REEL Ladies spotlights, Alexis Krasikovsky and her recent project Women Behind the Camera.
Who knew that only 2% of cinematographers on the largest budget American films were women?
And what will the world of film be like when the vision of women informs it in a fuller way?
This made-by-women-for-women documentary, based upon Krasilovsky’s book of the same name, connects globally, exploring the lives of camerawomen in Canada, China, France, Germany, India, India, Iran, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, and other countries in a way never seen before.
American camerawomen shown include top Directors of Photography like Ellen Kuras, ASC (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), Amy Vincent, ASC “Black Snake Moan”) and top pioneers like African-American camerawoman Jessie Maple Patton – who had to sue the union and television networks to get jobs.
From the secret films by camerawomen of Taliban beating Afghani women, to historic footage by China’s first camerawomen of Mao’s travels through the Chinese countryside… From the playful narrative of a Russian filmmaker who learned the art from her father, her choice of career told as a love story, to rural India, where subsistence-level women are taught camerawork as a means of empowerment, to the glowing young Senegalese camerawoman willing to climb onto a man’s shoulders – literally – to get her subject, Professor Krasilovsky shows us a world of beauty, courage and technical skill.
RL: TELL US ABOUT WOMEN BEHIND THE CAMERA, WHAT INSPIRED THE PROJECT?
AK: I began my career as a camerawoman in the early ’70’s. But I didn’t have the courage or tenacity to persevere that was required at that time. However, I greatly admired those camerawomen who did, like Jessie Maple Patton and later Cathy Zheutlin and Geraldine Kudaka — suing the unions and networks, if necessary, to get work. Since I had already been directing documentaries, I knew how important it was to document these stories of these courageous camerawomen.
RL: YOU HAVE BEEN A RECIPIENT OF SEVERAL FILM GRANTS, AND I KNOW A LOT OF FILMMAKERS TEND TO FOREGO THAT ROUTE, OR FORGET ABOUT THEM ENTIRELY. TELL THE READERS HOW THESE GRANTS HAVE HELPED YOUR FILM CAREER.
AK: Without grants such as the Women in Film Finishing Fund award or a completion grant from the Fledgling Fund in New York, which funds innovative projects, I would never have been able to get the funding to complete “Women Behind the Camera.” A lot of filmmakers give up easily, partly because it’s so time consuming to apply for grants, and it’s the creative work that brings us to this field despite the bureaucracy that fundraising entails. In the old days, there could have been a sign up, “Women Need Not Apply,” as major funding went so disproportionately to the men. And it’s so competitive: 9,000 entries to the Sundance Film Festival means thousands of filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers struggling for grants in an atmosphere where because of the economy, the foundations themselves are hurting.
RL: SPOTLIGHTING WOMEN BEHIND THE CAMERA, WHAT WERE SOME THINGS THAT WERE EYE OPENERS FOR YOU IN DOING THIS FILM?
AK: It took seven years to produce “Women Behind the Camera,” following ten years of writing the book on which my film was based. At the beginning of the project, gender employment issues were the big topics. But even though the 2007-2008 figures show the numbers of camerawomen working on top grossing films actually declining, overall there have been so many more opportunities for women to move up in recent years — especially because of independent filmmaking. What opened my eyes in the final stage of the project was that, despite on-going discriminatory hiring practices and sexual harassment, many camerawomen today have never perceived themselves as victims, but rather see themselves as dynamic, strong, committed professionals. As Sue Gibson, BSC, the new President of the British Society of Cinematographers has stated, the main issues for female Directors of Photography today have to do with lighting, composition, technical innovations such as HD and D.I.’s, and translating the director’s vision.
RL: WHAT IS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT WOMEN CINEMATOGRAPHERS?
Alexis Krasilovsky, Writer/Director, Women Behind the Camera
AK: Some old dinosaurs STILL claim that women can’t be cinematographers because the equipment’s so heavy. Have they ever tried picked up a sleeping child from the back seat of a car, along with a couple of bags of groceries, and carried it all several flights of stairs? And perhaps these old dinosaurs are unaware of how lightweight professional equipment has become! And for those camerawomen who DO work with heavier Panavision equipment, well, when’s the last time you went to the weight room at the Y? Weight-lifting is important for men as well as women who don’t want to wrench their backs picking up cameras and gearheads. But some camerawomen, like Susan Walsh, were carrying Panavision cameras up mountains on films like “Silverado” decades ago — and outshining the men on their crews.
RL: WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
AK: The opportunity to make a difference in the world through the lens of a camera. My next film project is about the world hunger crisis. The people that I’ve been meeting at film festivals around the world — in Bangladesh, Mexico, Turkey, Poland, Canada, and tomorrow, India — inspire me to contribute to a global interconnectedness as a filmmaker.
RL: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF FILMMAKING?
AK: That magic moment behind the lens when what you see before you seems to connect you to the entire universe. I also love editing — making connections between people’s lives by juxtaposing their stories and their visions.
RL: SO BEING A TEACHER, WHAT’S SOME OF THE FUNDAMENTALS THAT YOU TEACH YOUR STUDENTS?
AK: I teach screenwriting and film studies, and I also spent around a decade teaching film production. “Fundamental” is a funny, scary word: One of the fundamentals of how I teach is to try to challenge students to broaden their perspectives. I teach them the basics of Hollywood structure, so that they’re empowered to take on that professional arena. But I also teach them alternative structures, such as the Heroine’s Journey, based on Enheduanna (2,300 BC, waaaaay before Homer!), the application of Chinese medical theory to screenplay structure, and other innovative ways of looking at how films can be made. There’s a huge gap between this “fundamental” of how I teach, and the fundamentalism that stymies so many women’s lives in societies around the world today.
RL: DO YOU SEE A SHIFT IN NUMBERS FOR WOMEN INVOLVED IN FILM STUDIES?
AK: Unfortunately, if you look at the statistics of who reviews films in the major media, and who are the employed film critics today, women are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts. I’ve had some spectacularly insightful, hardworking students in film studies, such as Julia Wright, who’s written about Iranian women filmmakers and “Female Gaze.” She’s currently pursuing a doctorate in the UC system, and I just hope more jobs will open up for her and other talented female critics and reviewers: this is also important because women critics are more likely to “get” what some of us women filmmakers are doing in our films when we deal with women’s issues. Nothing against the wonderful, inspiring male feminist filmmakers like Kenji Mizoguchi, whose “Street of Shame” was a life-changing film for me, but we need more women involved in film studies who can make a living at it.
RL: WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
AK: Global connectedness has become my obsession, so much so that I have started another global documentary, this time about the world’s hunger crisis. Our Unit Producer in Bangladesh started us out last week with several hours of documenting people who are surviving in Dhaka on rice patties made of rice dust and water. And now my camera is loaded: I’m leaving for India in 45 minutes.
RL: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN IN THE FILM & ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
AK: If you love film with a great passion, develop a supportive network of friends and associates, because it’s such a difficult field and it can be very isolating. You need a childcare network in place if you want to balance working in this industry with raising a family. For more information, I’ve put together some suggestions for girls and women who want to work behind the camera on my website, www.womenbehindthecamera.com
, called “A Career Path for Women,” with a section of links that you may find useful. Good luck and keep me posted! I’ve gone to a lot of film festivals around the world this year, and I love to see beautiful, meaningful work!
Alexis is currently Professor at California State University, Northridge, where she teaches film production, film studies and screenwriting. She is the author of Women Behind the Camera (Praeger: Westport, Connecticut, 1997) [see:amazon.com].
Starting with the Globians Film Festival in Germany, this film has screened at festivals around the world, including Bangladesh, Mexico, Poland, Canada, Turkey and the U.S.
Women Behind the Camera has received three Best Documentary awards: the Spirit of Moondance Award for Best Documentary Feature ( Hollywood ), a Best Documentary Film award at the Female Eye Film Festival ( Toronto ), and a BEA Media Festival Award ( Las Vegas ).
Alexis has been honored to have received a Tribute Award at the San Francisco Women’s Film Festival for achievements in independent cinema.