A few weeks ago, I attended the Woodstock Film Festival where I watched several women-directed documentaries that I thoroughly enjoyed, including Mary Janes, The Women of Weed (Windy Borman) and Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean). I left there wanting to watch even more documentaries, so I was excited to learn about DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival held at the IFC Center, Cinepolis Chelsea and the SVA Theatre in New York City.
The 8th annual festival runs until November 16 and includes 111 feature-length documentaries (out of more than 250 films and events overall). Included are 23 world premieres and 23 U.S. premieres, with more than 350 filmmakers and special guests appearing in person.
According to Susan Norget, the makeup of female filmmakers at the festival has historically been pretty strong. “This year it’s about 40 percent women, last year it was 44 percent, but I don’t think that drop is indicative of any kind of a real downward trend, just a year where there were slightly fewer,” she said. “Perhaps next year it will bounce up again. It always hovers at between 40-50 percent.”
Interestingly, at the Woodstock Film Festival, I had a chance to talk to Windy Borman about her film and how the number of women in documentary filmmaking can improve.
“If we want people to value women in society, we need to value women in film,” said Borman. “On the surface, I know it looks pretty grim. The statistics of women in film haven’t budged in years and more women are vocalizing the assault, harassment and discrimination we face. These are very real problems that we must address—and address now.”
On the other hand, Borman explains that there is so much to gain by telling our stories, in our voices. “Box office numbers prove that women-directed and women-led films connect with audiences and turn profits,” she said. “Men may still control politics and the media, but they’re losing their grip because their perspective doesn’t match the majority. Women making films challenges the status quo, shifts the power dynamic, and speaks truth to power. We will persevere.”
Borman has some great advice for those women who want to be part of the film industry or make a documentary. “Don’t ask for permission or wait to be invited into the film industry,” she said. “If you want to make films, just start. Do your research, test your idea, grab a camera, and find—or start—a women in film group. Women supporting women lifts us all up.”
Make sure you have an opportunity to see what other women documentarians are doing as well. At the DOC NYC festival, some of the films from women directors include 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide by Hope Litoff, which also enjoyed performances at the Woodstock Film Festival. Litoff’s film is about the suicide of her sister Ruth and confronting her own grief while trying to make sense of the loss. It will show on November 14 and 15.
The very powerful A Better Man, which was directed by Attiya Khan, brings together Khan and her abusive ex-boyfriend. They talk about the abuse and Steve’s role in it and whether or not he is remorseful for his actions. The Pink House by Sascha Ettinger Epstein focuses on 70-year-old Carmel who runs the oldest working brothel in Kalgoorlie, Australia. Both of these films show on November 15.
Others that have shown at the festival include Nothing Without Us (Fight the Power) was directed by Harriet Hirshorn and focuses on the role that women have played — and continue to play — in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The Other Side of Everything, directed by Mila Turajlic, follows the recent troubled history of Serbia through the experiences of her mother, Srbijanka.
World premieres at the festival include A Murder in Mansfield, by Barbara Kopple (Miss Sharon Jones!), which explores the impact of a 1989 murder on a family; and Naila and the Uprising, by Julia Bacha (Budrus), about the hidden role women played in the First Intifada, a project that won last year’s DOC NYC Pitch Perfect competition.
Among this year’s U.S. premieres are The Stranger, by past DOC NYC award-winner Nicole N. Horanyi, about a woman who discovers the man of her dreams has secrets; Armed with Faith, by Geeta Gandbhir and Asad Faruqi, which follows the heroic Pakistani Bomb Disposal Unit.
Complete program & ticket info: www.docnyc.net/
© Lisa Iannucci (11/13/17) FF2 Media
Photos: A Better Man (Women Make Movies) and 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide by Hope Litoff (Credit: HBO)