Turner Classic Movies’ “Women Make Film” Series Shines Light on One Hundred Films Directed by Women

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will premiere the lauded 14-part documentary Women Make Film, introducing weekly episodes from the series beginning on the television channel TCM September 1, 2020, at 8 pm EST and subsequent Tuesdays through December 1, 2020. The documentary series, written and directed by Mark Cousins, garnered world-wide attention at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Narrated by Tilda Swinton, Jane Fonda, Thandie Newton, and more ask pertinent filmmaking questions about how stories evolve, finding the right shot, and editing, “all through the compelling lens of some of the world’s greatest directors—all of them women.”

According to Charles Tabesh, Senior Vice President of Programming, Production, and Content Strategy, Director Cousins is no stranger to TCM.  He shared, “We’ve worked with Mark since 2013 when we featured his 15-part documentary, The Story of Film.” Tabesh who admires Cousins’ body of work continued, “…[Cousins] takes a very strong editorial position; he respects the intelligence of his audience; his knowledge of film history is greater than anyone I know. He’s an absolute pleasure to work with…so when the distributor for this project, Dogwoof, approached us about licensing it for TCM, I was immediately interested.”

Initially, Tabesh planned to play the film and augment it with the movies featured in the documentary. However, he stated, “I soon realized that there was no reason to be limited to only those titles—Mark had reasons for including certain films, but we didn’t need to be so rigid. Ultimately, I decided that it would make sense to accompany the documentary with many titles that weren’t necessarily included in Mark’s film, but that would still enhance his goal of celebrating the rich history of women filmmakers from around the world.”

Thanks to this broad approach, TCM will now feature films from 12 decades—and representing  44 countries—totaling 100 classic and current titles all created by women.  Films that inspired today’s best filmmakers include Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A. (1976),  and other bold filmmakers like Dorothy Arzner’s Merrily We Go To Hell (1932), Leontine Sagan’s Madchen in Uniform (1931), and current titles such as director Laurie Anderson’s  Heart of a Dog  (2015) are all a part of the series.  Tabesh added, “… there are so many filmmakers that deserve to be known and appreciated, including many that most of us know nothing about.  And I really wanted to represent as many countries and cultures as possible.”

Cinema has evolved over the last century, and many women—whose names are all but forgotten— are at the core of these changes.  Revolutionary film techniques developed by women are now universally employed in the art form.  As Tabesh stated, “They aren’t for ‘women’s films’ or ‘women’s stories,’ they’re just for great storytelling through film.”  

The series is much like a film class.  Each week’s topic is categorized into learnable bites:  For example, “Night One: Openings and Tone” and “Night Twelve: Reveal, Memory, and Time” are all supplemented by featuring classic films supporting these topics making viewing not only entertaining but educational.  Licensing many of these films proved to be challenging, but agreements were ultimately obtained from studios, independent distributors, and “our friends at Criterion.”  Interestingly, many of the films were never or rarely seen in the United States, and the TCM team had to create their subtitles for some of these films.  Viewers will better understand the process of filmmaking and the talent behind the scenes to produce our favorite films, or  perhaps you’ll find a new favorite after seeing this series.

Special guests showcased in the series include Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Barbara Kopple (Desert One), Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead), Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki), Lizzie Borden (Born in Flames), Mira Nair (Queen of Katwe), and—of course—the writer and director of Women Make Film, Mark Cousins. These directors will be sharing their knowledge and insight about filmmaking and the impact of seeing the world through the female lens. 

Tabesh hopes that ultimately viewers not only learn about women in the history of film but also get a glimpse “… into other cultures and get a feel for how different people live or lived in other times and places.”  However, Tabesh accentuated the fact that “…there is and there has been sexism in the film industry, and barriers have [been] in place for women throughout much of film history, especially once it became big business and the Hollywood studios took control.  But despite those barriers, there’s a rich and wonderful history of great films made by women that we should all know about and celebrate.”

Finding ways to help level the playing field in the future, “TCM is partnering with re: Imagine/ATL to host a contest for burgeoning female filmmakers. Entrants from the nonprofit’s No Comment program will have the chance to have their narrative or documentary featured on the TCM YouTube page, along with a filmmaking equipment package and cash prize.”   

For more information about the series, go to https://womenmakefilm.tcm.com.

Photo Credits: Turner Classic Movies (TCM)

© Pamela Powell (08/28/20) FF2 Media

Tags: FF2 Media, TCM, Turner Classic Movies, WomenMakeFilm

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Pamela Powell
New York native film critic and film critic Pamela Powell now resides near Chicago, interviewing screenwriters and directors of big blockbusters and independent gems as an Associate for FF2 Media. With a graduate degree from Northwestern in Speech-Language Pathology, she has tailored her writing, observational, and evaluative skills to encompass all aspects of film. With a focus on women in film, Pamela also gravitates toward films that are eye-opening, educational, and entertaining with the hopes of making this world a better place. 
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