Columbia University Film Fest Presents Panel on Women Filmmakers

Last night, the Film Society of Lincoln Center in Manhattan presented a panel entitled “What Glass Ceiling: The Remarkable Success of Columbia’s Women Filmmakers,” as part of the Columbia University Film Festival‘s 25th anniversary this week. Introduced by Columbia’s Film Department Chair Ira Deutchman, the panel was moderated by film director and Columbia Film faculty member Bette Gordon, and featured acclaimed filmmakers Shari Springer Berman, Cherien Dabis, Lisa Cholodenko and Nicole Holofcener.

Gordon began the panel by proudly proclaiming the fact that Columbia has “produced more women directors than any other film school today,” but lamented that in spite of this, “the film world is predominantly white and male.” She then turned things over to the four filmmakers to discuss the challenges they faced in getting their own first features made. Berman joked that “only half my answers are valid [because] I actually work with a partner who’s male,” her husband and co-director Robert Pulcini, whom she met while they were both attending Columbia. Dabis spoke about the extra difficulties of finding financing for her first feature, Amreeka, which “was not just about women, it was about Middle Eastern women.” Cholodenko’s advice for aspiring first-time filmmakers was to “have your intention in place, articulate it and stick to it,” while Holofcener told an unhappy tale of how she and her first agent parted ways. “After a while,” she said, “he sent me a Xerox bill, and I knew that was the end of my agent.”

When asked about how they went from their initial success to their second features, Dabis, who is currently in this particular process, said, “It’s never going to be easy, and when you accept that, it is what it is, and you just sort of keep going.” Cholodenko echoed this sentiment by adding, “If you have the stomach for that, then you’ll make it, and if it turns you off, then you should maybe find another profession.” The conversation then turned to the work of creating believable characters and situations with which an audience can relate. Cholodenko offered this secondhand advice: “Someone said to me once, ‘Just write it until it breaks your own heart.’” Holofcener responded the question of how much description she uses in her scripts, as opposed to dialogue, by saying, “I hate reading scripts that tell me about the character in the description of the character,” as opposed to dramatizing it through action.

As the discussion moved on to casting and working with actors, Holofcener spoke about her close working relationship with Catherine Keener, who has appeared in all of her features. “Just looking at me,” Holofcener said, “helps her access what I need from her … It’s a very intuitive connection. If she’s crying in a scene, I’m crying.” Berman spoke about the importance of casting the right actor for any given part: “I really believe that if you cast the wrong person, there’s little you can do to save the film.” Holofcener added to this by addressing the pressure felt from studios to cast a star: “One time, I did buckle and … offered this actor the part, and I had this sinking feeling … and she passed,” she said with a sigh of relief.

The panel wrapped up by addressing the topic of its title: the idea of “women filmmakers,” a moniker that Cholodenko said she doesn’t feel is “particularly modern.” “If it has to be modified, it’s like a handicap,” she expounded, while Dabis said that “because it is that much more difficult … I’m proud to be doing it.” “The statistics [of women in the industry vs. men] are horrible,” Cholodenko continued, “but I don’t think it’s going to go backwards, to where there’s this invisible other gender with no representation.” As to why Columbia seems to be a breeding ground for female filmmakers, Cholodenko said, “The energy there is really … what’s the word?” “Feminine?” Holofcener offered. “No, it’s not,” Cholodenko responded, “it’s androgynous. You go there and you don’t feel like it’s a boy’s club.” With a new semester of Columbia’s Film program beginning in the fall, we’re sure to see many distinguished filmmakers, both male and female, ascending from its ranks in the coming years. The panel can be viewed in its entirety here.

  

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

Related Posts

GE and Cinelan Announce Short Film Challenge at Tribeca Film Fest

GE and Cinelan, a video publishing company co-founded by Morgan Spurlock and Karol Martesko-Fenster, presented a special preview last night at 92YTribeca in Manhattan. The event was held to announce the opening of submissions for the Focus Forward $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, and featured the world premiere of four new short films. Focus Forward’s “Short Films, Big Ideas” initiative is a series of three-minute nonfiction films centered around the idea of people or organizations whose innovative efforts in medicine, engineering and other fields of knowledge have had a significant positive impact on humanity.

Illustrating this theme were nine short films presented in the 30-minute program following a cocktail reception in 92YTribeca’s main room. Five of these were 2012 Sundance Film Festival Selections, including the extraordinary opening film, Jeremiah Zagar’s Heart Stop Beating, about the work of two doctors who managed to save a dying man by replacing his heart with a turbine engine of their own design. It was a bold choice to open the program with a film that features open heart surgery footage, but the mood was lightened by Jessica Yu’s Meet Mr. Toilet, a humorous look at the efforts of Jack “Mr. Toilet” Sim to bring proper sanitation to the large portions of the world still lacking it.

Following these first two films were a pair of world premieres: first, Nelson George’s All Hail the Beat, an all-too-brief look at the history of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, whose sounds are still in use today by artists from Kanye West to Daft Punk, despite the fact that it hasn’t actually been manufactured since 1984. Next came Katy Chevigny’s The Honor Code, the most emotionally moving film of the evening, and the only one that focuses on innovation in human thought, as opposed to technological invention. Honor Code uses stylish animation to illustrate the ideas of philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and his efforts to end the deplorable practice of “honor killing.”

The other two world premieres were sandwiched between two more Sundance selections: Jessica Edwards and Gary Hustwit’s The Landfill, which documents a small New York landfill where trash is refined into electrical energy, and David W. Leitner’s Newtown Creek Digester Eggs: The Art of Human Waste, which examines the unusually beautiful Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The latter was the least satisfying film of the evening, mostly because it felt too rushed, with too much information crammed into its brief running time. On the other hand, the final film of the program, Phil Cox’s Hilary’s Straws, has a much more leisurely pace in its look at the innovative navigational tool that allowed a quadriplegic woman to sail across the world alone.

The final two world premieres were Steven Cantor’s The Bionic Eye, about research being done to artificially restore sight to patients suffering from degenerative blindness, and Michele Ohayon’s Solar Roadways, a very exciting look at the effort to produce solar-paneled roads and parking lots in order to cleanly and cheaply power nearby communities, as well as electric vehicles. Hopefully, the world premiere films will be available online soon; I would especially like to see The Honor Code and Solar Roadways again. In the meantime, the others are streaming on Focus Forward’s website, and if you have an idea that fits the theme, you can create your own film for the $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, which you can read more about here.

  

Related Posts

Not funny, funny — “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”

The start of a new occasional series in which I wall juxtapose the not-so-funny with the relatively uproarious.

It pains me to start this this international (and Spanish subtitled) trailer for the latest comedy from Woody Allen. The Wood-man was a youthful hero of mine and “Manhattan,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” ‘Zelig,” “Sleeper” and several others of his films rank among my favorite comedies. Still, over the years his humor and also his cinematic artistry has mostly grown stale. A recent interview in which he seems to have an increasingly super-depressive view of existence  may offer some hint as to what’s going on, but I think it’s that making movies has become mostly a habit for him. In my view, it might have been better if he had taken a break to do something else — stand-up, maybe — years ago. I could go on, but see for yourself.

Unbelievable cast, maybe one line that made me half smile.

And now, the earlier, much funnier Woody Allen.

The really funny thing about this scene from “Annie Hall” is that, Marshall McLuhan might have been a great media theorist, but either Woody Allen and his co-writer Marshall Brickman wrote complete gibberish for him to say, or he flubbed his line pretty badly. “You mean my whole fallacy is wrong.” (?!) The thing is, no one ever seems to notice because the dialogue is nearly always drowned out by loud laughter.

H/t Rope of Silicon.

  

Related Posts

Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

nicholsenhance

Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.

Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”  “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.

That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001’s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.

Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)

Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.

elaine-may-006-500x375

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts

“Chapter 1. He adored New York City…”

Whatever else is true on this tragic anniversary, the city of New York remains our nation’s hub. And few ever celebrated it its central borough on film better than Woody Allen in the much-imitated opening of his 1979 masterpiece, “Manhattan.” (This is the first 10 minute segment of the film, which is posted in its entireity on YouTube. The relevant section begins on 0:15 and ends at 4:00.)

Here it is, in my choice for the greatest of all movie formats, wide screen and black and white; music by George Gershwin. Silly talk by Woody.

  

Related Posts