A Golden Age for Women in Hollywood?

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Director Sarah Polley on the set of her film <em>Take This Waltz</em>
From and

A couple years ago, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker. It wasn’t quite the tipping point for women many in the industry had hoped for: of the 250 major movies that came out last year in the US, women directed only 5% of them. But when it comes to commercial and critical breakthroughs among independent films, a shift seems to be happening.

Industry observer Anne Thompson says there’s a reason why Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are Alright), Jennifer Westfeldt (Friends With Kids), and other women have been successful in the independent scene. “The new indie model that is emerging is much more collaborative — barter talent, share roles,” she tells Kurt Andersen. “All these filmmakers are sort of roaming the country helping each other make films in all these different locations and all these different ranges of experiences and it works. Women are really good at that kind of thing.”

Sarah Polley’s new film, Take This Waltz, is populated by characters who feel refreshingly real and particular — unlike most of the romantic comedies and dramas Hollywood is now churning out. “Women aren’t really trusted with anything else right now,” Polley says. “I know female filmmakers who would love to make an action film or a horror film or some kind of thriller and they just don’t get the financing for those kinds of movies. So I think that women aren’t necessarily trusted with [that] subject matter.”

Kathryn Bigelow, Thompson argues, was the rare exception. “She’s known for being a man’s director,” Thompson says. “She puts men in her movies, she does action, she’s not doing female genres. And she’s resolutely not interested in doing them. But what she did was do them independently. And the Bin Laden movie that’s coming up later this year was raised overseas as well. And if women can raise their own funding, then they can get the movies made.”

Lynn SheltonLynn Shelton
(Kyle Johnson)

New technology helps filmmakers clear the financing hurdle. Digital cameras allow filmmakers like Lynn Shelton to capture extra-long takes — including 40-minute takes for her film Humpday. That freedom allows her to “pick up a camera, and call [my] friends and say, ‘let’s go make a movie!’” she says. “And if we fail, like, we’ll just shove it under the rug.” (Shelton’s new movie is Your Sister’s Sister.)

Hollywood continues to place its chips on guys making movies for guys. But would-be blockbusters like Battleship and John Carter prove the risk of big-budget action flicks. “The studios are stumbling right now,” says Thompson. “And they seem to be avoiding the fact that there’s a huge demand for movies that are aimed at women, that have a women’s point of view, and demonstrable statistical evidence that movies like Mamma Mia and Bridesmaids do really, really well at the box office. So why don’t the studios pay attention to this? It’s because they’re used to doing things the old way and they’re used to hanging on to these old conventional ideas.”

 

Bonus Track: Kurt’s extended conversation with Sarah Polley


Bonus Track: Kurt’s extended conversation with Lynn Shelton


Video: Take This Waltz (clip)

Music Playlist

  1. Just Like Honey

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