It begins with a quote, white lettering on a black background. “It was only when I started seeing films directed by women that I felt I could dare to try to direct.” Those are the words of London-based filmmaker, Sarah Gavron, one of the four central female directors around which the documentary, Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct revolves. It sets the scene.
In director Cady McClain’s necessary documentary film (she also wrote and produced), audiences are invited to reflect upon something that perhaps they’d never before considered – the role of a female film director, its challenges, the prejudices, and the seemingly insurmountable hurdles women are often forced to confront. During one of the several enlightening person-on-the-street interviews the film presents throughout it’s 58 minutes, when asked if she could name any female film directors, a woman on camera gives thought, then responds, “No. I know they exist, but I can’t.” But she has her theories why that may be. “It’s because of a patriarchal structure in America and in Hollywood,” she tells the street interviewer, adding that it bothers her, “a great deal.”
Presented in chapters with titles such as Trailblazers, Courage and Mentorship, and using interviews, posters, pictures, clips from feature films, plus those person-on-the-street interviews, McClain’s thoroughly engaging documentary explores the results of that patriarchal structure. With contributions from several directors, both male and female, the film explores how prevalent its sexism is, how it affects the industry, plus the effect it has on those who, like Sarah Gavron, have succeeded in areas that earlier they might never have imagined possible.
In addition to the conversations with Gavron (whose 2015 historical drama, Suffragette starring Carey Mulligan is essential viewing; beg, borrow, or rent a copy) the film also focuses on three other female directors; Lesli Linka Glatter, whose career received a kickstart when Steven Spielberg picked her to direct one of his Amazing Stories for TV; Naima Ramos-Chapman, whose first short film, And Nothing Happened, premiered at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival; and award-winning film director Li Lu, who remarks under the Mentor section of the documentary that she would love to have a mentor, but admits that it’s hard, especially when someone you admire might perceive you as a person who could take their job.
The film also reveals the names of female directors of the silent era, now mostly forgotten but whose achievements deserve to be remembered. Alice Guy-Blache was the first female filmmaker in the world, a woman who over a ten-year period from 1896 to 1906 directed almost six hundred silent films. Lois Webber, a director who during her time was considered a major industry force alongside industry giants such as D.W.Griffith and Cecil B DeMille. And finally Dorothy Arzner, thought to be the only female director working in Hollywood during the thirties, and who worked in both the silent era and the talkies. Her career spanned from 1919 to 1943.
The point of looking back is not only to acknowledge female pioneers, but also to illustrate what little progress has developed throughout the long history of American cinema, despite the undisputed prolific achievements on record relating to the remarkable work of women directors.
Perhaps the most sobering comment in McClain’s documentary comes from director and writer Kimberly Peirce. Director of the features Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss, and the 2013 remake of Carrie. Pierece, who also serves on the board of the Directors Guild of America, puts things into perspective, stating that statistically in a world where women account for more than fifty percent of its population, only four percent work in features, while only seven percent work in television. As writer, producer, and director Robert Munic declares, negative attitudes to women in film from those who go out of their way to make it more difficult are hurting both the product and the process. “It’s inexcusable to me,” he states.
Cady McClain’s Seeing is Believing: Women Direct is a must-see documentary at the 2018 Sedona Film Festival, not only for students of film but for audiences in general. The film can be seen on Monday, February 26 at 1 pm, with a repeat performance on Thursday, March 1. It appears on a double-bill with the documentary Proof of Loyalty: Kazuo Yamane and the Nisei Soldiers of Hawaii.
For a direct link to the 2018 Sedona International Film Festival Schedule and to order tickets for a Seeing is Believing: Women Direct screening on a double bill with Proof of Loyalty: Kazuo Yamane and the Nisei Soldiers of Hawaii, CLICK HERE