Just over a year ago, I pledged to take-up the 52 Films by Women challenge spearheaded by womeninfilm.org. The experience was sometimes frustrating, always eye-opening, and deeply engaging. It affected the new releases I chose to track down, my approach to an entire film festival, and how I browsed sites like Netflix in search of new cinematic quarry.
Now that the 52 titles are logged and the year is over, I look back on the year as a whole and notice a few trends, and realize I’ll have a few changes to my habit going forward.
I’d like to be able to sit here and write about what these women mean to the medium of film, or what they bring to the table, but the truth is that they bring so very much, I could write thousands of words and still barely scratch the surface.
Instead, I can only touch on the experience of it all, and instead point you towards voices like Marya E. Gates, Kiva Reardon, and Ariel Fisher who express the importance of these artists far better than I ever could.
I notice that my viewing was very heavily slanted towards the modern. Of my entire fifty-two, only a pair of them came from before 1991. Part of that is on me, since I didn’t go far enough to include talent like Riefenstahl, Cavani, and Akerman on the list…but part of that is on the industry at-large too for only recently coming around to giving more women the chance to tell their stories.
I skim channels like TCM and Movie Network Encore every week and record whatever looks interesting to watch later. It’s a pity more of these random bits of interest aren’t stories told by women.
The biggest realization came when I compared the books I was reading to the films I was watching. In books, there is such a category as women’s fiction: an umbrella term used to describe stories by female author, that focus women’s life experience, and are marketed towards a female audience.
Film doesn’t have that. This was a study in artists, not in genre.
The stories I watched unfold, while often women-centric, felt far more varied in genre, tine and marketing.
One wonders why that is? How one entire industry could tell so many stories about and by women (because they are the ones that primarily buy the books), while another could leave that half the audience so underserved?
I must confess that there were several directors who I wanted to include that I had trouble sourcing. To have completed a whole 52 weeks without selections by Lisa Cholodenko, Claire Denis, Debra Granik, Penny Marshall, Amy Heckerling, Ida Lupino, and Lynne Ramsay seems…incomplete. In many cases it was because I had seen their best-known works and wanted to keep the syllabus to first-time viewings.
However, their omission feels like it was more than made-up for by the newer talents I encountered. So while those women might have made for a more complete project, I’ll happily come back to them if it means I became familiar with the work of Kelly Fremon, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, Lorene Scafaria, and Marielle Heller…to name a few.
Some of these names were known to me before the year began, but usually in name-only. If one of the goals was to educate and inspire, then learning more about the works of these women most definitely inspired me to look for future projects. I will especially be looking for any theatrical releases, and trying to see them during opening weekend.
I wanted to sum up this project, and expound upon what I’ve learned…but I fear that doing so would be self-serving. Patting myself on the back as a good little feminist, when I know full well that I’m prone to moments of idiocy that challenge any points I might earn.
All I wish to say is this: When I look back on the best films I watched for the first time in 2016, so damned many of them were female-helmed. The stories were more varied, more textured, more human, and more intimate. This entire mission got me outside of my routine and developed a new one, and for that, I am eternally grateful
During TIFF 2015, I heard David Oyelowo say that we, as an audience, are lesser for not having more female voices in film. Upon getting to the end of this project, it’s so very clear to see why.
Note: For further thoughts on my year dedicated to more films by women, please read my post recapping my TIFF 2016 dedicated to female filmmakers only, and my podcast with Sam McCosh, where we recap our experiences of the #52