Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through

By Pickering, Karen | Metro Magazine, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through


Pickering, Karen, Metro Magazine


CELLULOID CEILING: WOMEN FILM DIRECTORS BREAKING THROUGH EDITED BY GABRIELLE KELLY AND CHERYL ROBSON. SUPERNOVA BOOKS, 2014.

In the overlapping fields of feminism and film, the question 'Why aren't there more women directors?' is often asked, as though there is a clear-cut answer beyond 'patriarchy'. Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through, edited by filmmakers Gabrielle Kelly and Cheryl Robson, delves into that question further and seeks to answer a few others: What do women have to overcome in order to direct a film? How do women work together to face these challenges? And how different is the female director's experience in the Majority World, outside the limited purview of Hollywood and European arthouse cinema?

The good news is that women directors are hard at work making films in industries all over the world, within studios and independently, and using any and all means necessary to fulfil their ambitions of making movies. The historical scope of this collection also reminds us that 'twas ever thus. In fact, in the early days of cinema, women dominated in certain scenes, and these pioneers of the artform didn't wait for permission from anyone to make films. The bad news? In some countries-like the UK, for example-participation rates haven't changed in decades; in the US, they're actually declining. Thankfully, Kelly and Robson cast their critical nets far outside the English-speaking world.

The book's positive subtitle is reflective of a broad approach on the part of the editors to highlight some of the success stories of women in cinema and how, in many contexts, current conditions allow for greater participation of women than ever before--for example, it's revealed that Iran has more working female filmmakers than the US. Furthermore, we see that what is catastrophic for a nation, or the industry more broadly, may also advantage women filmmakers. Major financial collapses, sometimes caused by disasters like war or military coups, drain money from the (predominantly male-driven) screen business and can sometimes provide opportunities for female directors to step in and take on projects for lower fees--as was the case in parts of South-East Asia during the economic crisis of 1997. Conversely, some former Soviet Bloc countries saw a decline in women's participation as directors after the introduction of the free market to their national film industries, as in the Czech Republic, where communism had at least allowed the careers of women filmmakers to be established.

This is the strength of a survey collection like this: in taking readers outside the familiar and comparing the experiences of women in dozens of national contexts, Celluloid Ceiling shows us the rich diversity of female filmmaking and examines the different circumstances faced by women in the Majority World. Bollywood--where only upper-class women and the occasional former actor direct films--is a good example of gender, race, class and religion cutting across women's chances of directing films. Likewise, in China, white women directors are being brought in from Hollywood to work on big-budget genre pieces for a burgeoning untapped market. But Celluloid Ceiling only glances at what Chinese women directors are up to, and this points to one of the limitations of so broad a study: some fascinating stories get short-changed or omitted altogether. If anything, though, a book like this whets the appetite to conduct personal research and look beyond the obvious.

While the collection analyses the different terrains faced by women directors around the world, there are certain constants and recurring themes, like the lack of childcare not affecting men as much as women, studio heads seeing women as 'risky', and the belief that subject matter favoured by women filmmakers or audiences is lightweight and unimportant. …

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