From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alice Guy-Blaché made the very first feature film La fée aux choux in 1896. More than 300 films followed. She worked in France and the U.S.. Lois Weber was among the most successful film directors of the silent era. Actresses like Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and others were the stars.
In the twenties large banks had assured control on Hollywood production companies. Production supervisors began to standardize film making. The introduction of sound demanded new investments which further increased the control of the banks. In 1929 Hollywood accepted a list of taboos which was later to become the Hays Code. Any unconventional film maker had a hard time. Women film makers could afford economic failures even less. Dorothy Arzner was the only women film maker to survive in this unfriendly environment. She did so by producing well made but formally rather conventional films. Nevertheless, she succeeded in smuggling in feminist elements into her films.
Experimental and avant-garde cinema
Shirley Clarke was a leading figure of the independent American film scene in New York in the fifties. Her work is unusual, insofar as she directed outstanding experimental and feature films as well as documentaries. Joyce Wieland was a Canadian experimental film maker. The National Film Board of Canada allowed many women to produce non-commercial animation films. In Europe women artists like Valie Export where among the first to explore the artistic and political potential of videos.
Impact of second-wave feminism
In the late sixties, when the Second Wave of Feminism started the New Left was at its height. Both movements strongly opposed the 'dominant cinema', i.e. Hollywood and male European bourgeois auteur cinema. Hollywood was accused of furthering oppression by disseminating sexist, racist and imperialist stereotypes. Women participated in mixed new collectives like Newsreel, but they also formed their own film groups. Early feminist films often focused on personal experiences. A first masterpiece was Wanda by Barbara Loden, one of the most poignant portraits of alienation ever made.
Resisting the oppression of female sexuality was one of the core goals of Second Wave Feminism. Abortion was still very controversial in many western societies and the feminists opposed the control of the state and the church. Exploring female sexuality took many forms: focusing on long-time censured forms of sexuality (lesbianism, sado-masochism) or showing 'normal' heterosexuality from a woman's point of view. Birgit Hein, Elfi Mikesch, Nelly Kaplan, Catherine Breillat and Barbara Hammer are some of the directors to be remembered.
Resisting violence and violent resistance
Resting patriarchal violence has always been a key concern of Second Wave Feminism. Consequently many feminists of the second wave have taken part in the peace movements of the eighties, as had their foremothers in the older pacifist movements. Nevertheless the patriarchal cliché of the 'peaceable' woman needed to be criticized. Women film directors documented the participation of women in anti-imperialist resistance movements. In their Kali films Birgit and Wilhelm Hein assembled found footage from 'trivial' genres, the only domain of cinema in which the portrayal of aggressive women was allowed.
African-American women's cinema
Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust (1992) was the first full-length film with general theatrical release by an African-American woman. A long history of films by African-American women had preceded this achievement. Neema Barnette (Civil Brand), Maya Angelou (Down in the Delta), Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou), Cheryl Dunye (My Baby's Daddy), Stephanie Allain (Biker Boyz), and Dianne Houston (City of Angels) are among these filmmakers.
The first African woman film director to gain international recognition was the Senegalese ethnologist Safi Faye with a film about the village in which she was born (Letter from the village, 1975). Other African women filmmakers include Sarah Maldoror, Anne Mungai, Fanta Régina Nacro.
Mira Nair, Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha are among the best known Indian women filmmakers, partly because of commericial success of their films. However there are a number of other Indian women filmmakers who have made some remarkable films that address a variety of issues. Other noteworthy Indian women filmmakers include Nisha Ganatra, Sonali Gulati, Indu Krishnan, Eisha Marjara, Pratibha Parmar, Nandini Sikand, and Shashwati Talukdar.
In Japan for a long time Kinuyo Tanaka was the only woman to make feature films. She was able to do this against fierce resistance because she enjoyed a status as star actress. Using genre conventions her films showed women "with a humorous affection rare in Japanese cinema of the period" (Philip Kemp).
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, writer and director is probably Iran's best known and certainly most prolific female filmmaker. She's established herself as the elder stateswoman of Iranian cinema with documentaries and films dealing with social pathology. Samira Makhmalbaf directed her first film The Apple when she had only 17 years old and won Cannes Jury Prize in 2000 for her following film The Blackboard.
Marta Rodriguez is a Colombian documentary film maker.
Elvira Notari was a pioneer of Italian cinema.
During the "golden age" of "Classical" French cinema Jacqueline Audry was the only woman to direct commercial movies. In 1959 writer Marguerite Duras wrote the script for Alain Resnais' Hiroshima mon Amour. She turned to directing with La Musica in 1966. Among the best known French women film makers are Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, Nelly Kaplan. The work of many more French female directors is rarely screened outside France.
In Hungary Marta Meszaros has been making important films for decades.
(Re-)entering the mainstream?
Since the beginning of sound cinema, with very few exceptions, the films of women had been absent from mainstream cinema for more than half a century. Sometimes actresses enjoying a star status turned to directing (like Barbra Streisand). Thelma & Louise and The Color Purple showed the acceptability of feminist themes – when the director was a man.
Kathryn Bigelow works in male-dominated genres like science fiction, action and horror. Dörris Dörrie landed a box office hit with her satire Men. Italian Lina Wertmüller has directed a great number of popular films on the war of the sexes, with various artistic success.
- Ally Acker, Reel Women. Pioneers of the Cinema. 1896 to the Present, London: B.T. Batsford 1991
- Attwood, Lynne, Ed., Red Women on the Silver Screen: Soviet Women and Cinema from the Beginning to the End of the Communist Era, London: Pandora 1993
- Jacqueline Bobo (ed.), Black Women Film and Video Artists (AFI Film Readers), Routledge 1998
- Russell Campbell, Marked Women: Prostitutes and Prostitution in the Cinema University of Wisconsin Press 2005
- Ellerson, Beti, Sisters of the screen : women of Africa on film, video and television, Trenton, NJ [u.a.] : Africa World Press, 2000
- Lucy Fischer, Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women's Cinema, Princeton University Press 1989
- G.A. Foster, Women Film Directors (1995)
- Kenneth W. Harrow, ed., With open eyes : women and African cinema , Amsterdam [u.a.] : Rodopi, 1997 (=Matatu - Journal for African Culture and Society)
- Claire Johnston, "Women's Cinema as Counter-Cinema" (1975) in: Claire Johnston (ed.), Notes on Women's Cinema, London: Society for Education in Film and Television, reprinted in: Sue Thornham (ed.), Feminist Film Theory. A Reader, Edinburgh University Press 1999, pp. 31-40
- Julia Knight, Women and the New German Cinema, Verso 1992
- Denise Lowe, An encyclopedic dictionary of women in early American films, 1895 - 1930, New York, NY [u.a.] : Haworth Press, 2005
- Judith Mayne, The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women's Cinema, Indiana University Press 1990
- Janis L- Pallister, French-Speaking Women Film Directors: A Guide, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press 1998
- Sarah Projansky, Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture, New York University Press 2001
- Quart, Barbara Koenig: Women Directors: The Emergence of a New Cinema, Praeger 1988
- Judith Redding, Victoria A. Brownworth, Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors, Seal Press 1997, based on interviews with 33 film makers
- Rich, B. Ruby. Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1998.
- Carrie Tarr with Brigitte Rollet, Cinema and the Second Sex. Women's Filmmaking in France in the 1980s and 1990s, New York, Continuum, 2001.
- Amy L. Unterburger, ed., The St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia: Women on the Other Side of the Camera, Paperback, Visible Ink Press 1999 – excellent resource
- Women Filmmakers: Refocusing, edited by Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis and Valerie Raoul, Paperback Edition, Routledge 2003
- Camera Obscura
- Frauen und Film
- Women and Film
- Jump Cut
- New German Critique
Films (small selection)
- 1896 La fée aux choux; director: Alice Guy-Blaché; one of the first narrative (fiction) films
- 1911 Bufera d'anime; director: Elvira Notari
- 1914 The Merchant of Venice; director: Lois Weber; the first full-length feature film directed by a woman
- 1921 The Blot; director: Lois Weber
- 1921 The Love Light; director: Frances Marion, starring Mary Pickford
- 1922 La souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet); director: Germaine Dulac; often cited as one of the first feminist feature films
- 1923 The Song of Love; director: Frances Marion, starring Norma Talmadge
- 1923–1926 Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed); director: Lotte Reiniger — animated feature film
- 1927 The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty; director: Esfir Shub
- 1931 Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in uniform); director: Leontine Sagan
- 1933 Christopher Strong; director: Dorothy Arzner, a Hollywood studio feature film starring Katharine Hepburn
- 1935 Robin Hood (animated film); director: Joy Batchelor
- 1935 Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will); director: Leni Riefenstahl
- 1937 The Bride Wore Red; director: Dorothy Arzner, a Hollywood studio feature film starring Joan Crawford
- 1938 Olympia (1938 film); director: Leni Riefenstahl
- 1943 Meshes of the Afternoon (experimental film); director: Maya Deren; selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
- 1950 Outrage; director: Ida Lupino, the first Hollywood studio feature directed by a women after Dorothy Arzner's films; the story of a rape
- 1953 The Hitch-Hiker; director: Ida Lupino, the first film noir directed by a woman; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
- 1959 Bridges Go-Round; director: Shirley Clarke
- 1961 The Connection (film); director Shirley Clarke
- 1961 Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7); director: Agnes Varda
- 1964 The Cool World; director: Shirley Clarke; the cruel reality of street life in the U.S.
- 1964 Älskande par (Loving Couples); director: Mai Zetterling
- 1966 Sedmikrasky (Daisies); director: Vera Chytilová — the story of two young girls who explore the world without taking it too seriously
- 1966 Blood Bath; director: Stephanie Rothman
- 1967 Portrait of Jason; director Shirley Clarke
- 1968 Rat Life and Diet in North America; director: Joyce Wieland
- 1969 La fiancée du pirate (A very curious girl); director: Nelly Kaplan
- 1971 The Woman's Film; directors: Louise Alaimo, Judy Smith
- 1971 L'aggetivo donna; directors: Ronny Daopolus, Annabella Miscuglio; a radical feminist documentary which analyses the double exploitation of women workers and the isolated situation of housewives and children
- 1971 Wanda; director: Barbara Loden; an innovative, influential independent Amerian film
- 1972 Sambizanga; director: Sarah Maldoror — feature film about the liberation movement in Angola
- 1972 The Heartbreak Kid; director: Elaine May
- 1972/73 Es kommt darauf an, sie zu verändern; director: Claudia von Alemann — organised women workers discuss the possibilities for change
- 1974 Il portiere di notte (The Night Porter); director: Liliana Cavani
- 1975 Kaddy Bekat — Lettre Paysanne (Letter from My Village); director: Safi Faye
- 1975 The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann); director: Margarethe von Trotta
- 1975 Hester Street; director: Joan Micklin Silver; Academy Award nomination for Carol Kane as best actress
- 1976 Jeanne Dielmann 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; director: Chantal Akerman — the daily life of a housewife
- 1976 Pasqualino settebellezze (Seven Beauties); director: Lina Wertmüller; the first time a woman was nominated for an Academy Award for directing a feature film
- 1976 Harlan County, U.S.A.; director: Barbara Kopple; Academy Award winner for best documentary feature; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
- 1977 First Love; director: Joan Darling; the first Hollywood studio film directed by a woman after Ida Lupino's The Trouble With Angels (1966), starring Hayley Mills
- 1978 Die allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit (The Universally Reduced Personality); director: Helke Sander
- 1978 The Mafu Cage; director: Karen Arthur
- 1978 Mais qu'est ce qu'elles veulent? (But what do they want, after all?) — director: Coline Serreau
- 1979 Daughter Rite; director: Michelle Citron — a feminist pseudo-documentary which deconstructs the conventions of Direct Cinema
- 1979 Bildnis einer Trinkerin (Aller jamais retour; Portrait of a Female Drunkard); director: Ulrike Ottinger
- 1979 Killing Us Softly; directors: Margaret Lazarus, Renner Wunderlich — the effects of advertising on women
- 1979 Deutschland bleiche Mutter (Germany Pale Mother); director: Helma Sanders-Brahms
- 1979 My Brilliant Career, starring Judy Davis; director: Gillian Armstrong
- 1980 The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (documentary); director: Connie Field; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
- 1981 Eight Minutes to Midnight: The Story of Dr. Helen Caldicott; director: Mary Benjamin; Academy Award nomination for best feature documentary
- 1981 The Decline of Western Civilization; director: Penelope Spheeris
- 1981 36 Chowringhee Lane; director: Aparna Sen
- 1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High, starring Sean Penn; director: Amy Heckerling
- 1983 Yentl; director: Barbra Streisand
- 1983 Born in Flames; director: Lizzie Borden
- 1983 Le Grain de sable (Grain of Sand); director: Pomme Meffre — the gradual disintegration of a woman (played by Delphine Seyrig)
- 1985 Desperately Seeking Susan, starring Madonna; director: Susan Seidelman
- 1985 Verführung: die grausame Frau (Seduction: The Cruel Woman); directors: Efi Mikesch, Monika Treut
- 1986 Children of a Lesser God; director: Randa Haines; Academy Award for Marlee Matlin as best actress
- 1988 Big, starring Tom Hanks; director: Penny Marshall
- 1988 Salaam Bombay!; director: Mira Nair; nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film (India)
- 1988 Love, Women, and Flowers (AmorR, Mujeres, y Flores); directors: Marta Rodriguez and Jorge Silva (Colombia)
- 1988 Little Dorrit (film); director: Christine Edzard
- 1988 Die Jungfrauenmaschine (Virgin Machine; director: Monika Treut
- 1988 Kali-Filme (Kalih Films); directors: Birgit Hein and Wilhelm Hein
- 1989 A Dry White Season; director: Euzhan Palcy
- 1990 Europa, Europa; director: Agnieszka Holland
- 1990 An Angel at My Table; director: Jane Campion
- 1991 Point Break; director Kathryn Bigelow
- 1991 Daughters of the Dust; director: Julie Dash; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
- 1991 A Place of Rage; director: Pratibha Parmar
- 1991 American Dream (film); director: Barbara Kopple; Academy Award winner for best documentary feature
- 1992 Orlando; director: Sally Potter
- 1993 Bhaji on the Beach; director: Gurinder Chadha
- 1993 Sleepless in Seattle; director: Nora Ephron
- 1994 The Piano; director: Jane Campion, the second time a woman was nominated for an Academy Award for directing a feature film; Academy Award for Holly Hunter as best actress; nomination for Anna Paquin as best supporting actress
- 1994 Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter; director: Deborah Hoffman
- 1994 Black Beauty; director: Caroline Thompson
- 1995 Coûte que coûte (At all costs); director: Claire Simon — documentary
- 1996 Fire; director: Deepa Mehta
- 1996 Unstrung Heroes; director: Diane Keaton
- 1996 White Men Are Cracking Up; director: Ngozi Onwurah
- 1996 The Mirror Has Two Faces; director: Barbra Streisand; Academy Award nomination for Lauren Bacall as best supporting actress
- 1999 Boys Don't Cry (film); director: Kimberly Peirce; Academy Award for Hilary Swank as best actress; nomination for Chloë Sevigny as best supporting actress
- 1999 Romance; director: Catherine Breillat
- 1999 Titus; director: Julie Taymor
- 2001 Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa); director: Caroline Link; Academy Award winner as Best Foreign Language Film (Germany)
- 2001 Ophelia Learns to Swim; director: Jurgen Vsych
- 2002 Whale Rider; director Niki Caro; Academy Award nomination for Keisha Castle-Hughes as best actress
- 2003 Te doy mis ojos (Take my eyes); director: Icíar Bollaín
- 2003 Thirteen; director Catherine Hardwicke; Academy Award nomination for Holly Hunter as best supporting actress
- 2003 Gujarat: A Laboratory of Hindu Rastra, Fascism; director: Suma Josson
- 2003 Monster (film); director: Patty Jenkins; Academy Award for Charlize Theron as best actress
- 2003 At Five in the Afternoon; director: Samira Makhmalbaf
- 2004 Lost in Translation (film); director: Sofia Coppola, the third time a woman was nominated for an Academy Award for directing a feature film; also nominated for best picture and best actor, Bill Murray
- 2005 Karov la bayit (Close to Home), directors: Dalia Hager, Vidi Bilu
- 2005 Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (documentary); directors: Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman; Academy Award winner for best documentary feature
- 2005 North Country (film); director: Niki Caro; Academy Award nominated performances by Charlize Theron (best actress) and Frances McDormand (best supporting actress)
- 2006 Marie Antoinette (2006 film), starring Kirsten Dunst; director: Sofia Coppola