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A look back at my #52FilmsByWomen challenge

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Back in January, I decided to try the #52FilmsByWomen challenge because I realised that a huge majority of films I was watching were made by men and, since delving into the world of scriptwriting myself, I was becoming keenly aware of just how few films I was seeing from women. That I was writing screenplays also made me choose to expand the challenge to female writers, as well as directors.

Looking back over the final list, now that 2017 draws to a close, there’s a real variety in where these films came from: some were DVDs, others Netflix discoveries, film festival finds, cinema releases and Twitter recommendations.

It should be noted that, ultimately, I went for ones I could easily access, either through what was streaming or showing on the big and small screen, or what film screenings I was being sent from PR companies.

Here’s the list in its entirety:

  1. In a World
  2. Point Break
  3. Juno
  4. The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  5. Clueless
  6. Punisher War Zone
  7. The Intervention
  8. The Prince and me
  9. Bewitched
  10. Tank Girl
  11. Sense and Sensibility
  12. 13th
  13. Hidden Figures
  14. Viceroy’s House
  15. Annie
  16. American Splendor
  17. 9 to 5
  18. Love & Basketball
  19. Beyond the Lights
  20. Nanny McPhee
  21. Certain Women
  22. Desperately Seeking Susan
  23. The Virgin Suicides
  24. Dirty Dancing
  25. Look Who’s Talking
  26. Look Who’s Talking Too
  27. Sleepless in Seattle
  28. Miss you already
  29. Catch and Release
  30. The Zookeeper’s Wife
  31. Destination Unknown
  32. Chappie
  33. 28 Days
  34. Deep Impact
  35. Say When (Laggies)
  36. The Intern
  37. Churchill
  38. Prevenge
  39. Wonder Woman
  40. What happened, Miss Simone?
  41. Room
  42. Bridesmaids
  43. The Big Sick
  44. Toast
  45. Take this Waltz
  46. Maudie
  47. The Beguiled
  48. What Happened to Monday
  49. Logan Lucky
  50. Corrina, Corrina
  51. Mrs Doubtfire
  52. Let Me Go
  53. Beauty and the Dogs
  54. Let the Corpses Tan
  55. Bobbi Jene
  56. Loving Vincent
  57. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
  58. Ava
  59. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
  60. Battle of the Sexes
  61. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
  62. The Shape of Water
  63. You Were Never Really Here
  64. Step Up 4: Miami Heat
  65. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
  66. Mudbound
  67. Prince of Nothingwood
  68. The Greatest Showman
  69. Carrie Pilby
  70. The Lifeguard

 

Some stats on that lot

Out of a total of 70 films, 20 had a co-credit to their names (sometimes for either writing or directing, sometimes for both). While 55 of the 70 films were written by women and 51 were directed by women, 26 were written and directed by the same woman. 17 films on the list were rewatches and a huge 53 were first-timers (not all new films, just first-time viewings for yours truly). 11 films were from festival viewings. 14 were what I would consider an ‘action’ film, 5 were documentaries and 2 were musicals! 22 of the films on the list were found on Netflix UK.

Overall, I tried to keep the films varied – switching between drama, romance, action, silly, serious, etc. etc.. However, one of the most shocking parts was just how few of the films were from non-white women. I knew there were more from white women but I hadn’t realised just how many more. Possibly because the ones I saw from non-white women made such an impact (I’m still thinking about 13th!) or possibly because I still have a way to go dealing with my own unconscious bias.

In the end, 60 of the 70 films were made by white women: a whopping 86% of the final tally.

The in-person highlights

Seeing director Aisling Walsh at a Q&A at the Phoenix cinema, East Finchley, discussing Maudie. Francesco also spoke to her about the film.

Attending the London Film Festival premiere of Battle of the Sexes and seeing the marvellous Elisabeth Shue, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone and Billie Jean King, along with co-director Valerie Faris.

The great discoveries

Gina Prince-Bythewood is the big discovery for me this year. Before 2017 I was totally unfamiliar with both the writer/director herself and her body of work. Then a chance tweet informed me that the PCC in London were screening a double bill of two of her films – Love & Basketball and Beyond the Lights – and by the end of that night I was hooked.

Dee Rees brought the harrowing and impressive Mudbound to festivals and to Netflix this year. It’s incredibly bold storytelling that shocked me to my core and I cannot wait to see what Rees brings us next.

Sonia Kronlund directed the Afghanistan-based documentary, The Prince of Nothingwood. The film followed a man who manages to pull together some cult films using whatever equipment he can find. He ropes in friends and fans and has a huge fanbase for the stories he ends up with. The film, though, was set in a war-torn country led by men so for this woman to take on this story was easily one of the most kickass things I’ve seen all year.

Angela Robinson wrote and directed one of (in my humble opinion) the most underrated stories of 2017: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. It was a sensual and smart film based on the true story of the man who created the Wonder Woman comics, his wife and their mistress. The three people in their marriage found a way to be happy that worked for them all but as society wouldn’t accept them, they had to keep their lives hidden.

Niki Caro directed another marvellous film from 2017 that came and went with something of a whimper: The Zookeeper’s Wife. Again based on a true story, this tale was a harrowing look at a couple caught in the middle of World War II who hid Jews in their zoo in order to help them avoid capture. Caro is set to direct the new live-action Mulan and I am so excited to see what she does with it! I also need to finally get around to watching Whale Rider. I know, disgraceful.

 

The revisits

Amy Heckerling, how I love thee. You brought us Clueless, Look Who’s Talking 1 and Too. You brought humour and charm and so much joy. I’ll take any excuse to rewatch your many treasures.

Point Break remains one of my favourite films of all time. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze and Lori Petty take to the waves. Watching it with director Kathryn Bigelow in mind for this year’s challenge, however, made me really see all the masterful touches this incredibly talented filmmaker brought to the film. It’s stunning to watch. (And not just for Keanu and Patrick.)

The Virgin Suicides is another film I always loved but only this year started to fully appreciate. Sofia Coppola managed to find something magical in a dark story of repression that could otherwise have just been utterly miserable.

 

The thinkers

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the biggest thinkers tended to be documentaries. With 13th and The Prince of Nothingwood, there was so much to think about. But the other films brought it too, especially with Mudbound, Beauty and the Dogs and Hidden Figures, which all stayed with me a long time after viewing.  Mudbound and Beauty and the Dogs were both difficult, harrowing watches.

Hidden Figures, on the other hand, left me wondering just how many stories I’ve never heard of because somebody out there deemed them unworthy of sharing.

 

The awards

The if-a-man-had-made-this-it-would-have-been-a-very-different-film award: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which could so easily have been trashy and kinky but somehow managed to be beautiful and sweet (and pretty kinky!).

The why-did-nobody-tell-me-this-was-funny award: The Beguiled, which I found so surprisingly (darkly) comic that I started to doubt my own sanity when I realised I was the only one laughing. (Just me?)

The WOW award: Loving Vincent, a film that had me awestruck for the entire duration of the film. The dedication and care that went into this project is something else. Unreal. And yet so very, very real. Amazing!

The I’m-SO-glad-she’s-back award: Lynne Ramsay, who returned with her visceral, violent tale You Were Never Really Here. It’s relentless and captivating from start to finish.

The superheroine award: Patty Jenkins, for Wonder Woman. Obviously.

The it-needs-a-release award: Beauty and the Dogs. I saw this film at London Film Festival and knew immediately that the odds of it getting a release here in the UK were slim to none. But it’s easily one of the most impressive films I saw all year (by any director/writer!). It’s ambitious, harrowing, tense and the long-takes are jaw-dropping in their skill and finesse.

The cream of the crop

Here are the 5* films from this year’s list:

  • Point Break (1991)
  • Juno
  • Clueless
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • 13th
  • The Virgin Suicides
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • What happened, Miss Simone?
  • Room
  • Bridesmaids
  • Corrina, Corrina
  • Mrs Doubtfire
  • Beauty and the Dogs
  • Loving Vincent
  • The Shape of Water
  • Mudbound

 

In conclusion

So that’s everything I’ve seen. Looking forward to next year, here are just a few of the films coming out in 2018 written and/directed by women:

  • Ocean’s 8 (co-written by Olivia Milch)
  • A Wrinkle in Time (directed by Ava DuVernay, written by Jennifer Lee)
  • Where Hands Touch (written and directed by Amma Asante)
  • The Shape of Water (co-written by Vanessa Taylor)
  • Lady Bird (written and directed by Greta Gerwig)
  • You Were Never Really Here (written and directed by Lynne Ramsay)

The challenge might be over but the way I see films has certainly shifted. It’s time to stop only seeing what everyone else is talking about. It’s time to seek out the hidden gems and actually start kicking off the discussion!

Happy watching, film fans!

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