With the announcement of the nominations to the Golden Globes and the absolute snub to all the wonderful women filmmakers this year, my worst nightmare came true. We women are, have been and if things don’t change, forever will be seen as pretty faces while young, bitter old women if we dare to speak up against injustice and just plain victims waiting for a big bad wolf to molest us judging by the opening of the recent sexual harassment floodgates.
I’m going to say it again, and again, until I’ve got no more breath in my lungs — I’m not OK with that. And I’m going to fight it every step of the way. I’m a strong, self-confident, worldly woman who looks at cinema as a way to help bridge the divide, this constant struggle between us and them that our world leaders are so fond of. I’m also aware of the dangers around me and because of a strong sense of self preservation which was taught to me by my wondrous mother, I won’t allow myself to be hurt in certain situations. That other women have been, I feel sad for them, and I realize they may not have lucked out with the kind of mom I was born to. But we all possess a woman’s intuition and if a situation appears seedy, lets use that to move on, as no job in life is worth our dignity and safety.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I also wish to point out, in good ol’ bitter woman way, that I believe the recent Golden Globes nomination failure points the finger to the exact problem in the film industry. And it’s not exactly what you think.
I mean, it’s not that women aren’t present in great numbers and greatly talented on the creative side of filmmaking, but as big a step forward as the business has taken, the movie journalism, film criticism side of Hollywood, Bollywood and Arab-wood has yet to catch up. I invariably, anywhere in the world sit among a roomful of men at press junkets, I’m constantly told of the sentimental aspect of my pieces (meaning really, womanly) and I’m forever passed over for great jobs by men who will insert other men’s voices in their publications or, worse yet, by women who will feel pangs of competition at the first reading of my pieces. So, my voice, as that of many other excellent women writers, is overlooked and left out of the great decisions. And the result is the Golden Globes fiasco. No women writers equals no women helping other women in the business. It’s that easy.
In fact, here at the Dubai International Film Festival there have been great panels about “Women at the Helm” and conversations with female producers, directors and an Oscar-winning costume designer but strangely enough, nearly all of the cool talks and masterclasses were not moderated by women journalists.
Actress, producer, COO and co-founder of El Gouna Film Festival, Egyptian superstar Bushra is the real Wonder Woman
I will not disclose the inner sanctuary of our deep and beautiful chat at the Al Qasr hotel here at Jumeirah, but I will say that Bushra is a woman all women should learn something from. Spending a leisurely late afternoon in her company, while she treated me to a cup of marshmallow topped hot chocolate turned out to be a highlight of my DIFF experience. I learned from the Egyptian movie star the meaning of grace while in her presence. When starry eyed fans would come over to ask for a selfie with Bushra, the consummate professional would don her sunglasses (she had no makeup on and looked phenomenal!) and indulge them with her kindness. “Now they have a story to tell,” she said, and Bushra wants that story to be a positive one.
As an actress, Bushra first came onto my radar at the very start of my writing career in a film titled ‘Cairo 678’ by Mohamed Diab, an extraordinary work of art on women’s precarious position in the society of pre-Arab Spring Egypt. Bushra’s role is the strongest in my opinion, and yet she is the hijabi girl, the covered woman who suffers daily sexual harassment on the bus she takes to work, until one day...
These days Bushra continues to act, she graced the red carpet repeatedly here at DIFF in support of her beloved Egyptian cinema, and she is the co-founder and COO of the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt, which just enjoyed its premiere edition this past September and is slated to become the festival to attend in the country, now that Cairo’s festival appears well, confused.
But personally, I will continue to remember Bushra as the cool, stunning woman with the strong ideals I sat and drank hot chocolate with on a perfect terrace, on the best DIFF afternoon for me.
Alexandra Byrne gives a masterclass about her costume designs and in the process, teaches us about the power of hard work
If I ever thought that writing about cinema is difficult work sometimes — long hours stuck at the computer instead of being able to watch all the films available to us here at DIFF — Alexandra Byrne proved me wrong. Designing a costume, one single piece of clothing for a film like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Masters of the Galaxy’ takes a minimum of 16 weeks! Wrap your head around that figure. In 2008, Byrne won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work on Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ which is truly a feast for the eyes. About the first ‘Elizabeth’ with Kapur, Byrne said “Shekhar didn’t want an archival portrayal... In fact, there is not a historically correct corset in sight. In the first film he kept saying “it’s Rembrandt it’s Rembrandt.” A feel of coming out of the darkness. I made the color of stones to become my black.”
About her Oscar winning costumes Byrne said “in the second it was about Tiepolo. He [Kapur] doesn’t tell you what he wants them to wear, rather he describes emotions... We created a credible world, but it is faking it. The job of a costume designer is to help a director tell the story through a character. The research we did was through portraiture and that was the earliest kind of PR. Every portrait told a story.”
On the challenges of her work with comic book heroes, Byrne disclosed, “I’d never read a comic in my life! I’d never worked in LA, I’d never worked with a big studio, I’d never done superheroes, I’d never done comics, I had a whole new crew. I dreamt about ‘Thor’ every single night for six months and it was terrifying.” And when asked about her influences, the designer added that they “come from everywhere — I start with mood boards. And they are really eclectic. I put on them everything that I feel that speaks about a character. The time when it was made has an influence on the clothing and you can see that in every film.”
And with all that wonder to discover, would you believe that not a single male film reporter or journalist was to be found? Yup.
We need more women film writers. Repeat after me. We need more women film writers and when they are published, those few random times, we need to support them.