At the beginning of the year I pledged to watch 52 films by women as part of an initiative started by Women in Film, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting equal opportunities for women, encouraging creative projects by women, and expanding and enhancing portrayals of women in all forms of global media. For my challenge I decided that only first-time watches of feature-films directed or co-directed by women or trans filmmakers would count towards the total (which I easily achieved a couple of months back).
My reason for signing up to the pledge was simple – I’m a woman who writes about film that doesn’t watch enough films by women. I don’t really have an excuse, it’s mostly down to laziness and lack of awareness. I am definitely guilty of not digging deep with my film viewing and watching films by filmmakers I know, or films that are getting a lot of buzz. Due to the staggering gender imbalances in the film industry, it does require more effort to achieve anything remotely close to a gender balance with film viewing. You can’t just go to the cinema and pick from a dozen films, in fact at times you’re often lucky to find one. There’s no saying that you’ll want to see that one film either. Just because a film is directed by a woman, doesn’t automatically mean I want to see it. This challenge wasn’t about giving all women filmmakers a free pass, but about changing my own viewing habits and finding new filmmakers to watch and follow.
This challenge has changed my viewing habits, and for the better. I now actively look for films directed by women in a way I never did before. When browsing through streaming services looking for something random to watch, I am much more likely to pick a film directed by a woman. This may seem like a small thing, but it has introduced me to some really fantastic films and filmmakers I may have not watched otherwise. Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2001), Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs, 2008), and Unrelated (Joanna Hogg, 2007) are just some of the films I discovered this way.
Film festivals have always been a great way to see films from a diverse range of filmmakers, and this year’s Sydney Film Festival was no exception. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016), Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016), Elvis & Nixon (Liza Johnson, 2016), and Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2015) all screened at the festival and rank among my favourite films of the year. There was also a great selection of female-directed documentaries such as Sonita (Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, 2015) and Weiner (Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg, 2016) at the festival. While it didn’t play at the festival (in fact it got a Netflix release) I would argue that the year’s best documentary is the extraordinary powerful 13th by Ava DuVernay. Many of my film-loving friends have named Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, 2016) among the year’s best films, and it’s one I very much look forward to checking out.
The greatest gift this challenge has given me is Kelly Reichardt. Prior to this year the only film I had seen directed by Reichardt was 2013’s Night Moves. Of course I knew about her and her body of work, but I had simply been too lazy to go back and watch her films; I have now remedied that. I know I am super late to the party, but god damn I am so happy to be here. Reichardt’s films have been the films I needed this year. Quiet, contemplative stories that examine the very nature of humanity and what makes us tick. I cried through Wendy & Lucy, was heart-broken by Old Joy, and marvelled in the quiet brilliance of Certain Women (a film that hasn’t left my thoughts since I saw it back in June). Thank you Kelly Reichardt for the gift of reflective silence and thoughtfulness that you have given me this year.
#52FilmsByWomen may be a small thing, but it’s small changes in viewing habits and awareness that lead to bigger changes in both the film industry and in our own personal film choices. You want diversity? Prove it. Walk the walk and pay to see films directed by those you want to see more from. See the inspirational A United Kingdom (Amma Asante) and the excellent The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig) at the cinema these holidays instead of the latest mindless blockbuster directed by just another dude bro.