January 2, 2017
Like many others in 2016, I challenged myself to watch 52 Films by Women throughout the year – one film a week. As a feminist and cinema/animation studies student, I was delighted to have the opportunity to hold myself to account, purposefully seeking out films directed (or at least co-directed) by women. I thought it would be easy, and certainly many achieved this goal, with various fellow critics and writers sharing their end of year lists of the 52 + films they’ve watched. My list, however, stopped shy of 52 films, only managing 43.
Do I regret undertaking the challenge? Of course not. I watched some wonderful films last year that I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time. Agnès Varda’s Vagabond (1985) was a highlight for me, as were Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits (2015), Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation (2015), and Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang (2016). In terms of documentaries, I loved The Punk Singer by Sini Anderson (2013) and Cameraperson by Kirsten Johnson (2016). I also got a much needed Ida Lupino schooling, and caught up some Sofia Coppola films I’d been missing (and I’m still missing one or two). I also watched a few films I could have happily gone without. Material Girls (2006) and New York Minute (2004), starring the Duff sisters and the Olsen twins respectively, I chose to watch because I wanted something light and easy, but both turned out to be very much products of their times.
In theory, I should have been able to complete the challenge. I started mid-January, so I wasn’t scrambling to catch up. I had access to streaming services like Stan and Netflix, as well as my university’s library (whose DVD collection I peruse on an almost weekly basis), and I go to the movies a lot. Overall I watched around 170 films last year, and I still had a list of films cued up and ready to go. I could blame a number of factors which contributed to my ‘failure’, but the primary reason, and this has confirmed what I already knew about my viewing habits, is that a lot of the time, I couldn’t settle on a film I wanted to watch on a particularly day. Sometimes, I just didn’t feel like it.
This has always been the way with me with when it comes to watching films – I find it very hard to watch something I’m not in the mood for, to put it in vague terms. I’ve skipped over many a film directed by a woman, bookmarking to watch it at a later date, only to never get around to it. If I’m tired after a long day of working or study, I’m more likely to put on a TV series, or something familiar that I’ve seen before and don’t have to give complete concentrate to. I’m very good at watching films that are research related, but this being a personal project, I found it harder to muster the motivation.
Looking back, it’s not that surprising that the majority of films that I watched at the cinema last year were directed by men, and this would have been the case if I’d been trying to undertake this challenge or not. We know that the percentage of women directors in Hollywood compared to men is too low; this holds true for animated features as well, with Cartoon Brew revealing that 91 out of 92 features due for a U.S. release this year do not have a woman director or co-director. This is particularly disappointing for me to hear, as focused as my research is in animation studies. Still, there were and are other ways to get the 52 Films fix – but I fell into a pattern. Browsing films online or at the library, I’d look at the poster or cover of something unfamiliar that looked promising, and cross my fingers as I checked who the director was, only to confirm that it was directed by a man. Once, in the mood for a low-budget, possession-themed horror film, I thought I’d struck gold and gleefully watched The Presence, mis-reading “Daniele” Grieco as “Danielle”. I looked at lists made by others and followed the hashtag (#52FilmsbyWomen), taking note whenever a film I hadn’t yet heard of popped up … only to not get around to seeking it out. The truth is, that films by women were there for me to find, I just didn’t put in the effort I should have.
I’m undertaking the challenge again in 2017, and have already ticked one film off the list. The pledge ties in nicely as a new years resolution, which I rarely make (or keep, so we’ll see how this goes). In aiming to complete the 52 Films by Women challenge this year, I’m hoping to see an improvement in my work ethic overall. I say work ethic, because watching movies is inherently linked to my work, and in my writing and in my viewing I am a procrastinator. I work best when I organise – I make plans, I make lists, I set achievable tasks and goals. I underestimated last year the need to plan and set weekly, or even daily, goals for 52 Films. Personally and professionally, I know how my mind works and what I need to do to get the most out of my viewing experiences this year.
I’m looking forward to a more disciplined, productive, and satisfying 2017 (in more ways than one!)