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Fri, Apr 16, 2010
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Gender takes a back seat at women’s film fest

PARIS - Women in the movies is not just about Marilyn Monroe, after Kathyrn Bigelow picked up the best-director Oscar, and with the likes of Jane Campion or Claire Denis enjoying a global following.

At a women’s film festival taking place outside Paris for the 32nd year running, the gender divide often took a back seat to broader frustrations over poor distribution of independent film.

Jackie Buet, festival director, disagreed that a special event for women confines women’s’ films to a “ghetto", but Argentine film-maker Julia Solomonoff was more concerned with the art house circuit than her gender.

Solomonoff, whose second feature was in competition at the Creteil festival, is part of a vibrant generation of film-makers in Argentina from the 1990s that includes Ana Katz, who resists the “woman” label, and critically-acclaimed Lucrecia Martel.

Her time studying at Columbia University in New York showed her how difficult getting a film made in the US could be as an independent director: “very slow, too much speculation, focus on business and no risk-taking”.

There has also been a rise of what Solomonoff calls the “Entertainment lawyers” who deal with contracts and take key decisions, leaving many projects unrealised, with the result that “the real creatives go into television”.

But these are problems affecting men and women alike.

Belgian director Dorthee Van Den Berghe, whose “My Queen Karo” about a 1970s commune in Amsterdam was awarded this year, does evoke a “feminine perspective” when she says she can often guess if a film is directed by a man or a woman.

“Usually there are more details about the day-to-day, more personal elements, it is less dramatic and there are fewer big themes”.

She says it is “super” that Bigelow won with a war film, referring to the Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” about the Iraq conflict, because women rarely
make genre films.

Both Van Den Berghe and Solomonoff agree that the physical weight of cameras is no longer a constraint for women in the digital age, but refer to problems at a psychological level.

“Film directing is like leading an army", Van Den Berghe said, “which is not what women are used to”. She said she works “spontaneously” and shows she has doubts, which does not always go down well.

Directing can be a very peripatetic and precarious job, said Van Den Berghe, and “women may find it less easy to live with this uncertainty”.

It is not just gender discrimination that is the problem but more the values and interests of newer generations. As the French feminist movement MLF celebrates 40 years this year, the directors wondered whether women build on feminist advances.

In Belgium Van Den Berghe notes a “growing conservatism” over the last ten years in young people’s attitudes, more centred now on marriage, family and the home.

And cinema, at least for women, seems to have little appeal, noted Van Den Berghe from her classes at Hogeschool Sint-Lukas in Brussels: out of 70 new students this year just five were women; the final year class is all men.

Solomonoff also pointed to the drop in audience figures for her films, and also those of Lucrecia Martel in Argentina, as crowds seem less and less interested in art house pictures.

There are lots of problems facing film-makers then, but not all of them gender specific. Just a gun and a girl, Jean-Luc Godard said we needed to make a good movie in the sixties, today the lady can also sit behind the camera.

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