Directed by Women’s Barbara Ann O’Leary
1) You are one of the first women in recent history to champion women directors publicly. Can you tell me when you decided to begin Directed by Women and what was the spark that motivated you to begin this years-long cause?
The #DirectedbyWomen initiative actually grew out of a personal film viewing practice I had developed for myself. In 2013 I launched a yearlong process of watching an even number of films directed by women and men. I called it my Yearlong Film Viewing Balancing Act (YFVBA). To facilitate that process I started a list of women directors to aid me in identifying films to choose from as the year rolled along. Energy flows where attention goes… and so I found myself noticing more and more and more women directors. The list grew and grew. By the time my YFVBA wound down in the spring of 2014 I had become keenly aware that there was a major disconnect in the global conversation about women directors, between the commonly held view that there were very few women directors and my growing understanding that many women have directed work and that their work is undervalued, erased, or otherwise neglected. So on the one hand I was aware that no matter how rapidly I watched work by women directors I couldn’t possibly even watch a small fraction of their work, and on the other hand I often heard laments from film lovers about how they simply couldn’t find any films by women directors to watch.
That’s when the inspiration came to throw a #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party… where people all over the world could choose to dive in to a grassroots, D-I-Y celebration of women directors and their work as a way to weave together within the global film community a culture of appreciation for women directors’ creative contributions. I decided just to get started. I began sharing the invitation via social media and people responded. We held the first global party in September 2015. That party was a 15 day celebration with a wide range of activities from individuals watching films by women directors and tweeting out about it… all the way up to multi-day, multi-city festivals in countries around the world. It was so much fun, we decided to keep going and make it an annual event. We chose to spread out to claim all of September as #WomanDirectorAwarenessMonth.
2) Your organization creates “screening parties” and events to raise awareness of films directed by women. Can you share with me how these screening parties work? Are you a Not for Profit? Where can the public find out more about the events you put together? Can anyone put one together and tag #DirectedbyWomen or how does this work?
Actually #DirectedbyWomen isn’t an organization. It’s simply an initiative. It’s just me and whoever feels like engaging. So it is a movement of film lovers/makers/programmers/etc who feel inspired to create experiences. Anyone is welcome to put together events for the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party. These can take many forms. What’s crucial is that they highlight work by women directors, be celebratory in nature, and respect intellectual property rights. The events can be in person events or online activities. They can be large or small, public or private. I’m always delighted by the inventiveness of the people who choose to contribute to the global party. Past events have included screenings in pubs, on the outside wall of a motorcycle repair shop, in arthouse cinemas, in private homes, in classrooms, in libraries, in film festivals, and more. They’ve also included Twitter chats, live streaming events, and other events on the web and social media. The global party also includes events that are happening during the month whether they were created specifically for the Worldwide Film Viewing Party or now. It’s about celebrating as many activities anywhere during September that bring films directed by women forward.
Of course in addition to inviting the world to join the party to fall madly in love with films #DirectedbyWomen, I also try to organize a few events of my own during the September celebration. This year filmmaker Laura Ivins and I are curating an evening screening on September 27 that we’re calling A Global Cavalcade of Animated Shorts #DirectedbyWomen.
It’s not too late for filmmakers to send in their work: https://filmfreeway.com/GCASDbW
I’m also teaming up with my friends at Black Film Center/Archive for a screening and filmmaker visit on September 20. Whose work are we featuring? It’s a surprise! We’ll post more about this on the #DirectedbyWomen Global Calendar soon.
People find it fun to tweet out about what they’re watching using the #DirectedbyWomen hashtags. It helps us weave together our experiences. We can’t all be present for each other’s events, but we can delight in the richness of what’s unfolding. Visit the #DirectedbyWomen website for more information and to explore—and add to—the growing global calendar of events.
2017 was a breakthrough year for women in show business, but you have been watching the awareness of women directors rise and fall over many years. What do you think is going to keep the momentum?
Celebration. Community building that focuses on appreciation. Film loving. Noticing the work women are doing/have done. Looking with fresh eyes. Prioritizing watching work directed by women. I focus on women directors and their work as a way to help bring awareness of the extent to which women directors have been able to create work despite the obstacles. And because it is so exhilarating to experience and share about this work. There’s so much I can’t possibly begin to even touch on all of it. That’s something I think can really help transform the culture within the global film community: helping people release their misunderstandings about women directors and their work. I personally find that putting work #DirectedbyWomen in the center of my daily viewing practice has been deeply transformational for me. I invite others to give it a try. This is something that is available to anyone of any gender.
To facilitate the awareness building and the sense of appreciation I also devote time to engaging in conversation with women directors which I share in the #DirectedbyWomen Conversation series on the website.
I also make room for women directors to guest blog about their filmmaking processes in the #DirectedbyWomen Insights series.
I hope people will take time to read what these creative artists have to share. I find it inspiring. I look forward to hearing from women directors who would like to participate in these series.
4) It seems your main focus is film. However it is often pointed out to me the rising opportunities for women in episodic television, which is more and more filmic in style. Does Directed by Women also have a television focus or is it mainly film? If it is mainly film, can you tell us why you feel it is more of your focus?
#DirectedbyWomen is an initiative that celebrates motion picture work film, TV, webseries, video art, installation art, commercials, and more. I do often use the word film as a shorthand. I agree that there’s a lot of exciting TV work being done by women directors. I’ve been watching quite a bit of TV #DirectedbyWomen lately. Most recently I relished the opportunity to watch Agnieszka Holland’s 2013 miniseries Burning Bush. It’s just amazing.
#DirectedbyWomen is an ongoing celebration. Each and every day I watch 120 minutes or more of work by women directors. I include short films, TV episodes, webseries, trailers, feature films, etc. in the mix. I think of it as a way to deeply honor the creative energies of the women who have directed the work and their teams of actors and crew, etc. I share about what I’m watching on Twitter and I also share on the Patreon page for people who step up to provide backing for the project. Everyone’s invited to chip in $1 (or more) per month to help cover expenses, etc. On the first of every month I engage in a 12 hour FILM FEAST, during which I watch a wide variety of work by women directors and totally give myself over to the experience of appreciating the rich diversity of what women directors create.
I feel that film lovers are deprived of work by women directors… not only because women directors are systemically deprived of opportunities to create work, but because the work they DO create is marginalized, under distributed, inaccurately reviewed, etc. The result is that a vast number of film lovers are ignorant of the contributions women have made and are making to global cinema. We can change that. Every day I do what I can to awaken awareness of the abundance and the incredible richness of what women directors bring/have brought into being.
I mentioned earlier that I started a list of women directors for myself when I was engaged in my YFVBA. Well, since then I have built a database and continued to expand it. At the moment the database contains 12,412 women directors… and counting! It includes directors from around the world. The database is searchable and can also be filtered by country. It’s definitely a work in progress. Every day I learn about more women directors. Twice a month—on the Full and New Moons—I engage in 6 hour sprints where I add as much info as I can. I added 70 directors during the last New Moon sprint. I have a backlog of information to add and I’m always appreciative whenever people use the Google form to contribute information. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to redesign the website to enhance the presentation.
5) I love that you aim for international awareness. Can you tell me more about how you have been raising this awareness and what you feel your organization’s impact has been, worldwide?
I’m interested in authentic creative expression wherever in the world it arises. I chose to launch the first #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party in September 2015 as that was the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on Women that took place in Beijing. I was there organizing with women from around the world. At that time I was helping women activists enhance their capacities to communicate and move forward on their feminist organizing activities through my initiative at that time: Virtual Sisterhood. So #DirectedbyWomen is an outgrowth of work I’ve been doing for decades at a global level. To me that’s not even a question. We are a global community and there are no limits to what we can do together.
The question of impact is a challenge as I think we’ll have a clearer picture in the future when we look back at this time period. I tend to think in terms of what am I attending to at this moment.
Each day I ask myself, “What am I turning my attention to at this moment? Who am I connecting with? Whose work am I able to experience, share about, celebrate?”
There are so many things I could mention in terms of the worldwide nature of the project, but I want to give shoutouts to a few groups who have embraced #DirectedbyWomen and contributed in really beautiful ways to the Worldwide Film Viewing Party. Scalarama, which is a September celebration of cinema based in the UK, dove in to the #DirectedbyWomen party the first year and have been active every year since… weaving women directed content into their festivities, encouraging film lovers to program and experience work by exciting women directors. Through their programs I always learn about directors whose work is new to me. And of course they include work by some of cinema’s greatest filmmakers. This year they’re highlighting work by Agnès Varda among others. I love the work Scalarama is doing to weave community, to relish work by women directors, to help film lovers embrace cinema.
I also have been completely awed by the way women filmmakers in Spain took up my invitation to celebrate and have created their #DirectedbyWomenSpain multi-city, multi-day film festival each year. This year for the fourth edition of the celebration I’m delighted to have been invited to participate in their events in person. I can’t wait to meet them in person and be part of what they’ve created. What they’re making happen is truly AMAZING.
To me #DirectedbyWomen is about dreaming a new world into being… releasing ourselves from the past and moving into a new way of engaging that is celebratory, appreciative, expansive, creative, loving and fueled by a deep sense of community. #DirectedbyWomen as an initiative is about catalyzing and also being part of that global process as it unfolds. Each individual and group who feels sparked to action by our celebration is free to express themselves in their own unique ways. It’s so exciting to be part of.
6) What is your personal goal for Directed By Women and what would you like to see happen in the next five years?
That’s a big question. What I know for sure is that every single day I wake up clear that I feel called to bring my loving attention to work by women directors and to share about what I’m noticing in ways that will inspire others to notice and relish this work. How that will unfold I don’t know. When I first did some deep dreaming on the #DirectedbyWomen vision I saw the world illuminated by work by women directors. It was as though I were outside the planet and could see the light from projectors and TV screens and handheld devices, etc. all shining their light and bathing the planet in their imagery. I saw this as having a deeply transformative impact. In this vision the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party was about supersaturating the planet with the powerful creative outpouring of women directed motion picture content.
And when I had that vision I was aware that this was work I’d engage in actively for the next 15 years or more… so there’s clearly more to do… as I’m 5 years into that process so far.
What’s clear to me is that we can transform the world through the power of perception. Where we put our attention and the quality of that attention has enormous power. I choose to put my loving, appreciative, and enthusiastic attention on discovering, experiencing, sharing about and celebrating work #DirectedbyWomen and I invite others to join me. That’s an open invitation. I don’t know what’s right for anyone but myself, but I extend the invitation far and wide for everyone who feels inspired to join me in this joyous, transformative celebration… for the benefit of All That Is.
7) Do you have a list of films you recommend for women to watch? If so, where can people find that on your website?
In general I don’t recommend because we are all unique and our tastes and film viewing needs are different, but for someone just looking for a few ideas here’s a blog post I put together earlier this year:
I hope people will visit the #DirectedbyWomen website to read the conversation and insights series, explore the Global Directory and explore the Film Viewing Possibilities, etc.