The twelfth edition of the almost-venerable Tribeca Film Festival wrapped up last week, leaving the impression that women filmmakers had made a stronger mark than ever. Did it signal a paradigm shift? Contrary to what many believe, women have stood peering into a viewfinder ever since silent-film era actress/director Mabel Normand yelled “action” to Charlie Chaplin on the Keystone lot (SEE “Silent film star deserved to be heard”). Others have followed Normand since, including Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron and Kathryn Bigelow, the latter who jumped a major hurdle women directors face in a male-dominated field by winning an Academy Award for “The Hurt Locker.” And since male directors still outnumber female directors women have to wage an uphill battle to prove themselves.
Jenée LaMarque, who directed “The Pretty One” starring Zoe Kazan certainly certainly has the credentials, with a Masters in Screenwriting and a previous film entered into Sundance. According to her the term “female director” is somewhat ghettoized as she considers herself just a director, that which she certainly proved with her film “The pretty one.” Like many, Jenée was interested in directing to protect her scripts, especially those personal to her (see my filmed interview with Jenée and my review of “The Pretty One”).
“Bottled Up” director Enid Zentelis has taught film at N.Y.U. Like Jenée she’s had a previous film in Sundance and shares Jenee’s feelings on the term “female director.” She had strong opinions about how the press, especially male critics, review women in film. Having directed Oscar-winner Melissa Leo for her Tribeca selection she felt no intimidation whatsoever, which certainly proves her confidence at her craft.
Meera Menon, director of the feature narrative “Farah Goes Bang” is a graduate of Columbia University. Needless to say she joins her Tribeca colleagues on the issue of the “female director” moniker, hoping that that situation will evolve. According to Meera, her cast treated her as just director and the respect that comes with it makes it all worth it.
One generic feeling held by some female filmmakers is that they direct from the inside, not the outside, and since women are by nature better listeners they might be more sensitive to the actor’s needs. I agree and certainly feel this is a good sign for the future of women in cinema. In speaking with some of Tribeca’s programmers they, too, saw the imbalance in the male -to-female ratio of directors, obviously. Here’s hoping for even more sweeping change next year at this and other film festivals.