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Joining Audience to Filmmaker

June 28, 2007

by Ariel Dougherty Documentary filmmaking is never a job for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, five separate works are currently in production that all focus in radically different ways on the women’s liberation movement. One director is seeking audience support and participation well before screening time. In another effort, a Chicago film critic is organizing movie viewing and discussion clubs to mobilize an audience for works written or directed by women. The Heretics is Joan Braderman’s experimental documentary on the seminal, radical feminist publication on art and politics, Heresies. Seeking to bring alive the excitement of women organized to harness their creativity in the name of social change, the film focuses on 21 key women, who, with scores more in the production collectives, produced the quarterly publication from 1977 to 1992. In one sequence, the film uses dramatic reenactment to explore the collective’s process and dynamic interaction—emblematic of interaction among hundreds of thousands of women in the United States and other parts of the globe who seeded women’s liberation.  Braderman is capturing an essential spark of the women’s liberation movement as women speak from their inner selves, name problems, and emerge with something completely new. To bridge the long haul from start of a film project to screening it, Braderman and her producer, Crescent Diamond, report on their progress though their website. Future viewers can look at productions stills and a short trailer as well as all 28 issues of Heresies. Most critically, they can contribute to help complete the project. There are good reasons for feminist filmmakers to go directly to their potential audience for help: ·The National Endowment for the Humanities, the single largest source for historic media productions, has been so politicized from the religious conservative right since the mid 1980s that no feminist implicit production could get a dime via this source of public money today. ·New Media, formerly New Video Resources, supported by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, celebrated the 20th anniversary of its fellowship program May 1, having awarded $35,000 to 426 established media artists over the years. Women are not celebrating this year, however. Awards plummeted 25% from the peak of 52% for women in 2006. And the women who received the meager 27% of the fellowships only got 22% of the total dollar amount. ·The MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Sundance Fund, National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts are the six major funders to support documentaries. Women Make Movies has been auditing their track record. For 2000 to 2004 collectively these six sources funded women 13 to 17 %.   And again women received a lesser percentage of actual cash dollars. ·Major film festivals—like Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca, and so forth—are key entries of new film works into the market place. How often are women directed works showcased in these critical venues? A rough estimate is that screened women’s works fare worse than the low end of the foundation funding (13%) mentioned above. Lesser known women’s film festivals remain the essential showcases in introducing women’s works to a public audience. ·Neither progressive foundations nor the women’s fundswith the exception of a few isolated projects—have stepped forward to compensate or address these disparities. Many of the women’s funds, lead by the Ms. Foundation in the mid 1970s, followed established foundations, specifically stating they would not fund media—perceived, erroneously, largely as an entertainment vehicle. While institutions need to be held accountable to principles of equity, real change lies in the individual and collective hands of women. In this case, women who go to the movies. WITASWAN (Women In the Audiences Supporting Women Artists Now), a new movement organizing the movie audience, has been spearheaded by Jan Lisa Huttner, a Chicago film critic. In collaboration with local chapters of the American Association of University Women, she has stimulated women to start movie viewing and discussion clubs, like Book Clubs. Individual women make a commitment to view at least one woman directed or written film a month. The Film Clubs view such films as Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust and Suzanne Lacy’s documentary, Dinner At Jane’s. To help create a dialogue between the media makers and this growing audience, filmmakers are able to link in a monthly Internet chat with Film Club members. In addition to Joan Braderman’s project, other pending productions that are preserving women’s history and culture are: (H)ERrata: Women, Art and Revolution, Lynn Hershman’s treatment of the Feminist Art Movement, 1968 to 2007; Wavelength, Jennifer Lee’s survey of national women’s liberation activities in the 1960s and 1970s; Left on Pearl: Women Take Over 888 Memorial Drive, in which a five-women collective tells the story of the 1971 building takeover at Harvard and the creation of the longest standing women’s center in the United States; and Moment in Herstory (working title), Catherine Russo’s tribute to the Boston women’s liberation movement, 1968 to 1980. Depending on the support they receive, the filmmakers plan to bring these five films out over the next year and a half. Joining audience to filmmakers ensures movie-goers a long future of women’s images and stories.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Maya Deren (the avant-garde filmmaker of the 1940s and 1950s) would both be proud.
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