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Studying Women Filmmakers at Thanet u3a

I became Chair of Thanet u3a as we entered into the first lockdown in April and since then, I have been looking at ways in which to keep our local u3a activities alive.

Our daughter’s mother in law, Pat O’Shea, shares a keen interest in film with us. As she had recently completed an MA in Film Studies, we asked whether she would be interested in presenting some film – related courses via Zoom. We decided to trial a one hour taster talk late last December titled, “New York on Film”. Following the success of this, we polled the attendees and Women Filmmakers was the subject that attracted most interest.

Pat then created a four week course on this subject, which covered early pioneers, women filmmakers across the globe and women who have other roles in the film industry. For the session, she spoke for around an hour using slides, movie stills and short video clips to illustrate the styles and approaches of the various women directors. This was followed by a twenty minute Q&A session.

While I have a keen interest in film and have been aware of a number of accomplished women filmmakers, I must confess that this course opened my eyes to the hidden impact that women have had since the early days of film. In particular, I was astonished to learn that one of the very earliest filmmakers, Alice Guy Blache, had a lengthy career in France and the US and was instrumental in the setting up of the film industry. The breadth of her story has recently been brought to light in the documentary film “Be Natural” which was part funded by actress/director Jodie Foster.

Within this short article, there are far too many films and women directors to include them all but I would like to draw special attention to Belgian born, Agnes Varda. Described by Martin Scorsese as “one of the gods of cinema”, she came to prominence as a member of the French New Wave movement of the 1950s and 1960s.She continued to make highly acclaimed films for 64 years and became the first woman director to be honoured with an Academy Honorary Award.

Following the course, I felt compelled to investigate further and in particular would highly recommend watching her documentaries, “The Gleaners and I” and “Faces Places”. Her films cross genres, are often deeply personal and display a passionate commitment to the world around her.

Despite learning about so many very talented women, it became clear that the film industry is still very male-dominated. Women are underrepresented in films, they have fewer leading roles, and women producers struggle to obtain funding. One only has to look at the awards for best film and best director since their inception, to see the gender imbalance. Although significant strides have been made towards correcting this, it is obvious that there is still a long way to go.