Re: judges' statement - gender representation in exp film

From: Pip Chodorov (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Jun 23 2006 - 17:55:44 PDT

Here's a can of worms for you all. I was
surprised by the judges' statement. This is
something I have found interesting for a long
time: in the mainstream, women are certainly
still underrepresented, while alternative film
and video has achieved equality in recent history.

Working in the late 1980's in commercial film
distribution in New York and in Paris, male
domination was evident and is still evident when
I attend the Cannes film festival every year to
this day. However, ever since I have been
participating in meetings of experimental film
distribution cooperatives or artist-run
production labs (since 1990), there have
consistently been an equal number of men and
women engaged in discussion, running the groups
and making and showing new work. Obviously this
is a relatively recent development; there are
fewer historical avant-garde films by women; and
women filmmakers over 40 remember only too well
how hard it was before. When did this change, why
did this change, and why only in alternative
media? I spend the day asking women colleagues
their thoughts.

Filmmaker Frédérique Devaux (FR) thinks this has
to do with the radical freedom inherent in the
medium. You have to be independent. She also says
there are no power structures or hierachy in
experimental film, and that women may not want to
enter into a system (Hollywood) that is
inherently sexist. Filmmaker Lucy Allwood (UK)
adds that the determination and singe-mindedness
demanded by a career in Hollywood is not
compatible with the lifestyle including
motherhood and moreover not compatible with
dating. Men seem less attracted to powerful women
pursuing a career. Young girls excel at school
until they learn in early adolescence that
bookishness is not sexy; their grades drop at 14.
On the other hand, experimental filmmaking is
sexy. It is a hobby and a craft for which the
only driving force is passion. Tokyo filmmaker
Yuiko Matsuyama (J) says she is proud to be a
housewife (married to a filmmaker and professor).
She likes her job and it gives her freedom to
live confortably and make her work, whereas her
husband has a lot of pressure to earn money and
work long hours and make films. She came to
filmmaking after quitting her first job and
finding a flyer for Image Forum workshops and
enrolling in courses. When Image Forum started
offering courses in the early 1980s, they were
surprised to find more women than men enrolling.
Holly Fisher (USA), who lived through hardships
as a woman filmmaker, says the problem may be
tied in to personal identity; the way in which
people come to make experimental films now, the
workshops and courses that teach it, the groups
and squats that nurture it, the peer group
surrounding it, the encouragement for
self-expression may be even more encouraging for
women seeking a voice now then for men. And in
the current social climate films by women and by
minorities are in even greater demand.

But if this were completely true, then one would
expect to see as many minority filmmakers as
white ones. Frédérique's answer was that there
are many, that everyone in this business is in
some way or another an outsider or a foreigner.
It is true looking around the active groups now
that many members are displaced persons, social
outcasts, sexual deviants, etc, who have found
experimental film the best way to achieve both
personal expression and total freedom. Lucy adds
that there is however an elitist nature in some
experimental work and a theoretical base needed
to really understand a lot of it; it is true that
a certain education is required, or a certain
amount of cultural nurturing at a young age, to
engage with these films and the ideas in them.
Frédérique has been teaching experimental film
for many years and says that more and more
students are minority; she feels that the next
generation of experimental filmmakers will
inevitably be predominantly minorities.

-Pip Chodorov

>"We want to call attention to the underrepresentation of women in this year's
>festival. While it is not uncommon in both mainstream and alternative
>media festivals for the makers to be mainly men, we are aware of the
>multitudes of exceptional female experimental filmmakers, both here and
>abroad. Hence their relative absence at Onion City, and in our own awards
>roster, took
>us by surprise. Here's hoping for more equal representation in future years."

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.