MORE MONEY (MUCH MORE) NEEDED FOR THE MANY STRUCTURES THAT SUPPORT FEMINIST FILMMAKING
At the same time that the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights brought legal experts together to Berlin to discuss the ramifications of Israel's actions in Gaza (1), members of feminist media entities across Europe with a few representatives from the US and Latin America met to discuss the status of their work. Five young women alling themselves Feminist Elsewheres showcased a handful of films from two former events that also took place in Berlin (all at The Arsenal) in 1973 and 1997, and selected films from the four hundred entries they received from an open call. Over six days some 45 works were presented with follow up discussions, three specialized workshops provided hands on skill sharing and information, and two formal presentations among sister groups presenting on the history of feminist media including its distribution, and outlets discussed writing about and curating feminist media history.
The Five Elsewheres: (l to r) Arisa Purkpong , Charlotte Eitelbach, Sophie Holzberger, Elena Baumeister, and Fiona Berg on the stage opening night introducing the six-day festival.
There was an affirmed commitment to strengthen interaction between academics and practitioners. However, the dire lack of funding for these groups – independent of academia and major state funded institutions – to do their work and get it before their various publics stymies the knowledge of and access of women made media not only within academia, but before the larger film community (2) and, hence, before the general public. This must change. Especially among the English speaking groups lack of support is alarming: Cinenova which distributes over 400 women directed films from the UK; Another Gaze, a journal of nuanced criticism about women and queers as filmmakers, protagonists and spectators; and the Women's Film Preservation Fund which for thirty years has supported the restoration of US women-made films. All three of these groups operate on shoe-string budgets. Their staffs are volunteer. This denotes a weak structure for feminist filmmaking's reach and longevity, particularly, among English speaking groups and communitiies. It has huge implications in the United States which already lacks political structures common in many countries, such as Cultural Ministries.
A few years back a UK scholar wanted to re-create a screening of the women's films shown at the germinal first women's screening, a sidebar event organized by Laura Mulvey, Claire Johnston and Lynda Miles at the 1972 Edinburgh Film Festival. The scholar found that most of the works had again slipped back into obscurity. Many were no longer available. This is happening far too often. Histories are written about so-called “guerrilla television” by video groupos that operated in the U.S. in the 1970s failing to mention any of the 67 women's video groups of the era. Canonic framing excludes feminist analyses of media. Listings, supposedly historic, continue to fail to mention women despite feminist scholarly research that shows a central involvement of women from the very start of cinema.
It is not enough to fund the making of films, and primarily documentaries, at that. There is an entire structural culture of vital tools around advancing films that also needs fiscal support, not just individual productions. Critiquing works is essential. Making sure works are distributed and seen is an on-going, time consuming process. Programmers and curators need awareness of feminist works. Films need to be studied in the context of other cinema. Preservation and on-going availability through archives and distribution are vital to enjoy and understand the longevity of feminist filmmaking. All of this is to ensure that women's cinematic visions are not neglected into the future.
In 2016, at Experiments in Cinema International Festival in Albuquerque, NM, Laura Mulvey and I each spoke. We both underscored how by this time women's success in cinema we envisioned would be far greater. This graphic I created sums up the sentiment:
Ariel's graphic to summarizes sentiments we both spoke at Experiments in Cinema, April 2016.
Laura repeats this dilemma in the 2022 analysis of Hollywood camera framing of women in BRAINWASHED: Sex-Camera-Power , directed by Nina Menkes, If we – filmmakers, critics, protagonists, distributors, audience, academics, historians, curators, preservationists, archivists, scholars, indie and established institutions as well as public and private funders – sincerely want equity for women filmmakers and our cinematic visions centering on women's stories, a more comprehensive and enduring support system must evolve. Too much is at risk.
Without more multi-leveled structural support we will continue to slip backwards. Already essential women's gains – like abortion, our right to bodily autonomy – is severely threaten and no longer, in the US, equally available to all women. Nor, shockingly is it universal in all of Europe. Our media and cultural making – despite a 1976 policy of the Ms. Foundation for Women to the contrary – are absolutely central to advancing progress for women. Our ability to make media/culture and for women and the general public to see this work is paramount in advancing women's equality. It is a survival issue, which the Ms. Foundation in 1976 failed to understand. The problems women face are structural and systemic at every level of society. A more comprehensive approach is demanded for change. Film, as much of art making, can be a powerful tool in envisioning this change before the public and engaging a broad constituency in making necessary change.
I call on the largess of philanthropy, an in particular women's philanthropy, to expand its support of the structures surrounding the advancement of feminist cinema. In Berlin at Feminist Elsewheres during the Q&A of the panel, Editions: Publishing Feminist Film History (the session was streamed live) after hearing Daniella Shreir mentioned how she volunteers to do her work with Another Gaze/Another Screen, a repeat from the women involved with Cinenova the day before, I was shocked and angered. So, I asked, “Shouldn't we all amongst us have a strategy of our collective needs and interaction and demand more funding?” I can not guarantee such a collaborative strategy will evolve. But the audience applause simply to my question speaks volumes to the need. Are we paying attention?
Just this past week there has been an explosion of women, mostly in their mid-careers on the [MediaArts] list serv distraught about the lack of support for their productions as they have reached middle age. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the probelm. We need a strategic and universal vision to address the continued failure to address women's cinematic storytelling needs and its long and central history,
Special Note: In the US, Our Bodies Ourselves has been operating these last years as volunteers, this after decades of their books having global reach. The feminist publication, Jezebel, just folded, its corporate owner failing to find a buyer. Philanthropy Women, a viatl communciations tool for the feminist funding community, has dropoped outside writers due to lack of support. In contrast, the publication, Frauen und Film, that Helke Sander founded in Germany in 1974 continues to this day. The complications, despite wealth, are difficult in the US. Another reason why we need a globe strategy -- that is not US or Western-centric -- yet is universally inclusive.
(1) Thursday, November 16, 2023 segment of Democracy Now reports on this effort: https://www.democracynow.org/2023/11/16/israel_impunity
(2) A global study of film exhibition in main movie theaters shows in the US that women-directed works are presented only 2.75% of the time. (https://kinomatics.com/redistributing-gender/ ) Among the art-house theaters I sincerely doubt that more than 20% of the time is women's work shown? I base this very loosely on a few times tallying NYC area screenings via the Screen Slate emails and their listing of the NYC screenings.