Guest blogger: Jenny Neighbour, Programs Manager and Documentary Programmer for Sydney Film Festival.
I’ve been reading the current debate about the levels of abuse directed at women directors, as well as the under-representation of women in the film industry. Only 23% of directing positions and 26% of key behind-the-scenes roles are filled by women, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University last year. Cannes is opening tonight with a film directed by a woman (La Tête Haute, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot) for the first time since 1987 – that’s 28 years ago… Outraged? You should be! If you want your blood to boil further check out Shit People Say To Women Directors.
Thank goodness, women are slightly better represented in documentary making. An earlier study by the same university found that 39% of documentaries at top film festivals were directed by women, compared with 18% of narrative features. I checked out this year’s Sydney Film Festival stats; of the 72 documentaries selected for the 2015 festival, 40% are directed by women – so bang on average, but could do better, for sure.
So, let’s celebrate the women filmmakers that are represented at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival, as well as the stories told from a female point-of-view. First up, we have two documentaries by debut filmmakers that have achieved a considerable profile with their first feature-length works. Tea Time, directed by Maite Alberti, screened in competition at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. The film focuses on a group of Chilean women and their monthly tea time chats, a ritual which has endured for 60 years. South African filmmaker Ryley Grunenwald won the World View Award at IDFA, as well as Best Film at the International Environmental Film Festival for her debut The Shore Break.
From first-timers to established filmmakers, UK filmmaker Kim Longinotto, has long been a festival favourite with films that focus on women’s issues like Divorce Iranian Style and Sisters in Law. Her latest film, Dreamcatcher, looks at the work of Chicago’s Dreamcatcher Foundation and its powerhouse founder Brenda Myers-Powell. Ondi Timoner (a festival guest) has won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance twice for Dig!, about two uncompromising rock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, and We Live in Public which, profiles dot-com entrepreneur Josh Harris. Her latest film, Brand: A Second Coming, tackles another charismatic but tricky male – this time, activist and comedian Russell Brand.
A number of stories told by women feature at the festival including The Bolivian Case, by Australian filmmaker Violeta Ayala, which follows three young Norwegian women on trial for drug smuggling in Bolivia, and the different ways the media and legal system deal with their cases. Danish filmmaker Hanna Polak spent 14 years filming a young girl living on the biggest rubbish dump in Europe (just outside Moscow); the resulting documentary, Something Better to Come, is a story of resilience and determination, which has been generating heat on the festival circuit. Australian director Jennifer Peedom headed to Everest last year to explore the reason behind a 2013 mountain-high standoff between climbers and sherpas, resulting in her SFF Official Competition contender Sherpa. Another Australian woman director Gillian Armstrong celebrates the work of a little known Australian three-time Oscar-winner, the Hollywood costume designer Orry Kelly, in Women He’s Undressed. Armstrong’s film is competing in the Documentary Australian Foundation’s Best Documentary competition, alongside other titles directed by women: The Bolivian Case, Gayby Baby, Songlines on Screen, Tyke Elephant Outlaw, and Wide Open Sky.
So, celebrate the 40%, check out all these films and more at the 62nd Sydney Film Festival – which opens with Ruben Guthrie produced by Kath Shelper and closes with Holding The Man produced by Kylie du Fresne.
SFF Programs Manager Jenny Neighbour has been programming documentaries for Sydney Film Festival for over 25 years. She travels the country and the world searching out the best in non-fiction film to bring back for Sydney audiences to enjoy.