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Film

‘Online Heroines’ Takes a Look at Sexism in the New Zealand Film Industry From the Inside

We spoke to the young documentary maker drawing attention to gender inequality in the film industry, by making a film about it.

by Sasha Borissenko
24 November 2016, 7:56pm

All images supplied.

Last year, only nine percent of the top 250 grossing films were directed by women. The stats are so bad that in 2015 American Civil Rights Union took on Hollywood over claims of "rampant discrimination". With directors like Jane Campion, Niki Caro, and Gaylene Preston, we like to think that New Zealand isn't doing so bad comparatively.

But even so, Kiwi men are still much more likely to be in the director's chair than women. Louise Hutt, a 23-year-old filmmaker from Hamilton, set out to talk to women about what it's really like working in the New Zealand film industry for her Masters in film. Her thesis turned into Online Heroines, a nine-part documentary series launching tomorrow that explores the experiences women have and how they are increasingly turning online to create the content they want to make. In publishing the study as part of a web series, Louise hopes to inspire young women heading into the industry, as well as stirring the conversation for those who have the power to create change.

VICE sat down to chat with Louise about sexism, the mythical nature of wanting to be a director, and being called a bitch.

Creative team The Candle Wasters in a still from 'Online Heroines'.

VICE: Hi Louise, your research looks at sexism in the film industry, what's with that?
Louise: Alice Guy-Blaché was one of the first narrative directors in the world and despite directing more than 300 films, she was only mentioned in two two vague references in the Oxford History of World Cinema. Just look at the New Zealand International Film Festival. In 2014 there were five New Zealand narrative features; not one was written or directed by a woman and only one had a woman protagonist.

I think the stigma stems from a belief that women can't carry the camera gear or something. I worked at a factory for a summer carrying 25kg bags of milk powder for 12-hour shifts. I'm 5 foot 2 and people are like, "Can you lift this?" I'm like, are you kidding me?

At university I'd never studied women films, or had women lecturers. There's a very male-dominated focus. With the majority of the class being male, and it's a male-dominated industry, it's really hard to compete with other male students who feel very confident in their place in the classroom.

What about being perceived to be too close to the work?
I haven't had criticism around objectivity, but it's obviously a subject that I am extremely passionate about. Which is both a positive and negative; it allows me to look after my participants because I am in their situation, I can empathise with their concerns and make sure my research isn't endangering them, but it does also mean, when I've had participants pull out due to the fear of speaking out, it's upsetting because there's that possibility for me too, that I'll be facing consequences for this project.

Have you been pigeon-holed as a "scary feminist"?
I'm pretty outspoken about my beliefs, but I don't know if it's affected me negatively, yet.

You say "outspoken" like it's a bad thing? Nicki Minaj's "If I'm assertive and I'm a man I'm a boss, but if I'm assertive and I'm a woman, I'm a bitch" comes to mind.
Totally. One of the directors I spoke to said she thought she provided an inclusive environment to work in yet one of her male crew members said she was a dictator and controlling. She was like, "Am I though? I'm a director—I'm supposed to be controlling the show."

I'm definitely treated like I'm a unicorn for wanting to be a director. Like I'm some mythical creature. That's been interesting in discussions with participants because a lot of the producers I talk to have discussed that their roles are often seen as including feminine traits—be it organising, making sure things run on time, being the mum on set if you will. The gender split among producers is pretty even actually. Directors (who are seldom women) are seen as having more masculine traits—whether it's being bossy, demanding, or having a creative vision. Why can't I be like that?

What about Jane Campion?

We've got one, white female director, but can you name any others?

Ah...no.
Just because there's one doesn't mean we've gotten to where we need to. My grandma says, "Are you wanting to be the next Peter Jackson?" Fuck no. I mean I wouldn't say fuck to my grandma. If I look at traditional filmmaking, take the Oscars, for example: they're notoriously biased. Traditional avenues don't mean anything to me because they don't value women's work. New digital platforms are providing new opportunities, but they're also creating an interesting divide between digital natives and older established people in the industry who aren't necessarily willing to adopt these changes.

Why do you think social media is being increasingly utilised among marginalised communities?
There are few gender barriers with Vimeo and Youtube. You're able to show and present what you're capable of. It's interesting talking to all of these women—their definition of success is not about making money or being famous, it's about having an effect on their audience or creating an audience. There's a social element to it.

So where to from here?
It's been an interesting process seeing as I didn't know anyone in the industry prior but now I've got some amazing contacts who've said they'd love to help me. It's amazing to see that when you put your hand up, people can be really receptive, despite living in a bubble that made me feel otherwise. For now though, I've got to concentrate on paying off my NZD$50,000 student loan.

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