Three different stories come from three women, but with the same ending. They begin with their coming to work in a field that see more men than women. And end with the same expression on the part of the people who are to give them work. The expression of doubt, the question of ‘Can a woman do it?’
Sreebala K. Menon had for months gone from one film set to another, trying to be an assistant director. They would direct her to acting or else to choreography, that’s where most women are but not to filmmaking.
There was a point when she felt like giving up. But after a few days of feeling bad, she’d be back. Years later she has directed her own film, a commercial one called Love 24x7.
To her dismay, she finds that even now, young women assistant directors go through the same struggle she did.
She shares the story in a small gathering at the Nirvana Lounge in Thiruvananthapuram. Four women technicians had come there to be part of an announcement of a film festival called Women Making Films. “I would have come, even if I was given a day’s notice. Because everywhere I work, it’s always men around me.”
“Here, at least we have four women to sit and talk about films,” Sreebala says. With her are veteran film editor Bina Paul Venugopal, cinematographer Oindrilla Hazra, and filmmaker Latha Kurien Rajeev. Behind them stand Aswani Dravid, Anjali Gopan, Shambhu Sajith and Adarsh Raj of the Mindscape Film Factory, organising the fest in Thiruvananthapuram. Aswani is curating the festival, coordinating with the brain behind it — Vaishnavi Sundar.
Vaishnavi is a filmmaker from Chennai. Nearly a month ago, she sat down in front of a computer, created a website and WMF had begun, just like that. “It is a culmination of a lot of things I had to experience as a female filmmaker. I believe the prejudice comes to women in every field. But I do not believe in armchair criticism. We have to create a channel to be self sufficient.”
She knew that WMF had to come free, for every woman coming to it. She knew festival directors who have featured her films. Through them she contacted women filmmakers from all over the world and made a list of 15 films to be screened in 15 days over multiple cities — beginning with Thiruvananthapuram from September 1. There have been people to help, Revathy Kalamandir sponsored the event and Nirvana Lounge allowed the space to announce the fest.
A discussion follows the announcement, and Bina Paul talks about the informal spaces that film discussions take place in, how these spaces are not accessible for women. There will be drinking and the men say, ‘so how can the woman come, so let’s not make her a part of the film’. The presence of more women in the industry brings a difference, she says, because it brings the ‘other voice’. Film editing, however, is one area that women do come to. As for cinematography, it’s not the same picture there. Oindrilla remembers one of her first assignments, taking the place of an injured cinematographer for a day. The woman filmmaker looked at young Oindrilla with a face full of doubts and asked ‘Who, you?’ She finished the work of eight hours in four but never went back to that woman again.
Even now, at a time technology is so easily accessible, the presence of women in films is meagre. “Two per cent even in the US,” Oindrilla says. For a woman to be on par with the men, she has to do three times better than the men. “The intent has to be there,” says Latha Kurien. “Social media has opened up, people are ready to crowd-fund, and the web is ready to embrace any form of creativity. We just need the will. And a good script.”