Policy Matters: Do Women Make Films?

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has programmed over 25 Canadian feature films this season, some with au courant cute boy-minded titles like Young People F*cking, and some from the usual masters like Cronenberg and Arcand. Nestled in with all the men is only one film helmed by a woman, Kari Skogland, for her adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. In a summer that’s seen Judd Apatow’s bank- bursting films on male juvenilia, it’s a little hard to take. One could be forgiven for asking, ‘Do women make movies?’ There’s no way to finesse the words: it appears we women don’t direct features and that’s inexcusable. We have better gender parity in the recent right-wing Federal cabinet shuffle, which is down to 18% of women in Cabinet.

I acknowledge the groan of ‘Oh no, not that old chestnut again.’ Its tone of irritation owes more to the anger that this is still part of an egregious problem than it does to the stale whiff of a supposedly outmoded feminist whine. I wish it were history, but as any postmodern-minded soul will tell you, there’s nothing ipso facto progressive about history. And, undeniably, there’s nothing progressive about the dearth of women as feature film directors.

Let’s be fair and clear about one thing: TIFF is not alone in shutting women out. “But there aren’t any women who are directing, and certainly few— like men—who are directing good work,” you might say. Jane Campion smartly addressed these myths of scarcity and excellence at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. There, she screened her latest work, a short fantasy film about a woman dressed in a ladybug costume who gets stomped in a movie theatre—clearly a metaphor for women in the film world. It’s not hard to see why she made the film: Campion was the lone woman among 30 filmmakers, who were honoured this year at Cannes. Of her film she explained, “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,” and they’re not giving it to women who, it seems, are stubbornly attached to ‘hard sell’ stories shunned by rich producers.

Debra Zimmerman, the executive director of feminist distributor Women Make Movies in NYC, claims (on their website) that the industry’s sexism is because of the “intersection of two things that are incredibly important to men: one is business, and the other is art.” Zimmerman says that part of the problem is that men run over
80% of the film festivals, from boards to juries.

One bright spot on the festival map is Sundance, for whom the ‘hard sell’ is fodder for their audiences. In fact, Zimmerman claims that its reputation for nurturing and launching women directors stems from the fact that many of their programmers are women. This may sound overly simplistic, since gender alone guarantees nothing, but it sure can’t hurt. It also doesn’t hurt that more films made for television are programmed at Sundance because that’s where many women in fact are working, especially in documentary.

On a brighter note, there are lots of Canadian women filmmakers at TIFF this year in the short film programme. I guess ladybugs are good at tiny things, and we should ask what groups like Women in Film and Television and their ilk are going to do about it. POV

Barri Cohen is an award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker and producer. She is currently producing filmmaker Phyllis Ellis’s next feature for the Documentary Channel and Radio-Canada.

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