Being A Female Filmmaker in a Man's Machine World

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I was brought up to be a woman who asks questions, who thinks for herself and who offers her opinions. I was brought up to be educated and to work hard. I was also brought up with a dad who was a computer engineer. This meant that we always had a computer in the house and I have countless memories of my dad, sitting at his desk with a screwdriver, the innards of his computer spilling out in front of him, tirelessly fixing, enhancing and bettering his gear.

I did not inherit my dad's wonderful talent for taking machinery apart and putting it back together, or for coding software (my dad actually invented a Turkish font for the computer before it was a mainstream option, purely because he needed to use it) I am not great at fixing machines and gadgets, but I have always loved them. I had access to a computer from a very early age. I also had within my reach, other gadgets, like my dad's dictaphone, which I would frequently 'borrow' and spend hours recording dialogues of stories I had made up in my head and then playing them back, closing my eyes to imagine the worlds I had created. There is a wonderful video somewhere of me as a 10 or 11 year old, obnoxiously telling off my mum for the way she is using our camcorder. Even then, I wanted control of the camera. I was itching to direct.

I was not and never have been afraid of hardware and machinery.

That said, the hardware side of filmmaking is not my main interest. I love the feel of a camera to my eye. It is somewhere I feel safe and secure. Things that would make me anxious or distressed in real life, I can happily film. It is literally and metaphorically a lens through which I can process the world around me. But I am not a filmmaker always on top of the latest gear. I appreciate and understand lenses and difference between types of cameras. I probably know more than I let on, yet I am much more interested in directing performance and telling the story.

I find this a delicate subject to write about. I started writing this a few weeks ago but stopped myself because I didn't want to sound bitter. I'm not. I wouldn't call myself a feminist. I don't like gathering in a gender group to bash the opposing group and never have. Yet the more I have worked with men on various film projects, the more I realise that there is a massive and unfounded prejudice against women in the filmmaking world. I have been lucky enough to work with men who did not look down on me and my abilities. I have also worked with men who projected the sense that they know more than me and are humouring me because I am a woman.

I have never understood why some of the cinematographers I have used (male ones) constantly question my shot choices, my camera choice and even sometimes the storyline. The one time I was able to use a female cinematographer (they are hard to come by!) I was amazed at how suddenly I didn't have to be on the defensive and was able to relax and think about the project. It took me a few minutes to switch over and I realised that I didn't need to fight because I was not being fought with. So much of my directing energy had gone on standing my ground in other projects that I was almost becoming accustomed to hardening myself before a film shoot began. Time and again I have had men in my filmmaking team try and change what I set out to film, sometimes I think purely for the reason of proving they can. Why? Why is it so hard for a female director to just go and do her thing? Why must she prove her every move and decision more than her male counterparts and why must she lose out to men being handed opportunities she must work harder for?

I personally believe it is because the very nature of filmmaking means that the tools of a filmmaker is a machine . Otherwise it doesn't make sense. Of all places, the filmmaking world should be one that embraces everyone equally because it's all about getting into the skin of someone else and understanding characters and empathy. It is the 'gear' I think that is one of the main roots of the problem. I think both men and women are brought up to believe that machinery is a man's prerogative. I have seen directors and filmmakers I desperately want to learn from overlook me and give their attention to a man in a similar situation to me. It's just the way it is.

I am not writing to complain about this because that's a waste of time and does not help me move forward in life. I am writing about it to draw attention to the fact that women going for film directing roles or making their own independent films, must be prepared for more opposition and must make plans to overcome it.

I need to learn to deal with the extra wall that is put up for me as a female filmmaker and to not let it harden me or wear me out. If men think I know nothing about the camera and lights because I am a woman than so be it. My goal should not be to prove them wrong. My goal should always be to tell the story. Tell the story, tell the story.

There is so much I could write on this topic but I would like to end this post by drawing your attention to a video I watched recently. I found it on The Hollywood Reporters YouTube channel. I clicked on to it because I thought I could spend 40 minutes learning from some great film directors. Instead I learned that prejudice towards women in the film industry is truly there and probably always will be.

Note two points,

  1. There are 6 directors around that table. Only one of them is female. Is that just a coincidence?
  2. Watch from around 8.24 onwards. What do you think about Mike Leigh asking Angelina Jolie if she is a good director and what do you think about the words "I'm trying to encourage her" considering her time in the industry, her age and the fact that none of the men round that table get similar encouragement? Just a few thoughts.