In the year that film director Kathryn Bigelow made history by being the first woman to win an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, it is encouraging to see that there are six female directors represented at this year’s Film Festival. The film programme director, Trevor Steele Taylor, makes the point however that he doesn’t select films specifically based on the gender of the director.
“An intelligent director will be an intelligent director, whether they are female or not,” he said.
This year’s selection includes a film directed by Durban-born Claire Angelique, winner of the 2010 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for film. Claire Angelique wrote, directed and stars in My Black Little Heart.
Scared of the dark
Steele Taylor pointed out that South Africa is not short of female directors and he listed Truida Pohl, Katinka Heyns, Helena Nogueira and Elaine Proctor as being significant and well-respected artists. Angelique’s work, however, is distinctly different from the type of work they have produced. The subject matter is intensely personal, confrontational and very dark.
Steele Taylor notes that nobody in this country was interested in producing the film. Fortunately, Angelique’s talent was spotted by Zentropa, a Danish production company partly founded by Lars von Trier (who, incidentally, also appears on the programme with a similarly challenging film, ,Antichrist).
Age old issues
Angelique said that in terms of the practicalities involved, female directors face the same challenges as their male counterparts. She said that sexual harassment can be a problem when trying to obtain funding. Because producers tend to be men, women are more vulnerable. As a woman, you need to “have your shit together”. It’s important to be very businesslike. She also wishes that South Africa would do a bit more for women in the film industry. Angelique feels that there is an obsession with quotas when it comes to race, but not with gender, so she would like to see more done about that.
“I think my age is more of an issue than my gender,” she said and wants to be able to make the kind of films now that she needs to make while she is still young: gritty, hardcore stuff. She doesn’t want to make these films when she is fifty, when she feels they might become too reflective or nostalgic.
Debuts and Oscars
One of Angelique’s favourite directors, New Zealand-born Jane Campion, also appears in this year’s programme. Her film, Bright Star, explores the relationship between the poet John Keats and his neighbour Fanny Brawne. Campion has been outspoken about the lack of female directors in the industry. She is the only woman to have won the prized Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and one of a handful to be nominated for an Oscar (for The Piano in 1993).
Like Angelique, Helen Blizard is making her debut on the programme with her first film. Blizard is a British director and her film, Innocent, confronts the issue of bullying through the story of a sensitive 15-year-old girl called Georgie. Steele Taylor said he came upon the film in a strange way. He had to turn down an offer to see a preview of the film in London, but was intrigued enough to get hold of a copy from the producer. He was very impressed and has included it in his special selection of 15 new international films for the Festival.
The lost artist
Jane Arden is something of a “lost” artist whose work is only recently being revived. Arden made three feature films with her partner Jack Bond, and Steele Taylor is a long time admirer of her work. He recalls seeing the films in the sixties and seventies and had previously screened The Other Side of the Underneath in Cape Town. In a fortuitous piece of synchronicity, the British Film Institute has recently restored the original films and all three will be shown at the Festival. Sadly, Arden committed suicide in 1982 not long after completing her final film, Anti Clock.
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