New Year’s Resolution

Not statistically significant. (Photo of Ava DuVernay.)
Not statistically significant. (Photo of Ava DuVernay.)

When a big awards ceremony happens, or nominations for a big awards ceremony are released, I read the articles about it. Of course I do. And I feel righteous indignation on reading these articles. But my ‘policy’ on this blog is not to write posts on the subject, on what was nominated and what egregiously omitted, on what won and what “should have” won — primarily because, to put it simply, I shouldn’t care (I’ve banged on about this before). After all, it’s not as if awards exist in some perfect vacuum of taste and correct opinion, and aren’t swayed by interest groups, lobbying and money. The only voices that would persuade me to take an interest in a film are individual ones, of people whose words and opinions I respect, not a group of old white guys picking from a more-or-less commercially sanctioned list of mainstream titles, however many offbeat choices show up, and however much the resulting lists may overlap with my own picks.

However, in the light of a certain Hollywood-centric awards ceremony‘s nominations, I thought now would be a good time to mention my New Year’s resolution. I have decided to try and see every film which gains a proper cinema release in 2015, which is either directed by or written by a woman. This is not because I think films written or directed by women are necessarily better than any other films (friends, I am not particularly looking forward to 50 Shades of Grey), but for other reasons which, in my opinion, are equally valid.

1. In most industrialised modes of cinematic production, women are systematically excluded from the key creative positions (indeed most positions aside from costumes and casting). Now this may not mean studio bosses are overtly basing all their hiring decisions on gender, but I would argue that they are doing so covertly at least. There are plenty of ingrained factors that result in women not gaining equal traction to their male counterparts at every rung on the ladder towards creative control, meaning that only one woman directed a film in the top 100 grossing films of 2014. As just one example, there’s certainly an ideology of the domineering macho director, which must affect not just decisions on who would be the right fit for a directing or writing gig, but probably trickles right down to affect the number of women who apply to film schools in the first place, or think they might be able to direct a film.

On the relatively rare occasions when women are allowed responsibility for the creative control over a film, they have to work much harder to maintain this. Just look at how many films directors like Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen have made (none of whom are particularly slapdash or half-assed in their working methods), compared to say Kathryn Bigelow or Jane Campion or… who? Name another major studio director who’s a woman and has made more than a couple of films. Maybe Sofia Coppola, but otherwise I’m coming up blank. When was the last time you saw a film by Amy Heckerling? Penny Marshall? Penelope Spheeris?

2. The films created by anyone who is in a minority within their own production system (and I’ve chosen films by women primarily because they surely represent a minority within every country’s filmmaking industry) are de facto of more interest, at least to me.

3. It can be useful to create arbitrary limitations that shape your choice, as it helps you to break out of unconscious patterns of behaviour. I almost certainly select what films I see based on matters of auteurism (I do have my favourite directors), positive critical reaction, the opinions and tastes of my friends, and frankly, positive marketing and hype must also play a role. So, making this resolution means I will exposed to films I’d otherwise overlook, or let slip by.

To this end, I’ve compiled a list of all the upcoming UK releases through to the end of February based on their creative personnel, and frankly, there are only 10 films on there (ten!, out of about 80). A couple are documentaries that I’m not even sure are securing much of an official release (maybe a token London screening prior to being shunted to DVD), one is an Australian compilation of short films, and, as far as I can tell, only four are gaining a national release (of which only Jupiter Ascending and Selma are actually directed by a woman or co-directed in the case of the Wachowskis, whereas the others just have at least one female writer credited).

So yes, sad to say, I think this resolution is not only worthwhile, but just a little bit necessary as a corrective. I shall hope to report back at the end of the year about what I’ve seen as a result!

UPDATE 2016: My post looking back at the progress of my 2015’s New Year’s Resolution can be found here.

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