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Art: Bradshaw Crandell
Jane Hall, a screenwriter at Hollywood’s most glamorous studio, would be lost to us but for her daughter’s painstakingly researched biography. Here she is on the cover of the October 1939 edition of
Cosmopolitan magazine.

I’ve been thinking about the unacknowledged accomplishments of women.

Having just finished a great biography on Frances Perkins, a trailblazer in FDR’s administration, I find myself not at all surprised that she is almost unknown today. Perkins is just one more example of accomplished women throughout history who have failed to get their just due. It’s complicated.

Being dismissed by men is not the only reason, Dear. Sometimes you were dismissed by women, too. Sometimes you didn’t sign your poem or your art and so became known as “Anonymous.” Sometimes, like Perkins, you were determined to do the most possible good for the most people in need by the most effective means.

Thinking about this led me to a New Yorker article on women in the early days of Hollywood.

Margaret Talbot writes, “One of the stranger things about the history of moviemaking is that women have been there all along, periodically exercising real power behind the camera, yet their names and contributions keep disappearing, as though security had been called, again and again, to escort them from the set.

“In the early years of the twentieth century, women worked in virtually every aspect of silent-film-making, as directors, writers, producers, editors, and even camera operators. The industry — new, ad hoc, making up its own rules as it went along — had not yet locked in a strict division of labor by gender. Women came to Los Angeles from all over the country, impelled not so much by dreams of stardom as by the prospect of interesting work in a freewheeling enterprise that valued them. …

“Some scholars estimate that half of all film scenarios in the silent era were written by women, and contemporaries made the case, sometimes with old stereotypes, sometimes with fresh and canny arguments, that women were especially suited to motion-picture storytelling.

“In a 1925 essay, a screenwriter named Marion Fairfax argued that since women predominated in movie audiences — one reason that domestic melodramas, adventure serials featuring acts of female derring-do, and sexy sheikh movies all did well — female screenwriters enjoyed an advantage over their male counterparts. They were more imaginatively attuned to the vagaries of romantic and family life, yet they could write for and about men, too.

“After all, men ‘habitually confide in women when in need either of encouragement or comfort,’ Fairfax wrote. ‘For countless ages woman’s very existence — certainly her safety and comfort — hinged upon her ability to please or influence men. Naturally, she has almost unconsciously made an intensive study of them.’

“Alice Blaché, the French-born director behind some six hundred short films, including ‘The Cabbage Fairy’ (1896), one of the first movies to tell a fictional story, … wrote in 1914, ‘There is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man, and there is no reason why she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.’

In a way, the early women filmmakers became victims of the economic success that they had done so much to create.

“As the film industry became an increasingly modern, capitalist enterprise, consolidated around a small number of leading studios, each with specialized departments, it grew harder for women, especially newcomers, to slip into nascent cinematic ventures, find something that needed doing, and do it.

“ ‘By the 1930s,’  Antonia Lant, who has co-edited a book of women’s writing in early cinema, observes, ‘we find a powerful case of forgetting, forgetting that so many women had even held the posts of director and producer.’ …

“Trying to figure out who actually worked on films is not as easy as you might think. Credits were assigned haphazardly in the early days of filmmaking. …

“In the tendentious but mostly persuasive book ‘Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood’ (Oxford), J. E. Smyth … tots up an impressive array of women film editors, costume designers, talent agents, screenwriters, producers, Hollywood union heads, and behind-the-scenes machers. … It’s little wonder that studios of the era catered to female audiences, with scripts built around the commanding presence of such actresses as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and with stories thought to reflect women’s prevailing concerns.

“Smyth quotes Davis, who pulled enough weight in Hollywood to have been dubbed the Fourth Warner: ‘Women owned Hollywood for twenty years,’ she said in a 1977 interview, so ‘we must not be bitter.’…

“Smyth burrows enthusiastically into humble sources that, she suggests, other scholars have looked down on: studio phone directories, in-house newsletters. Researchers on similar quests have come upon evidence in still more unlikely forms and places. Reels of film forgotten or lost sometimes turn up randomly — interred in an archive in New Zealand, or sealed into a swimming pool in a remote town in the Yukon.” The search goes on.

It’s a long article. Read it here. And while we’re on the subject, be sure to read Robin Cutler‘s wonderful book, Such Mad Fun, about her mother’s role as a writer in Hollywood.

 

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Photo:
In a Brazilian favela, Rocywood actors pose with their screenwriter and their director.

The headlines from the slums of Brazil are hardly ever good. Between the gang violence and the police violence, there is frequent loss of life among innocent bystanders. So anytime I see something upbeat about these places — say, colorfully painted houses or musical instruments created from dump discards — I want to share the news.

This story is about the joy of making movies, even when the movies are about the harshness of life. It’s about the feeling of rising above it all.

Mariana Simões writes at Hyperallergic, ” Stacks of houses that showcase raw, exposed brick frame the rooftop view where I meet screenwriter Fabiana Escobar, or Bibi Danger, as she is known in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil.

“With around 70,000 inhabitants, Rocinha is a vibrant community made up of low-income improvised homes built atop rolling hills that tower over Rio de Janeiro like a city within a city. Rocinha is also where, since 2015, Escobar and four other filmmakers have championed a budding film scene they call ‘Rocywood,’ combining Rocinha with Hollywood. Their Rocywood production company has one award-winning short under its belt and another short and two features in the making.

The films portray local realities, from the joys of growing up in a tight-knit neighborhood to the difficulties residents face living among drug traffickers and gun violence.

“ ‘When I was a kid, I stayed home to watch the Oscars on TV and I would marvel at every little detail. Hollywood creates that kind of magic that envelops us, even though it’s something that is so distant from our reality,’ Escobar says. …  ‘I grew up with that magic, but the industry doesn’t embrace Rocinha. We have to create our own magic. We are going to make it happen for ourselves.’

“The 38-year-old screenwriter used to own a salon and clothing store, but now rents out her shop while she dedicates her life to making Hollywood magic. But most of the people involved can’t afford to make movies full-time.

“ ‘The actors, the producers, the whole team has a second job. I am a manager at a clothing store, and I make films up here on the hill on the side,’ says Sergio Dias, Rocywood’s 31-year-old director. Dias was born and raised in Rocinha where he is known by his stage name, Sergio Mib. His one-bedroom apartment functions as a dressing room and houses Rocywood’s equipment and props, including three toy assault rifles that look impressively real.

“Rocywood’s productions cost $50 dollars (USD) on average. The filmmakers often take the budget out of their own pockets to cover transportation fees and snacks. With no dedicated financing, everyone in the community pitches in to make the films come to life, from lending filming equipment to styling hair and makeup for free at the local salon. Dias explains that Rocywood makes a conscious effort to include only people from favelas in its productions. The films, made for locals by locals, are screened on the streets of Rocinha using a projector and an improvised tarp as a screen, but are also available on YouTube for a worldwide audience to see. …

“I went in search of Rocinha’s low-budget Hollywood scene after meeting American filmmaker Alan Hofmanis by chance at a traditional Rio de Janeiro fast-food style chicken restaurant in the bustling tourist neighborhood of Copacabana. I struck up a conversation with him about his dessert and ended up learning about Wakaliwood, Uganda’s version of Hollywood, named after Wakaliga, the slum in Uganda’s capital of Kampala where the films are made.

“Eight years ago, after Hofmanis saw a trailer for a feature by Ugandan director Isaac Nabwana that mixed mafia gangs, kung fu, and gun fighting, he hopped on a plane to meet Nabwana. In 2013, Hofmanis sold everything he owned in New York and moved to Wakaliga, where he has been making movies with Nabwana ever since. Nabwana founded Uganda’s first action-film company, has produced about 45 films, and just had his feature Crazy World premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

“Fascinated by Nabwana and his ability to make kitschy action films with budgets around 65 dollars that still draw in millions of online viewers, Hofmanis searched the world for others like him. He found people in Ghana, India, Afghanistan, Peru, and even Siberia who are also making low-budget, Hollywood-inspired productions. He came to Brazil in the hopes of discovering the same scene in Rio de Janeiro. …

“The American filmmaker believes low-budget, Hollywood-inspired films are a growing phenomenon. … ‘They are taking something that is outside their reality and spinning it and making it their own,’ he says. ‘So maybe this [new movement] can be called the Micro Wave because it’s a New Wave movement, but it’s based on these micro-economies.’ …

“Escobar summarizes, ‘I decided our next feature will be a horror film to break free from that stigma that because I live in a favela, I can only make films about drug trafficking and violence. If we want to write about drug trafficking it will be a great film, but we can rock other narratives, too, and we want to break that barrier.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Magnolia Pictures 
In the film Skate Kitchen, the introverted Camille (played by Rachelle Vinberg, left) finds her tribe of skaters in New York City. The filmmaker found her subjects almost the same way — instinctively.

What I especially loved about this article on making a female-skateboarder movie was the director’s sixth sense. She hears girls on the subway talking in a wildly creative way and experiences vibes that direct her to pursue a new path of possibility.

Lakshmi Singh reports at National Public Radio, “Director Crystal Moselle made waves three years ago when her documentary The Wolfpack won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film told the true story of six brothers growing up in confinement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side — and it all began from a chance encounter Moselle had with the brothers on the street.

“Her new film comes from a similar place. Skate Kitchen follows a group of teenage girl skateboarders and activists rolling their way through the streets of New York. This time, she met them on the subway.

From the NPR interview:

“I learned to understand my instinct. There’s this thing that happens to me. …  I’m like: Oh, this is something. This is interesting. I just — I have to explore it. …

“I was on the train in New York City. I was on the G train. And I heard this voice that just — you know, sometimes there’s a voice that’s so charismatic, you just have to figure out who’s talking and what’s happening. I mean, that’s how I am. And I look over, and there’s these three teenage girls, and they have skateboards. And Nina [Moran] — she’s telling a story. I can’t remember what the story was about. I think maybe it was about a party she went to or something that happened in the park that day. And she has that kind of voice that almost silences a room where you want to — just everybody stops what they’re doing and they want to see who’s talking.

“And so I — just out of curiosity and out of this instinct that I’ve kind of gained from my past project, I just — I feel like there’s this moment where I sort of know that there’s something there and I have to figure it out. And I went up to them and asked them — I just said, hey, you know, introduced myself. I said, my name’s Crystal. I’m a filmmaker, and I’d love to talk to you guys. Maybe you guys would be interested in doing some sort of video project at some point. [And] — I don’t remember saying this — I said, is there more of you? …

“They’ve found all these really interesting pockets [of the city], and they go to these skate parks, and they have these, like, spots that they skateboard and they just use the architecture of buildings. And you know, people chase them away. And it’s just, like, this kind of really riveting scene. And I would just start hanging out with them and experiencing it myself. They’d even, like, make me jump on the skateboard. They’re like, if you’re going to hang out with us, you have to skateboard. Here’s the board. Skate down the block. …

“The girls actually met through YouTube. They would be commenting on each other’s videos and, you know, that’s how they would create these communities because it’s difficult. Like, if you’re a girl living on Long Island and there’s no other girls around that skateboard, you can go to, you know, a social media platform to find other women that also do the same thing that you do that’s, like, something specific. …

“I think that it’s actually a really positive thing to be able to find people that are, I guess, your tribe. …

“When I was with Rachelle one day — Rachelle Vinberg, who plays Camille. She was skating with all these boys. And they all rolled by, and the little girl [watching the film crew] didn’t notice them at all. And then Rachelle rode by with her hair just like in the wind. It was just an epic moment — she’s, like, carving down this hill. And this little girl, like, stopped in her tracks and just watched her and, like, saw the future.”

More here. I love how this director is drawn by curiosity to pursue things that are unfamiliar and interesting. Having something interesting to think about is apparently as essential to her as food.

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One of the many reasons I’m grateful to WordPress is that, as the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, it gives me some visibility among other bloggers.

One day recently I garnered a “like” from the Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands. I decided to check out their blog, and I found a good story to share.

Michelle Taylor writes, “Zainab Bhagat has always reached out to the hurting, even when she didn’t realize she was practicing philanthropy. As a child in elementary school, she noticed one of her friends often went without. Her friend never seemed to have school supplies or a complete lunch. Without a second thought, Zainab shared everything she had to offer. …

“When Zainab had the opportunity to earn the Gold Award in high school, she never questioned if she should pursue it or not. She felt it a moral obligation to share her time, talent, and treasure with the world. …

“She knew the project would take her full devotion. She would have to spend at least 80 hours researching, planning, and working her project. She would have to present her concept before a committee, and her project would have to address a real issue in her community. But anything worth doing is rarely easy.

“Zainab created a documentary about homelessness in her hometown of Irmo, South Carolina. She interviewed and became fast friends with a local teen who had endured incredible hardship. Watch her hard-hitting and inspirational documentary [here].”

More at the Girl Scouts of South Carolina blog, here. How reassuring it is to see young people like this readying to enter the world of adulthood. They will make that world better.

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Although Ginia Desmond had been writing scripts for 12 years, she had never made a movie. Now at 74, she has risen to the challenge.

Johanna Willett writes at the Arizona Daily Star, “Ginia Desmond had a decision to make. Buy a house. Make a movie. Buy a house. Make a movie. She made a movie.

“The 74-year-old has been writing scripts for a dozen years, but ‘Lucky U Ranch’ is her first feature-length film to make it to the big screen.

“That’s because she funded it.

” ‘I consider myself the writer,’ she says of the low-budget film, which so far isn’t readily available for viewing. ‘I wrote the script, and I wrote the checks.’

“Writing screenplays is not Desmond’s first career — or even her second. This act follows others that starred Desmond as a mother and wife, professional artist and businesswoman. …

“For almost 30 years, she imported goods such as furniture and baskets to sell in her Tucson store Sangin Trading Co. on Sixth Avenue. She sold the business in 2003. …

“ ‘Ginia is an interesting combination of very creative and very practical,’ says Victoria Lucas, a Tucson screenplay consultant with a 20-year career in Los Angeles.

” ‘She has that sense of the big picture and how a business is run, and with her writing skills and talent, she has the ability to understand characters. … Very few writers write visually so that when you read the script, it’s like you have seen the movie. … Ginia writes like that. She has a real gift for getting under the skin of characters and making the reader or audience understand them. … She is a treasure for Tucson.” Read more here.

Thank you, Cousin Claire for posting the story on Facebook. Like Desmond, Cousin Claire lives in Tucson, and she has at least one script stored away somewhere about an adventurous female ancestor. I read it. And I know for a fact she is under 74, so …

Photo: Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star
Ginia Desmond, 74, is reflected in her movie poster’s glass.

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I added Ello to my social media a while ago but am only now beginning to explore it. A kind of Facebook without ads, it seems to be preferred by people in the arts. Lately, Ello has been publishing interviews with particularly interesting users.

Here are excerpts from Ello Chief Marketing Officer Mark Gelband’s interview with Ben Staley.

“Ben Staley is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker, storyteller, photographer, and professional adventure-haver. His striking portraits and nature photography are a constant source of inspiration to the Ello team. …

“Mark: I started paying really close attention to your work when you were documenting the film you’re making about ships and welders. Could you tell us more about that project?

“Ben: The project is called ‘Starbound’ and it’s about a boat of the same name. The boat is a catch processor that fishes on the Bering Sea. It’s a top performer but the factory was outdated and inefficient and they were losing money. The construction project would lengthen the boat, making it as environmentally friendly as possible and saving the jobs of the 100+ crew members. The owners are doing it for the best reasons. They could have taken the easy way out and and saved a lot of money up front and had no risk, but they undertook this incredible challenge because they care about the environment and their employees and their families. …

“For me as a storyteller it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture this process and tell their story. The family that owns the boat are incredibly committed and hardworking people and they will willingly spend more money and take on this risk to do things the right way. …

“Picking a 240 foot-long boat up out of the water, cutting it in half and sticking 60 foot section in the middle, welding it back together and putting it back in the water. All in the space of a couple months. The hard work, skill and craftsmanship are incredible. …  I’ll be making the first trip to sea with the boat later this summer and hope to have the doc done by end of year. …

(more…)

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I  noticed the Eric Carle picture book Mister Seahorse at Suzanne and Erik’s house today, and it got me thinking about seahorses as fathers.

Did you know seahorse fathers carry the babies from conception to birth, not the mothers?

According to Wikipedia, “The male seahorse is equipped with a pouch on the ventral, or front-facing, side of the tail. When mating, the female seahorse deposits up to 1,500 eggs in the male’s pouch. The male carries the eggs for 9 to 45 days until the seahorses emerge fully developed, but very small. Once the young are released into the water, the male’s role is done and he offers no further care.”

It’s kind of the reverse of today’s devoted fathers. With no direct role in giving birth to babies, they sure do get involved in the daily care and feeding. Grandfathers, too. My husband babysits regularly, and can handle most anything, including diapers.

For more on seahorses, and how to protect them, check out the Sea Horse Trust, here. And if you’re up for a refresher on how increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is endangering sea creatures with spines, including the pygmy seahorse, reread my review of the climate-change movie Revolution, here.

Art: Eric Carle

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