In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow made history as the first woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Director for the film ‘The Hurt Locker.’ This year no woman will win the directing prize— that’s because none have been nominated. Women directed only seven percent of the top grossing films in America and female filmmakers say they want that to change.
When Deborah Kampmeier set out to make her movie Hounddog, the financing fell through four times. It took her twelve years to get the film made. When she finally finished, it was nominated a top prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. But Kampmeier says success hasn’t made things any easier. “I thought “Here it goes! And now I can make my next film, I’m not an unknown filmmaker,” which was always part of the problem was I’d never made a film before. ‘No, now I’m an award winning film maker.’ Nah. Didn’t make a bit of difference. I still couldn’t get an agent.”
The director’s chair isn’t the only place where women are underrepresented. Women represent only about one in six producers, writers, cinematographers and editors on top grossing films. And those who do have jobs on big-budget features tend to work in very specific genres.
Melissa Silverstein says that “women have a harder time getting hired for a gig when it’s not a touchy feely chick flick or a romance. It’s like enough.” Silverstein is the founder and editor of the blog “Women and Hollywood.” She points to a report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State. It confirms that women are in fact more likely to work on romantic comedies and dramas, rather than say, horror or action movies. Of course Kathryn Bigelow, who won the best director award last year, got the prize for a hard-hitting war film. Silverstein wants more women to be able to make the kinds of films that Bigelow does. “I don’t want to go see a mediocre movie, I want to see good movies and I think women and men make good movies. And I want women to get more opportunities.”
The San Diego State report found that women are also more likely to work in documentary films. Barbara Rick founded and directs Out of the Blue Films, an independent documentary company. On a recent evening she was setting up a shoot at a lower Manhattan bookstore.
Rick discussed camera placement with her husband, a cinematographer, as bookstore employees dragged chairs out and set up a stage. Rick likened her job as director to being a conductor of sorts, “All these people know their jobs and do their jobs well, so its just a way of kind of like having an influence in kind of a gentle way to make sure that you get what you want.”
Earlier that day in her office, Rick said that as much as she likes making documentaries, she dreams of trying out a new genre. “I love cinema, and I love feature films and I would really like to write and direct my own feature films. But that just, it’s a big big hurdle. Young white men don’t have it easy either, it’s just that they’re more likely to be banked upon when it comes to making films.”
Rick and other women in film say its essential that Hollywood change. Margaret Nagle is a writer and producer whose first screenplay turned into an HBO film that won five Emmy awards. Nagle says the way for women to advance in Hollywood, is for each individual woman to stay focused on doing the best work she can. Nagel says that “There’s the part of me that knows all this exists and its not good. And then there’s that part of my brain that’s like ‘I have to do my work, I have to do what I love, my success will change things for other people, I hope. And when I don’t need to make money anymore, I’ll be this really ranting old lady, who is like absolutely on a soapbox saying this has to change.
Whatever the strategy, director Deborah Kampmeier says she hopes that women and men can reach parity in the film industry, because film is so important to our culture. Kampmeier says that “films are the place in society that we really sit around the campfire and tell our stories and make our myths, and really create our future as a society. And 93 percent of those stories are being told by men and this is a chronic, very unhealthy balance.”
Though no women directors got Oscar nominations this year, The Kids Are Alright and Winter’s Bone are up for best picture. Both those films were directed by women.