I recently found an inspiring movement online for female representation in film. #52FilmsByWomen is a commitment to watch at least one film directed by a woman each week of the year. I’ve taken the pledge and am excited to hold myself to this agreement. I’m also going to chronicle my journey here. Every Friday from now until the end of the year, I’ll be writing an entry about 1 of more films by a female director. If you’d like to commit as well, you can pledge here.
There are many women directors that have been on my list to view their filmography, but I’m going to make it my goal to do more than just that for this commitment. I don’t want to resort to watching nothing but Varda and Ackerman and calling it good enough, though do expect their names to come up quite a bit over the next year. I also want to make sure I’m watching at least 1 new movie a week. No getting lazy and putting in Lost in Translation for the 100th time.
This week’s film selections highlight the range that is possible for this project. Starting with an avant-garde, silent, surrealist short from the 1940s and then moving to a Prestige picture from 2014. The only thing that these films have in common (aside from the gender of the director) is the level of respect garnered from the critical community. This disparity in everything except for quality should serve as a starting point to prove that women are just as qualified as their male counterparts when it comes to the creation of film, but for some reason are criminally underrepresented.
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943)
While only 14 minutes long and being more of an avant-garde experiment than a narrative feature, this is one of the most canonical pieces of women’s film. It’s one of very few films directed by a woman to make the Sight and Sound top 250 films of all-time list that was published in 2012. I had only heard of this film a few days ago before realizing that it was on a box set that I had somewhat recently purchased, and after figuring that out eagerly put it in. Maya Deren was definitely inspired by Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, but Meshes of the Afternoon takes on a more personal meaning. The household imagery grounds the film more than its purely surrealist counterpart, and the circular repetition that shows Deren viewing and meeting herself hints at serious self-discovery, not all of which proves to be positive.
Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014)
Selma was the prestige film the slipped through my to-watch list in 2014. When the time comes, if I have to miss out on one, I always tend to choose the year’s prestige biopic as the one to miss. While there were other films from 2014 I did end up liking more, writing this one off as a basic biopic would be doing it a great disservice. DuVernay brings a special touch to this story. While a simpler director would focus on the marches and the violence that they were met with, DuVernay juxtaposes those scenes with ones of King at home with his wife. She shows King emotionally struggling with consequences of his actions and weighing the pros and cons of continuing the uphill battle. It’s this sense of personal emotion instead of purely playing off of the audience’s reaction to violence that elevates Selma as a film.