(reposted from Matrix Magazine issue #85)
The Old Feminism came up with some pretty good slogans. “The Personal is Political,” for instance, still works pretty well! But when the subject of feminism came up in an art history class that I was teaching, I posed this question to my students, most of whom were freshly out of high school: Do you call yourself a feminist? In each class of 30, only one or two students ever said yes, and even then, hesitantly.
However! Though this perfectly informal and scientifically un-rigorous survey might dismay the Old Feminists, fear not. The New Feminism only rarely calls itself the “F” word, because so many issues intersect, not only gender. The personal is now more political than ever, and whatever you call it, Feminism is still needed more than ever. After all, we haven’t even achieved something as basic as equal pay for equal work, never mind the restructuring of whole value systems.
It’s even worse at the movies. This year, Kathryn Bigelow made cinematic history by winning almost every big award in sight, including the Best Director AND Best Picture Oscars, for her hyper-macho film The Hurt Locker. Congratulations are in order! The question is, in 82 years of Academy Awards, only one woman?
In a recent article on the lack of movies made by and for women in Hollywood, New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis pointed out the sad statistics prior to Bigelow's win: “Only three women have been nominated as directors by the Academy in 81 years: Lina Wertmüller for “Seven Beauties” in 1976; Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993; and Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” in 2003. None won. “ (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/movies/13dargis.html?_r=3&ref=movies)
Dargis points out that Bigelow’s success is important in breaking stereotypes, so that women might someday direct films other than rom-coms or chick flicks. But that said, an even more pertinent question might be why a "chick flick" is seldom taken seriously, even though it might be as good or better than a "guy flick."
However, the New Feminism isn’t trying to be one of the guys. It’s not so interested in playing by Hollywood rules, trying to get deals, money, Academy Awards. Women directors tend to work outside the system, for the most part. They work in different media, often video, which, because of its accessibility, allows greater expression and control. Video artists often take more risks than filmmakers, and are able to be far more personal (and thus, political). It must be noted that there are a far greater number of video artists who are women. In terms of form, then, it’s video art and not filmmaking that represents the New Feminism (whether we call it that, or not).
Here, then, is the Matrix Magazine List of New Feminist Movies:
Jane Campion’s early films are tough and strange, like Sweetie, or melancholy and exuberant, like Angel at My Table. There’s The Piano, sensual and disturbing, and her latest, the gentler Bright Star. Campion is one of the few women directors who does great work both in and out of the system (though most often, she’s better out).
Mira Nair’s early films, Salaam Bombay! Mississippi Masala, and Monsoon Wedding, were wonderful. The Namesake, adapted from the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, had great reviews. But her latest is a Hollywood biopic about Amelia Earhart that frankly doesn’t look very good (Hollywood destroys!).
Claire Denis is associated with the New French Extremism because her films are very, very intense. Trouble Every Day is my favourite film by Denis, starring Vincent Gallo and Beatrice Dalle as science lab guinea pigs inflicted with a disease that makes them crave sex and human blood.
Sally Potter’s Orlando was a wonderful adaptation of the Virginia Woolf classic. Tango Lessons was insightful, personal look into gender roles in Tango and life.
Agnès Varda is one of the few women associated with the French New Wave, and her film Cléo from 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) is regarded as one of the classics of French cinema, but I think her later works just get better and better. In her documentary The Gleaners and I, she embraces video as an intimate medium and uses it to interrogate her own life, her memories, her preoccupations.
Dorris Dorrie‘s Men was one of the first German films I ever saw, back in 1995. It was funny and moving and full of heart. She has also embraced video for her later works, which are still funny and moving and full of heart.
Shirin Neshat – Beginning with her work in installation, Neshat’s stunning epic film loops often explore the great gender divide, especially in Islamic societies. She recently directed her first feature film, Women Without Men, which is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit.
Alanis Obomsawin made Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance, for which she’s perhaps the most well known. But Obomsawin has been making films with the NFB for almost 40 years! She recently won the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award.
Miranda July’s first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is quirky and disturbing as hell. She also writes quirky stories and does performance art, often about quirky obsessions and heartbreak. Her participatory website, learningtoloveyoumore.com, with artist Harrell Fletcher, is pretty neat.
Midi Onodera has been making films and videos for over twenty years. In 2008, she made a tiny movie every single day, and posted them on her website. In 2009, she scaled back to produce a tiny movie every single week. These are still on her website at http://www.midionodera.com. For 2010, she aims to produce a Baker’s Dozen. And there are so many other women media artists that I want to include: Sylvie Laliberté, Helen Lee, Monique Moumblow… check them out at http://www.fringeonline.ca/