A hot-blooded debate broke out at IMDb founder Col Needham’s annual dinner at the Toronto Film Festival this week as Col’s favorite table game — name the most important film you haven’t seen — got commandeered by concern over the lack of women filmmakers at the festival and everywhere else.
Those of us at the table — including filmmaker Vanessa Hope and her husband, Ted, the indie veteran who runs Amazon’s original films division; Motion Picture Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs; BAFTA New York’s new CEO Julie La’Bassiere; and Chaz Ebert, among others — tried to put together a list of the Top 10 Great Films made by female filmmakers.
We got as far as “The Piano” (Jane Campion), “Lost in Translation” (Sofia Coppola), “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Hurt Locker” (Kathryn Bigelow), “Thirteen” (Catherine Hardwicke), “Selma” (Ava DuVernay), and a couple more. But we quickly ran out of low-hanging fruit and started veering into ancient times (“Europa Europa,” Agnieszka Holland) or obscurity (“Wanda,” Barbara Loden from 1970). We could barely get to 10.
There are a number of films at the Toronto Film Festival by women filmmakers, and that’s great. It’s progress, it definitely is. But the films are only … fine. (To be fair, that’s also true of most of the man-made films.)
There’s “Miss You Already,” starring Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore, by the afore-lauded Hardwicke. It’s a story of friendship between the two women, and then cancer happens. Susan Sarandon stars in the amusing “The Meddler,” by writer-director Lorene Scafaria, to be released by Sony Pictures Classics later this year. Sarandon gets laughs as a widow butting into her daughter’s (Rose Byrne) life, and it’s a perfectly nice portrait of a woman looking for a new identity as she heads toward her senior years.
I made sure to see these films because I wanted to fall in love with a film about women, by women. I don’t just want female filmmakers. I want GREAT FILMS by female filmmakers. I want more “Boys Don’t Cry.” I want more “The Kids Are All Right.” Do I want too much?
Our storytellers help set our world views, determine our value systems and signal our civic and social priorities. They hold up an essential mirror to ourselves. That is why we need women’s voices telling stories, and directing them. How are we going to change this state of affairs, when just 7 percent of our movies are being directed by women?
David Oyelowo — Emmy-nominated this year for his tour de force work in HBO’s “Nightingale” — has his own affirmative action approach. Oyelowo visited TheWrap’s interview studio with his new film “Five Nights in Maine,” written and directed by Maris Curran, a woman. He told me this was not a coincidence. In fact, he said he would have five projects directed by women: “Queen of Katwe” by Mira Nair is in post-production, he’s prepping “A United Kingdom” directed by Amma Assante, and he said he’ll be working with DuVernay again soon as well, after making both “Selma” and “Middle of Nowhere” with her. This, he said, is a factor is determining his choices as an actor and producer.
“I have decided if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem. When I meet a filmmaker like Maris (Curran), I go, ‘I see your ability, I see your talent, and I want more voices like that in the world,’ and that’s why I want to push for that to get made over and above a male director in the same position, unequivocally for me,” he said.
“We’re missing out on a huge amount of what the human race has to offer cinematically because women do bring a different perspective. You’re talking about 50 percent of the population and their experience. I want a world in which my daughter, especially, doesn’t have to deal with (sexism)… I think the onus is on all of us. I think it does get frustrating that as women you’re going, ‘Yes I’m a female filmmaker.'” Instead, he says, she should be “just a filmmaker, a great filmmaker. Some of the best filmmakers I’ve worked with are women.”
That’s pretty interesting. What if other prominent actors actively sought out projects directed by women? So often the attachment to a project by a name actor, who often also produces, can make the difference in getting a movie made.
For his part, Col Needham agreed to start a list on IMDb of top films directed by women. Does this matter? Ted Hope said it does. He pointed out that measuring success in a list is a supremely “guy thing,” but that it is important because it becomes a reference point and starts a conversation.
That’s what we need — for people to talk about it, and to get invested in a more diverse set of storytelling voices. I’m sure movie fans will take exception to the choices on that list — which is entirely the point. Let the debate continue.