Students, Faculty offer alternative takes on cinema
Statistically, women and minorities make up a small percentage of the total number of directors behind Hollywood’s biggest films. Five percent of 2011’s highest grossing films were directed by women.
That number is down 7 percent from 2010 and 9 percent from 1998, according to the Celluloid Ceiling report, an annual study on women in film and TV by San Diego State University.
Susan Felleman, professor of art history and film and media studies at the University of South Carolina and a former SIU professor in cinema and photography, said the limited number of female and minority students makes a huge difference in the classroom and can affects the learning environment. She said because filmmaking is very collaborative, some students get discouraged when their voice or vision isn’t fairly represented. She said it’s difficult for filmmakers who don’t have someone to model themselves after and some get discouraged.
“People drop out,” she said. “I’ve seen several women students drop out. I’ve seen several minority students drop out too, it’s not fun being the other in that situation.”
Felleman said she and other professors in the cinema and photography department have tried to close that gap with Girls Make Movies, a one-week filmmaking summer camp for teenage girls housed on SIU’s campus. She said the camp has been successful in encouraging female filmmaking and has influenced past participants to attend the university.
Felleman said the gender gap in art can be traced back to the Renaissance. She attended graduate school with feminist art historian Linda Nochlin and credits her article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” as instructional in acknowledging the difference in gender and art and questioning why it exists.
Felleman said the contrast in the number of celebrated male and female artists has less to do with genius and talent but access, power and institution.
“That’s exactly how Hollywood works,” she said. “Except now it’s not a matter of an institution that keeps the doors shut on women but one that effectively perpetuates that kind of access and power issue.”
Felleman said she first gained a love and appreciation for film during her undergraduate studies at Cornell University. She said the cinema department was very small with one film studies professor and one film production professor, who was female. Felleman said the professor influenced in her desire to work in film after graduation.
However, she said she felt differently after attempting to work in the industry.
“It was horrible,” Felleman said. “People know how desperately people want to get their foot in the door so they take advantage of you and want you to work for nothing. You have to want it so badly that you would work some other job or live with your parent’s if you could. You have to do whatever it takes, and I didn’t feel that way about it. I wasn’t in that position.”
Tony Jou said he is. Jou, a senior in radio and television from Barlett, said although he was always interested in filmmaking, he didn’t initially see it as a career option.
“I grew up in a very traditional Asian-American family. My parents were like ‘Be a doctor, be a lawyer, be something really prestigious and high paying,’” he said. “At the time, my cousin was attending Miami University in Ohio. He was a straight-A student, valedictorian of his high school and then he dropped out of college and said he wanted to be a filmmaker.”
Jou said the decision took a lot of bravery and, after working with his cousin on small film projects, he too developed a passion for filmmaking. Jou said he was excited about college because of the opportunity to explore his interest. Despite his passion, he said he was apprehensive about his career choice in his first year and doubted if he had made the right decision.
“I would walk into a (Registered Student Organization) or walk onto a set, and I’m like one of five minorities out of hundreds of people,” Jou said. “There is a bit of pressure when you have something immediately different than everybody else.”
Carson Cates, a senior from Galatia studying cinema and photography, said programs such as Girls Make Movies are important to promote diversity in film. She said she likes to use film as a way to express her concerns with gender differneces.
“A lot of my narrative filmmaking is based on women’s issues and gender and how it plays a huge part in people’s lives,” She said.
She said her films and the subjects they address have been generally well received by staff, students and faculty. Her film “The Elephant,” which she said takes a different look at abortion, won last year’s Film Alternative’s script contest. Cates said people really enjoyed the film, aside from one person telling her he hated it.
Cates said after graduation she plans to pursue a career in independent filmmaking through grants and funding.
Felleman said it’s common for most women filmmakers to take the independent route when approaching filmmaking.
“If you look at independent and art films, there are more women who are considered great because money is not the measure of success,” she said. “Hollywood is a big business and money is the bottom line, and because the films do best at the box office tend to be these masculine, blockbuster type action-films, women tend to be considered less successful in Hollywood because they’re almost always both wanting to direct different kinds of films and assigned to direct different kinds of films.”
Jou said he’s optimistic about pursing a career. After completeing an internship at the American Film Institiute this summer, he was extended a position with the company after graduation. He said being a minority no longer deters him, and he believes that filmmakers share more similarities than differences.
“We all have something in common in that we all like to make and watch movies,” he said. “Skin color and different cultures weren’t really affected because we all have the same mindset that we’re all in one particular culture which is movie making.”