Film perspectives

On International Women's Day, female filmmakers discuss the role of women in film.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Cinéast(e)s and Action! French & American Women Filmmakers with Deborah Kampmeier, Rebecca Zlotowski, Axelle Ropert, Stacie Passon, Julie Gayet, Isabelle Giordano, Ry Russo-Young, Katell Quillévéré and Justine Triet at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York
Cinéast(e)s and Action! French & American Women Filmmakers with Deborah Kampmeier, Rebecca Zlotowski, Axelle Ropert, Stacie Passon, Julie Gayet, Isabelle Giordano, Ry Russo-Young, Katell Quillévéré and Justine Triet at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
On International Women’s Day at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, "not a filmmaker" Julie Gayet presented Cinéast(e)s: Women Filmmakers she made with Mathieu Busson. Directors interviewed include Agnès Varda, Mia Hansen-Løve, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Josiane Balasko, Julie Delpy, Lola Doillon, Sophie Letourneur, Lisa Azuelos, Rebecca Zlotowski, and Katell Quillévéré.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York filmmakers participating in the panel discussion moderated by Isabelle Giordano, executive director of uniFrance films, were Justine Triet, Axelle Ropert, Rebecca Zlotowski, Katell Quillévéré along with US directors, Stacie Passon, Deborah Kampmeier, and Ry Russo-Young.

President of the French Institute Alliance Française Marie-Monique Steckel welcomed the participants.

President of the French Institute Alliance Française Marie-Monique Steckel introduced the evening.
President of the French Institute Alliance Française Marie-Monique Steckel introduced the evening. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Julie Gayet introduced the screening. She said, "I'm not a filmmaker. I'm an actress and producer. The French TV channel Ciné Plus came up to me and asked me to do this film. I actually refused once they asked me. I said maybe it's time to stop making films about women filmmakers just because they're women. That's why I'm producing films for several years now. Afterwards, I decided to make this film because maybe by not being an actress, let's go for a conversation. And I was meeting amazing filmmakers, older ones like Agnès Varda and the young generation. It was just a moment we shared and it was about love of cinema.”

The filmmakers interviewed by Gayet talk about “blind tasting” of films and give answers to the question of whether movies made by men are different from those made by women. “Annie Hall – it’s either made by a man or a woman in love,” and Ozu’s static camera are some of the examples they bring up to illustrate the absurdity of a generalisation. Quillévéré mentions that, of course, filmmakers are formed by personal experience, “we try to talk about what we know.” Valeria Bruni Tedeschi seconds this by saying that men less often are interested in “obsessions about having babies in their bellies, for example.”

Julie Gayet introducing Cinéast(e)s at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York:
Julie Gayet introducing Cinéast(e)s at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York: "I was meeting amazing filmmakers." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Varda calls Cléo From 5 To 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) a feminist film, describing how the character being looked at becomes the one who is looking halfway through. Genre, “Style is money,” Kathryn Bigelow, and authority over the crew on set are further topics of discussion. Hansen-Løve asks if it would be easier to make films, “if I were more virile,” and a 40-year-old man with a beard? Delpy is proud of her technical side and says that the fact that she writes her own music seems to bother men the most. Being a mother and a filmmaker is not easy and Doillon finds it “difficult to just drop the kids,” though Katell comments that becoming a mother also made her “less of a control freak” about her film. Lastly, Gayet asks the filmmakers about Alice Guy Blaché, one of the first narrative filmmakers, whose legacy is almost forgotten today.

Action! French & American Women Filmmakers

Giordano: A lot of Americans are watching us, because 40 cities in America are broadcasting this debate.

Here are some of the highlights:

Gayet: For me, it's important to ask the young generation if things have changed. [In France] there are 25 per cent of women doing films. Only 25 per cent? I thought there were 50 per cent. [When she spoke to people in other countries, she found out that for example in Germany women were having problems with the crèche] and that the kids finish school at one or two in the afternoon. So it's very difficult for them. The system in France for kids is incredible… The film started and it was actually so great that now that we have the subtitled version I was thinking of doing maybe an international sequel. Let's go and see what's happening in America, what's happening everywhere.

Deborah Kampmeier with Katell Quillévéré and Axelle Ropert:
Deborah Kampmeier with Katell Quillévéré and Axelle Ropert: "There is an enormous gap between the number of men making films and the number of women." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Kampmeier: I was not even aware of the numbers being so high. I think it's great. I love French cinema myself. I think French and European cinema is much closer to art than Hollywood cinema. It's been documented that between five per cent and nine per cent [of filmmakers in the US are women]. That's in the top 250 Hollywood films, you know, top grossing. There are a lot of independent filmmakers trying to get their films made. There is an enormous gap between the number of men making films and the number of women. Films, as we are as a society right now, create our myths. If as in our case, 91 per cent of those myths were created by men, there's a problem.

Passon: I think that Kathryn Bigelow makes films that she wants to make. If she wanted to make Spider-Man or something like that, it was said that she could make that in a minute. Females are about 18 to 20 per cent of independent filmmakers.

Ropert: I find that for women it's easy to be a director in France. It's a little bit of a non-question. It has almost an added value to it in France. When I discussed this with my technicians - I work with a lot of female technicians - they tend to disagree. To be a technician in film, there's a little bit of a glass ceiling for women.

Russo-Young: Yes, I think, too, there is a little bit of a glass ceiling. There are many many female directors on the independent level doing very interesting work. As you climb into Hollywood, you get to studios and agents and meetings with executive producers and the women just completely drop. It's all very male dominated.

Julie Gayet tête-à-tête with Stacie Passon:
Julie Gayet tête-à-tête with Stacie Passon: "Females are about 18 to 20 per cent of independent filmmakers." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Triet: I agree to a certain extent with Axelle's viewpoint. When you're doing the job of the director it's certainly never easy. I watch a lot of television series and I have the impression that women are mainly there to discover something essential about the male protagonist.

Quillévéré: I don't agree with the statement that women's films are more audacious. Next year we could see that the four most daring films at Cannes could be made by men. I think it's a question more of circumstances. The question of subject matter is very important to the press. Between the reality and the representation of what a film is to the press, I think there's always somewhat of a gap. If next year the four most remarkable films at Cannes are made by men, I ask myself if the press is going to remark on this as a new masculine nouvelle vague. It has a lot to do with the crisis in the paper press in French journalism. One of the areas where this is felt the least is in women's press, women's magazines. Maybe if the director is not too old or not too ugly you can put a photo and I tink that approach stems more than anything from the crisis we are seeing in the print media.

Rebecca Zlotowski:
Rebecca Zlotowski: "As a French filmmaker I have a lot of privileges that my American friends who are filmmakers don't have."
Zlotowski: In the US and France we don't have the same questions that are asked. This is a phenomenon of French female directors that are sometimes "exhibited". Photographed naked, I personally never did that. Inequality is the most common thing in all the industries and I don't know why our industry should be exempt. And this is something to fight. But in France filmmakers are privileged, so women as filmmakers are privileged as well. As a French filmmaker I have a lot of privileges that my American friends who are filmmakers don't have. It's much easier for a first film to be made in France even if you don't have your personal money. I don't and I could make a non-commercial film that was a failure. You can make a film that loses a lot of money - and you can make a second one! I think the fight is not over at all. There are still a lot of prejudices. Sometimes we are ashamed to come with the 'woman problem'. In the US it's freer talking about gender issues.

The evening concluded with a powerful four-minute short directed by Lisa Azuelos called 14 Million Screams, that Gayet brought for us to watch.

Gayet: One of the directors I've been interviewing, Lisa Azuelos, had that crazy idea of doing a short film for two days. We did it two weeks ago and just finished it.

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