from The Accolade Film Awards
Women Behind The Camera
By: Yayoi Lena Winfrey
Director and producer Alexis Krasilovsky’s film, Women Behind the Camera, recently won the Accolade Competition’s Award of Excellence. Professor of Screenwriting and Film Studies in the Department of Cinema and Television Arts at California State University, Northridge, Krasilovsky has an extensive filmography that includes What Memphis Needs, Exile, Blood, and End of the Art World.
Women Behind the Camera is a lively study of female cinematographers and their trials and tribulations. Spanning the globe, the film features interviews with women DP’s from Austria to New Zealand and all points in between. She also wrote a book with the same title (Praeger, 1997).
Below, she discusses filmmaking and the inspiration behind Women Behind the Camera.
Q: How did you get started as a filmmaker?
A: I remember when I was a dumb teenage kid, and one day a boy was actually talking to me on the high school bus--for the very first time since I’d turned into a teenage girl—and he said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At that moment, I had this sudden flash of myself in the future, working high up on a camera crane, somewhere in Hollywood.
When it came to actually learning how to do anything that had to do with filmmaking, however, I had to transfer from Smith College—where I could get an excellent education, but where there was no film program—to Yale University. Back then the famous director Arthur Penn was there teaching students how to treat a crew like a football team to get results. And, it was pretty alienating. But on the other hand, I made my first films there. I got support from Yale’s film societies, which were run by people like Peter Broderick and Bob Rosen, who are major players in Hollywood today. I got my very first film job being a projectionist for the Yale Film Society that was run by Ed Landler. Ed gave me that job at a time when the other people in the film society—all male—would say things like, “Oh, speaking of the devil” when I’d walk up the aisle in the film auditorium. I mean, the last thing they wanted was a girl running the projector. I made the first undergraduate film thesis while I was a student at Yale, and that was End of the Art World, about Andy Warhol, Bob Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Nancy Spero, Roy Lichtenstein—the New York art world. And, that film is still in distribution today. In fact, we’re re-releasing it this year on DVD.
Q: What inspired you to make a film about women cinematographers?
A: I was inspired by the women courageous enough to get and keep jobs as camerawomen despite a time when cinematography was considered to be a profession just for men. Some women even had to sue the unions, the networks and the studios to get work! Women like Jessie Maple Patton, Brianne Murphy and Lisa Seidenberg were courageous pioneers who believed in their visions. Without their battles, it would be impossible for women today to get the jobs that are so much more readily available. Knowing that young women today are armed with “Grrrl Power” gives me the confidence that further breakthroughs for women in male-dominated fields, like cinematography, are imminent.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this film?
A: I’m excited that camerawomen’s stories from all over the world—Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, USA and other countries--are coming out with this film. Of course, I want the numbers of women working as Directors of Photography in Hollywood, Bollywood, France and other major film centers to increase. But after six years of documenting the aspirations and obstacles, satisfactions and conflicts, failures and successes of camerawomen throughout the world, I have grown to appreciate the resonance of their stories. Global connectedness has become my obsession. Their stories help us to see how interconnected our lives are as women and as filmmakers, and will empower the next generation to pick up cameras and show us a new world.
Q: What surprised you the most during the filming of your movie?
A: Two things surprised me enormously while making this film. First was finding camerawomen in France and India (such as Vijayalakshmi, who already has twenty feature films to her credit as Director of Photography) whose film industries have been so much more supportive than Hollywood. Secondly, my life changed dramatically as I began to realize how women’s ways of seeing are often tied to social change. While in India, taking a few days off from filming in Bollywood, I traveled to Ahmedabad, the home of Gandhi’s ashram, for a brief vacation and to buy some beautiful, hand-woven Indian clothes. But soon after I arrived, I was introduced to the camerawomen on Video SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), a group which helped its villages survive an earthquake that had killed 20,000 followed by severe drought, by picking up cameras and influencing policy makers. The heroic significance of these camerawomen from Video SEWA changed my entire outlook about the project.
Q: What surprised you the least?
A: That the most recently reported increase in numbers of female Directors of Photography working on 250 top-grossing films in Hollywood has only jumped from 3% to 4%. It’s discouraging! But I hope my film will help to create a more significant change for women.
Q: Do you consider yourself a quote/unquote feminist?
A: Some people think of feminism as an “F” word. But those people are ignorant victims of backlash that followed major breakthroughs for women in this country and abroad. Am I happy that there’s going to be a panel on our film at the National Women’s Studies Association conference this summer? Definitely! Not only am I proud of my work as a feminist filmmaker, but I’m grateful that Women Behind the Camera has had the support of so many wonderful men-- like Haskell Wexler, ASC (Hollywood), Emil Weiss (Paris) and Alé Seck (Dakar, Senegal). We’ve also gotten great response from men who’ve seen our Sneak Previews, like Thomas McKenney of the International Cinematographers Guild, who calls it “an important film for EVERYONE who collaborates on motion pictures and all who watch them.”