jane campion on the dearth of women directors

from yahoo

When Jane Campion was honored onstage at the Cannes Film Festival with about 30 other major directors Sunday, she was the lone woman of the bunch. And she’s still not used to how strange that feels.

The New Zealander is the only woman filmmaker to have won Cannes’ top prize, for “The Piano” in 1993. This year, she showed a fantasy short film about a ladybug — a woman dressed up in an insect costume — who gets stomped on in a movie theater. She said it was a metaphor for women in the film world.

“I just think this is the way the world is, that men control the money, and they decide who they’re going to give it to,” Campion said in explaining why so few women get movies made.

it really is quite depressing how few women seem to be able to break the glass ceiling when it comes to directing movies. it would be interesting to know what the percentages of men and women in film production programs are, and how this correlates with what they go on to do. anecdotally, based on informal attention to film credits, it seems as though more women’s names pop up in the technical end of things than did in the past, but the number of directors does not seem to be growing.

however, i am not sure about this bit from comrade campion:

But Campion said some men are “shocked” by that female perspective. “They see that women have a different way of seeing the world altogether,” she said.

“When I think of what’s fantastic about women, it’s their generosity, their intuitiveness, their capacity to trust emotions, to be emotional, to nurture, to promote peace, to care about the planet’s environment so their children can inherit it,” she said. “Those qualities aren’t sexy for guys, but (they’re) quite natural in women.”

26 thoughts on “jane campion on the dearth of women directors”

  1. I meant to add that, though I find her misguided in her ideology of the feminine, she’s right in diagnosing the lack of opportunities for women in making films. However, I do not necessarily see the solution as making sure more women get positions in studios, in order to “greenlight” films directed by women. as politics would demonstrate, women do not necessarily challenge the mainstream by being women. as with all such cases, I always come back to the Marx remark, “No emancipation without that of society”—which I take to mean that, though oppressed groups must necessarily challenge the conditions of their oppression, that challenge may ultimately be ineffectual or only self-serving, without structural change. The academy always provides a good case in point—yes, certainly more friendly to women, and what it calls “underrepresented groups” (though these groups do not seem to represent class much) yet even more insular, more exploitative and more conventional in both its administrative and “knowledge-generating” functions now.

  2. We could try this inductively. Who are the female directors that we know of and like, and in what ways (if at all) are their films different from those of male directors? I would contribute Claire Denis, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow to the list.

  3. Some PR:

    If anyone is interested, this not-for-profit organization is active, engaged, and politicized. Their stated goal is to “create visibility for women who are invisible in mainstream media.”

    Women Make Movies

    The site gives you info about hundreds of women filmmakers from around the world (Jane Campion is in there, but Coppola, Bigelow, and Denis aren’t). You won’t find many of these women in IMDB.

    WMM was founded in 1972 by Ariel Dougherty and Sheila Page. It has its own distribution service, I think. The current president of Women Make Movies is Patricia White, who teaches film at Swathmore (and is the author of a terrific book called Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability).

    Check out their new releases…

  4. I’ll add Catherine Breillat, Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold to the list. And I shouldn’t forget Julie Taymor, Nicole Holofcener, Kimberly Pierce, Gillian Armstrong, Tilda Swinton, Agnieszka Holland, and Mira Nair. Few of the names here look as familiar as they probably should.

  5. allison anders, amy heckerling, nancy myers, mimi leder.

    of course, i have no idea what else may have gone on in their lives/careers since their big hits, but look how meager heckerling’s resume is after the reasonably acclaimed clueless. or kathryn bigelow’s after point break and strange days. mimi leder is working in tv after a bunch of films that made reasonable money: pay it forward, deep impact, and the peacemaker–actually tv seems to be where most american women directors end up. and didn’t what women want and something’s gotta give make money? yet, nancy myers has made one film since. meanwhile brett ratner and tony scott get to keep making one more piece of crap after another (and in scott’s case, one bomb after another).

    i share michael’s scepticism about the idea that more women studio heads and big-shots would mean more work for women directors, but the boys’ club certainly isn’t doing anything for them.

    as to whether there is any substantive difference between the work of male and female directors, while shying away from essentialist arguments about nature, i’d speculate that women film-makers seem on the whole more likely to make films with prominent female characters.

  6. This opens up a unique thread about the differences between women’s narrative (is there such a thing; is Kristeva and all the others onto something) and a male narrative (or women’s time verses men’s time) . . . between the linear/chronological and the circular/cyclical dramatic structure. In theatre one can look at a handful of successful playwrights (Caryl Churchill, Naomi Wallace, Maria Irene Fornes, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks) and find clear, structural differences between their work and, say, David Mamet (et. al.). Perhaps, this was more true (at least when one binds such ideas to gender) as Aristotelian dramatic action was interrogated and subverted by both men and women during the seventies and eighties. We talked a little about this in one of my classes, reading Vogel’s How I Learned To Drive through Virginia Woolf, who argued for some kind of meshing of the two (linear and cyclical) to end up with something more “androgynous” (narratively speaking). This, of course, elicited some very interesting responses (“Aren’t we over this whole gender thing by now?” from one of the young women in the room). The most interesting response coming from another (male) student who wanted to know if Tarantino was working the “feminine” side of things in his films. It is certainly hard not to think of Death Proof as anything other than a pro-woman film (on so many levels), and I think that is reflected in its structure (however self-reflexive it may be) as well as its characters and dialogue, etc. Many of the filmmakers listed above–particularly Lynne Ramsay, as I am quite fond of her work–develop characters and dramatic structures that do not fit normative/mainstream expectations, so it is going to be very challenging for such filmmakers to get the necessary funding to do what they want to do. I mean who really wants to play on the scale that the Brett Ratners of this world seem to live for? Penny Marshall for a while, Mimi Leader for a while, Kathryn Bigelow for a while . . . but not a lot of others. There are far more successful female playwrights and female stage directors, but that work doesn’t arrive with a $200 million dollar pricetag and the necessity of reaching the largest and most homogenized audience possible.

    Here’s an example . . . at one point Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morveen Caller) was attached to direct The Lovely Bones. It made perfect sense as the novel almosts begs to be treated with the kind of sense and sensibility Ramsay (a Brit) brought to her earlier films and shorts. Of course, we all know that film will now be made by Peter Jackson (with much help from Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens), who made the wonderful Heavenly Creatures so I feel confident but I would still rather see Ramsay’s version.

  7. I’m not terribly interested in this, but will second Jeff’s praise of Lynne Ramsay. I’ve seen both of those films and the shorts on the Ratcatcher DVD and love them. She’s excellent. Also, I disliked The Lovely Bones… I hope her next movie is better than that Oprah-fest is bound to be.

    I’ll also throw in that Sarah Polley has just written and directed an adaptation of an Alice Munro short story that’s getting very good reviews. The moviee is called Away From her with Julie Christie. She is one of my favorite actresses, and it’s cool to find out she can adapt and direct too.

  8. i don’t think it is very useful to oppose some general category of “woman director” against some general category of “man director”. that is to say, not much point in comparing lynne ramsay to brett ratner, and drawing some distinction from that comparison between women’s narratives and men’s narratives. you’d probably want to compare her to male directors who make those kinds of movies–lars von trier, perhaps? after all there are many male directors as well who “develop characters and dramatic structures that do not fit normative/mainstream expectations”. more of these men seem to be able to get their movies made though.

    and i don’t want to assume that mimi leder and kathryn bigelow wouldn’t want to play on the scale of brett ratner or tony scott if they were only given the chance. i think there probably is a macho thing operating when it comes to action movies and blockbusters–the thinking probably is that you can’t ask a woman to direct a blow ’em up epic aimed at boys. of course, the irony is that this thinking is endorsed by campion above.

  9. i’m not ready to commit to some grand view about the difference between female and male world views or male or female sensitivities. i think arnab is right in saying that, at the end of the day, the major impact of the absense of women directors in american movies boils down to the preeminence of male characters.

    since joining this (absolutely fabulous) blog, i’ve become much more attuned to the nuanced ways in which men are portrayed in movies. in some way, i think one can describe mainstream american movies as a prolonged, nation-wise, concerted effort to investigate masculinity. one cannot say the same of, say, american literature, because women write as much as (if not more than) men (who reads them is another question altogether). but movies are so dominated by male directors that one is naturally led to correlate the predominance of male characters with the predominance of male directors. male directors focus on complex male characters because they are more interested in, or understand better, men than in women.

    when i joined this crowd (y’all) i was more angry and one-sided than i am now (those two go together, in whichever order, don’t they?). think of all the discussions about straw dogs, the history of violence, and other such bastions of male inquiry on masculinity. i feel differently now. i notice this difference in the way in which i watch movies. i dismiss male violence less readily. there’s a baggage there i didn’t use to see.

    but women? is there an significantly similar effort to investigate the complexity of femininity in mainstream american cinema? most certainly not.

    i just saw the dead girl, a really fine movie directed by second time big screen director (but, according to her cv, regular small screen actress) karen moncrieff. it’s made out of 5 separate segments rotating around the finding of the body of a young woman who was killed by a serial killer.

    this is not a whodunnit but a study of the reaction of various people to the murder. the segments’ protagonists are all women, though men feature in them too (giovanni ribisi is as great as usual). i don’t think i’ve ever seen a movie in which a male director pays as much attention to the complexity of women’s lives, attachments, loyalties, and sexuality. of recent films, sherrybaby, also directed by a woman, comes to mind as being similarly focused.

    the characters in dead girl are amazing and played by really excellent actresses. the most interesting seemed to me to be the older women: the dead girl’s mother, the mother of a missing girl who might or might not be the dead girl, the killer’s wife. marcia gay hayden as the dead girl’s mother is particularly impressive.

    what is not in this movie: graphic violence against women. same as sherrybaby. the backgroud is one of extreme violence, and violence is never forgotten, never really in the background, but it’s not on the screen. no rapes, not battered or mangled women’s bodies (well, apart from the dead girl at the beginning). i, as a woman, am grateful for that. it’s hard to watch your body (bodies like yours) being manhandled, sexually assaulted, and in a state of utter powerlessness on the screen, day in and day out, even when this representation is critical and indicting. the images stay with you. it’s impossible not to think that the abused body might be you, or that it will one day be you. constant exposure to images that represent the helplessness of your body, that way in which your body can become such an easy prey, is depressing, discouraging, and angering to me. i become angry because i feel scared.

    sometimes you need to see women do the violence, too. this is complicated (there’s a thread about women’s violence here somewhere, but that’s not the violence i have in mind), and i can’t belabor it now, but let me give you an example of what i have in mind. in the dead girl, brittany murphy, who plays the girl who ends up dead, gets furious at some point at the john who’s beaten up her girlfriend. so she drives to his place and kicks the shit out of him. she’s a small girl and the guy is a big, tough guy, but she kicks the shit out of him anyway. this happens. it’s not that difficult: you hit on a sensitive spot (i think in this case it’s the guy’s face) and you neutralize the guy long enough to kick him good. small people do kick the shit out of big people sometimes. in movies, though, women don’t typically kick the shit out of big guys (unless they have guns). that’s why i liked red eye. one needs to see, occasionally, women’s bodies who are not helpless rags.

    after kicking the shit out of the john, murphy of course steps into the car of the serial killer. oh well.

    more to say about this film, especially the relation between toni colette and giovanni ribisi, but i’ll leave it at that for now because this comment is long enough.

  10. I’ll have to see this film, Gio. I like your reading about the distinctions to be drawn in this filmmaker’s attention to violence. (I’m interested in Red Eye, too–see way below.)

    Moncrieff did an intriguing but flawed film about a teen who has an affair with her much older teacher, and what I found intriguing is that the movie *did* examine the man’s flawed identity in complex ways (a portrait greatly enhanced by David Strathairn’s amazing, subtle performance), in ways that we might often see in American films and literature–men trapped in patterns of irresponsibility and childishness, insecurities about sexuality erupting in selfish abuses of the relationships they have. But the girl (Agnes Bruckner) was not merely a victim, and was herself motivated by complex needs, desires, insecurities; her mother (Margaret Colin) was equally complicated. Strathairn was no doubt more the antagonist, but I loved how the movie was about how sexual desire reveals and represses, liberates and constrains. It was a portrait of power and desire, but desire was the central term–the site of agency and identity. (The film’s flaws were its shift in the final third toward a kind of neat short-storyish closure–not enough to diffuse its earlier impact, though.)

    Of course, even as I’m writing this out, I’m thinking to myself about other films that seem to me equally open to such complexities of gender and desire, and the provenance of such films is not merely a woman shouting “action.” Stephen Frears has struck me as a director whose work is consistently, vibrantly attentive to strong men and women, of various sexualities, and as crucially concerned with relationships as with the trappings of “individual identity,” etc. We get back to issues of production–why does Frears, someone we might call a small filmmaker and generally tied to art-house films, have a production pretty much every year, while Moncrieff–or we could turn to Sally Potter or Julie Dash–has a tougher scramble getting her films together? (I’m trying to compare apples to apples here, not Ratner versus Moncrieff, but filmmakers with a certain kinship in form, focus, and audience.)

    Back to Red Eye–director Wes Craven’s output began with rough sleaze with a veneer of social commentary, and I can safely say that his Last House on the Left is almost relentlessly unlikeable, and focuses on the brutal abuse of its small-bodied heroine. He went a lot more mainstream, but stuck mostly to the horror genre, where women are often in peril, battling Nightmare‘s Freddy K or the meta-slasher fans of Scream. I’m absolutely with you that one of Red Eye‘s kicks was seeing Rachel McAdams roust the slick psychopathological Cillian Murphy, but she needs to be threatened throughout–albeit far less heinously or extravagantly than in Craven’s earlier or other horror/suspense films. Horror films seem bound up in enacting these kind of contradictions–women put in peril, for a kind of vicious literalization of the aggression of the male gaze, yet also often empowered to stick a knife in that eye. But now I’m wandering so far afield from your post and this thread’s point that I’m annoying even myself.

  11. more about the dead girl. in the first segment toni collette is a woman living with her abusive (verbally, psychologically) and repressive invalid mother. collette is the one who finds the dead girl’s body. this sets in motion a series of pent-up, one may say devious, desires in her. when she gets together with serial-killer-fetishist ribisi, who picks her up at a shop after learning that she found the body, she is however the one who’s into kinky sex (she may or may not have had sex before). in spite of his curiosity for the details of the murder and interest in the serial killer, ribisi is genuinely into collette. when she insists on re-enacting (parts of) the crime, he loses his erection.

    the role subversion here seemed interesting to me — the lack of aggression, even tenderness in ribisi, the need for violence in the repressed, big boned, ugly girl. but also the way in which she asks him for it. she’s quiet, almost shy. and you know she really, really likes it.

    which brings me to the movie about diane arbus i saw a couple of days ago, fur. i briefly saw that critics didn’t like this movie, though i didn’t read any of the reviews. i have a hunch critics thought the movie wasn’t true to arbus’ spirit. regardless. taken by itself, and excluding the absurd ending, it think it is a fine portrayal of female queer desire. as arbus, kidman is attracted to freaks. when she finally gains a point of entry into the freak world, she is genuinely happy. not torn, not confused, not fucked up. happy.

    the character she plays is rather one-dimentional, but this aspect of the film is, i think, very interesting and enough to make the movie worth watching. i thought of you and your disability class, mike.

    yesterday i went to see lucky you at the movies and i pretty much hated it. the eric bana character didn’t interest me, and the drew barrymore character was so pathetic i cringed all the way through (honorable mention though for robert duvall, who actually acts instead of walking through the movie with one face, as bana does). i was suprised to see from a cursory look at metacritic that the overall score for the two movies is similar. there’s really no comparison between the artistic effort that went into fur and the formulaic schlock of lucky you. it’s hard for me not to blame the feminine emphasis of fur critics’ bias towards the lucky you. a movie about fathers, sons, male self-destruction, and competitive “sport”? what’s there not to like?

    oh, and the previews contained a disgusting number of “women’s movies.” whether these movies do turn out to be of the cookie cutter women’s variety or whether they are instead interesting and subtle i do not know. but how sad to see that distributors still need to market movies about women as “women’s movies.”

  12. gio:

    concerning your point about american movies as an extentended investigation of masculinity… should we also consider the possibility that, since they mostly portray white people, american movies might also be extended reflections on whiteness?

  13. well, that’s an interesting point. intuitively, i’d say that the comparison doesn’t quite hold, but i need to think a little about this. there is certainly something to it. more later, gio.

  14. I always am impressed with Kidman’s choices (somebody give her agent an award) though I didn’t particularly like Fur. As a “fine portrayal of female queer desire,” it does hold some merit. I guess I found the dramatic action to be a little too literal (and how did Robert Downey Jr manage to keep all his hair from growing back in the final scenes). Hmmm . . . isn’t this another one of those movies where a sensitive outsider must martyr him or herself in order for a middle class white person to find their mojo. What does boychik mean . . . is that Yiddish?

  15. hey jeff, i’m not sure what you mean by the dramatic action’s being literal. it certainly is a plodding movie to an extent, and i too was perplexed by how fucking hairless rdj was at the end. he even had a half-decent haircut and shapely eyebrows!

    seems like nicole kidman found her mojo even before rdj martyred himself, though, no?

    what doew mojo mean, anyway? is it spanish? (i’m serious).

  16. Originally spelled “mo-gio”–a popular cry among crowds in academic circles in Los Angeles, circa 1996.

    Nah, it’s perhaps–some say almost certainly–tied to “magic,” and is believed to stem from African idiom, perhaps via Gullah. A dazzling writer named Nalo Hopkinson says: “There are lots of theories about the etymology of the word “mojo,” but one thing seems true: It originated with people press-ganged out of West Africa and brought to America to work as slaves. It refers to a small cloth bag with magical contents that is kept on the person as protection; but more generally, “mojo” can simply mean magic—a magic imbued with African flavor and with the need of indentured peoples to take some control over their lives.”

    Boychik, boy plus a yiddish diminutive (chik), se brent nit!

    Julius may stem from the Greek word for “downy-bearded.”

    I uses the internets.

  17. Actually, according to “The Days of the Week,” Mojo is Violet McKay’s dim-witted but lovable maid. She is secretly in love with Violet’s long lost son, Billy McKay. After overcoming his bout of amnesia, Billy has returned home to find that an impostor–a two-bit hoodlum named Rocco–has moved in. In order to inherit her vast fortune, Rocco is trying to convince Violet that he is her long lost son. Behind this little scheme is Dr. William Wainwright, who plans to double cross Rocco and keep the McKay inheritance for himself.

    There’s more Mojo here.

  18. Well, back to the furry boy. He can’t live because if he did, Kidman’s character would actually have to love him for life. He dies so that she may fly, right?

  19. right. we can’t have lifelong love. lifelong love stifles women’s creativity. you’re right, mojo boy.

    funny though how it’s the husband that keeps on pushing diane to take pictures, hey? are we meant to understand that he likes or dislikes the new ones?

    know what bothered me, though? why does furry boy have to become all glabrous for her to make love to him? that sucks.

  20. i get this reaction whenever i use this word with native english speakers. it’s a bit more common in italian (the italian version, that is).

    my advice is that you use it as often as you can.

    scabrosity, not glabrosity, is the hollywood way.

  21. I just watched ‘The Dead Girl’ and it seemed a movie of two parts. The first three (The Stranger, the Sister, the Wife) were all superb: dark, delicately drawn, haunting, fresh. There is scarcely a bad performance, with Collette and Ribisi especially strong. But parts 4 and 5 (the Mother, the Dead Girl) seemed to be almost a different movie, and one that I liked much less. It became a fairly conventional melodrama, milking the emotional loss (in a way that the earlier parts had avoided), more extravagant use of strings in the soundtrack, and ramping up the angry confrontations, as if the director does not trust us to feel for the characters unless they are screaming at each other. Compare the exquisite mother-daughter argument about whether and how to mourn for the (presumably) dead sister in part 2 to what comes later.

    For me, at least, it all goes wrong with the introduction of the young child (the Dead Girl’s daughter). We are meant to feel uplifted by the existence of a child, as if death can be compensated for by the next generation, and redemption is possible for grandmother and dead girl by virtue of their devotion to the child. Hollywood is generally not good at dealing with children, but I was surprised that such a good movie lost its way so quickly. The mood changes on a dime (and from taking place entirely at night, or in the dark, it shifts to bright sunlight), and the emotional touch just seemed to vanish.

Leave a Reply