Joyce at 34 (1972) Directed by Joyce Chopra and Claudia Weill
A friend recommended this documentary to me after I wrote about Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends in my monthly newsletter. Joyce at 34 is a short film, a little over a half-hour, about director Joyce Chopra’s transition to new motherhood as she tries to balance her professional and home life. She began filming when she was eight months pregnant at the suggestion of a friend, who said she was in a unique position to make a documentary about her life. Chopra at first thought the movie would be about her mother, and how her relationship with her mother might change after having a baby, but the documentary turned into an inter-generational story about how difficult it is for women to balance work and childcare. Chopra is about the same age as my parents, and her struggle to continue working after having a baby is all too familiar to women in my late Gen X/early millennial cohort. Even as Chopra is shown to have a supportive partner with a flexible work schedule, the burden of childcare falls on her and her mother. I left this movie feeling as if nothing has really changed for women, and nothing will until there is some kind of universal childcare in place, although this isn’t something that anyone in the documentary suggests. It’s not prescriptive or overtly political in its tone. Instead, its power comes in its straightforward depiction of a woman who continues to work after having a baby.
Originally slated for SXSW, the New York Times is now streaming Hysterical Girl, a documentary short about Freud’s classic case study, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Writer and director Kate Novack argues that instead of being a case study of sexual repression, Freud’s Dora is actually a classic example of how men ignore, misinterpret, and cover up reports of abuse from girls and women.
I just watched it and was impressed by how many ideas it crammed into 13 minutes. The movie is anchored by a dramatic monologue that uses Freud’s own notes to give voice to Dora’s side of the story. The monologue is illustrated by a rapid collage of hand-drawn animations, images and clips from classic films and TV shows, and snippets of news coverage about Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and other women who have stood up to men in power.
This straightforward documentary tries to answer the questions that kicked off my blog: 1) Why are there so few female directors? 2) What can we do to change that? Produced by Geena Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media, this in an activist work that concludes with a call to action for unions, studios, and individuals. For moviegoers, the challenge is to support female filmmakers by making sure that half the films you watch are either directed or written by women.
As someone who has been doing this for almost two years, I can tell you that it takes planning and deliberation to ensure that 50% of the movies you watch are made by women. You will have to seek them out, because they aren’t show in as many theaters as movies directed by men—and that’s one of the big reasons that women don’t advance in their directing careers. Their first films don’t receive as much publicity or distribution and then they don’t have a big box office. This makes it more difficult to secure financing for the second film or to be considered for studio jobs. Talent agencies are then less likely to promote female filmmakers. And so the vicious cycle goes.
I recently read critic A.S. Hamrah’s latest dispatch on n+1. I’ve always liked that he writes about the experience of going to the movies as well as the movies themselves. Last month, he wrote about the trend of reserved seating, which he finds undemocratic:
Reserved seats are antithetical to moviegoing, which traditionally and democratically has been first come, first served. You could move to a different seat if a weirdo (or anybody) was sitting too close. This new nonegalitarian system is fancy and inappropriate. It takes too long and it huddles people together.
I had a weirdly personal and defensive reaction to this statement, because I am a parent of two young children, and reserved seating has made it a lot easier for me to see movies. I rely on it to get seats (two seats together) to popular movies or special screenings. It would be my pleasure to arrive early for one of these movies and wait in line with a book or a podcast, but I can’t, because I have to give my kids dinner and get them ready for bed before I can go out. Without reserved seating, my husband and I have to plan for an extra 45 minutes of waiting, which is basically an hour of babysitting time, or $15-20. (Also, a lot of weeknight sitters have day jobs or nannying gigs and they can’t get to our place until 6:30 at the earliest.) So, a theater that allows us to reserve two seats together is a major convenience. We go to more movies than we used to because of reserved seating.
I was struggling to find a photo for this post, so I decided to find a happy one, of a woman directing a movie–Patty Jenkins, with Gal Gadot, on the set of Wonder Woman.
This was the other image I was considering:
As usual the Oscar Nominations had only a handful of female nominees. There were only four categories (out of twenty) in which women achieved parity or had the majority of nominations. Many categories did not include any women.