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Spiritually Significant Films from Female Directors


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Some discussion in the 2020 A & F Top 100 has centered around diversity. A corporate desire emerged to create a resource -- an alt list, an appendix -- that promoted 'spiritually significant films directed by women. This would be a way to begin to draw attention to the gender disparity in our list and broaden the film knowledge of forum participants in readers so that we might be better prepared to nominate and vote for more films from female directors in the future. To that end, I asked voters to each send me a list of 10 films that they deemed spiritually significant that were directed by women. Some gave me more than 10. I'll add to this list as we get more, and feel free to add suggestions in this thread. These are not in ranked order, and the number after indicates that more than one voter listed that particular film. If anyone wants to cut and past this to add director name or year, I am fine with that. Pressed for time at the moment...

  • 13th
  • 35 Shots of Rum
  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Reiniger, 1926)
  • After the Wedding
  • American Honey
  • Audience
  • The Babadook
  • Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999) (4)
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)—Marielle Heller (2)
  • Belle
  • The Bigamist
  • Birds of Passage
  • Brief Crossing
  • Bright Star (4)
  • Cameraperson (3)
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  • Chocolat
  • Cleo from 5 to 7 (4)
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Daisies (Chytilová, 1966)
  • Daughters of the Dust
  • An Education (2)
  • Edge of Seventeen
  • Faces Places (2)
  • The Fits
  • For Sama
  • Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz, 2014)
  • Girlhood (Céline Sciamma, 2014)
  • The Gleaners and I (4)'
  • Hail Satan?
  • Harriet (2019)—Kasi Lemmons
  • The Holy Girl
  • The House is Black
  • The Hurt Locker (2)
  • The Hypocrites
  • In Your Hands (Forbrydelser) (2004)—Annette K. Oleson
  • Iran in 9.11.01
  • Italian for Beginners (2000)—Lone Scherfig
  • Lady Bird (5)
  • Leave No Trace (4)
  • Let the Sunshine In
  • Let Your Light Shine
  • Little Women (2019) (2)
  • Lost in Translation (4)
  • Lourdes (2)
  • The Matrix
  • Meek's Cutoff
  • The Meetings of Anna (Chantal Akerman, 1978) (2)
  • Meshes of the Afternoon (2)
  • Monsoon Wedding
  • Mudbound
  • Mustang
  • My Brilliant Career 
  • A New Leaf
  • Night Moves
  • The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)—Mary Harron
  • Old Joy
  • The Piano (2)
  • Persepolis (3)
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (3)
  • The Queen of Versailles
  • Ratcatcher
  • The Rider (2)
  • The Secret Life of Words
  • Selma (3)
  • Shut Up and Sing!
  • Sita Sings the Blues (Paley, 2008)
  • The Snowman
  • Somewhere
  • The Sounvenir (2019) by Joanna Hogg
  • Stories We Tell 
  • Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)
  • Sword of Trust
  • Things to Come (2)
  • Toni Eerdmann
  • Triumph of the Will
  • Vagabond (Agnès Varda, 1985)
  • Waitress (Adrienne Shelley, 2007)
  • Wadjda (2)
  • Wanda (4)
  • Wendy & Lucy (2)
  • Whale Rider (2)
  • Winter's Bone
  • Zama
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You left out Let the Sunshine In, and I'll also add The Edge of Seventeen, which definitely deserves consideration.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Just now, Evan C said:

You left out Let the Sunshine In, and I'll also add The Edge of Seventeen, which definitely deserves consideration.

Yes, I think Evan sent me his list via messenger and I complied the e-mail replies. I'll add in yours when I get a second.

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This is great, Ken et al - it opens up a question I had not previously framed thus: 

Given that "best-of" lists tend to default toward prioritizing films made by white men, because those are the films that have been most widely distributed, and the the cultural gatekeepers for at least the first hundred years of cinema's 125 year history have also been predominantly white men who were not consciously engaged in anti-sexism/anti-racism/anti-homophobia as a primary part of their work, wouldn't it be useful - not to mention fascinating - to generate three lists: the 100 most spiritually significant films directed by men, the 100 most spiritually significant films directed by women, the 100 most spiritually significant films directed by people of color and indigenous people, and a list condensing the results based on proportionate voting.

I recognize that I'm a little late to the discussion on this; and I'm not necessarily suggesting a change to the current process. But if we were to make the most honest assessment of how lists are generated, unless we consciously correct for the default bias in cinema and cultural history generally, we're going to keep ending up with lists in which white men dominate, and not necessarily because the quality of their work is greater than others.  I'm glad we're talking about this, I know Ken (and us all) that you take it seriously; and I'm sure it will be acknowledged in the publication(s) that derive from this fascinating process. 

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I am trying to keep up with the various threads, and trying to listen well to what's being said in various places. So, I want to put out a word of caution here, not because I see this directly happening yet, but I genuinely think it could: I would not want an "alt" list of films directed by women or people of color to end up as inadvertent tokenism or virtue signaling. If we are going to discuss questions and issues of power, the very concepts of auteurist understandings of cinema (where the director is viewed as the one in control) and canon/list-making ventures are steeped in problematic ideologies and practices of power. I think it could be unhelpful (at best—at worst it could be patronizing) to make a list of 100 films directed by women with a primary motive to show the world that A&F knows and recognizes women behind the camera. I'm not sure exactly how to parse that though, how to do this well in practice with the list we have at hand. I recognize the frustration with not having as many women directors or global cinema on the 2-films-per-director list...but then why did we vote that way? For instance, why did we vote a Woody Allen film onto the list and not an Ava DuVernay film?

I guess I'm wondering just how far we're willing to go down that difficult path of addressing questions of power, representation, and social imagination.

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2 minutes ago, Andrew said:

Please add For Sama

Yes! Great addition. Although it might be worth noting that the film is co-directed by a woman and man. That wouldn't disqualify it from consideration for this list, would it? 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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42 minutes ago, Joel Mayward said:

I am trying to keep up with the various threads, and trying to listen well to what's being said in various places. So, I want to put out a word of caution here, not because I see this directly happening yet, but I genuinely think it could: I would not want an "alt" list of films directed by women or people of color to end up as inadvertent tokenism or virtue signaling. If we are going to discuss questions and issues of power, the very concepts of auteurist understandings of cinema (where the director is viewed as the one in control) and canon/list-making ventures are steeped in problematic ideologies and practices of power. I think it could be unhelpful (at best—at worst it could be patronizing) to make a list of 100 films directed by women with a primary motive to show the world that A&F knows and recognizes women behind the camera. I'm not sure exactly how to parse that though, how to do this well in practice with the list we have at hand. I recognize the frustration with not having as many women directors or global cinema on the 2-films-per-director list...but then why did we vote that way? For instance, why did we vote a Woody Allen film onto the list and not an Ava DuVernay film?

I guess I'm wondering just how far we're willing to go down that difficult path of addressing questions of power, representation, and social imagination.

Joel,

This conversation is very splintered right now, so I don't mean it as a criticism that some of these questions have been raised in the process thread. 

For me, stuff posted in a discussion thread is different from stuff posted in the list directory itself: http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?/films/

I view this thread, like most others, as the sandbox where we kick around ideas. I also see this list of female directors not as a companion to the Top 100 or as an argument to alter its formation, but as one of the first steps towards implementing what we learned from it. (We are putting our results to use even before the list is finalized.)

Some of this discussion can be confusing and stressful not only because it is splintered but because we are conflating three different discussions (in my opinion):
 

  • Postgame analysis (what worked/what didn't).
  • Improvements to the community and discussion based on what we've learned so far.
  • Decisions about any corrections or adjustments we make to the 2020 list itself.

I am much more comfortable with discussion in the first two bullets ranging far beyond what I am willing to implement for the third. There is a part of me that craves order and would like to *finish* the list before moving on to the first two bullets above, but I recognize that discussion in the first two informs the third and helps people think through not just what they want to do about the 2020 list but why. Also, having some idea of a vision forward may make some (myself included) more sanguine about the 2020 list and more open to compromises rather than digging in heels and drawing lines in the sand. 

I said right before I left Zoom, let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Forward thinking is where we want to be as aspirational, bold, and innovative as we can. The  work of the day, for me, is to keep momentum going make as much forward progress (in process not just in completion) as possible, and not let some very good things get buried under the understandable weight of people longing for more/better.

Aside: Without sounding too gooey, I am more pleased at some of the progress that this list has wrought in inter-personal relationships, understanding people (some of whom I have had serious conflicts with in the past) better, and delighting in seeing amid such a fractured national and global dvisiveness, people with different training, specialties, and perspectives all display genuine solicitousness for others' feelings and desires to understand their values.

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20 minutes ago, Joel Mayward said:

I am trying to keep up with the various threads, and trying to listen well to what's being said in various places. So, I want to put out a word of caution here, not because I see this directly happening yet, but I genuinely think it could: I would not want an "alt" list of films directed by women or people of color to end up as inadvertent tokenism or virtue signaling. If we are going to discuss questions and issues of power, the very concepts of auteurist understandings of cinema (where the director is viewed as the one in control) and canon/list-making ventures are steeped in problematic ideologies and practices of power. I think it could be unhelpful (at best—at worst it could be patronizing) to make a list of 100 films directed by women with a primary motive to show the world that A&F knows and recognizes women behind the camera. I'm not sure exactly how to parse that though, how to do this well in practice with the list we have at hand. I recognize the frustration with not having as many women directors or global cinema on the 2-films-per-director list...but then why did we vote that way? For instance, why did we vote a Woody Allen film onto the list and not an Ava DuVernay film?

I guess I'm wondering just how far we're willing to go down that difficult path of addressing questions of power, representation, and social imagination.

Thanks Joel, this is helpful -  I think I'm looking for a way for us to avoid tokenism and virtue signaling, while also acknowledging the problem - whether or not that's a couple of alternative lists or an essay in the publication(s) that simply says - We know there's a problem when only six films out of a hundred are directed by women. There is no perfect solution, but it must be addressed - we asked ourselves why this happened, and what might be better, and here's what we came up with. The power dynamic implicit in auteurist understandings of cinema is a problem, but of course the power dynamic skewed against women, POCs, and LGBTQ+ people preceded - and has more insidious effects than - this.

(PS: FWIW, I think Crimes and Misdemeanors is a better film in some respects than Selma, but I voted for them both :))

 

 

 

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7 minutes ago, kenmorefield said:

This conversation is very splintered right now, so I don't mean it as a criticism that some of these questions have been raised in the process thread. 

Yeah, I'm just honestly finding it hard to keep track of what's happening now in this list-making process. This could be due to missing the Zoom meeting. Feel free to move my above post to whichever thread it'd be relevant in.

1 minute ago, Gareth Higgins said:

I think I'm looking for a way for us to avoid tokenism and virtue signaling, while also acknowledging the problem - whether or not that's a couple of alternative lists or an essay in the publication(s) that simply says - We know there's a problem when only six films out of a hundred are directed by women. There is no perfect solution, but it must be addressed - we asked ourselves why this happened, and what might be better, and here's what we came up with. The power dynamic implicit in auteurist understandings of cinema is a problem, but of course the power dynamic skewed against women, POCs, and LGBTQ+ people preceded - and has more insidious effects than - this.

This is helpful and clarifying, Gareth. And to be clear, I don't think we're actively practicing tokenism/virtue signaling right now (at least in this forum for this list), but I want to point out the possibility if we are not careful and aware of our language and postures.

5 minutes ago, Gareth Higgins said:

PS: FWIW, I think Crimes and Misdemeanors is a better film in some respects than Selma, but I voted for them both :)

Ha! :) 

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2 minutes ago, Joel Mayward said:

Yeah, I'm just honestly finding it hard to keep track of what's happening now in this list-making process. This could be due to missing the Zoom meeting. Feel free to move my above post to whichever thread it'd be relevant in.

 

Right now the step before you is to vote (before Friday) about whether you prefer the 1 film / director list or 2 film / director list. You may do so on the A&F poll in that thread or to me via e-mail. 

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A quick note for everyone who subscribes to Criterion Channel. Two years ago my friend Nellie Killian organized an amazing program at The Metrograph in New York called Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women's Stories. Somehow, miraculously, nearly all of the films were added to Criterion at the beginning of May. They haven't yet built a page that lists them all in one spot, but I just added 25 films to my watchlist and am looking forward to working through them. Nellie's such a brilliant programmer. I haven't seen most of these films -- I haven't even heard of many of them -- so there should be some great discoveries.

Nellie just told me Criterion will begin doing a marketing push for the series on May 24, so keep an eye out for it.

Edited by Darren H
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Part of what's happening here, I believe, is that my friend the magnificent Mark Cousins has a new massive documentary Women Make Film coming soon; I believe Criterion has the rights and along with the British Film Institute are hosting seasons to illustrate.

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Thanks for this info, Gareth. The documentary and the accompanying films should be well worth watching.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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I just sent my list. When I saw Ken's request, the films that came immediately to mind were mostly ones that I see are already on the list of films above. So I did a little more thinking and came up with a list of 10 that weren't yet on the list.

These following ones I haven’t seen, so I don’t feel like I can be the one to add them, but what about Queen of Katwe, The Breadwinner, and One Child Nation? Those films are only on my radar because they’ve been on year-end lists of people who are part of this discussion! Though the exercise was framed as your top 10 spiritually significant films by women, so maybe none made the cut.

Is the purpose just to come up with a good list of spiritually significant films directed by women?  or is it something more akin to nominations? Is the goal to get to 100? 100 films or 100 directors?

And there are a number of other films directed by women that were nominated for the Top 100 that aren’t on this list yet, and that I don’t think I’m the right one to add them, either because I don’t fine them spiritually significant myself or because I haven’t seen them…

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6 hours ago, Rob Z said:

I just sent my list. When I saw Ken's request, the films that came immediately to mind were mostly ones that I see are already on the list of films above. So I did a little more thinking and came up with a list of 10 that weren't yet on the list.

These following ones I haven’t seen, so I don’t feel like I can be the one to add them, but what about Queen of Katwe, The Breadwinner, and One Child Nation? Those films are only on my radar because they’ve been on year-end lists of people who are part of this discussion! Though the exercise was framed as your top 10 spiritually significant films by women, so maybe none made the cut.

Is the purpose just to come up with a good list of spiritually significant films directed by women?  or is it something more akin to nominations? Is the goal to get to 100? 100 films or 100 directors?

And there are a number of other films directed by women that were nominated for the Top 100 that aren’t on this list yet, and that I don’t think I’m the right one to add them, either because I don’t fine them spiritually significant myself or because I haven’t seen them…

Like you, I'm not sure where this thread is headed, if anywhere. But any discussion on spiritually significant films by women is enhanced by the three you named here. Thank you for thinking of them.

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8 hours ago, Rob Z said:

Is the purpose just to come up with a good list of spiritually significant films directed by women?  or is it something more akin to nominations? Is the goal to get to 100? 100 films or 100 directors?

The purpose of this list in the short term is to build an internal resource at the site so that those on it (or who come to it via the Top 100 list) can have suggestions about films by women worth exploring. 

In the intermediate/long term, pending the how things go with the 2020 Top 100, it may also be the first draft towards an appendix in the companion book. 

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I moved this thread from the 2020 Top 100 Forum to the more general lists forum -- and renamed it -- to help clarify its purpose and intended use as being more general and not a part of 2020 Top 100 discussion even though it grew out of that.

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Last night I watched Barbara Hammer's 30 minute film, Audience, which documents her visits to San Francisco, London, Toronto, and Montreal in the early 1980s. It was shot before and after screenings of her work, when she interviewed audience members, nearly all of whom are lesbians. Ken, it's a perfect addendum to The Celluloid Closet because several women express their joy at just getting to see lesbians on screen in non-pornographic films. Audience is a lovely portrait of lesbian film communities a few years before the New Queer Cinema movement brought them greater exposure, but it's also a portrait of Hammer herself. I really regret never getting to meet her. Her personal charisma in this film is off the charts. She's a bit of a flirt, and much of the audience is happy to reciprocate.

Audience is screening on Criterion Channel right now as part of the Tell Me series. Not sure when or if you'll ever get another chance to stream it.

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On 5/16/2020 at 6:35 PM, WriterAndrew said:

Assuming we're not just looking for films directed by cis women, I would add The MatrixThe Matrix Revolutions, and Cloud Atlas.

I honestly have no answer to that question...does anyone want to weigh in on whether this list should be for cis women?

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34 minutes ago, kenmorefield said:

I honestly have no answer to that question...does anyone want to weigh in on whether this list should be for cis women?

Sure, I will, drawing from my clinical education and personal experience.  In psychology and healthcare, we're taught that gender is a personal construct, and that we always use the gendered pronouns that the patient prefers.  I can't tell you how grating and offensive it has been on a few occasions to witness hospital staff floundering on this common courtesy, flagrantly using the wrong pronouns (because their patients were born with genitals that don't match their gender identification) and clearly wounding the people they're supposed to be helping.  Gender dysphoria for those forced to act in social roles that match their genitals rather than their core gender identity is the real deal.  And knowing that trans individuals are far more likely to suffer physical and sexual violence than the general population, I feel strongly that we should go out of our way to support the most vulnerable in our society.  It's the kind, humanistic thing to do.  Having a handful of trans and gender-fluid family members and acquaintances, I'm extra-sensitive to this issue, too.

So, yeah, since the Wachowskis self-identify as women, they most certainly belong on a list of women filmmakers.    

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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