Q: How did you choose the filmmakers you highlight in the book?
A: It was incredibly difficult to narrow down the list of filmmakers to include in the book.
However, one of the constraints was that the filmmaker had to have a significant interview or manifesto in The Independent Film & Video Monthly between 1976-2006, since I was paying tribute to that magazine along with featuring the women filmmakers in the collection. So, that definitely narrowed down the list quite a bit.
Of course, any list like this is subjective, to be honest. I tried to choose filmmakers whose work, I believed, still resonated today, whether or not they were still making films now. It was more important to me that their work should be a prominent part of North American film history. These are the filmmakers whose films should be continued to be watched, taught, written about, etc.
Q: You write, "Many of the women in this book express the potential for increased opportunities and equal pay for women in the post-#MeToo era, but they also recognize the urgency to continue to advocate for equality..." What do you see looking ahead?
A: It has been invigorating to see the success of #MeToo, because the widespread discrimination and harassment that has been part of so many industries are finally being brought out in the open. I think that is definitely the first step for change.
I saw that The Wrap just reported that Hollywood will be releasing five times more films with female directors this year. This is great news.
That said, we still have a long way to go until we see equality in the industry. Even though five times more films is a tremendous boost, it still means only 18 percent of films from six major Hollywood studios will be female-directed. So we need to be glad for the gains we are making, but not accept less than full equality until we get there.
I do think that women will ultimately be successful in reaching parity—how long it will take will likely depend on how much noise we make about it. I personally was disappointed with how little fuss celebrities and fans alike made over women directors again being excluded from the Oscars this year.
But I’m equally concerned with how we can re-examine our own film history, which has been traditionally quite discriminatory.
When you see a list like American Film Institute’s “100 Greatest Films of All Time” and there’s not one female-directed film on the list, it hits you—women have actually been making films since the invention of film, but their legacy is in danger of being forgotten. Looking forward is not enough. We also have to change how we look back.
Q: How did you decide which filmmakers you would write about for the book?
A: I wrote three chapters for the book—I wrote the introduction and chapters on Martha Coolidge and Jennifer Fox.
I chose Jennifer Fox because I had interviewed her about 10 years ago when she was working on another project. I had no idea at the time that her film The Tale would actually be such a relevant fit for me.
My academic research has focused largely on “consent puzzles” or moments that portray consent in ways that make us as readers or viewers uncomfortable.
Her film The Tale is a perfect example—because Fox fictionalizes her own story, and in it, the girl she was insists that her sexual relationship with her adult male coach was consensual, while the adult she becomes knows it to be abuse. It is absolutely the most groundbreaking film on childhood sexual abuse that I have ever seen. So it was an honor to talk to her about The Tale and her other films.
I also knew I wanted to interview Martha Coolidge for a number of reasons.
First of all, she is an iconic director who directed both independent and Hollywood films, and there is so much to discuss in terms of her career. Her works are incredibly different from each other, but all interesting—Valley Girl, Reel Genius, Rambling Rose, and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.
Second, she was the first—and still only female president of the Directors Guild of America, an experience that I was eager to learn more about.
And last but definitely not least, she has been a strong advocate for independent film—she even was one of the founding members of the Association of Independent Video & Filmmakers (AIVF), which created The Independent Film and Video Monthly.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: More than anything, I want to preserve the legacy of the women filmmakers in the book. Each of them has made beautiful and ground-breaking work, and I hope people who read the book will come away with a list that they will watch and enjoy.
I think the book can be appreciated by people on different levels—fellow filmmakers will learn a lot about the obstacles they faced and how they overcame them; academics will get a clearer context for some of the important works of the last several decades; and film fans will develop an appreciation for the creation of great works and discover some new ones along the way.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m actually working on a non-fiction book about failure, inspired by my participation in the first Mastermind Failure Club, which is a small group of like-minded creative people who meet regularly.
The group combines the concepts of a mastermind—incorporating peer creative and business support, accountability, and brainstorming—and a failure club—a challenge to pursue what you want to do despite the high likelihood of failure.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb