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POV @ 25: Jennifer Fox and Cristina Ibarra on Women in Film

In celebration of the 25th season of PBS’ groundbreaking documentary series POV, Filmmaker is this week running a four-part conversation series between two non-fiction directors with close ties to the show. A few weeks ago, acclaimed documentarian Jennifer Fox — whose 20-year project, My Reincarnation, kicks off the 2012 POV season today — and The Last Conquistador director Cristina Ibarra, a relative newcomer to the non-fiction scene, sat down to talk about a variety of issues that arise from their work. Despite radically different backgrounds and, at the time of the conversation, being literally continents apart — NYC resident Fox was in Amsterdam, talking to Ibarra over Skype — the two found much common ground and dug in deep in their discussion of the documentary craft.

In this final part, Fox and Ibarra give their individual takes on the huge disparity between the number of men and women working in film.

Jennifer Fox: I have to say, the older I get the more and more political I get about the fact [that there are so few women in film]. To the degree that, if I have a choice, I’m going to only work with women. I mean, of course that won’t happen. I was at Cannes a few weeks ago and of course there were no women directors in competition and the head of Cannes said something inane about that like, “Well, there were no good films directed by women this year.”

The filmmaking business is such a boys club. Of course, in documentary filmmaking it’s better than fiction, and I do think it’s because everything is closer to a female-style of working —  smaller, more intimate, more relating to people. If I could tell you the number of panels I’ve been on where I’m the only bloody woman… If I could tell you the number of commissioning boards I’ve been on or I’ve seen where it’s all men… My reaction to that, as I get older, [is that] I am working more and more with women and only with women.

I do a lot of mentoring and film training and of course I’m interested in what men have to say, but I’m not as interested as I am in developing women filmmakers. And at Cannes we were talking about this new project I’m doing and I was talking to this female Swedish producer about who we want to bring on to the team. We were talking about it in a creative way as if we had a choice, which of course isn’t always true, but we were talking about it with agency. And I was naming a few people, and I wasn’t thinking gender very much, and she said “You know, Jennifer, let’s try to have all women producers because there’s just something about getting to the end of the line and standing up there on stage [at the premiere] with all women.” It matters. It matters.

And I was telling a friend of mine who’s not in the film business about this conversation and she was like, “You know, Jennifer, you’re not really going to choose your film producers because of gender.” And I was like, “You know something, you don’t get it. I am. I am and, if I can, I will.” I mean, I shoot my own film in documentary but if I’m going to work with a D.o.P. let it be a woman. Why not?

We do work differently, we do have different things to say, we do have a different point-of-view. And it does piss me off. And I have to say if you asked me that 20 years ago, I might have said something inane like, “I don’t see it.” But I do see it. I see it everywhere. Sorry, that’s my two cents.

Cristina Ibarra: [laughs] It’s great to hear. What I’ve noticed is that I’ve worked with men and with women, and I’ve noticed that I’ve worked mostly with women. And it’s just ended up that way. It’s not something where I’ve said, “Okay, I want this project to just be about women.” The project I’m working right now is all women scholars, all women subjects, all women team members. There’s a cinematographer who’s a man…who thinks like a woman.

So, I can’t speak about the outside world so much, just about my experience with the creative process, but I have found that men are more focused on the end result whereas women are more focused on the process. As for the process and the end result, both are equally important.

Fox: And I do want to point out something in our conversation that’s silly, which is that everybody has male and female in them. There’s nobody that gets to be a filmmaker without having a lot of male qualities. If we had only female qualities, we wouldn’t have the skill of end results and many things. And that’s why sometimes these gender discussions are a little weird. We all have male and female in us, but there’s also the politics of the business. It’s frustrating. I will work with men, of course I will. But if I do have a choice, I will preference women over men because I’m maybe one of the few people of the business who would do it.


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