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Manohla Dargis and her fight for female filmmakers

Manohla Dargis is  using her position as a critic of reckoning to write a series of articles on female filmmakers and their fight for equality.

The first one focused on Ava DuVernay and “Selma”. Everything I’ve seen and read about DuVernay says that she is incredibly pragmatic. From her keynote at Film Independent (where she urged filmmakers to focus on their work instead of getting desperate), to the fact that she was aware of set dynamics and managed the crew to ensure the set ran the way she wanted:

Movie sets can be very unfriendly spaces for women, as she knows. Before she started shooting, she recalled, she sat down with “every single person” on the crew and said, “I’m inviting you to work with me, so this is going to run in the way that I want it to run.”

The very fact that she got “Selma” made is credit to her. But as Dargis calls out, to make the leap to the big leagues, she had to make stories where the protagonists were men.

Notably, Ms. DuVernay and Ms. Jolie, having made movies about women, have now made the leap to bigger stakes with stories centered on men. I hope their movies burn up the box office, but I also hope they return to movies about women. We need those stories, and these days, female directors are often the only ones interested in them. Gender equality is an undeniable imperative. But it’s also essential to the future of the movies: This American art became great with stories about men *and* women, not just a superhero and some token chick.

Emphasis on the last sentence is mine.

While the first article focuses on one breakout director, the second article, paints a broader picture. Dargis covers women who’ve “made it” and then fallen off the map as directors as well as women who are producers.

This section about Amy Pascal is telling –

Among the female stories that Ms. Pascal helped shepherd earlier in her career was a lovely adaptation of that classic, “Little Women,” by Gillian Armstrong. Ms. Pascal had her share of critical and commercial successes, but those films were often also singled out for their subjects: women. In 2000, Variety predicted that Ms. Pascal’s forthcoming releases would “go a long way toward restoring some hormonal balance to the femme-heavy offerings marking her reign.” Movies like “The Patriot” and “The Hollow Man,” the article continued, as if to reassure anxious men everywhere, “will all provide a sharp blast of testosterone to the screen — and, it is hoped, a shot of adrenaline to the Sony ledgers.” That year, its biggest hit turned out to be the femme-heavy “Charlie’s Angels.”

Back in July I asked Ms. Pascal if those digs about the movies she made with women had affected her. She said that for a long time she felt “really embarrassed by that, because chick flicks are movies about girls who don’t work. They’re not really movies about girls who do. But then, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, that’s all she can do.’ So, maybe I overcorrected a little bit. Maybe I overcorrected and that’s not really a good thing to do.” She expressed excitement about some of the hits with female protagonists that had come out in the summer, though none were from Sony. “I think that the world has moved on,” she said, “and we’re not acknowledging it.”

As a producer, as a studio head, Pascal felt so much pressure to prove that she’s not “just” a woman, that she can make more than chick flicks, that she “overcorrected”. When was the last time a man appointed in a position of power had to examine whether he was perceived as making movies that are “too masculine” or “too action-packed” and overcorrect and make smaller, more sensitive movies? Pascal is one of the most powerful women in Hollywood and still she feels the pressure. The constant sexism and the repercussions of it are worth contemplating.

A facebook post recently drew my attention to this list of the top 20 cinematographers. #14 was “The women”. That is, all the women cinematographers grouped together. And the author’s explanation was that since no woman would make the list1, he thought he’d make them one homogenous blob that would serve to highlight the problem of the lack of women. Could you imagine doing this to any other demographic? Yeah, this is the world we inhabit.

That is why we need Dargis’ articles. Because if she didn’t, no one else would.


  1. a very questionable claim 


Scorsese at NYU

This year, Scorsese was the Graduation speaker for the Tisch School of the Arts at the Salute.

Many of my classmates graduated this year and heard him speak live, but I just watched this last week thanks to this tweet.

The style is casual, but it’s an inspiring speech. He talks about the highs, the joys, finding inspiration, but where he really focuses is on how to keep doing it, on enjoying the process, the act of creating, on embracing the struggle.

A few lines really stood out for me:
– The force of disappointment can be alchemized into something that will, paradoxically, renew you.
– You have to be singular, inflexible, unyielding in your own work so that even the struggle, the very struggle to achieve, becomes its own reward.
– The hard, simple, ability to continue is a kind of blessing.

 


Who is a storyteller?

Stefan Sagmeister takes a very extreme stance in this video, but sometimes extreme stances help spur the conversation.

We all tell stories in our lives. We tell stories to our kids, to our friends and our work colleagues. Every startup entrepreneur who pitches her company (hundreds of times), learns how to tell a compelling story in a pithy way. Should we all call ourselves storytellers?

We all make food to feed ourselves. Whether it’s toast, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, pasta or a more gourmet meal. Should we all call ourselves chefs?

We all doodle and make presentations. Should we all call ourselves creators or artists?

We all hum. Should we all call ourselves musicians?

We all tinker on our computers, fix annoyances and set up our preferences on programs we use. Should we all call ourselves technologists?

Maybe you laughed at the last one, but it’s a valid comparison. Just like it would be silly for people who uses technology as part of their jobs to call themselves technologists, it is silly for people who uses storytelling as part of their jobs to call themselves storytellers.

They are both tools you use to do your job. They are both tools in life, at this point. Everyone tells stories, everyone uses technology.

One of the points in Sagmeister’s video I do agree with is that most novelists or filmmakers don’t actually call themselves storytellers. They call themselves writers/novelists and filmmakers.

The word storyteller has been consumed by pop-culture, by tech culture. While I definitely do not feel as strongly about this as Sagmeister seems to (to each his own, who really cares, etc.), I do think words have value and when they are misused, they lose value. As he says “…it sort of took on the mantle of bullshit.” Yep.


Experiencing art

One photo

Why do Gopnik and Viveros-Fauné spend an entire hour discussing a single work? Because that is what art deserves. Consider that people spend weeks, even months, with a novel; hours with a movie or a play; and countless hours playing video games

But when it comes to visual art, the treatment—the time devoted to a viewing—can approximate the length of a drive-by shooting or a turn on the catwalk. Too often people literally take a spin around the room of a gallery or a museum and then dine out on the experience—”We saw Pollock!” They say. “And Judd and Albers and Soutine!” Of course, they did see those artists’ works; they just didn’t spend much time with those artists and artworks. They didn’t, as it were, slow down and hang out (sorry) with those artworks for a meaningful length of time.

via Strictly Critical Video: One Hour Looking at a Jackson Pollock Painting at MoMA – artnet News.

The amount of work it takes to create any piece of art is significant. For a movie, it may take years to make the 90 minute film. For a painting, several weeks or months.

The world is moving in the wrong direction in terms of speed of consumption and in terms of how it is consumed. A selfie with a piece of art is about you. Not about the art.

Art deserves more.

photo credit : jackson-pollock.org


Paying Creators

Paying Creators

A month ago, I got an email from a filmmaker, Kenneth Wajda.

He had seen my film “In That Moment” when our films screened together at the deadCenter Film Festival in 2011.

I am in the small town of Lyons Colorado, (20 min north of Boulder) which
got destroyed by flood waters last September. I am working to open a
screening room to show indie films in town, called the Lyons Cinema and
Photography Art Center. Just opening a new business has been a source of
inspiration for this town. Would it be possible to screen your film for our
audience? And/or other films of yours? I want to create a program that shows
quality films worth talking about, and yours certainly is.

I may be able to offer some pay. I am a believer that filmmakers should be
paid for screenings, so I will try to make some payment to you for your
work, depending on our turnout. (We only seat 30 or so, so it can’t be a
lot, but it may pay for a beer or two, anyway.)

As a filmmaker, I want my movies seen, so I sent Kenneth a vimeo link and got on with my life.

Two weeks later, I was surprised to receive a PayPal payment of $10 from Kenneth. Now, as he had said originally, $10 is not a lot of money, it may pay for a couple of beers or coffees. But here’s a filmmaker who’s starting a business in a town that’s been recently devastated, who is trying to spread the love of movies, and who is paying filmmakers to screen short films.

In a world where content is consumed for free, where creators have to give stuff away for years before getting paid, this was a very refreshing change.  The symbolism, and the intent behind it, matters. In fact, it is so unusual that it has forced me to write a rare post.

Good luck, Keith, in your efforts to bring short film to Lyons, Colorado.


How will celebs change crowdfunding?

Kickstarter BadgeWhen Zach Braff launched his Kickstarter campaign for “Wish I Was Here”, he caught a lot of flak.

Kickstarter is a platform and I believe anyone should be able to use it. Even celebrities. And I agree that famous people bring new funders to the platform.

Zach raised $3,105,473 on Kickstarter, exceeding his $2 million goal significantly. Since May 24th, when the campaign ended, till today, there have been eleven updates via Kickstarter (there were 32 while the campaign was ongoing). He says he hired a team of three to manage the kickstarter funders as he wanted “everyone to love the experience”.

As Perry and Yancey said in their post:

Kickstarter is a new way for creators to bring their projects to life. Not through commerce, charity, or investment — through a new model powered by a willing audience. The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects offered backers tickets to the premiere, cameos in the movie, access to the creative process, and other experiences in exchange for pledges. Fans were thrilled, and 100,000 people jumped on board.

It is a willing audience, who obviously thought that the perks they were getting were worth what they paid. They got to feel good about making this movie happen and Zach put effort to ensure they felt cared for.

“Wish I was here” premiered at Sundance and was acquired by Focus Features for $2. 7 million.

The budget was, reportedly, $5 million.
$3.1 million was raised on Kickstarter, so let’s say it is roughly $2.7 after all fees and fulfillment. The remaining $2.3 million came from investors of some sort – maybe from Zach himself, friends and family, and investors who didn’t insist on creative control.

This means, with the Focus deal, the investors have recouped their money. And there are still the other territories to be sold1, DVD, streaming rights etc.

If this movie had been funded without Kickstarter, Zach would have had less creative control and he would also still be working to recoup his budget. But with Kickstarter, Zach benefitted and his investors who were willing to have no creative control, also benefitted.

The hurdle rate just got a lot lower when Kickstarter is thrown into the mix. This is true for everyone, but it is specifically true for celebrities because they can fund such large amounts.

This raises all sorts of questions:

  • Is crowdfunding  a risk-free form of filmmaking that celebrities can enjoy? Is it another perk of being a celebrity?
  • Will investors ask celebrities to throw crowdfunding into the mix more often? Investors can validate the idea and reduce their own risk.
  • Will this lead to investors wanting to fund more celebrities (or proven properties like Veronica Mars) who are able to bring in “free” money?
  • Will this this help or hurt independent filmmakers who don’t bring as much crowdfunding clout as a celebrity does2 ?

It will be interesting to watch this space.


  1. Focus bought the rights only for North America, Poland and South Africa 

  2. I don’t necessarily mean “on” Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms (although that might also happen), but rather, the choice producers will make in terms of which movies to take on, the choices PE funds will make in terms of which movies to fund etc. 


“Varenya” at Film Bazaar

Film Bazaar  IFP

“Varenya” will participate in Film Bazaar’s Co-Production Market in Goa, India.

Film Bazaar is organized by India’s National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and aims to help filmmakers with South Asian stories connect with financiers.

Every year, IFP nominates a project to attend the Co-Production Market and I am honored that they chose “Varenya” to participate this year.

Read NFDC’s announcement here and Screen Daily’s article here.

My gratitude to IFP and NFDC for their support.


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