Dr. Michele Meek is the author of the new book Independent Female Filmmakers: A Chronicle Through Interviews, Profiles and Manifestos. The writer, professor and director features the work of multiple directors from Martha Coolidge to Jennifer Fox in the hope of raising awareness for film-going audiences about the impact of women in film. FF2 Media spoke to Dr. Meek about her book on September 4.
“As a director myself, it was important to stay as true to the words of the individual filmmakers as possible in this book,” said Meek, a director of award-winning short films like Imagine Kolle 37. “I think it's great to have scholarly work written about films, but the goal of Independent Female Filmmakers was different—it was to have a broad view of each filmmaker through a biography, and then to have an intimate understanding of their work in their own words.”
Meek began adding a diverse crop of female-directed films to her curriculum as a professor of film studies, digital media and screenwriting at Bridgewater State University.
“As I discovered the movies of some of the filmmakers in my book—Miranda July, Deepa Mehta, Jennifer Fox, Julie Dash, Lisa Cholodenko—and started adding them to my syllabi over the years, it was so exciting,” she said. “I knew I had found films that would shift how I taught and how I made films myself. What drew me in was not only their pushing the boundaries of form and style, but also the rich and layered depictions of female characters and their relationships.”
Her scholarly research and her work as a director led to the compilation of Independent Female Filmmakers, featuring a diverse group of interviewees and essays that stray from the conventional.
“An important first step is to discover a more diverse group of people making films so we can start to open ourselves up to some new ways of storytelling. Sometimes this is uncomfortable. There's a reason why we keep telling the same Marvel stories over and over—as audiences, we tend to prefer the familiar. But when you let go of some of your strict expectations about what ‘should happen’ in a film or what it ‘should look like,’ you can truly start to appreciate different types of storytelling,” Meek said, citing films like Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July) and Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash) as examples.
“I have always wanted a more diverse set of role models to admire than the ones that I grew up knowing about,” she said. “It truly saddened me the first time I was teaching an independent film class many years ago that I couldn't rattle off as many female directors as male. So I took it upon myself to seek out their work and become informed.”
She encourages others to do the same - to not only educate themselves but also take practical steps in support of female filmmakers.
“We all need to put our money where our mouths are. If we're passionate about equality in the industry, we absolutely can not have the attitude of ‘Well, I'm just one person so it doesn't matter what I watch.’ It all matters,” she said. “If we all make a commitment to discovering more female-directed work, it will make an enormous impact. I recommend people subscribe to lists like FF2 Media and Women and Hollywood to find out about new female-directed work and go see it.”
Submitting female-directed work to lists like the National Film Registry can also make a difference. In March, Meek wrote an op-ed for Salon about the fact that only seven percent of the Library of Congress National Film Registry is directed by women. “Every year, there's an open call—we have to keep hammering away until we are heard and change occurs.”
Audiences can also learn more about film history in addition to buying tickets for new releases. “I think it's as important to look back as it is to look ahead. Seek out the past films of female filmmakers. Many of them have created groundbreaking work that somehow has not found its deserved place in the film history books yet. But the more of us that find that work and start to write about it, teach it, and share it, the more likely these important films will be remembered.”
Meek took this into account when compiling stories for Independent Female Filmmakers. “Many of the women in the book have had robust film careers over decades. But there were a small group of filmmakers whose careers had clearly been stymied despite their revolutionary work—in particular Maria Maggenti and Lizzie Borden,” she said, citing their timeless and groundbreaking works The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love and Born in Flames. “It took some persuasion to convince them they belonged in this book, too. But to me, it was more important that they had made films that had groundbreaking depictions or shifted the conversation then that they were still actively making films now.”
Maggenti’s was a particularly memorable interview for Meek. “I was...moved by Maggenti's forthright description about the rage that she has felt about how much work her male counterparts have been able to get done, while it took her many years to find funding for her second film despite her commercial and successful first feature,” she said. “I think her words were a revelation to me because it suddenly occurred to me that these women were
doubly discriminated against—first when coming up against all the many obstacles to get their films made and seen, and then again in how their films are often omitted from our film history.”
The lack of female critics and critics of color has played what Meek calls “a significant role” in what films are deemed important—and which are passed over. “I write in my introduction to the book about what Lili Loufbourow calls the ‘male glance’—the tendency for male critics to focus more attention on films by or about men and boys. A lot of women scholars and critics—even feminist ones—have focused the bulk of their attention on white male-directed work because that's what has been marketed and sold to us. It's what we know. So it's up to us to seek out new and old work by a more diverse group of filmmakers. I really believe we are at a critical moment where we can take the outrage that people feel over the imbalance of the industry and call attention to great work by women—new and old—that deserves our attention. And we will all be better for having experienced it.”
© Georgiana E. Presecky (9/6/19) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Michele Meek (Credit: Marko Bussman)
Bottom hoto credit: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens