Well of course there are, but the numbers are still pathetically low. According to the statistics from the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State, women cinematographers made up a scant 2% of those who worked on the top 250 grossing films in 2007. (2008 stats should be released shortly)
So, I was excited to see the documentary featuring women from all over the world in Women Behind the Camera by Alexis Krasilovsky shown this past weekend at the Fusion Film Festival in NYC. The women who work behind the camera in so many jobs from electrician to gaffer to cinematographer are truly on the front lines in breaking down barriers for women. We should be thanking all of them. Most of them work alone, get harassed (still!) and are doing jobs still seen as “male.” The stories were all great but I especially loved the story of Yu Li Hua Shu Shi Jun who traveled with Moa Ze Dong across China by train. He never gave any indication of when they were going to stop so she got accustomed of sleeping with her camera so she could be ready in a moments notice.
Here’s what I learned:
- Like directing, this is a man’s world. One woman even said “guys are just happier working with guys.”
- France has had women working behind the camera for year no problem.
- It’s virtually impossible for a woman to demonstrate the discrimination.
- In Bollywood women are only hairdressers and heroines.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger literally groped Kristin Glover working the camera on his 1975 film Pumping Iron
- “Hollywood is not embarrassed about the statistics with women”- Liz Bailey.
- Ellen Kuras just nominated for her directing and is one of the most respected cinematographers talked eloqurntly about being the leader of the crew and her job is the safety and care of her crew.
There was a panel after the documentary that was moderated by Sandi Sissel who shot Salaam Bombay is now a professor at NYU and is deliberately mentoring and training young women. She has been in the business since the early 70s when she had to wear a dress and had to sue to get into the union.
Sissel had most of the interesting stories to share and dominated the conversation. More tidbits:
- Maryse Alberti who just shot The Wrestler couldn’t get work in the past so she had to shoot pornos.
- In 1974 there was a class action lawsuit against all the networks forcing them to hire more women and people of color.
- While the number of women is still so low according to Professor Sissel, percentage wise women work more and win more awards.
- An inexperienced director will work with an experienced director of photography (DP) but an experienced director will not work with an inexperience DP.
- The percentages are still so low because there are not ready for a woman to be in charge of a budget.
- Sissel didn’t hire women because she didn’t think she was the best as was shocked to find herself in the position she was.
- It’s a young person’s business and working behind the camera is a really hard job. you have to be passionate about it.
God forbid you should file a sexual harassment lawsuit. YOU WILL NEVER WORK AGAIN!
The other panelists included Rachel Levine, Kate Phelan, Kat Westergaard, Una Lee, Valentina Caniglia, Jendra Jarnagin and Meg Ketell agreed that things are clearly better for women now, they can get into the union they can get jobs. But there are still very few women behind the scenes on films and at times they are the only women on the set (STILL!) and more importantly there is no sense of sisterhood among the women. Guys understand that if they help their colleagues be successful they look better, we still seem to be competing against each other for the crumbs. If we women figured out how to band together in many industries…watch out.
Update: Got an comment from the filmmaker with a couple of corrections:
Producer Sarah Pillsbury is the woman who said, “Hollywood is not embarrassed about the statistics with women.” (Much to her credit, Sarah hired Tami Reiker to DP one of the features she produced, and said that Tami did a terrific job. Liz Bailey is a former Vice-President of what was then called “the Society of Operating Cameramen.”)