In the Fall of 2020, students of FILM 3313: Documentary, Animated, and Experimental Film at Dalhousie University were assigned to curate a program of films on a theme of their choice. Each program had to include at least one documentary, one animation, and one experimental film. The results were really exciting, so we’re sharing some of our programs with you. All of the films in this program are available online, so you can enjoy it fully.
Program Curated by NADIA ZEIN
When Women Become Directors: The 20th Century
According to Martha Lauzen’s The Celluloid Ceiling, movie directing has generally been a male-dominated industry. Even though history documents the work of very talented and unique female directors, it is still very common for the public to shift all the praise and admiration towards male directors, as the Oscar nomination for Best Director does. Despite the fact that two women have been nominated for Best Director in 2021, in the previous nine decades, only five women have previously been nominated, and only one woman has won this Oscar (Jones). The aim of this program is not to discredit the work of male directors, but to claim credit for the female directors who have created several historically important moments in the movie industry but were not credited nearly as much as they deserve.
Discontented by this gender inequality and prompted by a vision to showcase the historical contributions of female directors, I decided to look into the work of outstanding female directors from the first half of the 20th century. I choose this time period to emphasize the presence and significant contributions of female directors parallel to male directors since the early moments of film history. My program, “When Women Become Directors: the 20th Century,” showcases the work of three female directors who created masterpieces in the early 1940s. The three directors, Mary Ellen Bute, Maya Deren, and Ida Lupino, were multi-talented artists who made exquisite productions by combining the art of film directing with an additional talent in another art form.
Tarantella (Mary Ellen Bute, 1940) 5 minutes
We will start with Mary Ellen Bute’s best work, Tarantella (1940). Bute herself animated most of the imagery in this piece, creatively using jagged lines as means to capture the jarring musical choreography (Mortiz). She was a pioneer of “visual music” which is a type of animation that visually represents the different music notes and timbres. Between 1934 and 1959, Bute made 11 abstract movies and was one of the first people in the world to work on experimental film (Roe). Today, Bute is hardly known, and that is because her work is not easily available to the public, especially in good prints (Mortiz). Despite this, she remains one of the most important and original directors of abstract animation.
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943) 15 minutes
Next, we are going to take a look at Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren (1943). This is Deren’s first low, self-budgeted experimental film that included only two actors: Deren herself and her husband. It was also entirely made with money she made herself. In this film, Deren is trying to capture the feeling of a dream. Meshes of the Afternoon is a fascinating piece of experimental cinema and an incredibly complex dream sequence full of unusual images. Emanuel Levy phrases it nicely: “Deren (using Meshes) led the radical formalist movement as an oppositional force with a new set of economic and aesthetic standards that rebelled against a patriarchal society in which women were denied a voice.” Even though this movie was not made to be shown in conventional cinemas, it was shown in art festivals and still captures a lot of attention. Many other experimental films have adopted Deren’s techniques and imagery throughout the years. [Note: this link is to the original, silent version of the film.]
Ida Lupino: Through the Lens (Torrie Rosenzweig, 2013) 44 minutes
Lastly, we are going to watch the documentary about Ida Lupino. Lupino was a major female director from the classical era, a very powerful and fierce women who created exquisite art. This film shows us the context for this important director’s film work. This documentary narrates in detail her journey from when she started acting at the age of 13 until she died at 77, along with the challenges she faced as a worthy director because some felt intimidated by a woman leader. She made a number of movies distributed through the independent movie outlet and, for some time, was the only women in that union.
Jones, Isabel. “The History of Women Nominated for the Best Director Oscar,” InStyle, January 23, 2018, The History of Women Nominated for the Best Director Oscar | InStyle.
“Ida Lupino – Through The Lense – Documentary.” Youtube, uploaded by Shane91, 5 Oct. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RApabc49C0.
Lauzen, Martha. “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2017,” Women in TV Film, 2018, 2017_Celluloid_Ceiling_Report.pdf (sdsu.edu).
Levy, Emanuel. “Meshes of the Afternoon (1943): Maya Deren’s Experimental Film,” EmanuelLevy, May 1, 2006, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943): Maya Deren’s Experimental Film | Emanuel Levy.
“Mary Ellen Bute – Taranatella (1940).” Youtube, uploaded by Vanesa Pagani, 23 Jul. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihQurg4xGcI.
“Meshes of the Afternoon – Maya Deren (1943) An Original Score by Two Whole Quails.” Youtube, uploaded by Two Whole Quails, 18 Dec. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihQurg4xGcI
Mortiz, William. “Mary Ellen Bute: Seeing Sound,” Animation World Network, 1996, https://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.2/articles1.2/moritz1.2.html.
“Review,” TV Guide, 2020, https://www.tvguide.com/movies/meshes-of-the-afternoon/review/132181/.
Roe, Annabelle Honess. “10 Great Animated Films Directed by Women.” British Film Institute, 5 June 2018, https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-great-animated-films-directed-women#:~:text=%2010%20great%20animated%20films%20directed%20by%20women,female%20sexuality%20and%20identity.%20Asparagus%20is…%20More%20.