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Sundance London 2018 Review: Half The Picture

The debut documentary film by Director Amy Adrion looks at the film industry through the underrepresented female lens. Half The Picture uses the current US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into Hollywood hiring practice as a framework. Spoiler alert that we all saw coming, the EEOC found that all major studios are failing to appoint women directors

The film is mostly talking heads and archive doc that lets the subjects speak for themselves, with Adrion frequently in the picture. There is plenty to say, but most importantly – lots of women to say it. They’re just rarely seen, and that’s the problem.

Adrion talks to several Film and TV directors, including Sam Taylor-Johnson, Ava Duvernay, Miranda July, Jennifer Phang, Catherine Hardwicke, Tina Mabry, Lena Dunham, Mary Harron, Patricia Cardoso, Brenda Chapman, Karyn Kusama, Martha Coolidge and Gina Prince-Blythewood who all share candid stories about their filmmaking careers.

There are the common experiences of overt misogyny including barriers to finance and sexual harassment (Harvey Weinstein is never mentioned, but one particular encounter alludes to a producer asking a newly hired director when she was going to take her clothes off. She zinged him back, and it ended there, but the clang of #MeToo hangs over the story.) and the microaggressions of being publicly undermined by male crew members on set.

But the film is as much about celebrating the women that are making movies and TV shows, and (mostly) still love what they do. The line-up of talented directors includes blockbuster directors, action directors, sci-fi directors and animators. Just like you might see in a line-up of male directors, imagine that?

It’s also a reminder, as if one were needed, that great things happen when women have each other’s backs.

Communications professor Stacy L. Smith, who came up with the inclusion rider, talks about how films with female directors tend to have better representation both on screen and in the crew. And in some shots, we see that Adrion’s film crew are mostly female too.

While some keep going, despite the struggles, others question whether it’s all worth it.  Like Mexican director Patricia Riggen (The 33, Girl in Progress, Miracles From Heaven) who points to the intersectional prejudices faced by non-white women in film.

Then there’s the film’s most ‘zero f***ks’ interviewee, Penelope Spheeris, who started as a punk filmmaker and ended up directing Wayne’s World and The Beverly Hillbillies then quit films altogether. Now she prefers building houses instead so she “still gets to order men around and gets a finished product afterwards that no one is“dicking around with.” It’s funny and sad at the same time. Sure, she jumped, but after way too much pushing.

There are also contributors from the other corners of the film community like Vanity Fair writer Rebecca Keegan (the film also notes that 73% of film critics are men too).

One frustrating aspect of a film like this is it may just reach an audience who are already on board with the conversation. The film is not intentionally an ‘echo chamber’ piece, and it isn’t didactic but will it reach the pale and male decision-makers currently in charge of hiring directors? The jury’s out.

But to those who are sick of the conversation, and want to see action: there are also references to the academic and legal lobbying for change. The stats are all out there and have been for some time, but if stats don’t stick with you, hopefully, the personal stories will.

In the meantime, if you take one positive from all of this let it be this: if you’re a woman wanting to direct, do it any way you can.

Half the picture is at Sundance London on Friday 1st June and Saturday 2nd June. Check the website for screening updates.

Check out our Sundance London coverage

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