February 2016

What a month! We launched our shiny new site, kicked off Test Fest Shorts – our new short film competition and are now calling for pitches for our first ever zine Girls Gotta Eat. But it’s not all about us, here are some other reasons to be cheerful as we look back at the good things to happen to women in film from the month gone by…

The ‘Other’ Big Short at This Year’s Oscars

Documentary is often seen as a more welcoming place for female filmmakers and this month saw the theory supported as Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won her second Oscar for factual short A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. In 2012 Sharmeen picked up her first Oscar for Saving Face about women in Pakistan who have been the victims of acid attacks. Her latest winning film surrounds the dark subject of the thousands of honour killings in Pakistan, but shows a rare survivor’s story who falls in love and lives to tell the tale.

Announcing the winner was actor Louis C.K. who remarked on the importance of the award calling it: ‘the one award that has the opportunity to change a life.’This is documentary short film — it’s not even documentary feature,’ naming Al Gore and Michael Moore as previous recipients. In perhaps one of the most significant speeches of the night, which was very much focused on the lack of diversity the Academy Awards, the proud owner of a shiny second gong managed to deliver some evocative thoughts before she was played out by the band: ‘This is what happens when determined women get together. This week the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.’ C.A.

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Abbey Bender’s Costume Party

One of our favourite female film critics, Abbey Bender has only gone and got herself a new column at Brooklyn Magazine! The New York-based critic’s reviews have been published in Film Comment, LA Weekly, Little White Lies and the Village Voice among others, but her best writing – like essays on Portfolio for cléo, and Desperately Seeking Susan for Joan’s Digest – has been on clothes and film (with an eighties flavour). Costume Party is a monthly column that looks at fashion, personal style, and historical aesthetics in film. There are three things that are particularly great about the arrival of Costume Party; firstly, it’s exciting to see a writer like Abbey championed; secondly it shows Brooklyn Magazine’s commitment to showcasing female critics; and thirdly, it’s cool that fashion in film – a so-called frivolous subject – is being treated seriously. The first edition is about Witches and Their Wardrobes! Abbey writes: ‘Everyone knows the old cliché of how witches dress: black pointy hats and long, shapeless black robes. While there’s no shortage of black in the films in this series, witch fashion seems to adapt to its time and can be quite glamorous. After all, glamour itself can cast a spell.’ S.H.

 

Dreaming Big at Overnight Film Festival

February saw a new film festival with a riveting new concept – you sleep there. The Overnight Film Festival was a ‘long held dream’ from festival director (and karaoke champion, as we found out on the Saturday night) Sam Cuthbert, who along with his team set up an excellent three-day menu of films, parties and chats in the legendary Queens Hotel in Eastbourne.

overnight-instaCuthbert and his programming power team invited guest curators Emma Dabiri (teaching fellow in the Africa Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies), Jenn Nkiru (filmovernight-1maker, producer and creative director of Braidbox), and Ariana Labed (award-winning actor) to select features and shorts to make us laugh, cry, stop and think. Screenings ranging from the UK premiere of Wildwood NJ (a cult documentary serving as a postcard from the 90s about the little women parading the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore), the evocative Pelo Malo (Marianna Rondon), the colossally melodramatic Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons – who sent Jenn Nkiru her personal 35mm print from the US) and many more were followed up with post-screening salons where we got to know the films, and each other, better.

As the rest of the world geared up for the Oscars, we were treated to a happy refreshment of female-empowered stories and woman directors at a sold out festival that we hope will be the first of many more to come. Nice work, guys! See you next year. C.A.

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Sisters Are Doing It… Together

We Do It Together is the name of a new, female-focused production company whose advisory board boasts a plethora of power women including actresses Jessica Chastain, Queen Latifah and Zhang Ziyi, as well as directors Amma Asante (Belle), Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) and Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) to name but a few. The organisation’s incentive is to produce movies by and about women that challenge negative female stereotypes. This follows the news of Chastain’s personal production endeavour Freckle Films in collaboration with Maven Pictures (who recently wrapped on Andrea Arnold’s new film American Honey) – another production company that aims to showcase female talent both in front of and behind the camera. Freckle/Maven have a number of films in development while We Do It Together will be announcing their first film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. We can’t wait to see what they rustle up! S.H.

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A Rate Boosts Bechdel-Test Passing Films in Sweden

 In 2013 the Bechdel Test inspired cinema owner Ellen Tejle to create A rate – the world’s first classification system to signal if a film passes the Bechdel Test, now used in independent cinemas in Sweden. This month it was revealed that Swedish films are now 2.5 times more likely to pass the Bechdel Test since A rate’s introduction. In 2013, just 30% of Swedish feature films managed to pass the test but the following year saw a hefty jump to 60% and then again to 80% in 2015 – it’s simple proof that this silly little thing we call the Bechdel Test is inspiring filmmakers to consider a fairer bias for women in their work. Ellen’s done a fine job of creating a clear system that cinemas, filmmakers and distributors want their films to be associated with. For more on A rate, check out Ellen’s FAQ right here. C.A.

 

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Vanity Fair Reveals the New Hollywood

The Hollywood edition of Vanity Fair is an annual, three-page spread that reflects a snapshot of the ultimate A-List of our time. The glossy cover is reserved only for those actors we’ll be telling our children about when we’re nagging about how the original Joy was so much better than the new Apple Watch TV series. This year’s cover saw a slight change to previous versions; not only was it reserved exclusively for women, (including Jennifer Lawrence, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Charlotte Rampling), but it was the first time a black woman over the age of 30 (Viola Davis) was given a chance to smoulder into photographer Annie Leibovitz’s lens.

The efforts may seem a little strained (How to Get Away With Murder‘s Davis isn’t technically a film star – at least not this year), but at least they tried to prove that the epitome of a Hollywood starlet doesn’t have to look like a 23 year-old white woman, nor does she have to wear a ball gown (shout out to Diane Keaton for wrapping up warm). Here’s hoping Vanity Fair are more spoilt for choice in the future issues we’ll save for the kids. C.A.

February 2016’s Female-Led Films:

Cinematic film releases: 67

Films directed by women: 7 (10.4%)

Films with a female lead/s and are main protagonist: 20 (14.9%)

Films with female writers:  (16.4%)

For the full list of film releases, female directors, leads and writers click here.

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