This is an editorial by Carol White Llewellyn and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Management, Staff or Board of Directors of RCTV
If you’re like most people, you probably go to the movies based on trailers, advertising, curiosity, or your interest in a book that’s been turned into a movie. You may be familiar with the actors, possibly the director and maybe the scriptwriter of the film you set out to see. But unless you’re involved in the world of filmmaking or you’re a real film buff who sits reading the credits, I daresay you’re probably more aware of the people and action in front of the lens, than those behind the scenes.
If the film speaks to you, you go. If not, you stay home, or catch it later on netflix or TV. I don’t know anyone who overtly chooses to go to a movie based solely on the gender of those involved in the film’s making.
That’s the reason the High Falls Film Festival is so important: It celebrates the work of women who are making a mark in the film industry by giving their work a forum for recognition. This annual event, that was launched in 2001, morphed a bit in 2010 and 2011, went on hiatus for a year, to relaunch back to its roots in 2013, would make film innovator George Eastman and women’s suffragist Susan B. Anthony proud.
Let me share further why this film festival is so important.
Surprisingly, in its infancy, filmmaking was not a male-dominated field, as it has been in the recent past and still is today. From 1896 when the Vitascope first appeared to the early 1920’s, it seemed that women would find a professional home and equal footing in filmmaking. They held positions as highly-paid actors, as directors and editors, as screenwriters and more. According to the book Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood, Ladies Home Journal predicted that within five years of the issue’s 1920 publication date, “women’s influence would be ‘fifty-fifty’ in ‘studio land.’ ” But by the time the feature-length film The Jazz Singer made audio history and silent films obsolete in 1927, women began falling from the firmament of filmmaking.
Between the purposeful masculinization of engineering, science and technology in the early 20th Century, and the conflict in feminine ideals between the older, maternal and domestic vision for women and that of the new modernist, female filmmakers lost out.
It is not until the 1970’s when the downward spiral begins to reverse itself to bring us to the not-so-illustrious success women filmmakers experience today. The following statistics are facts gathered by Women Make Movies:
- In 2013, women accounted for 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors. This represents a decrease of two percentage points since 2012 and a decrease of one percentage point from 1998.
- Women accounted for 10% of writers, 15% of executive producers, 17% of editors, 3% of cinematographers, and 25% of producers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2013.
- Women comprised 6% of all directors working on the top 250 films of 2013. This represents a decrease of 3 percentage points from 2012 and 1998. Ninety-three percent (93%) of the films had no female directors.
- In Academy Award history, four female filmmakers have been nominated for best director (Lina Wertmuller-1977, Jane Campion-1994, and Sofia Coppola-2004, Kathryn Bigelow – 2010), but only Kathryn has won.
The list goes on and on. For more information, click here.
So why does this matter at all? Who cares if women aren’t given or aren’t taking the same opportunities as men in filmmaking?
I and others might say, “well, it’s simply not fair,” and that would be accurate. But in reality, fairness has no legs in the marketplace.
It may sound cynical, but the most rational reason women need to be given more opportunities and need to take advantage of those available to make films is a matter of pure economics, the only measure to which the marketplace responds.
More diversity on the grocery store shelves results in stronger sales. The same principle works in filmmaking. According to Indiewire, “Diversity means money. Broadcast comedies and dramas with more diversity get higher ratings. Films with just 21-30% diversity earned a global median box-office total of $160 million, while films with less than 10% diversity made just $68.5 million.”
More diversity in those making the films would result in more diversity among the films being made, thereby potentially expanding the audience base, the frequency of purchase and ultimately, the number of jobs available in the field.
And if that’s not enough, suppose the next J.K.Rowling of filmmaking is awaiting her opportunity to share her message?
So thank you, High Falls Film Festival for celebrating work that matters, and for giving the underrepresented recognition and encouragement.
The 2014 High Falls Film Festival will run from October 23-26 and the films and corresponding events will be shown at various sites in downtown Rochester. Some events are free to attend, and for others, there is a fee. For the full program guide, click here.