Don’t let history wipe out women’s cinematic footprint

TCM will feature films from 12 decades—and representing 44 countries—totaling 100 classic and current titles all created by women. Read more about this here! 

In 2010, Katherine Bigelow became the first woman to have won the Best Director category at the Academy Awards for her film The Hurt Locker. But modern viewers may be surprised to hear a little known fact: Fourteen years prior to Bigelow’s win, another female director of a feature film was also awarded the golden statuette. In 1996, writer and director Marleen Gorris won the Best Foreign Film category for her feature Antonia’s Line. If we’re talking about firsts, then this is absolutely another one to permanently inscribe upon our memory.

When people examine director Marleen Gorris’s earlier works, she’s often pigeon-holed as a feminist filmmaker. It’s easy to understand why; her first film, A Question of Silence (1982), revolved around three women who randomly choose a man to kill. Described it as a fantasy stemming from revengeful thoughts about the male gender, other viewers saw it as an artistic response to women living in a society dominated by men. Her second film, Broken Mirrors (1984), was a commentary on the patriarchy in Amsterdam explored through the experiences of prostitutes. Her third film, The Last Island (1990), was once described as a feminist version of Lord of the Flies.

When Antonia’s Line first came out, there was a women-only screening of the film. In a 1996 interview with SBS, Gorris said this irritated several men. According to the director, this was a publicity stunt encouraged by her sales agent to get the heads at Cannes to turn towards this film. Needless to say, it was very successful—everyone was questioning why this screening was only for women, but the important part was that it stimulated buzz. When Gorris is asked in that same interview how she felt about being called a feminist filmmaker, she responded that although she was fine with it, the term tended to narrow people’s view of her. For Gorris, Antonia’s Line was a way for her to show that “you could make an interesting story out of women’s lives…[in films] the women are there, but they’re there to bear children. And then you [the filmmakers] go onto bigger and better things. I wanted to stick with women this time.”

Despite being known as a feminist filmmaker in the late 20th century, I have to wonder: Why wasn’t Marleen Gorris’s past work brought up during the “Me Too” movement started by Tarana Burke in 2006? We rarely hear about the role of women activists behind the camera and how they contributed to the development of film. According to Deborah Calla, who is the West Coast Chair of Women’s Impact Network and Producers Guild of America’s Chair of the Diversity Committee, one answer is that because there were fewer films directed by women overall, meaning there were also “fewer films directed by women winning awards or being picked by festivals. Women directors end up having a smaller footprint.” The shortage of opportunities for women to create films in the 20th century resulted in fewer films by women, leading to less visibility. The lack of precedent has made it difficult for women in the latter half of the 20th century to secure funding. Furthermore, filmmakers are likely to need more than one film to improve their craft, but even if funding for one film was successfully raised, Calla also explains that funding for one film is usually all a woman director will receive. This makes it very difficult to create a body of work in an expensive art form like film.

Luckily there are woman-backed film gems that were created—and funded— in the past century. To ensure that women are not excluded from the world’s cinematic footprint, we should watch these films and remember them. Although I look forward to the day when we no longer need to use a gender prefix before the word “director,” for now, we can dig out the past works of women because these are the filmmakers whose works will be the precedent which will help women create their films in the future.

Turner Classic Movies is bringing together a great pool of films by women for their “Women Make Film” programming. After each scheduled live stream, the films can be found here for viewing, and all the wonderful filmmaker profiles can be found here.

Some other resources include:

Change Before Going Productions

Women Film Pioneers Project

Clássicos de Mulheres no Cinema

Cinemateca Popular Brasileira: Filmografias & Cronologias

© Katusha Jin (09/26/2020) FF2 Media

Feature Photo: Willeke van Ammelrooy and Els Dottermans in Antonia (1995)

Middle Photo: Marleen Gorris

Bottom Photo: Willeke van Ammelrooy and Els Dottermans

Photo Credits: Elisabeth Broeckaert; Nandos Scheerder; Film Movement (2015) (USA) (all media)

Tags: Antonia's Line, FF2 Media, katusha jin, Marleen Gorris, TCM, Turner Classic Movies, WomenMakeFilm

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Katusha Jin
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As part of the FF2 Media team, Katusha Jin interviews filmmakers, write features and reviews, and coaches other associates. She grew up in the UK and studied briefly in Russia and China before moving to New York for college. Graduating magna cum laude from New York University, Katusha majored in Film and Television at Tisch School of the Arts with minors in Business and Philosophy. She has worked as a producer, director, writer, and composer for various award-winning projects including short films, branded content, independent features, and music videos.
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