Aug 10, 2007

Indie Seen: Women in Filmmaking

While there are some truly amazing women within the world of film, the fact of the matter is that they just don't get even half the recognition they deserve. Which of the following is easier for you to list, the cinematic achievements of women or men? Can you rattle off just as many prominent female directors as you can male ones? How about screenwriters? Producers? If you want, take the game on-screen -- can you list as many famous professional female characters as you can list male ones? Or, just within the realm of women, can you list as many secure, professional females as you can, say, strippers?

It's no wonder that every year around Oscar time, the Guerrilla Girls come out in full force. And really, who can blame them considering the stats? Only three women have ever been nominated for a Best Director Oscar, none of them won and 94% of writing awards have gone to men (as of this Spring's attempts to show the imbalance in cinema awards). But the thing is, the women are out there. They exist. They make stunning achievements in the world of film, and we barely hear about them.

So it's great that for the last ten years, Variety has been putting up a spotlight of the industry's top females who "have reverberated beyond their own spheres of influences" and that they "illustrate why we consider them at the top of their game." Obviously, only listing four or five is going to leave a lot of talent off, but it's not hard to look at the list and start thinking: "What about Sarah Polley? Amy Berg? Deepa Mehta?" What is, perhaps, most missed on the list is the continuing impressive efforts of female documentary filmmakers who have exploded on the ever-expanding documentary scene -- taking not only the world of docs, but the Oscars as well, by storm.

Some women in film haven't reverberated, so to speak, by covering the pages of newspapers, but that doesn't mean that their actions and accomplishments are any less awe-inspiring. What follows after the cut are indie women who make the grade -- they're award-winners, visionaries, fighters. But they're only the next layer. Comment with the women in cinema that inspire you, because really, we can't expect them to ever have a name if we don't spend the time talking them up.The Actresses

Laura Linney is one of film's current talents who has succeeded in making a name for herself, but not one that as much as her talent. She's a two-time Oscar nominee for You Can Count on Me and Kinsey, yet she's seen more as a quintessential character actress, rather than a woman oozing with talent. She's had her share of mainstream features from Primal Fear to The Life of David Gale, but in-between, she's been Lush, gotten a P.S. and even co-starred in Ethan Hawke's The Hottest State. She's the true Queen of Indie because she continues to give great performances and garners respectability without a million magazine covers and tabloid fodder.

Although Sandra Oh has found mainstream fame with Grey's Anatomy, she's one of Canada's and indie film's biggest female names. She started small -- one of her first gigs was an uncredited role as a waitress on a Degrassi special -- but since then, she broke out in Don McKellar's award-winning indie, Last Night and later found made waves in the ensemble hit, Sideways. She's successfully broken through the racial barrier and is one of the very few notable Asian names in U.S. media.

Chloe Sevigny is the indie machete who can slice through expectations. She can take on any role, no matter how controversial, and still find continued success. Where some actresses carefully consider the ramifications of each role, Sevigny charges forward and doesn't let it deter her from continued success. At her most controversial, she performed oral sex on Vincent Gallo in Brown Bunny, yet she's still securing high profile roles in both indie and mainstream cinema. Most recently, she has found success as the polygamous Mormon wife Nicolette Grant on Big Love.

Lisa Gay Hamilton is the woman in the shadows. You've no doubt seen her in one of her many roles, whether in indie films like Naked in New York and Palookaville, or in mainstream fare like Jackie Brown and The Sum of All Fears. She's also produced and directed her own award-winning documentary called Beah: A Black Woman Speaks. Hamilton is next stepping into the world of Indie King John Sayles with Honeydripper.

The Youth

You might recognize Ellen Page from her very brief stint in X-Men: The Last Stand as Kitty Pryde. However, she truly shines in her indie endeavors, recently having stunned the pants off viewers with her no-nonsense Hayley in Hard Candy. She stays away from what she calls the "bland and stereotypical" roles for teenage girls, and is a fresh breath of real air. Page has a lot of new films coming towards us soon, involving everything from unborn children to werewolves.

Ivana Baquero, who is better known as Ofelia, the girl from Pan's Labyrinth, only has a handful of roles to her name, yet she's already an impressive award winner. Granted, Labyrinth is a great way to break out into the world-at-large, but there's immense talent behind those young eyes. She is the youngest Spanish actress to win a Goya Award for the role, at the fresh age of 12, and now in her teens, I can only imagine what's to come. Her next film -- she's playing Paloma in Marie Noelle's The Anarchist's Wives.

Abbie Cornish has created a solid indie career for herself wowing audiences with films like Somersault and Candy, but it won't be more than a blink before she becomes a regular, mainstream household name. She's co-starring in the Elizabeth sequel, The Golden Age, as Elizabeth Throckmorton -- which means she'll play the wife of Clive Owen, and she's also been on the front lines of the current round of Bond girl rumors. We can only hope that with continued success, she doesn't forget her indie roots.

Keisha Castle-Hughes isn't wasting time and taking things slow. At thirteen, she became the youngest actress to gain an Oscar nomination for her performance as Paikea in Whale Rider. Since then, she's played Queen of Naboo in Episode III, Mother Mary in The Nativity Story and gracefully navigated around flack, having a child with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Bradley Hull -- and she's only 17. Considering the grace and talent she's displayed already, I'm sure that her upcoming films, Hey, Hey It's Esther Blueburger and The Vintner's Luck are only the next step.

The Directors

Sarah Polley -- there is just not enough good things I can say about this woman. She's come a long way since her days as Ramona Quimby and Sara Stanley. She's acted in a myriad of Canadian classics, teen indie fare like Go and even some horror with Dawn of the Dead. As if this wasn't enough to display her talent, she recently wrote and directed the stunning indie film Away from Her -- not only impressing audiences, but snaring epic talent like Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis.

Sofia Coppola could easily be one of the every-women listed below, but she's particularly important to the world of not only independent, but also mainstream directing. Sofia has moved well beyond the shadow of her famous father and has worked up to being one of the most recognizable names in film. It helps that she got 3 nominations and one Oscar win for Lost in Translation. As a director, she's had only three features, but has impressed audiences with her thoughtful storytelling, realism and risks.

Deepa Mehta has been a director for over 30 years, but she's probably best known for her award-winning, Oscar nominated 2005 film, Water. What's truly notable about Mehta is that beyond her notable talent, there is an amazing dedication to her craft. As I outlined this past February, the director got Water made while being pressured by threats of rape and death, riots and burning effigies. Many filmmakers hope to move and educate people with their creations, but few will put themselves in danger to make it happen. Next up for the director is a little Canadian Exclusion.

Julie Taymor definitely has a cloud of drama hanging over her head, but her directorial accomplishments are unmistakable. At the end of the 90's, she brought Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus to the big screen with Titus, a visually stunning film that brought to life one of the bard's most dysfunctional, bloody and pulpy works. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Andronicus, the film grabbed a Best Costume Oscar nod, as well as other artistic nominations and wins. The sailing hasn't been smooth for her upcoming Beatles-driven film, Across the Universe, but rumor has it that the latest edit has left audiences satisfied.

The Documentarians

Amy Berg burst onto the scene with the powerful, Oscar-nominated documentary Deliver Us From Evil, which tackles problems with pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood, and the Church's attempts to cover it up. The biggest accomplishment of the film was having extensive interviews with a Priest responsible for hundreds of instances of rape and molestation -- Father O'Grady. Berg is currently working on a few narratives and two documentaries, so we haven't seen the last of this explosive talent.

Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing are filmmakers who are responsible for two solid documentaries. After breaking onto the scene with The Boys of Baraka, which made the Oscar shortlist, the two women helmed the Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp, which detailed children who attend a summer camp and hope to become the next Billy Graham. Where Evil is sadly disturbing, Grady and Ewing's religious offering has been described by our James Rocchi as the "best horror film I've seen all year," having mixed both chilling footage with a sense of levity.

Where the previous women gained nominations, Zana Briski scored an Oscar win for her 2004 documentary Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids. A professional photographer who spent many years capturing photos of the women in Calcutta's brothels, and teaching their children photography, Briski not only recorded her experiences for an award-winning film, but made her filmmaking experience hands-on and life-changing. While she's now gone back to photography, and is shooting insects as part of a new project, I wonder if her still photography and experiences will once again inspire her to make the images move.

Barbara Kopple is one of the female documentarians who paved the way for the current success in female-led documentaries. The filmmaker has two Oscar wins for Best Documentary under her belt -- one in 1976 for Harlan County U.S.A. and one for 1990's American Dream. Although it has been many years since her wins, she continues to make notable documentaries, most recently, she directed Shut Up & Sing, the Dixie Chicks doc chronicling their struggles after speaking out against George W. Bush in 2003.

The Producers

Maggie Renzi is the producing powerhouse behind John Sayles. After starring in his first film, Return of the Secaucus 7, Renzi stepped into the producer role with Lianna, while also taking a part in the film. Since then, she's produced most of Sayles' work, as well as one outside film -- 2000's Michelle Rodriguez-starring Girlfight. Renzi's talents are undeniable, making successes out of small budgets and indie challenges. Along with producing her partner's next film, Honeydripper, she is also producing a new Jewish/Mexican film called Se Habla Yiddish.

Kathleen Kennedy has worked on five Best Picture, Oscar-nominated films from E.T. to Munich, often working with Frank Marshall and Stephen Spielberg. While she's had an impressive stint as a mainstream producer, she also helps to bring indie fare to the big screen. Just this year, she's got producer credits on Julian Schnabel's Le Scaphandre et le papillon and Marjane Satrapi's popular animated film, Persepolis. After 25 years in the business, since her first producer credit on E.T., Kennedy has found her name attached to 71 productions, many of which are immensely popular classics or powerful independent films.

The Screenwriters

Fran Walsh is the pen and producer behind spouse Peter Jackson's films. While she is now a mainstream, oft-Oscar nommed name, before the explosion that was the Lord of the Rings, Walsh received an Oscar nomination with Jackson for Heavenly Creatures. The independent film centered on the true story of two girls who kill the one's mother after she tries to end their friendship (one of whom is now prolific writer Anne Perry). While much of her recent work has been fantastical adaptations, she's getting back to her indie roots with the study of adolescence and murder in The Lovely Bones.

Barbara Turner might not have Oscars under her belt, but she's responsible for writing a few of independent film's notable offerings in the last decade. In 2000, she adapted Jackson Pollock: An American Saga with Susan Emshwiller for the big screen in Ed Harris' Pollock, and in 2003 she collaborated with Neve Campbell on the ballet drama The Company, which starred the Scream actress and Malcolm McDowell. Next up, she is penning the life of Papa in an untitiled Ernest Hemingway project starring Robin Wright Penn and James Gandolfini.

The Women of All Trades

Jane Campion has done it all -- editing, cinematography, camera operation, script advisor, casting director, actress, producer, writer and director. As if dipping her toe in almost every area behind the scenes wasn't enough, she's also a screenwriting Oscar winner for The Piano. Her next feature is a Keats/Brawne love story called Bright Star, which stars none other than Abbie Cornish.

For years, Julie Delpy was seen as the haunting French actress in films like Kieslowski's Three Colors series. Since collaborating on the indie favorite, Before Sunset, Delpy has branched out in almost every direction, and she's finding success wherever she turns. Most recently, she's starred, written, directed, produced, edited and composed 2 Days in Paris, the romantic comedy that hits theaters this week. Next up: she's piling on all the roles again to bring bloody Elizabeth Bathory's life to the screen with The Countess.


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