At the Tribeca Film Festival this year, female directors made up about one third of the program and took the fest’s top three awards. Debut features included The Boy Downstairs, a rom-com by Stophie Brooks starring Zosia Mamet of Girls, and My Art, a meta drama by Laurie Simmons, featuring a brief appearance by the artist’s daughter, Lena Dunham.
We’ll get back to Dunham in a bit, since she and her business partner Jenni Konner also participated in a Tribeca Talk that touched on women in the industry. But first, you can rest assured there were plenty of female-directed films that had nothing to do with Girls. One of them was Keep the Change, a New York-set rom com about autistic lovers. That film, which took the award for best narrative feature, was made by Rachel Israel, who was named best new narrative director. It was produced by Tangerine Entertainment, a company with a self-described “clear and specific agenda” of increasing the representation of women in film.
On Sunday at the Montclair Film Festival, Anne Hubbell, co-founder of Tangerine, shared some thoughts about the state of women in cinema. She appeared at Bellevue Cinema in Montclair, New Jersey, after a screening of Paint It Black, the debut feature from actress and poet Amber Tamblyn. The lush, moody drama stars indie icon Alia Shawkat as a punk rocker contending with the death of a boyfriend along with his grieving, vindictive mother.
Hubbell noted that the percentage of women filmmakers in Hollywood hasn’t changed much (in 2016, women directed just 7 percent of the 250 top-grossing Hollywood films, a study found.) “But in terms of what’s being recognized and awards-wise, I think that that has changed.”
There’s some indication that this is true. Among those in the running for Tribeca’s “AT&T Presents: Untold Stories” competition, which awarded $1 million to the winning filmmaker, was Lissette Feliciano, a member of the Alliance of Women Directors. In Greenpoint, Kickstarter just announced a creators-in-residence program, the first three recipients of which were women filmmakers.
To help achieve parity in representation, Hubbell’s company is working on an app that she described as a “feminist Fandango.” Tangie will let you find movies made by female filmmakers on their opening day, as well as women-made movies that are streaming on services like Netflix.
The app should be out later this year. In the meantime, Hubbell encouraged audience members to see Wonder Woman on its opening weekend, when box office numbers count the most, and cited the film’s director, Patty Jenkins, as evidence that even acclaimed women directors face challenges in Hollywood. “This is the next movie after Monster that she did,” Hubbell said. “So that’s been 12 or 13 years— you would never say that about a male director that had a movie that won an Academy Award for its lead actor.”
Hubbell said that women find it more difficult to break through in Hollywood, which is part of the reason Tangerine accepts unsolicited scripts. “Hollywood tends to take risks on male directors who make lower budget movies and move them up, and it’s much harder for women,” she said.
At their Tribeca Talk last week, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner were unapologetic about working largely with women. “All the top people at our show are female except for Judd [Apatow],” Konner noted. “Both of our companies are totally female, and I think there’s just a different energy that comes out of that.” For instance, women tend to be more sensitive to interpersonal relationships when they hire crew members, Konner said.
Dunham recalled that even as a child, she was more interested in reading books by women and watching films starring them. “Still, to me, creative validation from other women is, like, everything,” she said, while acknowledging that she also works with talented men. “Those are the stories I want to tell and the stories I want to hear and people that I want to tell stories with.”
Next month, Dunham will embark on a tour featuring female writers, musicians, and comedians such as SNL’s Sasheer Zapata. Konner noted that “we’re in a position of power now—not tremendous power, but we have our newsletter, Lenny Letter, and we can use that entirely to push the ball forward for women.”
America Ferrera, the talk’s moderator, brought up the fear that labeling something “by women, for women” could “isolate too many men,” but Dunham was dismissive of the idea: “Women, for so, so, so long, have had to fight so hard for their opportunities that it’s like, this is our moment to seize and this is our moment to give to each other what we’ve always deserved.”
Dunham brought up Feud, the television series about the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. “Those days are over and we can work together and join hands, and there’s strength in numbers rather than the threat of losing an opportunity to a woman who’s younger or thinner or whatever,” Dunham said. “It’s our moment to reach out to each other, and I think it should be perfectly acceptable to say, ‘I feel safe, happy, and excited surrounded by a crew of women,’ which is something that I would never have had the opportunity to have even 10 years ago.”
With that, the audience at Spring Studios—made up almost entirely of women—burst into applause.