We are seeing a growing divisiveness in the United States. The run-up to the 2016 presidential election is making those divides quite clear and demonstrating just how “fear-addicted” our media has become. Politics is dominated by heightening either fear of the “other”, or fear of what those who fear the other will do. Very little emphasis is placed on understanding those we disagree with or on looking at issues thoroughly and humanistically.
The movies that dominate the box office reflect this reality as well. Films are made for “this audience” or “that audience,” and independent films are receiving less and less support from the studio system. The “indie films” that are supported come all too often from independent filmmakers who have been in the industry for decades. It remains quite difficult for new filmmakers, especially those from diverse backgrounds, to be given opportunities to make their first films (or first films within the studio system).
Yet, those unique and new voices are exactly what we need. To move past our fear(s) and to begin to narrow the very wide gaps that separate many of us, we must be able to see each other. We need a multitude of stories to draw from, not just a handful of films that stand outside the fray. In any society, stories reflect culture and show who we are. If you look at the bulk of the films that hit the metroplex, we are adrenaline junkies addicted to long entrenched franchises, superheroes, and explosions with very little story accompanying all the action. These stories play up “sides” and reinforce differences between sides as they position “good guys” against “bad guys” in a way that might be fun popcorn fodder, but is not true to life. These stories, for the most part, don’t help us navigate or understand the world around us. They don’t encourage us to view the complexity of situations and of the choices that individuals make. They don’t offer us stories told from a multitude of backgrounds — we need more different stories; we need more complex films; and we need a more diverse set of filmmakers making films that tell stories with authenticity and heart.
The good news is — those filmmakers are out there, and I’ve met many of them. They are working their butts off to make the films that we really need, and, for the most part, they are doing it outside of the financial support, infrastructure and marketing dollars that the studio system provides. Women directors like Jennifer Phang, Diane Bell, Iram Parveen Bilal, (to name a just a few — there are so many more!) are in the trenches everyday making their amazing films happen, as are so many other talented filmmakers. And fearless women like Emily Best, Eve Cohen, and Erica Anderson of Seed and Spark are helping indie filmmakers get their films funded while building strong relationships with their audiences.
As I face a new year and the continued fear-baiting that it looks like it will bring, I am reminded of the need to make, watch and share stories that go beyond fear — stories that build bridges, foster compassion and understanding or that present a nuanced look at the world. I am challenging myself as a viewer to put my own money (and time) where my mouth is — to watch these types of films and to encourage others to watch them too, so that new audiences find these hidden gems. I commit myself to supporting other filmmakers through social media shares, viewership, and funding support of crowdfunding campaigns as I can.
To get started, I made myself an A-Z list of films directed by women that I’d like to watch and that I plan to encourage others to watch in 2016. Some are new(er) films and some are classics. Some I’ve already seen and some will be new viewing for me. The list should be longer and will grow as the year does. I’ll be adding to it, and I invite you to share film suggestions with me. I put this list together using my “IndieJenFischer” Netflix List, which I’ve filled exclusively with films directed by women and my Films #DirectedByWomen Pinterest board highlighting films that are easily accessible through VOD. Here’s a taste, A-F:
- American Psycho (Mary Harron) and Advantageous (Jennifer Phang).Advantageous was one of my favorite films of 2015, a year in which films about a dystopian future dominated the box office, but Phang offered a unique look at the future and was absolutely stunning visually. I found myself constantly revisiting the film in my mind and others I’ve suggested the film to have also loved it. It’s a beautiful work of art and a welcomed reprieve from fast cuts, excessive violence and oversimplified stories and characters.
- Beyond the Lights (Gina Prince-Bythwood), Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite), The Babadook (Jennifer Kent), Belle (Amma Asante), Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce), Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (Constance Marks), Brave Miss World (Cecilia Peck)
- A Conversation with Haris from paint-on-glass animator Sheila Sofian, this film is one of my favorite short films, and it offers important insight into the experience of genocide.
- Dear Frankie (Shona Auerbach) and any short film by Josephine Decker!
- An Education (Lone Sherfig) and Eve’s Bayou (Kassi Lemmons)
- Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold), Farah Goes Bang (Meera Menon), Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat), FedUp (Stephanie Soechtig), Fire (Deepa Mehta), and Frida (Julie Taymor)
Do you have an indie film favorite to share or a fave film directed by a woman that I should watch? Leave a comment or tweet at me. I’ll be pinning suggestions to my IndieOnly and Films#DirectedByWomen Pinboard, and I’ll be sharing other indie film suggestions regularly, as part of my A-Z, on Twitter and Facebook.
P.S. I’ll be back here next month with G-L suggestions and shout outs to some of the faves that you all share with me as I grow my list of indie gems to discover.