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The Auteurs: Part One

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I wandered into an independent book store recently, the kind with rare books you won’t find at a chain, and eventually found myself in the film section where I inevitably end up.

Usually, nothing is more satisfying than a breeze through cinematic history to spend time with my favorite artists. I treasure my book collection at home, especially artifacts from film school, and take pleasure in seeing how film history and theory evolves in the public sphere. This time, however, something was different. As I looked at book after book about directors, writers, and other masters of the craft, I became acutely aware about the missing elements. No women filmmakers were in this particular section of books.

I realized that this is the way it as always been, unless I was in a specialized book shop or procuring text books for feminist film class. I understood that, this time, I was different. More aware, cognizant, and angry about this type of systemized exclusion from history. Women’s history, my history, was simply not on the shelves. Greater than this, human history was missing key figures represented in its cinematic arts section. For the many years I accepted this out of admiration and love of my celebrated heroes (Hitchcock, Keaton, Fellini, Kieslowski), the simple fact remained that there were no women directors on the shelf to celebrate. Which is par for the course at bookstores, but more importantly, in our cultural brain. But once you see it, you cannot un-see it, and that might lead to change.

When we talk about the greats of cinema, women are hardly spoken of (if ever) as auteurs. In this instance, plenty of books were devoted to female actresses and movie stars, but not a single female director and certainly not one that has been labeled as an auteur director. Does this mean that they don’t exist? No, but it does indicate exclusion from this group of artists. This is a problem.

We have many female auteurs, First coined by Cahiers du Cinema writers to describe artists of the French New Wave, auteur is the French word for “author.” It described directors with a strong creative vision and style, who “authored” their own films in which the director’s personal stamp is strongly imprinted. It also implies integrity and artistic control away from the studios. Innovation. Autonomy. It was the ultimate name to praise directors who elevated their craft to art, expressed themselves creatively through the medium, and wielded their powerful force in the storytelling form. Auteurs have vision who bring out the best in cinema, and we celebrate them.

Except, in this bookstore and many other bookstores, you won’t see women directors celebrated as auteurs. Today’s world is more concerned with branding, but being characteristically non-commercially oriented, I am far more interested with the auteur concept. Why are there not more women directors on these shelves?   Where is Jane Campion (my favorite), Alice Guy-Blache, or Agnes Varda? Women who made it through the studio process and retained a distinct personal vision? [sidenote: Guy-Blache eventually owned her own studio, bully for her.]

True women auteurs of film need to change this item of exclusion, specifically. It’s a symbol of our own empowerment and self-validation in a system that does little to recognize our work. We need to own this term for ourselves; it’s not simply given to us.

I am an auteur, an artist who works in the medium of film. Not commercially successful, nor widely recognized (yet), but with a large body of work that clearly has my distinctive style. I’m proud of my work. A fine artist, first, I’ve dabbled in multiple mediums over the years, but cinema is my passion. While I love the intimacy of the page, I ADORE the magical, emotional, and mind-changing possibilities of film. I came from an experimental film art school and it shaped me into transform the trust I have for myself as an artist, into unabashed experimentation with cinematic techniques with classical narrative form.

We have so many women auteur directors, both in our cinematic history and currently building a body of work. It is way beyond time to celebrate, honor, and YES – label them as they are: Auteurs. We should do this for ourselves, not to cheapen the word, but to empower ourselves. I want to see more women directors NOT ONLY get hired to do the job more, but also receive the distinction (when it applies) that their individual vision is important. It means the work of women is valued by society. We, as artists, are valued. Because we are valuable and our work can change the course of cinema and art, if it’s strong enough and it’s widely seen. Maybe then in the future, when I enter this book section, I’ll buy a book about another woman director instead of a to-do manual for changing the system and co-writing history.

Stay tuned for future discussions with other women directors, as we go in-depth about our craft, creativity and art. #theauteurs

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Michelle Kantor

About Michelle Kantor

Michelle Kantor co-founded Cinefemme, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization for women directors, while studying at San Francisco State University. She is the youngest daughter of political refugees who fled Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1960's, and is currently producing two films about her family's historic escape from behind the Iron Curtain: RED STAR, a feature documentary following her father's return on the 50th anniversary of his escape, and THE REBEL, a narrative feature film screenplay written by Michelle, based on their lives. She also directs performance art videos for painter Tara Savelo, former Haus of Gaga member and writes the blog www.ultra-luxurious.com. Michelle's body of work includes short films, experimental narratives, documentaries, and live work for circus performers at San Francisco's Teatro Zinzanni. Her music video "Highway To Yodel-Ay-Hee-Huuu," starring America's Got Talent's Manuela Horn, won Best Music Video at LA Femme Film Festival in 2014. Her production credits include work for HBO, FYI, The History Channel, Sony, Universal, and NASA. An advocate for epilepsy, her groundbreaking film "Bettina in the Fog" won the Thunen Award by the Illuminating Engineers Society. Michelle's other distinctions include the Goldfarb Award for Best Student Film and funding from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for Cinefemme. She holds an MFA in Cinema from San Francisco State University and BFA in Film Production from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Michelle is a certified paralegal, mother, writer and artist. An active member of the female filmmaking community, Michelle belongs to WIF, AWD and Film Fatales.