November 21, 2008

Gone Sailing

Back in early December.

Have a great holiday.

Equality Watch: Women Playwrights

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting where women playwrights met with high level creative personnel in the NY theatre business to discuss the paucity of opportunities for female playwrights. It was an impressively respectful meeting and a real dialogue was started. But the bottom line issue is: do the artistic directors feel the pressure to include women's voices in their seasons? I don't know how a non-profit theatre, which also gets grants should even be allowed to get a grant without having female voices a part of the season.

There are a myriad of reasons why women's plays don't rise up to the place where they can a) get read by the right people, b) get championed by the right people, and c) get a production.

Clearly, the message needs to be expanded beyond NY because the National Theatre in London just announced its 2009 season and from what I can tell there is nary a play by or directed by a woman. What year is this?

One of the organizers of the meeting Julia Jordan put together an introduction that laid out the tone for the evening. She has kindly allowed me to publish the piece which you can read here

Ideas for making change?

Julia Jordan Introduction from Town Hall Meeting on Women's Parity in Playwrighting

This is Julia's entire introduction:

In 1983 Mel Gussow wrote a piece for the New York Times called WOMEN PLAYWRIGHTS; NEW VOICES IN THE THEATER. In it, he said there was, “A wave of adventurous young women playwrights - a proliferation that is the most encouraging and auspicious aspect of the current American theater.” The article went on to also applaud the work being done by female directors and producers to bring more plays by women to the stage, notably Lynne Meadow and Carole Rothman, who is with us tonight. I want to take a moment to personally thank ALL of you for coming and helping us take on this issue once again.

Thirty years ago, only 7% of plays on national non-profit stages were written by women. Currently that number is around 17%. A rise of around 3.3% a decade. At that rate, if it continues, we will reach parity in just under another hundred years. But I argue, that as the numbers have stayed stuck at 17% for the best part of this decade, the 10% jump is primarily attributable to the efforts of the playwrights, producers, theaters and directors that Mel Gussow wrote about in 1983. And this is why we have all come here tonight, to increase the numbers again. But another 10% will not be enough.

One hundred years ago, in 1908-1909, according to Internet Broadway Database, nearly 13% of new straight plays on New York stages were by women. Since then, the women’s movement happened. Women are now educated at the same rate and level as men. They have self-determination. And by every measure we can identify, graduate degrees - fellowships - awards for plays on the page, women are pursuing careers as playwrights in the same number as men. Women’s plays, according to Theater Communications Group, make up 35% of the most successful plays of the past ten years, more than double the percentage at which they are produced. Women are succeeding as professional playwrights on every level except in numbers of productions.

We are all aware that such disparities exist in other professions and disciplines. What we might not be aware of, are some of the measures that have been taken in other fields to rectify the situation.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, in a response to a discrimination suit, most major U. S. orchestras began auditioning new members blind. Screens were used to hide the identity of the musicians, and sometimes they went so far as to roll out carpets to muffle the click of women’s heels that would give away their gender. Many orchestras have achieved parity, largely due to the screens, and maintain it by continuing to use blind auditions today.

Another example: Studies of, not by, but of, The American Psychology Association and the Swedish Medical Research Council, have found that both men and women in those organizations rated the quality of men’s work higher than that of women when they were aware of the gender of the person being evaluated, but not when the gender was unknown.

Similarly, the American Economic Review, after conducting their own two year study, has instituted its own blind policy on all submitted papers.

I think it would be far flung to suggest that any of the groups just mentioned harbored any particular hatred or conscious prejudice against women, especially because women themselves were found to devalue women’s work as much as men did. This devaluing is clearly a widespread phenomenon that affects all countries and professions. What claim could we possibly make that theater and the selection of plays for production remains unaffected? This is our corner of the world. Orchestras, psychologists and economists have attempted and succeeded at cleaning up their corners, and today we have come together to identify and implement ways to clean up ours.

Individual theaters could consider an internal blind review of the unsolicited scripts they receive. But obviously, playwrights read and workshop their plays in the public sphere. And we do want more than just plays to be produced, we want playwrights to be produced. We want relationships with theaters to be honored. We need a solution that respects the need for theaters to discriminate based on mission, aesthetics and their artistic hearts while minimizing, to the best of our abilities, the biases based on other factors that are human and present in all of us.
It has amazed me, when discussing this issue, how quickly and often, talk turns to factors other than prejudice that could be driving down the percentage of women’s plays. There is talk of history and a male cannon that crowds the stages and creates a greater appearance of inequality than is actually the case, women’s supposed lack of aggressiveness or productivity, the idea that women are receptive to male stories( as they have been taught all their lives to appreciate them,) but that men are resistant to the stories of women. I’ve heard that things are improving. That, of the new writers coming up, there’s a larger percentage of exciting female writers. And there may be a grain of truth in all these arguments. But as the astronaut Sally Ride said, when asked about reasons other than bias that kept women from participating in the sciences… And I paraphrase…

If you come across a person lying on the street with an elephant sitting on their chest, you could ask if they have a heart condition or asthma, as both do cause breathing problems. But first, you should get the elephant off their chest.

That said, I have crunched a few figures so that we can kick these questions completely to the curb and focus on the elephant. Because this year’s figures are particularly bad, I have looked at the past three years’ production histories of twenty major NY, NJ and CT non-profit theaters. And by the way, collectively the 20 theaters actually had a better record of producing women’s work than any national average that I could find in print.

Still, the percentage of total female writers produced is just over 19%.

To control for history and a predominantly male cannon, I removed all plays by deceased writers, increasing the figure to just under 21%. So it is fair to say, the historical cannon is not a large factor in the appearance of low percentages.

To address the question of whether there was change on the horizon, and younger female writers were receiving more productions, I counted the un-established writers, or writers without general name recognition. The percentage of those women, compared to those men, was lower, just under 19%. So though new women writers may be exciting particular theaters, they are not yet any closer to reaching parity in production with their male counterparts, than writers of an older guard.

Regarding the possibility of women having lower productivity, which in all fields has been linked to childbirth … In the study of orchestras and in another of U. S. college professors, the difference between the amount of leaves taken by male and females was NOT statistically significant. They took the same amount of time off. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest that for every woman who stops writing plays to have a child, there is a man who stops to write a screenplay, work on a tv show or, in this day and age, help raise children himself.

To assess whether women were as aggressive as men at getting their plays produced, I asked the agents. The ones who were willing to give me such figures estimated their clients to be 30% female. Yet theaters are reporting that 40% of their submissions are from women. So agented or not, women are either HIGHLY productive, or aggressive in pursuing their careers.

And as for the idea that women were more likely to be receptive to male stories than vice versa, and that therefore women - the largest block of ticket buyers by every estimate- buy tickets to male shows, shows they believe their husbands will enjoy… This commonly voiced idea in the business is one I myself held until recently. According to TCG, of the top two most successful plays of each of the past ten years, out of 24 plays (there were some ties), 14 had female protagonists, only 7 had male protagonists, and the remaining three plays were true ensemble works. So, in this day and age, there’s no evidence that women buy tickets primarily to shows about the male experience to somehow appease their husbands. In fact, in the last ten years, it seems that they were more likely to buy tickets to shows about women, no matter which gender they happen to be written by. And because the numbers are so large for plays about the female experience, I think it’s fair to assume that men are buying tickets to them in large numbers as well. In fact, if you look closely at the TCG list, it is clear that men and women are interested enough in each others stories, that much of the list is comprised of both genders writing about the other.

Before I leave statistics behind altogether, as I do believe we all understand what they show, (no matter how they are crunched and no matter how we frame them), I have to throw one more out. In the past three years, in the theaters I looked at, there have been only 5 revivals of plays by living women writers as compared to 34 by men, that’s 12.8%. In the spirit of our gathering here, which is to find concrete methods for changing the overall statistics, the inclusion of women in the new cannon is of the utmost importance. The whole point of this attempt is to not repeat the past. Attention must be paid to the women who were produced to acclaim in the recent past. And work that was given less notice because of prejudice in the past needs to be revisited and presented again. We can easily start by going back and looking at the produced and, frankly, unproduced plays that the Susan Smith Blackburn award lists, an award based on nominations of the best plays by women in English speaking world, and judged by leading professionals.

We must also include female directors in this effort, as their statistics are virtually identical to that of playwrights and actresses, who we all know face a paucity of roles. Their fate is inextricably linked to that of female playwrights, in numbers and substance. Writers of color are also part of everything we discuss here tonight. But women cut across all racial lines, all class lines, they write in all aesthetics, and we have so much power in our numbers that we have the responsibility to lead.

Andre Bishop said, when announcing Lincoln Center’s new space, “Opportunities create artists. And it is essential that institutional theaters provide as many intelligent opportunities as possible because that is how theater artists grow – in production.” Women are creating their own production opportunities with organizations such as The Women’s Project, New Georges and WET, all of whom have representatives here tonight. We want they same opportunities that are afforded men to grow as artists on all the stages that our tax dollars support.
I want to thank our panelists again for coming here to work with us tonight. We all want the theater to reflect humanity, which is its over arching mission, a humanity that is divided between two genders. It is only a question of how to achieve that. I suggest that tonight we look at the system by which scripts find their way to the highest levels of consideration and find ways to control or compensate for bias. There is no talent deficit to deal with. No training deficit. There is no reason why, if we work with concerted effort, and by that I do mean in concert with each other- actors- directors, writers - literary managers - artistic directors - audiences – boards – donors - journalists and, yes, critics… With all of our efforts the playing field can be leveled, and when that happens, the plays on our stages will resemble the population of our country.
Julia Jordan

Joan Cusack Gets Busy

I have loved Joan Cusack every since she wore the brace in Sixteen Candles and could never get a drink of water from the fountain. Heartbreakingly funny.

Word is that Joan is working on two new projects. Yeah. She is developing a comedy at NBC and appearing with Mae Whitman in the Lifetime original movie "Acceptance."

From the Hollywood Reporter:

The NBC project, which she is co-creating with the network and Universal Media Studios, will be based on an original idea of Cusack's. John Markus ("The Larry Sanders Show") is serving as writer/executive producer, while Cusack will produce with Julie Yen.

"Acceptance," based on the novel by Susan Coll, is a dramedy that centers on an overachieving high school student (Whitman) dealing with the stress of her senior year and applying to college. Film is directed by Sanaa Hamri ("The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2") from a script by Suzette Couture.
Joan Cusack's TV queue adds two (Hollywood Reporter)
photo: Adam Bielawski.Photorazzi

Femme Awards

  • Glenn Close will receive the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award for her contributions to entertainment at the Hollywood Reporter Power 100: Women in Entertainment breakfast in Hollywood on December 5. (HR)
  • BET boss Debra Lee received the Center for Communications’ Frank Stanton Award, which recognizes standouts in the media biz. (Variety)
  • Kristin Scott Thomas will receive the Cinema Vanguard Award at the 24th Santa Barbara Film Festival on Jan. 27.
  • Anne Hathaway will be feted at the 20th annual Palm Springs Film Fest on Jan. 6 with the Desert Palm Achievement Award for her role in "Rachel Getting Married." (Variety)
  • Golden Globe and BAFTA award-winner Julie Walters is to be honored by Women in Film and Television at a gala luncheon at the Hilton Hotel Dec. 5 . (HR)
  • Linda Woolverton ("The Lion King") has been tapped for a lifetime achievement award by the Writers Guild of America West's animation writers caucus. (Variety)

November 20, 2008

Emma Thompson is so Smart

There are days when I feel really lucky to do what I do. Most days I toil at my home office trying to come up with interesting things to blog about and of course trying to figure out how to make a living...but there are some days that make it all worth it. Tuesday was one of those days. That is the day when I met Emma Thompson. See the cool picture of us together (She is way tall.)

The occasion was the press conference for the release of her upcoming film Last Chance Harvey which will open in NY and LA on December 25 and the rest of the country throughout January. I loved this film, (I will have a review when it comes out) but suffice it to say that it's thoroughly refreshing to see a well written, well acting, interesting story of two people who just connect on a very adult level. PUT THIS FILM ON YOUR MUST SEE LIST.

Here are some of the interesting things said at the press conference which was also attended by Liane Balaban, Dustin Hoffman and writer/director Joel Hopkins.

Joel Hopkins making only his second film (the first is Jump Tomorrow which I have not seen but now want to) hit the jackpot when he got Emma Thompson interested in his treatment. He took the character of Kate Lemon from Emma's first film The Tall Guy and imagined her as an older person. He wrote the treatment before he saw Emma and Dustin together in Stranger Than Fiction. Joel said he "wanted to see more" (of them). I totally agree with that.

I don't get to meet a lot of actors and when I do they usually are trained to stick to the script of saying the same two sentences about their film. That's why Emma was so interesting and refreshing. She just talked and her intelligence just shown through. (The others on the panel were great too, but for me, it was all about Emma.) How many times in your life do you get to see someone who you really admire and they actually live up to your expectations?

The press conference started off on a funny note when they were all introducing themselves and Dustin Hoffman introduced himself as Barack Obama and Emma Thompson introduced herself as Hillary Clinton. It's even funnier if you remember that she did play Hillary in Primary Colors. It was just a total love fest with the actors that seemed genuine.

Here are some of the highlights:

Emma Thompson: I don't think either of us could have played these roles 20 years ago because it has to do with where we are in our lives now. It's one of those strange moments. It happened at the right moment and it's rare in our profession. I'm grateful for it.
When asked about why this movie is important now:
ET: Most of the movies I end up going to see, and I don't get to see a lot because I am a mum, involve a lot of fast moving around and noise often very well done. I rarely go see something that has huge emotional movement where your heart as a muscle moves inside you as you watch. That for me is essential. The first film I saw that made my heart lurch was Les Enfants du Paradis. -- Children of Paradise (which they discovered also happens to be Dustin Hoffman's favorite film). It has nothing to do with your age some people who are 27 are as rigid as they come and you can't shift them, they have latched onto something and won't let go. God love them it's not like we are providing a lot of entertainment that encourages them to explore.
When commenting on how youth centric culture is:
What are we trying to do to our young people by saying (youth) is the best bit because we are selling them down the river lock, stock and barrel...We need to talk about it, the joy of getting older. It is a dangerous thing to do, and as storytellers we must make sure we don't make it all youth centric because then they will believe that youth is the be all and end all and we are already a ways towards that already those of us in the so-called developed world.

I asked a question about why we don't see more realistic women onscreen:
Liane: I was just talking with my friend who is a screenwriter and she just wrote an indie script that she's having trouble getting off the ground because the lead role is a woman and there is not a lead role for a guy. Apparently there are only 4 actresses in the world who can greenlight an indie film with a heroine. I don't know why it is. It's just awful- awful for us as actresses.
Great honesty from a 28 year old.
Emma: When I was Liane's age I started a woman's group of actresses and my question that I started the group with was what constitutes the female hero?
What is heroism for women? After many years of discussion and examination we came up with it's an old idea extrapolated from the end of Middlemarch by George Eliot where she talks about how she was always trying to create female heroes and it was frustrating for her because she found that the heroines had to do with the smaller tributaries in life. It had to do with the details, every little action of every day.
It's something that bears a lot of thinking and examination. It's something that exercises my mind greatly, but clearly since I was Liane's age 21 years ago not a lot has changed. Maybe in the next generation it will change and our whole notion of heroism may change. We may go back to the ancient Greeks where the heroes and villains were interchangeable in the same way that the Gods and humans were interchangeable. It was far more interesting storymaking time back then. We've gotten terribly simplistic about heroism and what it is now. I would challenge our young writers and young women to ask that question - what is it and how can we reinvent it? I recommend something like Happy-Go-Lucky with Sally Hawkins who plays a character so irritating that you want to pluck your eyes out in the first reel, but as it goes on you realize that it becomes a kind of portrait of goodness. She is a hero and someone you never forget. It's a very clever movie.
She came back to the point again later:
Stories of women have not been told until recently...The definition of what it is to be a woman is very young. That is something we mustn't forget. You have to keep telling the stories...We'll get there. It's a process of discovery and we're all on that journey together, men as well. Why should men always be typical heroes?
How many actors (I know she's an Oscar winning screenwriter too) have you seen talking about the need to redefine how we write stories? It takes a lot of guts to talk that way. She also totally inspired me to take another crack at Middlemarch. If Emma Thompson can be optimistic about the future, I can be too.

Macedonian Films Come to NYC

Macedonia has only been in existence since 1991, but they already have a woman who has directed a film that is her country's submission for the best foreign language film Oscar. Teona Stugar Mievska's film I Am from Titov Veles will screen in NYC on November 20 in association with the Macedonia Film Festival.

Imagine if we had to submit a film to another country for consideration. Think that film would have any chance of being directed by a woman? Nope.

Here's a description of the film:
I AM FROM TITOV VELES is a moving story of three sisters locked in a tormented relationship, and their battle to overcome an environment polluted by human negligence. Features another stunning lead performance by Labina Mitevska, who also appears in festival films Kontakt and Before the Rain.

Details on the Macedonia Film Festival which runs from November 20-23 in NYC.

November 19, 2008

Adrienne Shelly Foundation Event Recap

I didn't know Adrienne Shelly at all and only had barely heard of her until her murder. Then I saw Waitress and it opened up a whole new world to me. On Monday night, the Adrienne Shelly Foundation celebrated her life and legacy and it is much richer than I ever imagined. She wrote and directed a couple of films in the late 90s -- including I'll Take you There and Sudden Manhattan. She was also a playwright and the Foundation is going to expand into making grants in the theatre which is great.

Her last screenplay Serious Moonlight has been made directed by Cheryl Hines and stars Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton. Can't wait to see it.

The event brought in friends including Paul Rudd who did a dictionary analysis of the word "independent", Broadway actor and singer Michael Cerveris who did a rendition of Baby Don't You Cry (the great song from Waitress) and the topper was an amazing group of women including Maria Tucci, Keri Russell, Lili Taylor, Karen Black, Talia Balsam and Cheryl Hines reading Adrienne's satirical piece The O Letters. The piece takes place 2000 years in the future when a women's group discovers letters between a woman named O and Steadman and wonders who she was and what was going on back in the year 2000. Hysterical. There was also a wonderful musical performance from Adrienne's friend Dana Parish. Check her out on itunes. I already purchased the song she sang "Hung Up."

Please check out Adrienne's films. This woman truly had vision and it's so extremely sad that we won't get to see her grow as a writer and director. Support the foundation here. Check out my interview with Andy Ostroy, Adrienne's husband and the Foundation's president.

(photo: Cheryl Hines and Andy Ostroy)

Hollywood Feminist of Day: Charlize Theron

For being named United Nations Messenger of Peace. In her role she will promote efforts to fight violence against women around the world.

Actress Charlize Theron to become UN peace envoy (AFP via Yahoo)
photo: Albert L. Ortega/ PR Photos

Laura Linney as Katharine Graham?

I so can't wait to see this HBO film based on Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham's life. Read her biography Personal History and it still ranks up there as one of the best bios I've ever read. The busy Linney is also going to be host of PBS' Masterpiece Classic when it launches on January 4.

Script is being written by Joan Didion, Laura Ziskin, Julie Goldstein and Pam William are producing. Robert Benton might direct -- how about a woman director?

HBO sets Katharine Graham biopic (Variety)

November 18, 2008

Women are Still Pissed

Tina Brown's new online venture The Daily Beast just got into the game big time with the release of a poll of 1,000 voters that shows that women are still pretty pissed off about perceived sexism during the campaign.

I don't think it was too smart for them to use the idiot Mark Penn's polling firm (whose ideas helped tanks Hillary) but leaving that aside there are some juicy nuggets to get out of the poll.

The poll’s key findings include:

By an overwhelming 61% to 19% margin, women believe there is a gender bias in the media.

4 in 10 men freely admit sexist attitudes towards a female president. 39% of men say that a male is “naturally more suited” to carrying out the duties of the office

Only 20% of women are willing to use the word “feminist” about themselves. Only 17% of all voters said they would welcome their daughters using that label.

48% of women thought Hillary Clinton received fair media treatment and only 29% believed Sarah Palin was treated fairly. In contrast, nearly 8 in 10 voters thought the press gave fair treatment to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

More than two-thirds of women said they were being treated unfairly in the workplace (68%)
I'm sad that women don't want to call themselves feminists but not surprised. And I'm not surprised at the generational issues. But yikes, the number of women who think they are discriminated at work is really, really high. Seems like the workplace needs some serious help.
There is a generational divide with "Women over 50, the first generation to have a majority in the workforce, see far more discrimination in every area of life than younger women." Older women believe by nearly 2/1 that when given an equal opportunity, women will succeed at whatever they do. Younger women agree but more of them (43%) feel that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses in what they can do well.
And the kicker-
When it comes to politics, 85% of women feel strongly that a female president would definitely bring some good qualities that are lacking in most male candidates. They say it is time to elect a women president, believing such a victory will serve as a role model for the next generation. Not surprisingly, women completely reject the idea that a women president would be too emotional and end up crying in the Oval Office.
Let's use this anger to continue raising attention about issues that are important to women and the world around us. We can't let a progressive president let us become complacent about vital issues. Remember Dorothy, we live in a sexist world no matter if Barack Obama is gonna be president.

The Barrier That Didn’t Fall (The Daily Beast)

Women Get Some Venture Capital Money

For the last couple of years (before the economy went in the crapper) it seemed like all these Hollywood production companies were getting cash infusions from Wall Street. I noticed that most of the VC money went to boys. Not surprising.

That's why it's ever more surprising and exciting to report that Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler's Killer Films has had a huge cash infusion from GC Corp. They look to up the budgets of their films from $6 million to $40 million.

Killer Films stake sold to GC Corp. (Variety)

Must Read Post

The excellent Kim Voynar, now at Movie City News, has an excellent post up analyzing the reasoning as to why women's films don't get their due respect at Oscar time. I agree with every single word she says. Make sure to read the whole piece. Here are some highlights:

Sex and the City was fine for what it was, but I don't need to see another two hours of Carrie and the girls agonizing about men over drinks while wearing overpriced footwear. I want more of the raw, wrenching Anne Hathaway of Rachel Getting Married -- in fact, I never want to see Hathaway have to take a role in a crappy romantic comedy or badly-executed drivel like the Get Smart remake ever again.

I want to see more films with strong female performances like Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein in I've Loved You So Long, Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy, Melissa Leo and Missy Upham (who people seem to largely be forgetting about) in Frozen River, Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, all great films with strong lead roles -- and two of them directed by women, too -- and none of them are in serious contention at this point for Best Picture.

Let's examine the list of films that are front-runners for Best Picture this year. Twenty-three films on the Gurus of Gold Best Picture chart and of those, not a single damned one is directed by a woman. That's just sad -- both generally speaking, and because I'm rather shocked that Frozen River, at least, hasn't managed to garner even a single vote in its favor. The only femme-helmed film even showing up on the Gurus' Best Pic chart is ... The Secret Life of Bees? Seriously? No offense to that film, but Dakota and the Bees above Frozen River? I honestly cannot imagine an objective version of reality where the former is a better film artistically speaking.

Admittedly, you could argue that there aren't more woman-directed entries in the Best Picture race because women directors just didn't make any really stand-out, Oscar-caliber films this year ... and sadly, aside from Frozen River and Wendy and Lucy (which is more of an end-of-year top ten pick than a Best Picture contender), you'd mostly be right.

But if we want to have a conversation about why more smart female films aren't made, and why more women don't get jobs directing awards-caliber films, we have to look beyond just the box office numbers to the people making the decisions at studios about which films get greenlit and who gets hired to helm them. Studios are businesses that will always be about the bottom line, and they need to wake up and realize that women are not a niche market. There are more women than men in the US now overall, so why are studios still targeting the vast majority of their filmmaking efforts at teenage boys?

There's a glass ceiling in Hollywood, just as there is in the business world everywhere, that serves to prevent more women from rising to positions where they have the power to control the money that gets spent. And that ceiling stays in place not just because the men who hold the power want to keep it there, but because there are broader societal issues that still make it more difficult for women to break through it.

But believe me when I say that I would love for an exec -- male or female -- at a major Hollywood studio to prove me wrong over the next couple years by being ballsy enough to focus primarily on the women's market; some smart young exec could build up a hell of a career by finding a way to both make smarter, awards-level films for women (directed by women would be swell, too) and effectively market them to a demographic that's pretty much come to expect a low bar of quality for films aimed in their general direction.

I think a lot of the Oscar conversation has to do with buzz and money and how these campaigns are done. Timing is also important. But let's look at the comparison of Frozen River and The Secret Life of Bees. I agree that Frozen River is a far superior film in every way. But it is about women on the economic margin and is a really tough story and film to watch. You have to actually watch that film to see the nuanced performances. Neither woman is really likable and for women in films, you need to have some redeeming characteristics. Daniel Day Lewis can play a bastard and win, but it's much harder for a woman. The Secret Life of Bees is an uplifting story that seems to be defying expectations at the box office. I really liked both films, but they are so different.

And the "Gurus of Gold" those Oscar prognosticators who fuel most of the speculation are -- shockingly -- mostly men. There are 3 women out of 14. We know that guys see films about women as "other" and "niche" films. That's just the way it is. The only way this all will change is to have more women EVERYWHERE so we cannot be dismissed as a niche.

Women are not a niche...we are the majority. (I'm getting a t-shirt made.)
Oscar and the Absence of Femme Films

Equality Watch: The Doc Short List

The Academy released the short list of the 15 films eligible for the documentary feature award. As I've written before, at most festivals, women filmmakers make up about 50% of the directors. Here, not so much.

Directed by Women
“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”- co-directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath (opens Friday in NYC)
“Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh”- directed by Roberta Grossman
“Pray the Devil Back to Hell”- directed by Gini Retiker
“Trouble the Water”- co-directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

About Women
“They Killed Sister Dorothy”

Missing are the buzzed about movies by Marina Zenovich, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired and Nanette Burstein, American Teen.

For more in-depth analysis check out this site

November 17, 2008

Adrienne Shelly Foundation: Supporting Women Filmmakers

Adrienne Shelly was brutally murdered several years ago when she was on the cusp of her breakout with the film Waitress. Her husband, Andy Ostroy started the foundation in her memory to support female filmmakers. They are having their second fundraiser in NYC tonight. Tickets here. Ostroy answered some questions about the Foundation and its work.

W&H: Why did you feel it was important for the Foundation to support female filmmakers?

Andy Ostroy: Adrienne faced various hurdles and challenges in her career that women face in many industries not just entertainment. After she died people were asking how they could make a donation in her name and I wanted to be something meaningful, something she was passionate about. It took me a couple of weeks and realized that helping women produce their films and become filmmakers was the most organic way to go.
W&H: You gave out your first grants this year?
AO: We gave out our first grants in the spring of 07 which we called round one. Round two came this past spring.
W&H: Talk about the grantees.
AO: They don't have to fit any particular model. We're not looking to duplicate Adrienne per say, but we look for a certain sensibility, a certain talent and creativity. We have funded films like The Devil Came on Horseback, a seering documentary about the genocide in Darfur to Freeheld a doc about a lesbian couple in NJ, one of whom is dying and wants to leave her benefits from the police department to her partner. The film went on to win an Oscar.
I don't think that anyone who knew Adrienne would say that either of those films or their filmmakers are clones of Adrienne, but Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg who made Devil and Cynthia Wade who made Freeheld share with adrienne an overall intelligence, sensibility and creativity. They are all strong women and driven. It runs from college students like Marissa O'Guinn at NYU who was a sophmore when we gave her grant last year, to Columbia graduate student Enrica Perez who made a film Taxista.

W&H: Do people apply for grants?
AO: We partner with several organizations so they funnel the creme of the crop to us. IFP will send us their five finalists and we will put together a little jury and pick a winner and it is very efficient. We have a lot of great people on the board of directors and on our advisory board but they are all very busy. I tried to create a model that would allow us to tap these people for their creativity and resources in a minimal time way but in a maximum output way.
W&H: What have you learned about the business and the lack of female directors since you started your work?
AO: This may come as a shock to you but men who control things out there in the world don't like women telling them what to do. In Hollywood, on Madison Avenue and on Wall Street. It's probably easier for women in the entertainment field because the nature of show business is that it is more accepting of women and gays and different peoples and cultures, but it is still shockingly low in terms of the percentages of feature films made by women.

Being a director in particular, the connotation is that it's a macho job and you see some guys on the set and it sometimes gets to their heads thinking they are general Patton. The machismo of directing especially in today's world where some of the wonderfully story driven movies have gone by the way side in exchange for the big action, comic book hero films which are much harder for a woman to direct.

It's one thing for a woman to direct Juno or something like that, it's another thing for a woman to direct Spiderman or some action film, and unfortunately the movie business is moving in that direction. I think its going to get harder for women's voices to be heard because of the type of films that are made. It's so concentrated on these billion dollar franchises. It's truly a male dominated area.

I think that organizations like ours and IFP and NY Women in Film and TV and others are extremely important because it gives women some kind of access entry point for funds. Cynthia Wade who won an Oscar basically could not finish her film without the money we gave her. That's very gratifying for an organization like ours which was one year out of the gate to have funded an Oscar winning film and filmmaker. Adrienne would have loved that. We know we have impact. Our job is to keep finding the Cynthia Wades and the people like her who are very talented and creative and need help. I wish we could do ten times more than we do. Hopefully, someday we will grow to that level where we could expand and have a greater impact.
W&H: How does a filmmaker get herself noticed by your organization?
AO: Go to our website, read how we give out grants and who our partners are. Right now you need to be inside one of those organizations to be recommended to us.

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes is awesome on the New Adventures of Old Christine (do you watch that show? If not you must!) and this weekend during the no on 8 protests she came out in a big, bold way. (Guess she couldn't be on Grey's Anatomy now.)

"I'm proud to be a woman. I'm proud to be a black woman, and I'm proud to be gay."
Here's the video from her coming out speech at the rally

Helen Mirren Has Lost Her Mind- Again

Helen Mirren has recently been a role model for aging beautifully onscreen with integrity (I'll give her the lapse of judgment for making National Secret 2). But she is in danger of losing all credibility because of a second narrow minded and dangerous comment she made regarding women and rape. Doesn't she realize that smart women (who are concerned about these issues) are her number 1 fans? I for one am pretty pissed at Ms. Mirren for being such a dunderhead.

Dame Helen Mirren was accused by the Solicitor General of making ignorant, absurd and dangerous comments yesterday after speaking out again about rape prosecutions.

In an interview, the 63-year-old Oscar-winning actress said that in such cases female jurors are deliberately selected by defence barristers because 'women go against women'.

She suggested that women jurors are less likely to convict a rapist since they tend to think the victim was 'asking for it'.

Comment by Solicitor General Vera Baird in response to Mirren

It's such a shame that a person who has a high profile feels qualified and able to put forward this nonsense. It's capable of being quite dangerous because someone in that position saying that sort of thing, suggesting that she knows more than she actually does.
She also perpetuates the theme that women are out to get other women in response to the fact that she has consistently requested male interviewers in the past in the initial offending interview with the Sunday Times.

“No, it’s more that I prefer male journalists because there’s a streak of female journalism — the bitches — who are mean-spirited and nasty because you are another woman and want to make you feel crap. It’s very upsetting. I’m more careful when I’m being interviewed by a woman because, from experience as well as reading articles about other women, I know there is a little stiletto knife hidden behind the back.”

This whole thing makes me so sad.
Helen Mirren: Sexually jealous women jurors think rape victims are asking for it (Daily Mail)
Helen Mirren: perennial pin-up (Sunday Times)

photo: Anthony G. Moore/PR Photos


  • Meryl Streep is attached to star in the adaptation of the Vicki Myron book Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Pamela Gray will pen the script. Streep will play the author, who works at the library and observed the impact that a kitten had on the townsfolk once it became the library mascot after wandering in through the after-hours book return slot on a cold night. (Variety)
  • Jane Fonda will return to Broadway after 45 years in Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations.
  • Annette Bening and Naomi Watts will headline Mother and Child, a multilayered drama from scripter and helmer Rodrigo Garcia. Through overlapping stories, script follows a woman who gave up her daughter 35 years ago and an African-American woman who is looking to adopt. Kerry Washington and Shareeka Epps also star. (Variety)
  • Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons are set to star in a Lifetime biopic about the late artist Georgia O'Keeffe. The project, dubbed Georgia O'Keeffe, will follow the turbulent, 20-year love affair between the celebrated artist (Allen) and photographer Alfred Steiglitz (Irons). Allen also will take on executive producer duties for the first time. (Hollywood Reporter)
  • Four Time Emmy Award winning actress Valerie Harper stars as Tallulah Bankhead in the Pre-Broadway Engagement of Looped , a new comedy by Matthew Lombardo and directed by Rob Ruggiero. (Broadway World)
  • Nicole Kidman is to play the world's first male-to-female post-op transsexual in a biopic of the Danish artist Einar Wegener, The Danish Girl. She will star opposite Charlize Theron, who will play Wegener's wife and fellow artist, Greta. (The Guardian)