Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Essays

Films and Feminism

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

Jan Haag is forever associated with my first conscious commitment to film and feminism. A decade or so ago, she and I spent much good time arguing passionately about The Pumpkin Eater and The Golden Notebook, the world of movies and the lives of women, with enough heat to permanently temper the directions we would take in the future. Jan was one of those multi-talented women—artist, actress, filmmaker, writer—who seemed permanently trapped and limited by the role of faculty wife, the interesting, but necessarily dilettantish, adjunct to her husband’s real profession. Fortunately, for herself and other women, Jan managed finally to “come out,” to emerge from that safe, and therefore stifling, cocoon into her own real professional world. It’s redundant to say it wasn’t an easy or even very direct route, but she eventually found where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do. After serving as an American Film Institute intern during the filming of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, she was appointed head of the Internship Program, and later became director of the AFI’s Independent Filmmaker Program.

One of the few women who wanted to direct films rather than write or edit them, Jan has worked towards her most recent contribution to films and feminism—by example and direct action—as long as I’ve known her. This fall, she will head the American Film Institute’s new pilot project to aid women in becoming television and feature film directors. Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Directing Workshop for Women will be held at the Center for Advanced Film Studies in Beverly Hills. It is intended to provide a training ground for professional women who wish to move into this most crucial area of filmmaking. The first workshop roster draws on such accomplished actresses, writers, and producers as Ellen Burstyn, Lee Grant, Susan Oliver, Lily Tomlin, and Maya Angelou, among many others.

Each member of the workshop will contribute three video projects during the year in cooperation with members of the Screen Actors Guild. The AFI will supply each prospective director with a crew and small production budget. She will select her own material, do her own casting, and have complete autonomy over the project.

Like Molly Haskell, I have lamented the limited film roles offered women in recent years. Not long ago, Newsweek devoted an article to the comments of the current crop of actresses who strongly felt they had reached a dead end in terms of the roles they had already brought to the screen and were subsequently being offered. Perhaps the AFI workshop will provide the basis for new opportunities for women in the cinematic profession: if you can’t get a good role, direct your own film and put your money (or somebody’s) on the line to prove that such roles can be created, and that women have what it takes to shape the direction of a whole film as well as a screenplay or a characterization.

Who knows—maybe a woman’s name will make it into some future edition of The American Cinema. There’s a chance—and much thanks for that chance is due to Jan Haag, a woman who has earned it in more ways than The Hollywood Reporter or Variety will ever report.

Copyright © 1974 Kathleen Murphy