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The relationship between women and film

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1849
  • Category: Relations

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The investigation of gender in film is something researchers have concentrated on for a long time. However more attention has been paid to what occurs in fronts of the camera then behind it. Thus I chose to concentrate on the treatment of women directors, with a specific look at Jane Campion. The aim of this investigation is to see how much of an issue gender makes in becoming ‘successful’. My starting point for this research study was to follow a deductive process of research, by reading around theories and drawing my own conclusion.

I started my research by looking at secondary sources, starting with the internet, to find examples of related research. Using the search engine www.google.com, I typed in ‘Women and Film’ but I quickly realised there was little point in this as it came up with a wide variety of possible sites, most of which were useless. I decided to search for ‘Academic theory on women directors’. As a result of this I came across a research study on women and film at www.academicinfo.net. This site published a study of women working behind the scenes in the film industry entitled ‘The celluloid ceiling’ by Professor Martha M. Lauzen in 2000.

These statistics showed that the number of women working behind the scenes was lower then expected, with only 17% of all producers directors and writers in the top 100 grossing films were women. This quantitative data, a measured response with statistical significance, could to provide valid evidence to back up my findings, however the problem with using second hand statistics is that the conditions under which the data was collected are often unknown so they cannot be relied upon by themselves but were useful in helping me to form the basis of my research.

Based on the statistics I found in The Celluloid Ceiling study, the presence of women is not being felt in the film industry. I wanted to investigate this further by looking at the current status of women directors in the industry and looked on news archives www.bbc.co.uk and www.guardian.co.uk and www.salon.com. These offered insights into the Hollywood film industry, and articles such as ‘Hollywood’s women directors hit celluloid ceiling’ by Duncan Campbell drew on women directors personal experiences of the film industry and how they have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. This allowed me to achieve a greater understanding of the film industry, something which would otherwise have been impossible without personally experiencing it. The sites were found to be reliable and objective in their accounts and brought up links to other related sites and articles, such as Women in film and TV and Women make Movies.

I decided that I needed to focus on my director, and wanted to follow her career and see what problems she encountered when starting out. By searching ‘Jane Campion’ I found a number of unofficial websites, such as www.senseofcinema.com and www.imdb.com, on my director. These were useful in finding specific background information about my director and her career, including many interviews and biographies. As my director has no official website, it is hard to assess the validity of the information I found, but the information provided is, although popular opinion, written by people with a specialist interest in Jane Campion.

The internet is a massive resource but it needs to be used carefully. Due to the fact that the internet is unregulated medium, so inaccurate and biased information and finds its way there. It is important to stand back from this and learn to distinguish between fact and popular opinion.

Another secondary resource I looked at were four books, chosen due to each of their different perspectives on the topic. ‘Women in British Cinema’ by Sue Harper, 2002 provided a historical insight into the attitude to women in the British film industry, during the last century. Even though Jane Campion is an Australian director and wasn’t featured in the book, it did offer interesting information about how the male dominated world of film in the 1930’s began to change.

The second book I looked at was ‘Don’t shoot darling! Women’s independent filmmaking in Australia’ by Blonksi. This was very specific in referencing Australian directors such as Jane Campion and showed how women directors have benefited from the independent industry which offers an alternative to the male dominated studio system. The problem with this book is that it was published in 1987, so it is quite out of date. This means the information gathered from this book might not be valid because numbers and status for women in the film industry have changed.

‘Passionate detachments: An introduction to feminist film theory’ by Sue Thornham 1997, is to do with how gender plays a big part in the status given to a film production. I found out that most films directed by women enhance female sexuality through their use of camera work and technical codes. I was keen to explore this idea and wanted to see if Jane Campion also adopted this approach. However this book is written from the perspective of a feminist, so there is a slight bias in the angle of the book.

The last book I looked at was ‘Key Film Texts’ by Graham Roberts and Heather Wallis. This book was really interesting as it didn’t repeat information that I had read in the other books. It offered a general analysis of the film industry and describes how stereotypes have made it harder for women directors to find work. As it was published in 2002, the book was very up to date so I knew the information I was getting was recent.

Looking at a variety of books written by different authors allows me to gain a diverse and thorough understanding of my topic. The meanings taken from the books can be open to interpretation and though it was hard to read all the books and find the relevant theory, it proved to be worthwhile.

To round out my research I thought I needed more popular opinions about women directors. Using the magazine ‘Sight and Sound’, which had a women director’s special I found a profile on my director and her film ‘Holy Smoke’. The magazine described Jane Campion as a ‘literary filmmaker’. The magazine is a very valid source made up of a variety of opinions from experts in their field, but the magazine dated October 1999 is not very recent and doesn’t take into account recent opinions.

When trawling through the internet I discovered that there had been a Parkinson interview with Meg Ryan on Jane Campion’s new film ‘In the Cut’, October 2003. Although the show had already been aired, with no intention for repeats, I found a transcript for the show on the BBC website. This recent interview involved Meg Ryan giving her view on what it was like working with the famous director. This offered an insiders view into the film industry and working with Jane Campion.

Primary Research was important in furthering my understanding of the topic, and I decided I needed some public opinions, and also from someone working in the film industry.

I wanted to find out why it was so hard for women directors to get started and find work in the industry. Barratt (Ideology and Cultural Production) defines stereotypes as ‘concepts with particular ideological significance’. Could this be the reason? Are women not filling in the gender specific role these studios demand? To find out I used the link for ‘Women in film in Television’, found on a previous internet search, and tried to find a contact. I decided to email the chief executive Jane Cussons to find out whether stereotypes affect the treatment of women directors and why she thinks studios favour male directors. Jane replied very soon and explained how the problem was a lot to do with perception, ‘women are thought of to have lifestyle issues’. I felt privileged to be given this insiders knowledge, but the lack of personal contact meant I couldn’t tailor my questions to her responses.

I wanted to study these views by undertaking primary research to gauge public opinion. For this purpose I used two methods, content analysis and questionnaires with multiple choice and open ended questions. The first method helped me gather information to base my questionnaires on. I watched extracts of Jane Campion’s, films ‘The Piano’ and ‘Holy Smoke’ and took notes during the screening. Through textual analysis and deconstruction I found that her films do not follow the conventions set by mainstream films in the way masculinity and femininity are represented.

According to active audience reading theories, our responses are pre-determined, shaped by the industry. With this in mind I wanted to study whether public opinions on female directors are homogenised. The questionnaire, asking ‘Do you think there is inequality in the film industry?’ and ‘Have you heard of Jane Champion?’, was handed out to 5 females and 5 males of various age groups, using point sampling to get an even spread. These were relatively quick and easy to fill in, thus suitable for my limited research experience. The problem I discovered was that even though I tried to initiate opinions by using longs lines to write answers to, the majority answered with ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Due to the nature of questionnaires it is impossible to follow up on the responses without being there at the time, but allowed me to collect quantitative data which allowed me to increase the validity and reliability of my findings.

To gain a more qualitative response, which could discover experiences which are difficult to measure in a statistical sample, I decided to set up interviews with one male and one female selected from the group tested with the questionnaires. I decided use open ended questions to gain a more in depth understanding of the audience, such as ‘How do you perceive women directors?’ and ‘Does the film being directed by a women make the characters easier to relate to?’. I found that at the start of the interview, the responses I got were quite abrupt but as the interview went on they opened up more giving me their insights into Jane Campions films such as ‘the Piano’. Due to the time consuming nature of this method I could only conduct each interview for 10 minutes, if I had been able to conduct the interview for a longer time frame the interviewee may have opened up further. I took the tape home and transcribed it, then through discourse analysis tried to analyse what they said. This was a long task but did allow me to really concentrate on what they said, and their body language. Not taping it would have made such consideration impossible.

Through using both primary and secondary evidence, I was able to make some conclusions about the relationship between women and film. Secondary data was mainly collected from due to easy availability and convenience; however it cast the potential problem of containing bias or inaccuracy. Although both were of great usefulness since it introduced me to the key debates within the topic, outlined general patterns and helped me organise my research by pointing out useful devices that would make my research complete.

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