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IDFA 2014: Do women look at the world differently? 9 sides of a documentary puzzle

Film-making used to be a man's business. Men made films about men watching women - something like that. In 1975, film scholar Laura Mulvey launched the famous notion of 'The Male Gaze'. Last year, it resurfaced in the heated debate surrounding La vie d'Adèle, that wonderful film by Abdellatif Kechiche (male) about a lesbian love affair. So how about before?

IDFA has this year's counterpart, the Female Gaze, made the main theme. In other words, do women look at the world differently? Do they make different documentaries than men? Fifteen women documentary directors put together a film programme. On Saturday, I attended an afternoon of speakers and debate on the theme. Here nine notes.

1. Does this Female Gaze even exist?

Doubt prevails. Leading documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto (Divorce Iranian Style), who specialises in women's stories, once saw the passionate Swedish teen film Fucking Åmål. She was convinced that a woman must have made it. But Lukas Moodysson is a man. A style of documentary making with keywords like open-minded, observant, empathetic etc could possibly be called female. But many men make such films too.

2. Jane Campion

Side note. On this subject, I am always reminded of the roundtable discussion in Berlin with Jane Campion and her co-screenwriter Gerard Lee about the miniseries Top of the Lake. They agreed that Jane wrote the best male roles, and Gerard the best female characters.

3. Confidence

Back to Kim Longinotto. Sometimes a female filmmaker gets in somewhere more easily than a man. Longinotto once filmed in southern India in a village in women's homes - where a man might probably not have had access. Barbara Kopple suspects that in making Harlan County U.S.A., she won the trust of the striking miners more quickly as a woman.

4. More concrete key questions

That female gaze may be rather elusive, but other aspects are more concrete. How strongly are women represented in the film industry? How often are women's stories featured in documentaries? How is access to funding?

5. Statistics

IDFA has adapted its own programming of the past decade to comprehensive statistical survey subdued. Of the films submitted to the festival, just over a third had been made by a woman. This is almost equal to the female share in the final programming. That ratio of 1 woman to 2 men has remained remarkably stable over the past decade. This as far as documentaries are concerned. In the US feature film industry, the ratio is much more skewed. Of the directors of Hollywood's top 250 in 2013, only 6% were women.

6. Netherlands

The Netherlands does not come off so badly at all. In the Dutch documentary competition at IDFA, 52% of the makers are women. In the Kids & Docs section it is even 69%. There, the 'male gaze' may well come to the fore a bit more, as one festival representative noted.

7. Equalise?

Should IDFA enforce a 50-50 split in programming? That is going too far for many. Important though: ensure equal distribution among programmers, juries etc. It turns out that male juries do choose a male winner slightly more often than a jury with a majority of women. Someone also notes that it is not just about the male-female ratio. The diversity of perspectives should simply be as broad as possible. Consider cultural backgrounds too, for example.

8. Money

Why is the proportion of women among documentary filmmakers relatively high? Because those films are cheaper. The more expensive the production, the more often a man is at the helm. Could it be that when it comes to bringing in funds, women are less inclined to speak highly of their production? Kim Longinotto once gave the honest answer that she did not yet know whether her film was going to be fantastic, which earned her furious looks from the producer. The Swedish film fund deliberately distributes money equally between male and female creators. In the Netherlands, this is not an official policy, but it is monitored, according to an employee.

9. But, can it be seen now?

Finnish filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo (The 3 Rooms of Melancholia) was recently a juror at a festival. Before the credits came on screen, she tried to guess whether the maker was a man or a woman. She got everything right.

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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