke about the “unifying and humanizing power of film.” According to festival organizers, Mandela “often spoke about the equalizing power of movies to bring people together and to create empathy and understanding.”
Clearly successful films are in some way transformative. Stories, documentaries, and narratives impart an awareness of the world around us. We are forced to meditate for 80 minutes on injustice, atrocity, humanity, love and social change. In a 1993 interview with Marli Feldvoss, Jane Campion also remarked “There is a different kind of vulnerability when a woman is directing.” Will I notice this difference? Will I notice if the lens from which I am looking at the world is a feminine vision? I will let you know what we find!
Kate Daniels Kurz is the founder and Director of The WIP.