×

Filmmaker Mark Cousins Explores Unsung Women of Film in New Doc

Mark Cousins is captivated by film. The director-film historian’s 15-hour documentary “The Story of Film” traversed the globe for a comprehensive look at cinema as an art form. His latest feature documentary, “The Eyes of Orson Welles,” digs into helmer-actor Orson Welles’ highly visual world, exploring his now legendary life and work. And debuting at Venice Classics Documentary Film section (it also played for press and industry at Toronto), a four-hour peek at Cousins’ next docuseries:  “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Film,” a 16-hour voyage covering the mostly omitted and unrecognized contribution of women directors. Executive produced and narrated by Tilda Swinton (later episodes are narrated by Jane Fonda, whom Cousins lauds as “a dream collaborator”), the series aims to challenge the ignorance surrounding women filmmakers.

Edited as a master class, the cinematic lesson features only female teachers. Forty thematic chapters answer 40 questions on how films are made from dissecting topics like openings to tone to believability. Scenes from works by Hollywood’s established, although still relatively few, women directors (Kathryn Bigelow, Angelina Jolie, Dorothy Arzner, Barbara Kopple) are intercut with the familiar (Agnes Varda, Claire Denis) and the less-championed (Poland’s Wanda Jakubowska).

As Swinton points out in episode one, “Film history is sexist by omission.” Cousins and his collaborators intend to revise the record.  Before the Venice premiere, he answered a few questions via email. “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Film,” is produced by Glasgow’s Hopscotch Films; the U.K.’s Dogwoof is handling international sales.

What inspired you to delve into the topic of women directors?

As a boy I fell in love with Hollywood cinema and mainstream movies: “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Grease,” etc. but in my 20s I started to ask, which great films and directors I hadn’t heard of.  This led me to African movies and to making “The Story of Film.”  Since then, I’ve been asking the same question everywhere I go in the world: Who are your great women filmmakers?

The answers have been revealing.  In Albania I saw the movies of Xhanfize Keko, from Bulgaria I heard of Binka Zhelyazkova.  At the same time, like many others, I saw, for example, histories of Polish cinema in which no woman director was included, or of Japanese cinema without the brilliant Kinuyo Tanaka.  So the pleasure of discovery of these filmmakers became mixed with the anger at the lack of level playing field, the unfairness of their being forgotten.  Admiration and fury make good rocket fuel.

How much research was involved? How did you manage all the source material?

We had my original long list of films I’d seen, to which we added a new list of films we wanted to see.  Assistant producer Sonali Bhattacharya, editor Timo Langer and I watched these addition films for many months. I knew from the start that the film would be about the work, the films, the scenes, not theoretical, not about the female or male gaze, not about the lives of the directors.  Those are all valid approaches, but we wanted to do something simpler. We wanted to say, in the era of #MeToo, “this is the work of the great women directors on whose shoulders we stand.”  Our film is all about their craft.

I came up with 40 themes, 40 chapters, again really practical:  How do you start a film? How do you set its tone?  How do you introduce a character?  How do you do a great tracking shot?  Later chapters are about work, parenthood, home, politics, sex, sci-fi, comedy, death, love and dance.

When we were watching the films, we were looking for great scenes that would illustrate these themes.  We wanted to show how these directors innovated, used the medium of film well, or told stories in skillful ways. To be honest, we wanted to surprise audiences with the quality of the work, and make them ask themselves, “Why haven’t I heard her name?”

VARIETY PORTRAIT STUDIO AT TIFF

More Film

  • Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell

    Film Review: 'TINY: The Life of Erin Blackwell'

    “Streetwise,”  the classic and haunting 1984 documentary about homeless street kids in Seattle, is a movie that’s now 35 years old. But for anyone who has seen it, the children it’s about — drifters, hustlers, squatters, thieves, prostitutes — remain frozen in time. And none of them was ever more memorable than Tiny, the 14-year-old [...]

  • Animation Studio Fire

    Revenge Motive May Have Sparked Kyoto Animation Arson Attack

    Japanese media is speculating that revenge was the motivation for the arson attack on Kyoto Animation which killed 33 people on Thursday. Investigative sources quoted by Jiji Press on Friday said that the man in custody had a grudge against the studio. “Since [the studio] stole my novel, I poured out the liquid and set [...]

  • Terminator: Dark Fate Gabriel Luna

    'Terminator: Dark Fate' Cast Proud of Latinx Representation in Latest Installment

    The stars of the Tim Miller-directed “Terminator: Dark Fate” stormed the stage of San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H on Thursday, but it wasn’t until after the panel — which included appearances from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton — that Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta reflected on what makes the upcoming installment in the [...]

  • It

    Producer Sues Warner Bros. Over 'It' Film Adaptations

    A producer who developed the original “It” TV miniseries sued Warner Bros. on Thursday, alleging the studio breached his contract by making the films “It” and “It Chapter Two” without him. Frank Konigsberg and Larry Sanitsky were running Telepictures in the early 1980s when they acquired the rights to the Stephen King novel. They developed [...]

  • Animation Studio Fire

    Kyoto Arson Attack: Animation Community Mourns Colleagues

    Thursday’s deadly attack on Japan’s Kyoto Animation studios left many in the animation community shocked and horrified by the loss of 33 of their colleagues. Another 36 people were injured in the attack, which was Japan’s deadliest ever. A suspect was arrested after pouring a flammable liquid inside the building, which caught fire and trapped [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Film News Roundup: Nicolas Cage's '10 Double Zero' Completes Financing

    In today’s film news roundup, financing has been secured for a Nicolas Cage police drama, feature drama “Topside” is unveiled and the late Tom Snyder is getting a tribute from his daughter. FINANCING COMPLETED DCR Finance Corp. has signed a deal to complete the financing for Nicolas Cage’s upcoming crime drama “10 Double Zero.” The [...]

  • Matt Damon and Tom McCarthy Team

    Matt Damon Teams with 'Spotlight' Director Tom McCarthy on New Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Even as buzz grows for his upcoming race car drama “Ford v. Ferrari,” Matt Damon looks to keep the pedal to the metal: the A-lister is set to star in the Participant Media feature film “Stillwater” with Tom McCarthy directing. Damon attached himself in May, and the package was quickly acquired by Participant, who previously [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content