Could you watch one film by a woman filmmaker every week for a whole year?
Last week, the Women in Film Initiative launched a proposition. One of the many barriers facing female filmmakers, they noted, was “a perceived scarcity of talent pool and experience.” Despite there being thousands of women working in the film industry today, many people surveyed by WIF could not name a single one. There are so many talented and amazing filmmakers out there, and not ONE woman was named?
That’s not good.
In an effort to start a conversation on this imbalance, and as a way to highlight some of the amazing women working today, WIF proposed a challenge titled 52 Films by Women. The rules are simple. All that you have to do is watch one film a week that was directed by a woman. A study done in 2012 reported that the average Netflix user watches about three movies a week. Ensure that one of those films is one directed by a woman, and voila! You’re all set.
But, you’re probably thinking, where can I find all these films directed by women? And what film should I start with? Fortunately, I have the answer for you. Starting today, I have pledged to take the 52 Films by Women challenge. Once a week, I will do a write-up highlighting a film by a different woman filmmaker, and more importantly, I will tell you where you can find said film, and other films like it! One of the problems I perceive with seeking out films directed by women is accessing them. It used to be harder to find these films due to most of them being of an independent nature, with smaller budgets and virtually no release/marketing. However, with the boom of streaming services in recent years, we now have access to tons of films, both old and new, from all over the world. We just have to know where to look. But, of course, this is where I will come in.
The film I’ve selected for the first week is Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.
On Monday, October 5th, a filmmaker named Chantal Akerman passed away. She was 65. Akerman was one of the most notable and influential filmmakers of her time, having influenced both experimental and feminist film movements. Film scholars and enthusiasts rave about Orson Welles making Citizen Kane at the age of only 26, and Jean-Luc Godard filming Breathless at 30, but when Chantal Akerman created her masterpiece, she was only 25. For the start of this challenge, I have decided to discuss Akerman’s amazing film, Jeanne Dielman.
Jeanne Dielman centers on the daily routine of the titular widowed mother over the course of three days. She wakes up and makes breakfast, goes shopping while her son attends school, and for one hour out of every day, prostitutes herself for a rotating list of clients. On the second day, her routine is ever so slightly altered, and Jeanne’s carefully constructed world begins to unravel. Akerman frames this world through the usage of long takes, positioning the camera far away from the subjects and having her main character wander in and out of the frame, methodically cooking and cleaning with precision. It’s mesmerizing to watch Jeanne work, and lead actress Delphine Seyrig is an absolute wonder, saying almost nothing over the course of the film, choosing to communicate instead through Jeanne’s facial expressions and rigid posture.
The film’s longer runtime—three hours and ten minutes—may be a turn off for viewers, but despite preconceived notions, this film is never boring. Akerman keeps the pacing fast enough to hold viewers’ attention, but slow enough for them to savor and study every moment. Jeanne Dielman is a masterpiece on par with the likes of Hitchcock, Welles, and Kubrick.
In a tribute to Akerman, Hulu—in partnership with film distributor The Criterion Collection—has made several of her films available to stream for free. The offer expires on October 22nd. If a three hour film isn’t to your liking (although it should be seen by everyone), I suggest instead checking out some of her shorter narratives, such as Je, tu, il, elle… or one of her short documentaries, such as Hotel Monterey (clocking in at a mere 62 minutes). Jeanne Dielman can also be found at the Golda Meir Library, and at the Milwaukee County Public Library system as well. A couple of Akerman’s films can also be found through the UW Library System and MPLS as well.
Tune in next week to see me take on another great director and highlight more films by women for you to watch! Happy watching, and, if Akerman isn’t your ideal type of film, I leave you with some recommended alternatives.
Alternative Films Directed by Women (in theaters):
Sleeping with Other People (dir. Leslye Headland, playing at the Downer and Mayfair’s AMC through 10/15)
The Intern (dir. Nancy Meyers, playing at the iPic at Bayshore, Mayfair, the Avalon, and Marcus Theaters)
Big Stone Gap (dir. Adriana Trigiani, playing at Marcus Ridge Cinema, Marcus Menomonee Falls Cinema, and Marcus Hillside Cinema)
Alternative Films Directed by Women (on DVD):
Unxpected (dir. Kris Swanberg)
Zipper (dir. Mora Stephens)
Aloft (dir. Claudia Llosa)