Women on a roll: Female directors dominate at Fargo Film Festival
FARGO - The Fargo Film Festival doesn't have themes, but if it did, 2017 might be "The Year of the Woman."Out of the eight category winners this year, six were from female directors. In comparison, only two categories were won by women directors ...
FARGO - The Fargo Film Festival doesn't have themes, but if it did, 2017 might be "The Year of the Woman." Out of the eight category winners this year, six were from female directors. In comparison, only two categories were won by women directors in 2016, none in 2015 and three in 2014. Overall, 38 of the 104 films screened over the five-day festival were made by women. Emily Beck, executive director of the Fargo Theatre, which hosts the annual event, is encouraged by the strong showing of women artists. "It means the world to me, personally. I'm so thrilled to see that happening," Beck says. The results are particularly encouraging in light of a study published in January that showed the roles of women in the 250 biggest domestic films of 2016 declined. The Celluloid Ceiling Report, released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, showed that the percentage of female directors in in 2016-7 percent-was down from 9 percent in 2015, the same percentage from 1998, the first year of the study. Overall, the study showed the percentage of women with behind-the-camera roles-17 percent-was unchanged from 1998. "I hope the success of female filmmakers in the 2017 Fargo Film Fest is the beginning of a trend and not just an interesting fluke," Beck says. "That's wonderful," says filmmaker Serena Dykman, when told that the majority of award-winning films in Fargo this year are by women, including her own Best Documentary Feature-winner, "Nana." "It's great to see so many people speaking up and making a difference," Dykman says, On the surface, "Nana" is the story of Dykman's maternal grandmother, Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant, an Auschwitz survivor and peace and tolerance activist who would later accompany groups touring the notorious concentration camp. The film is really about the relationship Dykman had with her grandmother, who died when the filmmaker was 12, and her own mother, Alice Michalowski, as they read the grandmother's memoir and visit Auschwitz without her. Not only is it a female-centered movie, the crew included a female producer, cinematographer and composer. "I never hire people because they are a woman or a man; I hire people who are the best for the job," Dykman says. Katy Grannan says being a female may have worked to her advantage while filming "The Nine." The documentary feature looks at something most people don't want to see-the people living on a desolate stretch in Modesto, Calif., including the low-rent motels where women hustle, living day to day. "Maybe people are more comfortable speaking to women," says Grannan, a notable photographer who also created a photo exhibit of the same name and subjects. "For sure the women on 'The Nine' are used to being hurt by men, physically and emotionally, so they absolutely were more willing to talk to me and get close to me than they ever would with a man. So in that sense it can be an advantage."
Grannan shot most of the footage either by herself or with assistant director, Hannah Hughes. The small crew allowed them to get close to the subjects, even in small spaces. Grannan has been on the film fest circuit for a while with "The Nine" and says she meets lots of other female filmmakers. She says she's not surprised women would be so well represented on the indie circuit. Hollywood blockbusters, though, are another story. "It's a different dynamic for women on big sets with big crews and big egos and personalities," she says. Beck said that "the vast majority" of films screened at the traditionally arthouse Fargo Theatre over the last year were directed by men. "I am hopeful for the future, but the current state of the industry, for both independent and mainstream cinema, still reflects a significant leadership gender imbalance," she says. The hope comes from young filmmakers, particularly students. Both this year's student documentary (Melina Tupa's "The Search") and narrative (Nurith Cohn's "The Little Dictator") winners are women. Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson, a film professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and a member of the FFF animation committee has seen a shift in the fim program at MSUM. A decade ago it was about three females for every 20 students, but that has become more balanced since. Involved with both the Fargo-where she is part of the animation committee-and the South Dakota Film Festivals, she's seeing good variety. "In that mix we're seeing very excellent work written by women and directed by women, and that's something that the (film) industry really struggles with," Kristjansson-Nelson says. "It is incredibly important for the Fargo Film Festival and other festivals to support female filmmakers. In regards to artistic quality, we want our festival selections to represent a variety of perspectives, experiences, and creative styles. That richness, that diversity, requires a mixture of male and females voices," Beck says. "In regards to filmmaking as a profession, it is critical to support young/up-and-coming female filmmakers as they navigate an industry with an uneven playing field. Kathryn Bigelow helped blaze a path with her Oscar win (Best Director for 2009's "The Hurt Locker"), but we still need to make a few more cracks in that glass ceiling." If You Go What: Fargo Film Festival When: Today - Saturday Where: The Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway Info: Admission ranges from $5 for a single session student ticket to $100 for an all-access pass. For a full list of films and screening times, go to fargofilmfestival.org (701) 239-8385.