Saturday, January 4, 2014

Where New Zealand Has It So Right in Terms of Females in the Film Industry

White Lies
So, not so long ago, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug came out, and because I'm the worst NZ film fan, I've forgotten about it already. Mainly because I was a little pissed to find out that the premiere they had last year was the only one they'd be having in NZ, so I missed out on my chance to cry over Queen Cate Blanchett. Alas, as you all ride your orcs to spend three hours in Middle Earth - which is actually all of NZ - I thought it was high time that I highlighted a couple of other fantastic NZ films from this year and how NZ has got it so right with its film industry.

Now, I have a bit of an aversion to NZ films as a whole. Which is part of the reason why I'm headed to Canterbury instead of Victoria for my film education, as Victoria is mostly NZ based. I'm not sure what it is, but our accents make for some pretty terrible acting, and everyone's least favourite soap, Shortland Street, kind of ruins any credibility NZ has on screen. However, a little while ago I watched a couple of 2013's biggest hits NZ film wise, White Lies and Shopping, and one thing I noticed is that damn it is a good place to be a female in the film industry at the moment.

I guess you could say I'm going through a bit of a feminist phase film wise. My reading diet mostly consists of the Indiewire blog 'Women and Hollywood' and I'm idolising the fine filmmaking ladies like Rebecca Miller, Kathryn Bigelow (forever and always), Debra Granik, Nicole Holofcener, Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, Andrea Arnold...basically any female that's made a film. I felt a little more than disheartened by that New York Film Academy study that showed some of the most shocking stats out. And yes, I still want to be a film director, mainly for the fact that females aren't doing it.

Just the other day, I saw something that Greta Gerwig said: "Every great American playwright was a man. And so I just sort of were like, ‘they’re men, they’re probably smarter than me, I can’t do it’. And then someone was like ‘Why did you ever think that? You can totally do it.’ But I think if you don’t have examples, it’s very hard to imagine yourself doing it." Which is where I think NZ has given me a little more of a boost in my dreams than America has (even though Kathryn Bigelow winning the Oscar was pretty much the driving force behind it). Females generally do well in NZ. We've had a two female prime ministers. Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes were two young female actors who made it to the Oscars before high school. Jane Campion was the first woman to win the Palme D'Or and makes up a quarter of the total females that have been nominated for a directing Oscar. Hell, when I got Head Girl, people kept telling me that I'd be the one who did all of the work and would shine the brightest, because females generally do better at school (which wasn't entirely true, as my Head Boy and I balanced our duties). To add to that, our prefect team was rather unbalanced...there were more females than males.  We're apparently the 7th best place in the world for gender equality.

The Most Fun You Can Have Dying
And even though apparently our film industry is failing, only being kept afloat by the large injections from The Hobbit to our economy, females have it good when it comes to films. Let's not forget that Peter Jackson's big breakthrough was a film that had barely any males in sight, and was headlined by two 'strong' female characters. Has Jane Campion ever made a movie that wasn't headlined by a well written female character? Niki Caro made a name for herself by making Whale Rider, which again, had a 'strong central female character', and then she moved into the American film industry with North Country, another feminist themed movie. One of my favourite films from 2012, The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, was male-centric (and perhaps didn't give enough characterisation to any of the females), but it was beautifully directed by Kirstin Marcon, who did something which I think is rarely seen in NZ films - she left the country and pursued location shooting in so many European countries, and also shot the film in a distinct French New Wave style.


With 2013 being a relatively quiet year on the NZ film front, two films seemed to really fly: White Lies and Shopping. White Lies doesn't have a balanced cast. That's because it is a movie comprised of three women, largely inside of one house, who aren't defined by the men in their lives. Instead, being set in the 1930s, arguably a time that was very much defined by men, we have these three women who are coming to terms with their racial identity and their place in society. Plus, it is written and directed by a woman, Dana Rotberg. And there's our second most successful, fully homegrown film of the year after Mt Zion, which I'm fairly sure was only popular on account of having Stan Walker trying out his acting chops. Plus, White Lies was our second ever submission into the foreign film category - while it missed out on getting into the shortlist (like a lot of good films, apparently), NZ ought to be proud of that film. Shopping is a film that was made not so far from where I live, that recently swept the NZ Film Awards. While it admittedly wasn't my favourite, I was quite excited to learn that it had a female cinematographer, Ginny Loane. I've been reading up a bit on the lack of female cinematographers out there, and the reasons range from it just being too much physical work, to Reed Morano struggling to get her male counterparts to take her seriously because she'd had a baby. It was pretty exciting to see Loane's work in the film, which is perfectly filtered to the 1980's aesthetic, and then seeing that her resume is filled with some of the more memorable TV ads in recent times. Shopping, though directed by two males and featuring a mostly male cast, has a group of women producers and a woman editor. On top of that, Beyond the Edge, another extremely successful NZ film that is filmed in 3D, about Sir Edmund Hillary's climb up Everest, is directed by a woman.

Sure, there aren't thousands of examples, and most of our popular films, like Boy, Eagle vs Shark, The World's Fastest Indian etc aren't the most female-centric films ever. But with the limited means that NZ filmmakers have to get by under the shadow of Peter Jackson, it is great to see that females aren't afraid to shine. From what I've read, this is the case in most foreign countries, with females shining everywhere apart from America. I'm personally not sure why this is, and will probably find out the hard way one day, but I'd really like to see that changed. Greta Gerwig was right: it is hard to imagine yourself doing something without any examples. But it is cool to see that New Zealand is taking some small steps in giving people like me some examples.


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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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