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“As a woman you are trusted to tell an emotional story, because ‘you like people’, while men get the latest Spider-Man. I should be able to make a film about whatever I want.” Alice Lowe in The Independent 18 January 2017
"Being the first African American woman director ever nominated [for an Academy Award] in a [Best Documentary] feature category is really abhorrent. . . . The fact that we're in 2017 and that's the case reflects poorly on our industry, an industry that prides itself on forward thinking and being a leader in creativity around the world. We are not when it comes to being inclusive." Ava DuVernay to Elle.com at the 2017 Women in Film pre-Oscar party
Although films by Jane Campion, Ava DuVernay, Lucrecia Martel, Agnes Varda, and other female directors have appeared on critics’ best-of-year lists and garnered award nominations and wins, women filmmakers represent a minority in their industry. In the United States, only eleven percent of the 250 top-grossing films of 2017 were directed by women, and only one percent of these films employed ten or more women in prominent positions behind the scenes. Of 109 feature-length films released between September 2014 and August 2015, only two were made by women of color. Such statistics confirm the inequality DuVernay and Lowe have encountered. But what effects does the paucity of women behind the camera have and what might their presence bring? How does the filmmaker's identity matter? To investigate these questions, we will examine the work of female directors from around the globe, beginning with silent-era director Alice Guy Blachè and concluding with films from the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival. The first seven weeks of the course will take place on campus; the final three weeks will blend online and face-to-face instruction to accommodate SIFF screening times.
A study of women directors’ work not only allows us to analyze cinematic narrative and style, but also provides a unique perspective on film history. Furthermore, course films raise questions about the relationship between an individual filmmaker’s work and concurrent cinematic movements, film scholarship, and cultural contexts. Throughout the term, we will focus on the following questions:
- What distinguishes the work of women directors?
- How does an investigation of women directors change our conception of film history, genre, national cinemas or film movements?
- How does feminist film criticism help us to interpret films made by women? What challenge do particular directors pose to critics?
- How do historical, cultural, and industrial factors shape the work of women directors?
- How do films made by women engage local ideologies of gender, race, class, and sexuality?
Course films highlight how female directors work within and against genre conventions; examine cinematic gaze and the female body; explore intersectional identities; and critically interrogate motherhood, marriage, and romance. Please note that selected course films depict painful subjects, including rape, sexual coercion, domestic violence, racism, homophobia, and death. Students need not ask permission to briefly leave class if necessary.
English 368 fulfills the University’s VLPA requirement and counts toward the English and Cinema Studies major elective requirements.
Course Goals and Methodology
Students in the course work toward several goals: learning how to read film formally, contextually and
theoretically and developing as critical thinkers and writers. By the end of the course, students should
be able to:
1. Identify films’ narrative, visual, and sound techniques, using vocabulary specific to cinema studies.
2. Analyze how women filmmakers use artistic strategies to achieve a range of effects.
3. Evaluate how films made by women respond to and shape existing cultural contexts and cinematic conventions.
4. Develop complex written arguments and support those arguments with sufficient and appropriate evidence.
5. Engage the work of film scholars, critically responding to their ideas in discussion and writing.
Course activities promote active learning, with most class sessions including a mix of mini-lectures, discussion, and individual or group work. My role is to provide the tools and resources you need to advance your own thinking and writing. I will pose questions, design activities to help you think through these questions, and respond to your ideas. Your role is to do the hard work—the critical reading, discussion, and writing. You will analyze films, generate ideas in electronic and face-to-face discussions, analyze film clips, and construct written arguments.
- Clips and Screenshots
- Student Survey
- Links to Additional Resources
- Student and Instructor Presentations
Meeting Times and Locations
Instructor Contact Information and Office Hours