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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar


I’m participating in a panel for Women in Film down in L.A. on November 2. The panel’s about women film journalists and bloggers, and one of the topics we will be covering is whether female film journos have an obligation to write positively about femme-helmed films, regardless of whether said films are good or bad. The argument, I guess, is that we women have to stick together, there aren’t as many women as there should be making films, and so, therefore, women who write about film should support their sisters behind the camera by writing good things about their efforts.
For me, this issue is a no-brainer. If I write positively about a film directed by a woman simply because it’s directed by a woman, without regard for whether it’s good or not, I’m not only being dishonest as a critic, but ghetto-izing women filmmakers in general, n’est-ce pas? If female journalists actually do this, are they not saying, in effect: It’s okay, female filmmakers, you don’t have to meet any actual standards of goodness; moreover, we don’t even have enough faith that you are capable of making good films to begin with, so we’re going to handicap you right out of the gate to give you a boost. Ugh.
What intelligent, driven female director would actually want that kind of faint praise?

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2 Responses to “Sisterhood?”

  1. LexG says:

    This would not endear me to any Women On Film panel (despite the fact that I am maybe the most feminist-minded male moviegoer around — seeing as how I, unlike most people of both genders — actually DO go to see certain movies based on the female lead.)
    But anyway, it would behoove more female directors to shoot in widescreen and have SOME visual style. Obviously this will seem a WHOPPER of a generalization and not endear me necessarily to The Voynar, but too many female-directed movies feel like ACTOR-DIRECTED MOVIES.
    IE, nice script, good actors, strong enough story and thematics… and all the visual style of a Welcome Back, Kotter episode. Even though I’m a Kathryn Bigelow fan, I wouldn’t recommend that ALL or even more than a few femme directors emulate their male counterparts and try to keep pace with the Bays and Scotts and Camerons.
    But a little HOLLYWOOD PANACHE, some flair and visual distinction, distinguishes a true, born filmmaker from someone who’s taking on the job as a whim or to make a statement just that one time. I’d get more excited at the prospect of “female director!” if it didn’t so often mean some kitchen-sink looking 1.85:1 frame and maybe a BROWN TINT while some talented actors stand in the middle of frame and talk about getting old or some shit.
    Again, this probably doesn’t sound P.C., but it is a pretty universally regarded truism that men as a whole are “more visually oriented.” And the best directors are visual artists, rather than people who aim a Panaflex lens at what is essentially a stage play.
    I’m not painting all female artists with this broad stroke, but the idea that a critic, male or female, or even a CASUAL FILM VIEWER, should champion bland, craftless mediocrity just because a woman was at the helm? That’s selling everyone short.

  2. Kim Voynar says:

    Lex, when you want to, you can make some excellent and astute points. But while I agree with you about a lot of films shot by women not being very visual, I think this is true of a lot of independent films generally, whether they’re made by women or men. Look at the “mumblecore” films, for instance — wouldn’t you consider most of those films to have the same flaws you’re talking about here?
    I think it’s partly an issue of accessibility, in that it’s easier and cheaper these days for anyone who wants to to get their hands on equipment, gather some friends and shoot a movie, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have an understanding of *how* to shoot for a big screen, and they don’t always have the technical knowledge to do the things you’re talking about. They have a good idea for a story, maybe, and their stories tend to be character-focused (which, actually, I like, mostly), but they don’t know about color palettes, or aspect ratios, etc.
    I had a conversation a while back with Jason Kohn, the director of Manda Bala (which I thought was a gorgeous film) about how many docs being made these days are not really made to be seen on the big screen, however much their directors might like them to be, and I think this is true for a lot of independent filmmakers. Ramin Bahrani’s films are beautifully shot, because he works consistently with a cinematographer who knows how to shoot for a theatrical experience. Nerakhoon (The Betrayal) isn’t a perfect film, but it’s stunning visually, because Ellen Kuras, the director, has spent her career as a cinematographer and knows what she’s doing when it comes to shooting.
    So I’d argue with you that the issues you raise are not specific to female filmmakers, but are more of a broader issue in the indie film world. And as a side issue, Lex, you’ve argued before, I think, that a lot of people who review films take only story and character into account while overlooking things like editing and cinematography. Do you think the way in which indie films are reviewed contribute to the issues you’re raising?

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon