Saturday, April 17, 2010

Suzie Templeton & Women in Animation

The film industry--well, the production side of the film industry anyway (especially the animation film industry), is notorious for having been a male-dominated industry since it's inception in the early 20th century.

The majority of women who did work for Disney in the 40's and 50's were not allowed to do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen; that work was done by young men. Instead, women were consigned to the "nunnery" (as the Ink and Paint Department was known) to trace the characters on celluloid sheets with ink and fill the tracings on the reverse side with paint.

There were a few great female exceptions to this rule: Mary Blair, Retta Scott (seen below), Marilyn and Madilyn Woods (seen above), Retta Davidson, Tissa David, and Kathy Zielenski all worked for Disney throughout the decades; also Lillian Friedman who worked at Fleischer Studios in the 1930's; and La Verne Harding who worked at the Walter Lantz Studio in Hollywood in the 1940's. I hope to showcase and learn more about these women in future posts. :)

From personal experience, I know the majority of film major students are men; from screenwriting, to cinematography, to computer animation, the female to male ratio in class is generally 1:3 (and I can recall semesters in which I was the ONLY girl in the class). Luckily, this trend is changing, but it still begs the question, why?

There's a major bias that assumes women have trouble with technical abilities, and since film production involves an in-depth knowledge of cameras, cables, and computers, the tasks more often than not fall upon men to perform, who supposedly have a deeper knowledge and interest in these things.

Ironically enough, back in the day editing was considered to be a woman’s job because it was something akin to knitting or sewing, and for this reason women learned all of it's technicalities (just as they did during WWII when a shortage of men forced women to learn "men's" work). Below: Anne-Claire Poirier, a Canadian film editor, director, and writer.

It wasn't until sound came into the picture that men began to infiltrate the ranks of the editors because it was somehow considered more "electrical" and important... it was no longer "knitting".

Of course women are more than capable and desirous to gain technical skills, (heck, men have to learn them to, they're not born knowing), however it's more difficult for women to seek acceptance in a competitive, male-dominated environment, much less be accepted as the boss or director.

A Hollywood survey recently found that the number of women directors whose films featured in the list of the 250 biggest films of 2001 was down from 11% in 2000 to 6% in 2000, and the situation is even worse in the UK, of all places, where more work has had to be done to ensure women have an equal shot in the industry.

The findings also revealed that the number of female writers declined from 14% in 2000 to 10% in 2001, and that men worked as cinematographers on all of the films in the survey.

So with that feminist rant, when I heard that Suzie Templeton, a young, beautiful woman from the UK had won an Academy Award in 2008 for writing and directing the animated short, Peter and the Wolf (based off of Prokofiev's score of the same name) I fell instantly in love.

Not much is written about her life, other than she was born in Hampshire, England in 1967, received her BA in Animation from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, and that her films have received widespread critical acclaim, including a BAFTA award, two British Animation Awards, the Rose d'Or, the Hiroshima Prize, and the Cristal d'Annecy (in addition to her Oscar). You go girl.

Her films are haunting, to say the least. Her first film, Stanley (2000), could be categorized as a "black comedy" I suppose, in that it's about an old man who has a pseudo-sexual relationship with a giant cabbage he's growing, and his frightening wife who wants to chop it up for her beef and cabbage stew. I won't give away the ending but it's dark and fitting.

Her second film, Dog (2002) is about a boy coming to terms with the death of his mother. It's quite disturbing how the death of his dog reveals certain secrets about his father. I have to say it's incredible how much human emotion can be conveyed through stop-motion animation, much more so than through computer animation anyway.

Suzie's third and final film (for now) is the Oscar-winning adaptation of the classic tale, Peter and the Wolf (2008), with Prokofiev's original score. I can see why Suzie was chosen to direct the film, her forte seems to be that of young boys and their relationships with animals and old men, which is exactly the focus of Peter and the Wolf. You'll be amazed by the incredibly life-like expressions and movement of her characters. Here is an excerpt from her beautifully crafted film:

I can't mention Suzie's accomplishments without noting the unprecedented event that took place this past February in film history; Kathryn Bigelo, an American filmmaker, became the first woman ever to win an Academy Award for Best Director with her film, The Hurt Locker (2009).

Maybe I should dye my hair brown and grow it out to get a better chance, eh?

Despite the hertels still faced by women, progress is nonetheless being made on behalf of films of the feminine-craft. Let's keep pushing it forward!


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