POSTED January 2 2016

Women with a movie camera: The tipping point

may-elaine-001-directing-street-from-roofIt’s history if it happened before you were conscious of history. Thus it was that I was oblivious that there was a tipping point for female filmmakers in the late 1960s and 1970s. Before 1974 the only woman-made film I had seen was Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7. And then I drove from UC San Diego to UCLA and saw the second: Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance — spontaneously crying when I saw Arzner’s name of the director’s credit.

I didn’t know then that during the silent era there had been many “femme helmers,” as Variety dubbed Arzner. Those female pioneers included Alice Guy-Blanche and Lois Weber, who wrote and directed films at a time a estimated 25-50% of  screenwriters were female.

Only when James Greenberg at the DGA Quarterly asked me to write an essay on female filmmakers of a certain era did I realize that the Nixon era had been good for women directors worldwide. I’m sure there’s some I forgot (I would have liked to see the work of Doris Wishman, a porn filmmaker, and include it), so remind me. And tell me when you became conscious of women behind the lens. (By the way, that’s Elaine May filming A New Leaf in 1970.)


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