The Most Obscure Film You Have Seen
A Twitter conversation last night with Anna, who blogs at Defiant Success, got me thinking: who are my favorite female directors?
Having studied film at a women’s college, a significant number of the courses I took centered on women’s cinema. Women experimental filmmakers dominated my course of study. (I can talk your ear off about Marie Menken, Joyce Wieland, Marjorie Kellor, Peggy Ahwesh, but I will spare you.) I was exposed to everything from the MadCat Women’s International Film Festival to the work of German feminist filmmakers to a weekend well-spent at the Anthology Film Archives. This has all come together to help me truly appreciate the work of female directors who are often cast aside by the system.
I always found it painfully ironic that Alice Guy-Blaché directed the first narrative film, La Fée aux Choux, in 1896. She directed more than 100 films, was the first woman to own and run a film studio, but her impact on film history was largely forgotten until recently.
Guy-Blaché’s career is representative of something greater. Female directors typically have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to get their films made. This has changed only slightly in the last 20 years, even as more and more female directors gain international recognition and even Academy Awards. Women are still most likely to be found working in the independent and avant-garde film circles, where there is a system – so to speak – established that makes it easier for female directors to get films made. Because female directors often work on the edge of the mainstream film industry, their films are sharper, feminist critiques on society than seen in most films.
Here is a list of female directors whose work I always seek out, along with one of their films I recommend.
I could keep going on and on with this list. Who is your favorite female director? Comment away!
If you have ever walked through the East Village in New York City, you probably have never noticed the Anthology Film Archives. It is located in an indistinguishable brick building without a bright flashing marquee. In fact, you would probably recognize this building as the exterior for Doc Ock’s laboratory in Spider Man 2, before you ever knew of the significance the Archives have had in the history of avant-garde and experimental cinema.
The Anthology Film Archives has been the cornerstone of experimental cinema since it was founded in 1970 by Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, P. Adams Sitney and Peter Kubelka. It is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of experimental cinema. It was at the Archives where I found myself on Nov. 6 and 7 for a series of four screenings, sponsored by Mount Holyoke.
The event, entitled “Origins, Influences, & Interests: Four Women Filmmakers,” brought together four female experimental filmmakers who came of age during the 1970s and early 1980s:Peggy Ahwesh, Ericka Breckman, Abigail Child and Su Friedrich. Robin Blaetz, Associate Professor of Film Studies, asked the filmmakers to curate a program that featured work that influenced and intrigued them. What resulted was over six hours of films that represented every end of the avant-garde spectrum.
The first night of screenings began with the work and influences of Abigail Child in a program entitled “Beyond Gendered Sound: Noise Film, Scratch Video, and the New Psychedelic Acid House Vulnerability”. This 95 minute program emphasized how sound and image work together to create a sort of filmic poetry. This screening featured works from the last decade, highlighting how new media is changing filmmaking. Su Friedrich used her screening to show the works of filmmakers who have influenced her: Majorie Kellor, Leslie Thornton and Joyce Wieland. Friedrich also discussed her transition from film to digital filmmaking. Stating that she was “over it” already, she called video a lesser medium, but said because “this is what I’m doing, I have to do it.”
Ericka Beckman’s screening, “Performing the Image”, showcased performance art and conceptual imagery. Peggy Ahwesh, besides her 1993 film The Scary Movie and 1910 print of The Wizard of Oz, selected films from no earlier than 2008. These works, often by her students at Bard College, showcased the work of younger female experimental filmmakers who have been inspired by Child, Friedrich and Ahwesh.
Each screening addressed a common theme:how these filmmakers went against the establishment of avant-garde filmmaking in the late 70s and 80s. Their work was criticized by both feminist critics for being too “male-like,” and by male critics for having too much gendered content. Leslie Thornton, who was present at the screenings,said that because their work dealt with emotional life, “we didn’t fit into the establishment of our field because we were dealing with things so charged.” Yet despite these criticisms, what has resulted are the works of four unique female experimental filmmakers whose work is influencing a new generation of female filmmakers.
Published: Mount Holyoke News
November 12, 2009
The silence was deafening as an audience of eager students waited for a unique film program to begin. Following a brief introduction to the lives and careers of three practically unheard of women filmmakers, Ute Aurand simply said, “We’ll just start.” That was how an unprecedented screening of nearly three hours of German experimental films began.
“Three German Filmmakers, Three Decades of Filmmaking” introduced an audience of Mount Holyoke students and faculty, as well as Five College students, to renowned Berlin filmmakers Aurand, Milena Gierke and Renate Sami.
Since 1997, the women have presented their work together. As founding members of Filmsamstag (Film-Saturday), a unique curatorial collective that operated from 2000-2007, they boast a common interest in avant-garde, feminist and documentary cinema. But what drives their work is a commitment to the diary film.
The diary film is an unheard-of concept outside the realm of avant-garde cinema. These films are often compelling examinations of daily life and explorations of the world surrounding the filmmakers. As Gierke explained, “Making any film is personal…[It is] my point of view, not yours, mine.”
Gierke, as well as Aurand and Sami, use different formats and methods to depict their view of reality and to create unique diary films.
In the program screened at Mount Holyoke there was a mix of 16mm, digital and Super 8 film. The complexity and beauty of the images explored through these mediums is heightened by an overwhelming absence of sound and an insistence that Dwight 101 be pitch dark. Emma Scarloss ’10 said, “I enjoyed that they [the films] were all different; some more experimental, some more documentary.”
What is perhaps most interesting is that, as Aurand and Gierke noted, the context of their work changes depending on the audience. The unexpected presence of the American folk song, “City of New Orleans,” in Sami’s Film Diary, 1975-1985, confused many audience members and believed it contributed to a deeper, political meaning within the film.
The screenings atmosphere echoed the collective spirit of Filmsamstag; it was the first Five College film studies event since the major was created in 2006. The overwhelming student presence and response to the program implies that more Five College film events will be a tremendous success for the film department.
“Films From Three Decades” is being screened at the Goethe-Insitut in New York on Oct. 11-12. For more information visit www.goethe.de/ins/us/ney.
Published: October 9, 2008
The Mount Holyoke News
I’m in awe. I’ve never seen anything like this before.