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August 08, 2014

Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through

mari udine.jpg
Mari Asato

Edited by Gabrielle Kelly & Cheryl Robson
Supernova Books - 2014

I don't know what it says about me that the problems I have with this book tend to keep on nagging me, even when there are chapters here worth reading. Certainly we have progressed a bit from Andrew Sarris dismissing Ida Lupino's abilities as a filmmaker, and his characterizing of the women film directors "as little more than a ladies' auxiliary". Various things that could have been dealt with better in Celluloid Ceiling also point out as what work still needs to be done.

A case in point is my inclusion of a photo I took of Mari Asato. Adam Bingham has a chapter providing an overview of Japanese directors. Well and good, and those who have been reading this blog might recall that I have written about two films by Yuki Tanada. Yet in closing his chapter, Bingham makes a general mention of women working in genre films, citing Wizard of Darkness and the existence of a sequel to Ju-On (The Grudge) without mentioning either filmmaker. Why Bingham does not feel the need to name these two capable filmmakers is unclear. Shimako Sato has a good number of accomplishments as writer and director. Mari Asato will hopefully be afforded films with more generous budgets, but in the meantime, her Ju-On: Black Ghost is worth seeing.

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Roh Deok

The chapters by Beti Ellerson and Maria Williams-Hawkins shed light on African filmmakers, usually the least represented in film festivals or in any kind of discussion of "world cinema". Ana Maria Bahiana provides as overview of filmmakers from Latin America. Dina Iordanova's chapter on filmmakers from South Eastern Europe (Greece, Turkey, the Balkans) is quite heartfelt. The chapters on Arab filmmakers came just in time with my scheduled review of a film by Palestinian Annemarie jacir. I should also mention that I have corresponded over seven years with Thai film journalist Anchalee Chaiworaporn who contribute chapters on filmmakers from Southeast Asia and South Korea.

Jacqui Miller's chapter on Hollywood directors points to a need for greater scholarship on the early silent era, when Lois Weber was not the only woman behind the camera. On the other hand, pioneer Alice Guy-Blache should have been represented by a chapter that did seem written for unsophisticated high school students.

I am also unsure what to make of a discussion of Canadian filmmakers that does not mention Patricia Rozema. I was surprised that the chapter on British directors did include Joan Littlewood. And if one is going to discuss women in Hollywood, how about a little note for Juleen Compton?

The choice of photos is especially questionable. Apparently Dennie Gordon is the BFF of editor Gabrielle Kelly. While it is interesting that Gordon is an American director who made a Chinese language rom-com for a Chinese audience, critical interest in her work might be characterized as negligible. Three photos in addition to a portrait on the back cover might make some readers certain that Gordon is one of the more significant filmmakers of our time. More so than Ann Hui, four time Best Director winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards (and still the record), more than Hong Kong's Mabel Cheung, two time Best Director winner, or Philippines' Joyce Bernal, who proved with D'Anothers that a woman can make a movie raunchier than Bridesmaids. Not to mention Cate Shortland, Australian Directors Guild winner for Lore, pioneering Swedish filmmaker Mai Zetterling, or France's otherwise overlooked Nadine Trintignant. Where's a photo of Julie Dash, a woman as beautiful as her films?

As one might tell from the other two photos included, of Siege Ledesma and Roh Deok, both presenting their debut features at the last Udine Far East Film Festival, the history of women directors has future chapters to be written. Celluloid Ceiling is not without its merits, but also is not without several caveats.

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Siege Ledesma

all photos by Peter Nellhaus - 2014

Posted by peter at August 8, 2014 07:57 AM