Where Are All The Women In Film?

by Aidan Daley-Hynes

Photo by Danielle Lurie

 Angelenos, story-makers, film buffs, and women who put women first, be sure to catch the last dates of the completely free UCLA Film Fatales series on May 24, 26, and 31. Also worth your time is one of the seventeen Film Fatales’ entries into the LA Film Festival coming up June 1-9. Do not miss your chance to see what these wise ladies are up to.

Consider the stark statistics. According to a recent study conducted by USC Annenberg, 77.4% of show creators are men. Only 17.1% of television directors are women. 28.7% of speaking roles in film are filled by female characters. And here’s the kicker: Less than 5% of top box office films are directed by women.

Sounds a little off, right? You may look at your peers and say to yourself there is no shortage of talented women in film. Movies are definitely not a gendered interest. We do not need to go into elementary schools and nurture young girls’ attraction to the arts, like we may do with tech and other areas of science.

The reason for the feeble numbers is a question of access and bias. Festival programmers are coming around in a big way— in 2015, 40% of directors at LA Film Fest were female. But an older guard of Hollywood gatekeepers who rely on their gut feeling that when it comes to women directors the talent is not there, or who believe women aren’t skilled enough to handle a giant crew, continues to stand in the way.

The Hollywood Reporter repeatedly throws shade at female-made and driven movies. As proof, check out the recent slam of Jodie Foster’s Money Monster opening at Cannes. It’s also calling The Meddler, Lorene Scafaria’s story about grief and the mother-daughter bond, “safe and sitcomishly amusing.” 

Film Fatales Programming Director Laurie Weltz pointed out this last facet that contributes to industry discrimination. She says, “it is a combination of so many things. For some reason people don’t have the confidence to give women money.” Weltz saw fifteen years between the opening of her first feature, Wrestling with Alligators, and her second feature About Scout, which played the UCLA series earlier in the month and is available for streaming on Amazon.

Unfortunately, Weltz’s experience is not uncommon. Most female directors cannot find enough support to even make a second feature. Kathryn Bigelow (who won an Oscar forThe Hurt Locker), Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), Jill Soloway (Transparent), Laura Poitras (Citizen Four)— a few names emerge as shining examples from the talent pool. But it takes a community, not just a few stand-outs, to advance women in film.

If you understand that — which you do because you are not an idiot — then you understand how important it is for female filmmakers to form said community and start systematically breaking down some walls. “Half of our society is women. Half of the audiences are women. Half of the creative content needs to be made by women,” says Leah Meyerhoff (I Believe in Unicorns), founder of the Film Fatales.

The Film Fatales, a super group of women who “have directed at least one narrative feature film, documentary, or television episode” (press release), serves to elevate new generations of female filmmakers, and counts Jill Soloway as an ally.

The Film Fatales started as a dinner party organized by Meyerhoff in Park Slope back in 2013. Three short years later, they are sweeping the indie film circuit with festival panels that, in Meyerhoff’s words, “spread the gospel,” in addition to recommendations, master classes, and their massive programmer’s list of, currently, 110 features and 150 short films directed by women.

“We’re a good place to reach out to for quality female directed films,” says Weltz. The group is finding important inroads to the mainstream entertainment industry as well, making moves at NBC Universal, Netflix, and newly partnering with Ingenious Media to cook up the “Made by Women” incubator.

“[Industry leaders] want to have a diverse line up but they don’t know how to find those films,” Meyerhoff says. “So what Film Fatales is trying to do is to bridge that gap.” Film Fatales are meeting a need head on— as a resource to those who care to effect change, but, foremost, as a source of galvanizing positivity for women filmmakers.

It all comes back to the monthly dinner parties, which emphasize collaboration, networking, support, resource sharing, and discussions on film. Meyerhoff calls the Fatales is a “peer mentoring organization at its heart.” Describing these dinners, LA chapter co-head Shaz Bennett (Alaska is a Drag) told me— on her way to the Peabody Awards, no less— that “meetings get very nerdy and craft based,” comparing it to the Magic Castle for directors.

Film Fatales is less of an organization, and more of a global movement (with a great name). Chapters have spread beyond New York and Los Angeles to cities across the North America, Australia, and Latin America.

Meyerhoff and other chapter leaders care not only to encourage everyone to talk the talk, but also to walk the walk. She says, “Moving to this new phase is getting women hired… There’s enough buzz, and people reach out. We’re the source.”

Did I say movement? I meant, these women are beasts.

889b2887 1ccb 4b26 8e0b bd386bc45fe7 copyPhoto by Joe Tanis Photography

And don’t forget to check out some of their work at the remaining dates of the UCLA screening series at the James Bridges Theater in Los Angeles…

– May 24th at 7:30PM: End of Days by Jennifer Liao

– May 26th at 7:30PM: a great selection of Film Shorts by L.A. Fatales. Many of the shorts have gone on to be made into features, and many of the directors will be there for talk backs. 

– May 31st at 7:30PM: Lyle by the androgynously named Stewart Thorndike is a thriller starring Gaby Hoffman, and is best described as a “Lesbian Rosemary’s Baby…” A must see!

– Again, admission is FREE.

Mark your calendars June 1-9 for the LA Film Festival at the ArcLight Cinemas in Los Angeles. Film Fatales are holding a cocktail party on June 2.

If you are in New York, join Her Girl Friday and Film Fatales on Friday June 4th at 6pm for a frank and informal discussion about how to make it work as a Documentarian. Admission is FREE at ThoughtWorks NYC (panelists include Judith Helfand, Liz Nord, Lynn True, Ursula Liang.) All genders encouraged to attend. 

For more information on the Fatale’s movements and further reading, please check out their website at FilmFatales.org.

And for your further viewing pleasure, check out a full list of all of the female directors on Netflix, which includes I Believe in Unicorns, Meyerhoff’s stand out film.

Photos via Film Fatales

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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