What a feminine presence means in film production 

Sara Brinkac (she/they) // Columns Editor
Eva Staub (she/her) // Illustrator
Approaches to art mediums, especially early in the development of the practice where material costs are high, are always affected by the interests, opinions and prejudices of those funding the project. In most art mediums, we have not witnessed this financial control in our lifetime, for example, the Church’s control over what painters could paint and the techniques they used for over one thousand years. When considering the history of film relative to other art forms, however, it is extremely early in its development. 

Since 1888, people in power, typically men with capitalist ideologies, have developed, crafted and controlled the means of film production. They took the invention of a new art form and developed it into a mass entertainment industry with a litany of practices, procedures and expectations on set. As with any niche system created in a high pressure situation—the film industry has produced many behavioral expectations and assumptions on how work should be performed as well as what subjects are worth sharing. 

“I feel like it comes with a capitalistic undertone,” says Kate Henderson, a second year CapU film student and director. “This is the structure, if you break the structure you break the system.” Henderson delved into a wonderful discussion on the barriers, expectations and practices of the film industry that can leave all marginalized people at times in a worn out, hopeless state. She shared all too familiar stories of people in leadership roles acting out macho attitudes of knowing it all, handling it all themselves and patronizing other team members. We agreed that this “set protocol that’s not necessarily spoken but enacted” can be easily traced back to the Hollywood system and continues to be an underlying tone or accepted attitude in film schools and on sets.

Malka Martz-Oberlander, another CapU film student in fourth year, shared similar sentiments, after witnessing many upsetting instances of misogynistic behaviour on set. “We have a dominating male presence at Cap[U] in the film faculty,” she stated while going deeper into how that male presence presents itself not only in action but in the system of grading and evaluation within the school. She shared an example of being described as “‘too pushy” saying the use of gendered language and difference in perception and treatment  based on her gender was not uncommon. “I ‘manhandle’ and I ‘micromanage,’” she said. 

Whereas her male classmate completing the same project was ‘really passionate,’ ‘really assertive’ and ‘really driven.’ With clarity, Martz-Oberlander made a poignant observation on a major cause of burnout amongst marginalized people, “Any kind of unheard voice in an industry, you have to be double as good. You can’t make a mistake.” This pressure of course can lead to an isolation and degradation in one’s worth if not connected to a greater system and community of understanding. 

“[But] we have a voice and you can use it,” Henderson chimed in, her optimism and self belief radiating. “It can just be as simple as you saying ‘I don’t think that’s fair.’” Henderson argued that by kicking and squirming, making it known that you don’t like something you can enact change and stay true to your values. After all, what is the pursuit of art if your values are abandoned? 

Martz-Oberlander, reflecting on her frustrations with sets that continued to carry the misogynistic/capitalist ideologies of old throughout them observed “It’s wrapped up in intention,” noting the importance for any director to seriously consider why everyone has come together to make create a project in the first place.

As film becomes more accessible it also becomes more open to influence from different perspectives, cultures and methods of creation. A feminine presence in film can mean a lot of change in things from subject, set protocol, to the overall emotional energy of the project. However, one thing remains certain, change is taking place. It may not be happening on a multi-billion dollar hollywood scale right now, but it is taking place at a grassroots level. People are using their voices, those voices are being heard and as we find our people we find the courage to go forth in an artform we love without the constriction of values that are not our own.

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