Women winning

It was a good year for female directors at this year's Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 18:08

Only 18 per cent of all directors, cinematographers, editors, writers and producers working in the film industry are women. But you’d never know it looking at the winners’ list from this year’s Dublin International Film Festival. Fortunately, many of the frequently quoted (and grim) statistics pertaining to the movieverse’s gender imbalance are American; they’re directly derived from the old school and properly sexist Hollywood model. Are there any girls in the running for megaphone duties on the Marvel sequence? We think not.

On this continent, however, we’re doing things a little differently. Tellingly, six of this year’s Dublin Film Critics Circle jury prizes went to women, including the gongs for Best Film, Best Debut Film, Best Irish Documentary and the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award. Here’s the cream of the crop. Do keep an eye out for future release dates.


BEST FILM: VANISHING WAVES
Dir: Kristina Buozyte
The Lithuanian film industry may be small but it has produced such notable talents as Jonas Mekas, the “Godfather of American Avant Garde” and now Kristina Buozyte, one of Europe’s most talked about young directors.

“There are pluses and minuses to coming from a small country with a small industry,” says Buozyte. “In some ways, maybe it’s easier to get your start. My first film was made with no budget. And after I was able to make Vanishing Waves .”

Her own start at Lithuania’s Music and Theatre Academy was, she says, a happy accident. “I was always interested in directing theatre but the year I applied to college they weren’t running that course; they were running a TV and film directing course. So I thought ‘Okay, I’ll try it’.

“I didn’t have any connection with film. I wasn’t a big movie lover. But as soon as I started it totally sucked me in. The more I got involved the more I was interested in Godard and Hitchcock and Kubrick and Antonioni and Spielberg and classic films and contemporary films. Now, it’s a life disease.”

Buozyte’s strikingly original oeuvre first came to international prominence in 2009 when The Collectress , a singular drama about a masochistic paediatrician, screened at more than 30 film festivals and at New York’s MoMA.

Her second feature, a highly stylised, sexually charged, sci-fi romance played out against Kubrickian interiors and shifting states of consciousness, is bolder again. Vanishing Waves chronicles the relationship between a neuroscientist and a comatose patient as their neural pathways are fused in a series of experiments. By way of research, Buozyte and co-writer Bruno Semper consulted with doctors and scientists in France and Ireland. But the reality was mainly a springboard to exploring how technology impacts on intimacy.


BEST IRISH DOCUMENTARY
GET THE PICTURE
Dir Cathy Pearson -
There’s no need to ask Cathy Pearson how she got interested in film. The daughter of producer Noel Pearson was hanging around the set of My Left Foot when she was still at school and can recall “. . . watching everything that was going on”.

A location manager for some 15 years, Cathy has worked on films as wildly varied as Reign of Fire and Mea Maxima Culpa . “I’ve been working in film since I left film school,” she says. “And sometimes during school.”

Get the Picture , Pearson’s first feature, is a warm documentary portrait of photo editor John G Morris, the man who quietly revolutionised photojournalism. It’s a film defined by extraordinary access to interviewees and archive footage. “The hardest thing about making the film was raising the funds,” she says. Everything else was a walk in the park after that. I knew who John was, and that if I pursued the film through him, I would get a lot of access to a lot of great people. And that’s the key thing for any documentary.”


BEST DEBUT CLIP
Dir: Maja Miloš
Clip, Maja Miloš’s stunning directorial debut, is the latest feature from Serbia’s hip and audacious Baš Celik imprint, the production company behind Absolute Hundred . Miloš worked as a casting director on The Trap and an assistant director on The Life and Death of a Porno Gang – both Baš Celik joints – during the six years she spent developing the most talked-about Serbian film of 2012.

“I was really into films from I was very young,” says the 29-year-old. “I went to a private film school when I was 15, then the Academy for Dramatic Arts in Belgrade at 17 and then on to documentary courses at La Fémis in Paris.”

Her documentary training proved useful for Clip’s raw depiction of Belgrade teens caught up in a spiral of sex, drugs, music and destructive behaviours – all the while filming their own antics.

“It started with me watching clips on the internet and wondering what it meant socially and culturally,” says Miloš, who workshopped the film with her young non-professional cast. “From the start, I wanted to make a universal film. And I think by looking carefully I found something that was true of but not exclusive or specific to Serbia. ”

To date, Clip has picked up two major awards from the Rotterdam Film Festival and a staggering number of rave notices. Authorities in the Russian Federation, however, are rather less keen and have banned the film for fear of “harm to the health and development of children”.

“It’s a love story,” protests Miloš. “We can think there is no love but there is from the characters’ point of view. I’m not all-knowing or judgemental as a director. They feel free away from socially acceptable forms of behaviour like family or school. They’re happy in that circle where everything is full of passion and self-destruction and colour.”

The director cites the Yugoslavian Black Wave of the 1960s and 70s as an influence, particularly the work of Zivojin Pavlovic and Dušan Makavejev. There are certainly some striking similarities: “They made films about people from the margins and they loved their characters,” says Miloš. “They worked with non-professionals and combined drama and documentary. I wanted to lean on that school of film-making.”

Despite Clip ’s keen observations on life among wild young European girls – anchored by a terrific performance from Isidora Simijonovic – Miloš insists she doesn’t wish to be pigeonholed as a woman’s director.

“My favourite female directors are men – Antonioni, Bergman, Almodóvar. If I’m a woman’s director, I hope it’s because I’ve learned from them. In Serbia, we don’t have a lot of women directors, but then we don’t have a lot of directors.”


MICHAEL DWYER DISCOVERY AWARD
BROKEN SONG
Dir: Claire Dix
Broken Song – a film we’re calling Dublin’s first hip-hop street opera – proved its mettle with both punters and critics when it took home the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award and was named as the audience’s favourite title at JDIFF 2013.

That’s entirely understandable. Director Claire Dix’s faultless documentary – a trip into the lives of nifty north Dublin MCs GI, Costello and Willa Lee – is as elegantly cinematic as it is streetwise.

“It goes back to something Costello said to me at one of the first meetings,” says Dix of the film’s crisp, imaginative monochrome. “I asked him how did he feel when he listens to hip-hop. And he said the first time he ever heard hip-hop he lay back on a bed – there might have been a couple of smokes involved – and really listened to the lyrics. And it felt like he left the room. And that really stuck with me. That idea that the music took him out of his surroundings, that art that comes from a dark place can bring light to day-to-day life.”

It’s not your average documentary, nor should it be. The project was funded by the Reel Arts scheme, an initiative, Dix notes, that requires “. . . you to look at a subject in a different way” and was shot over eight months.

“We’re lucky in this country,” says Dix, a graduate from Sheffield’s MA programme in Screenwriting and Direction. “There are a lot of schemes out there. There’s also a lot of competition and every second person has a screenplay. But there are opportunities if you persevere.”

Many of the film’s pleasures are derived from the beautifully busted rhymes. Can it all have been spontaneous?

“We did have a structure going in,” explains the director. “But with a documentary what you shoot changes day to day, and you have to stay open to change. We knew we wanted to follow a couple of the younger guys. Willa happened to be one of them. And Willa’s story – I just couldn’t have made that up, it just happened to evolve as we were filming.”

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