On Female Directors & Letting a Movie Live

Manohla Dargis wrote an excellent article in the January 9, 2014 New York Times, entitled ‘As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity’ about the flood of movies, often mediocre, that flood theaters.   She’d polled “some 70 industry professionals” with interesting takes, including Janet Pierson’s concise summation: “The impulse to make a film has far outrun the impulse to go out and watch in a theater.”  Her article makes some interesting points that apply especially to female film directors.

Dargis notes that Lena Dunham broke out with the indie film “Tiny Furniture” but since moved on to her HBO series ‘Girls’ to “hone her craft” though in a 2012 interview Ms. Dunham had been interested in a “Steven Soderbergh career model.” Dargis noted that, like some of the other great independent directors of the 1980s and 90s, “Mr. Soderbergh emerged at a time when filmmakers could fail and rebound, develop their cinematic vocabulary and refine their art. His first feature, “sex, lies and videotape,” which built Miramax Films and kick-started a movement, didn’t open: It Lived.”

The fact that the film climate no longer tolerates failures or allows the time and patience for rebounds and refining their art is a bigger issue for female directors, who have their film plucked from the straight white male mainstream and automatically classified as a ‘woman’s film’ or a film by a female director, and slotted into that extremely narrow category where studio execs and critics wait for it’s solitary arrival, ready to pounce. And if it’s not brilliant (i.e., extremely profitable or critically acclaimed) then that spells doom for ALL films in these categories, whether labeled ‘directed by a woman,’ or ‘chick flick,’ etc.

How strange that film, once the harbinger of relatively independent, expansive thought, has so clearly become the narrow-minded step-child to television, which is currently a much more expansive environment for diversity.  Is it too simplistic to consign this to a heightened (straight white male) corporate environment, where weekly and daily grosses are widely dispersed and discussed, even by mere mortals outside the industry?  Because it also seems to have infiltrated the Academy executives.  At last year’s Oscar ceremony, a ceremony by and large celebrating straight white males in the largely straight white male film industry, the straight white male host turned the proceedings into a straight white male frat-boy fiasco, even singing a song about ‘boobs.’  And the Academy’s response?  The ratings were up!   Surely the Academy would understand the irony of that credo, considering the Academy membership of 1976 gave their best film award to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network’– “the story of Howard Beale: The first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”

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