With a run-time of 14 hours, this is a documentary to own so that you can dip in and out when you have the time. I was expecting a chronological exploration of female directors but this is something much more universal. Breaking the art of film-making down into 41 chapters, each technique and approach is illustrated only by clips from films made by women.
It’s a revision of the boys club feel of film-making, where the only auteurs revered by goateed cinephiles, high on the sound of their own voices, are male. And this is a treasure trove of films that you’ve probably never heard of from women across the world.
Structured as a road movie, so the changing narrator seems to be driving through multiple landscapes, each chapter takes on a different technique. We start with opening scenes and go on to character, framing, tone, believability, meetings, conversations, camera movement and so many more. The narrator for the first 4 hours is the mellifluous Tilda Swinton, and she is followed by a gamut of well-known and lesser-known actors; Adjoa Andoh, Jane Fonda, Sharmila Tagore, Kerry Fox, Thandie Newton and Debra Winger.
I had to keep pausing the film so that I could make note of film after film to watch. Happily, director Mark Cousins has a list of each film, grouped by chapter, on the film’s website: Discover the Films. And here are the ones you can watch on Mubi: Women Make Film on Mubi. Cousins highlights the women who were doing more interesting and innovative film making than the men who are now famous for it and you get a sense that there was a more even playing field back at the start of cinema.
I found myself so affected by what I had learned that for every film watched after that, I could not help but notice great techniques – Exile (2020) uses point of view and framing really well to create an understanding of the protagonist’s isolation. I’m looking forward to watching the whole 14 hours – I sacrificed the last nine in order to fit more MIFF films in.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.