Screen Queens: Dream Women in Film Party

This article was first published to Screen Queens on March 8, 2019.

 

For International Women’s Day SQ decided to do something a little different from their usual ‘Best Women Directed Films/Best Women Filmmakers List’ this year. So we’re throwing a dinner party, a hypothetical one of course. A dinner party filled with all of your favourite women in film, and you get to pick who is in attendance. So we asked our Staff Writers and Guest Writers for their top choice for a woman in film they would like to have a chat with over the dinner table. Think the THR Directors Roundtables, but with less men. Why are these women so great? What would you ask them? Here are a multitude of our Queens to tell you their answers.

CARRIE FISHER

Carrie Fisher probably wouldn’t do much actual eating at the dinner party; she’d spend the whole time with words coming out of her mouth rather than food going into it. But I’m sure we’d all sit there wide eyed and enchanted, listening to the stories she didn’t have a chance to tell while she was still with us.

I grew up a Star Wars fan, but admittedly it took me a lot longer to become a Carrie Fisher fan. As a child I I looked up to Leia as a badass female movie character with some serious hair goals, and my go-to choice when playing the LEGO games (even though she didn’t wield a lightsaber).  It wasn’t until I started following her on twitter that I realised how much of an icon she truly was – and still is.

From her cryptic emoji-ridden tweets to her endorsement of the Trump/Jabba the Hutt comparisons, Carrie was a woman who refused to be censored. She approached serious topics like politics and mental health with an admirable and incredibly honest sense of humour, making anyone feel comfortable in the discussion and not allowing her struggles to define her. But those aren’t the topics I would want to discuss with her. Carrie has already taught me to be strong and brave, now I just want to give her the chance to kick back and have a laugh. Watching her on The Last Leg, her energy was infectious and there wasn’t a face in the room that wasn’t beaming. If I could allow her to do so one last time, or perhaps even make her smile myself, I think my life would be made.

Carrie Fisher was, and always will be, a rebel. –Georgia Carroll

ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ

In 1895 the Lumiere brothers held a secret event; it was one of the first times film projection was ever exhibited. Lost in the audience was Alice Guy, a secretary at a camera manufacturing company. She saw the phenomenon of film, intended to become a tool for scientific research, and promotional means for selling cameras. And Alice decided that was boring. She went to her boss, wrangled cameras together, and in 1896 she made what is considered the first narrative film in the world: La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy). In many regards, she was the first director to exist; creating films that incorporated fictional storytelling into moving image before anyone else. For the next decade Alice was the head of production at the company she had once been a secretary at, before founding her own production company with her new husband in pre-Hollywood America. This also made her the first woman to run her own studio.

We think she was probably the only female film director before 1906, making over 700 films in her career – including one to three a week whilst being pregnant for the second time, supposedly. With the dismal ratio of female directors recognised be it in competition, distribution or even representation, I’d like to see what she thinks considering she basically created the profession. Self-indulgently, I’d ask her to go back in time and find her lost films, and maybe tell me about making cinematic fairytales. And I’d probably ask if she wanted to watch Pan’s Labyrinth with me. She was said to have a sign in the studio she founded, one I think I’d like to hear her say out loud. Something that essentially means don’t change yourself just because other people can’t imagine you succeeding: ‘Be Natural’. –Daisy Leigh-Phippard

DESIREE AKHAVAN

One woman I would love to invite to dinner is Desiree Akhavan. A bisexual Iranian-American based in London, Akhavan is known for writing, directing and starring in her semi-autobiographical feature Appropriate Behaviour . Akhavan’s acute wit and dry sense of humour permeate her work, delivering some memorable lines of dialogue that feel entirely authentic and tailored to her LGBT audience. She most recently directed The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which, incidentally, is my current favourite film to come out of 2018. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of the film with a Q&A by Akhavan, and if by that point I wasn’t convinced how remarkable she was, now I was sold. She has an effortlessly cool energy and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, especially on being a queer woman growing up and working in the film industry. One particularly relatable takeaway was her deadpan “…being a gay girl is hard,” which earned more than a few laughs from the definitely-very-gay audience. As a young woman working in film, Akhavan has a refreshingly frank approach to her identity, and represents LGBT characters on screen with an honesty and affection that shows both the messy and immensely joyful parts of figuring out who you are. I would love to pick her brains about her next project, and chat about the importance of LGBT folks telling their own stories on screen, something I also hope to be able to do in the future. If it wasn’t abundantly clear, Akhavan seems like she’d be top notch dinner conversation, and I’d wager she has some great stories to tell. –Megan Wilson

SALLY HAWKINS

Sometimes a movie enters your world and you simply have no choice but to like it. Resistance would be futile–I don’t make the rules! And with that I say that Paddington 2 was one of the best movies of 2017. That marmalade-loving ursus arctos from Darkest Peru was the star of one of the most sincere and spectacular films of the year. But that film would not have been what it was without the marvellous Sally Hawkins as the illustrator-mother, a purveyor of curiosity and imagination and a woman of strength belying her sweet, English Rose exterior. To watch Sally onscreen, from Paddington to the Shape of Water, is to be reminded that cynicism isn’t always necessary; that experience can be enough unto itself; that there are still joys to be had (and found).

If I saw her at a dinner party I would, well, probably take a long time to go up to her. I don’t even know if I would–would that risk an illusion being shattered like glass?–but maybe, hopefully, the dinner party would be serving marmalade and I would work up the courage. I’d want to know about her favorite films, the music she likes, her favorite books. I envision talking to her for just a few moments and soon walking home from the party, feeling the call to life that Mrs. Brown or Eliza Esposito seemed to feel at all times.  –Isabella DeLeo

ANNE V. COATES

My IWD dinner party guest would be the late, great film editor Anne V. Coates. She masterminded some of the most iconic, impeccably constructed shots in cinema, including the famous match cut in Lawrence of Arabia and intercut dinner and sex scene in Out of Sight. With her skill and in-depth, behind the scenes view of some of the 20th and 21st centuries’ definitive films, hearing her talk about her experiences editing both film and digital shoots would make for a memorable evening.

Coates salvaged shoots and performances marred by meddling producers or alcoholic actors – when The Elephant Man producer Mel Brooks demanded that John Merrick’s deformed face be hidden in scenes where it was previously shown, she stitched together scenes so that no re-shoots were required, and she skilfully hid Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton’s debilitating hangovers during Becket. Additionally, while her anecdote about making actors look good (George Clooney was delighted by this, Jennifer Lopez less so) is well known, I hope more personal reflections, quirks, and memories would come out over a long dinnertime chat.

Coates sought out directors who would push her craft – she asked Soderbergh to ‘stretch’ her work during Out of Sight and Erin Brockovich. She also relished less intentional challenges, calling In the Line of Fire a ‘fun’ job since star Clint Eastwood never did the same thing twice between takes. Her good sense of humour pervaded her work and reflections – this was the woman who began her career with Powell and Pressburger and ended it with Fifty Shades of Grey, which she wished had been ‘a little more raunchy’.

Anne V. Coates might not be alone in among underappreciated female editors, but she had a truly remarkable career and editorial mastery that is well worthy of commemoration on IWD. –Carmen Paddock

VICKY MCCLURE

My ideal dinner party guest is Vicky McClure. I first saw Vicky in Shane Meadows’ This is England. I was captivated by her attitude, style and that hair! She’s also from Nottingham (big up East Midlands!), just 15 minutes from where I live in Derby. It was refreshing to hear a similar – but not quite the same – accent as mine in a film.

Within the first five minutes of This Is England, I wanted to be Lol. Vicky played her so convincingly. She was different from most characters I was familiar with. She had short, shaved hair, wore Dr Martens and told her boyfriend to ‘fuck off’. I loved her! When I learnt that most of the acting on TIE was improvised, it didn’t surprise me, she was a natural.

To this day, the TIE series holds two of my most memorable (albeit heartbreaking) moments in film. One, when Lol tells Milky he’s broken her heart and the second, the utterly awful, uncomfortable post-rape scene when Lol murders her father.

From this, I’ve made it my mission to watch Vicky in everything. All of the TIE spin-offs, A Room for Romeo Brass, Line of Duty, Broadchurch, her appearances in music videos and on stage in her hometown of Nottingham. I feel like I’d be able to be natural with Vicky – I wouldn’t get star struck or tongue-tied because she’s so down to earth. I’d love to ask her about working with Shane Meadows and what she prefers: scripted acting or improvisation?I’d love to chat about her role in Line of Duty and how it’s hooked everyone. And she seemingly has a great relationship with everyone she’s worked with – very much a family unit since TIE. Is that always the case? Does she work hard to make it this way?But honestly, I think she’d much rather relax, have a cuppa’ and chat about life in general. And I’d be more than happy to do so. –Shannon Watson

AVA DUVERNAY

Back in November 2013, I launched Screen Queens. Not long before that I had stumbled across a video of an at-the-time unknown to me filmmaker called Ava Duvernay giving a keynote speech at the Film Independent Forum. It changed everything. The second post I ever did on SQ was sharing this very video- and look at us now!

These days its not like Ava needs any introduction, she is a powerhouse, titan, inspiration and Oscar nominated filmmaker (for her documentary 13th and MLK biopic Selma). She was also the first black woman to ever helm a film with a budget over $100 million for 2018’s A Wrinkle In Time. But it hasn’t always been awards and the spotlight- Duvernay is a prime example of working hard and waiting for success; directing wasn’t always her route. She worked her way through jobs in journalism, publicity and marketing and also her own film distribution company in 2010 called AFFRM (African American Film Festival Releasing Movement). She didn’t even pick up a camera until she was 32 years old which is sure to strike hope in the hearts of many young creatives that feel that success needs to happen by 25.

Full of compassion and an unshakeable level of intellect and understanding of the importance of representation and diversity, every time she speaks its like liquid gold is falling from her mouth, so I’m sure I would leave a dinner party with her feeling like I’d just exited my own personal TED Talk. I would love to discuss her favourite women filmmakers, her favourite black filmmakers and how she thinks audiences and industry professionals alike can work to make the film industry a more inclusive environment and how we can champion voices that have been too long left unheard. –Chloe Leeson

INGRID BERGMAN

“ I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.”

Ingrid was an actress, who performed and transformed with a veracity, fierce fullness and elegance that was unmatchable, largely because she was uncompromising in her right to be anything but herself. Her work spans five decades, which legacy is still resonating today.

She was born in Sweden, attended drama school there, then she started working professionally in her home country, which followed branching out to the US, and other parts of Europe. She knew she was eventually going to become an actress ever since she was very young. She even took photographs of herself, pretending to be one, dressing up in all kinds of costumes.

In another world, I would’ve given anything to sit down and have dinner with her, because as a fellow European girl myself, with acting being the most important part of my life since I can remember, I would’ve loved to pick her brain about it all. I would definitely ask her advice on how to stay true to my own self, and not give a damn what anybody thinks of me in the process. I’d like to gain a little insight into how she lived and managed her day-to-day life, and what it’s like to balance both an intense personal and professional life. But most of all, I would just really like to thank her for inspiring me, giving me strength and hope, and how much an example and hero she became to me, by being exactly who she was.

Thank you, Miss Ingrid. –Eszti Jaszfalvi 

TINA FEY

I would have dinner with Tina Fey. She is a comedy force to be reckoned with. A writer as witty, intelligent as she can be silly- a perfect balance. Writers don’t always get the recognition they deserve and Tina is someone who has climbed through the comedy, TV and film ranks proving writers are key. We would obviously talk about her being the first female head writer at SNL and my favourite show 30 Rock. I would probably have to hold back my habit of quoting the show and how I listened to her entire audiobook on train to Cornwall while fighting to keep my seat for 6 hours. We would talk about having it all and the importance of wolfing down a teamster sub at an airport and having confidence to dress as Princess Leia for a wedding. I would ask advice on my writing too but most of all we’d talk about food, mainly hard cheeses. –Katie Hogan 
ALLA NAZIMOVA

If I could have a dinner party with any woman in film, I would choose Alla Nazimova. Nazimova was one of a kind. She was born in Yalta in the 1870s and started her career acting on stage abroad. Eventually she immigrated to the U.S. and worked in the film industry. From 1916 to about 1925 she was a producer, director, actor, and writer. Nazimova started her own independent production company and advertised in major movie magazines, not making many studio head friends in the process. She was also bisexual and invented the term “sewing circle” as code for the group of lesbian and bisexual women in entertainment. Her husband Charles Bryant often took sole directing credit on films she either directed or co-directed. When Bryant left her he revealed they were never truly married. Her false marriage, her independent filmmaking, and the rumours of her “difficulty” on set ultimately stalled her career in film by the mid-20s. However, Nazimova did find love and lived openly with her partner Glesca Marshall until she passed away in 1945. Nazimova is as incredible as Valentino, but her name is spoken far less frequently. If I could have dinner with her, I would ask her about all of this and everything in between. I’d let her know I wrote my undergrad thesis about her, something I’m sure she’d get a kick out of. I’d ask about the film Salome, if she really did have an all gay cast and crew and what drew her to that story in the first place. I’d ask about her transition from Yalta to the U.S. and from stage to film. Nazimova was known to exaggerate, but I would enjoy her presence and take all of it to heart. If she didn’t want to answer questions I would talk about whatever she wanted. –Janet Reinschmidt

DEBORAH DAVIS

If I were to pick a woman in film to have a dinner party with right now, I’d have to go with Deborah Davis (who co-wrote and originally conceived the idea for The Favourite). She changed the course of her career back in 1998 after feeling obliged to write a screenplay about the real-life triangle between Queen Anne, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham. Hearing from Davis about her dedication to the story, the long process of getting a female-dominated script made and her raucous official debut working with Yorgos Lanthimos would extraordinary.

Without her inspiration two decades ago, we wouldn’t have gotten to see a tragicomic period piece with three excellent female leads net ten Oscar nominations. Olivia Colman wouldn’t have won Best Actress for playing Queen Anne, and ended her charming speech by exclaiming, “Lady Gaga!” And, perhaps most importantly, we wouldn’t now have the term “cuntstruck” in our vocabularies! I’m grateful for the creative singularity that she brought to The Favourite, and can’t wait to see what she does next. -Abby Monteil

PAM GRIER

”Have I bruised your masculinity?”

”Not really. It’d take more than one chick to do that”.

She kicks him in the testicles and asks, ”Now what’s that done to your masculinity?”

Grier, often referred to as the queen of Blaxploitation, was not solely the first black female action star; she’s one of the first female actions stars in general. Her films often bathed in the colour of her skin, emphasising her blackness instead of minimising it. She gave us a taste of women being in control and for that she’ll always be one of my favourites.

While her body was often shown for other people’s enjoyment, she was never a damsel in distress. She was not only as good as her male counterparts; she was better. In her fictional life she overcame drug dealers and pimps; in her real life she overcame sexual abuse and defeated a death sentence she got in connection with a cancer diagnosis. How does it feel to defeat a death sentence? How does she have strength to face fictional abuse when she also had to endure real abuse? How was it to be the queen of Blaxploitation? How did it feel when Tarantino approached her with Jackie Brown (a film heavily influenced by Blaxploitation but without the sexualisation)? Was the evolution welcome or did she miss parts of how it used to be? Has Grier, on her ranch, found peace?

Everything with Grier is done with grace; whether she’s pulling out a handgun from her Afro or smoking cigarettes while listening to The Delfonics. Real star power isn’t something that fades with age; if you have it, you have it. Grier most certainly has it. Sometimes all it takes is one chick to start a revolution while bruising a man’s masculinity. –Rebecca Rosén

KELLY REICHARDT

I came across Old Joy at university whilst under pressure to find the ‘perfect example of indie film’ to focus on for an ill prepared essay I panicked and pulled off the library shelf. Then out of sheer luck a door opened and I found a tone and pace to filmmaking that resonates so strongly with me.

Kelly Reichardt’s filmmaking is great to me because she brings an approach that in her own understated way is daring yet undoubtedly unique. Reichardt’s enviable ability to transport an audience to a pine forest or diner is unmatched (sorry David Lynch). I remember distinctly after watching Certain Women feeling like I’d had just taken a two week trip and wasn’t yet ready to return to reality.

If I could chat with Reichardt I’d want to ask:

What journeys have you taken in your life you wish you could take others on, and why?

Preferred mode of transport boat, train, plane or car?

What music are you listening to at the moment?

What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?

What’s the best advice you’ve ever given to someone? –Jack Packham 

ALICE WU

Alice Wu wrote and directed one of my favorite queer films and favorite rom-coms: Saving Face. Even fifteen years later, in a world with queer films in multiplexes and not just hiding in art houses or at film festivals, it’s still at the head of the pack: a delightful, accessible and yet specific story about Chinese-American women. The centre of the story is Wil’s romance with Vivian, but the heart of the movie is her relationship with her mother, who is also dealing with parental expectations and a secret romance.

I saw Saving Face at SIFF in 2005, fell in love immediately, and then proceeded to check periodically to see if Wu was working on anything new. I regularly complained on Twitter about her lack of follow-up opportunities. “If she had been a white man, she’d have an HBO series by now!” I yelled into the void.

Now she finally has a new project, a YA rom-com with Netflix, and I want to know everything about it! How did this project come together? The industry has changed since Saving Face; which changes are exciting for her? Fifteen years between features is a long time; how did she maintain focus without getting discouraged? What’s her support system like? How does her tech background inform a project? Tell me everything about pre-production!

But this is a dinner party, not an interview, so what I really want to talk about are rom-coms. I want to compare notes on favourites both classic and new, as well as favorite non-English language rom-coms. Favourite queer, favorite straight, what makes them all work, how are they changing, and whose stories we’d like to see in the future.

As for me, I’m more than ready for a new film written and directed by Alice Wu. –Jaci Dalen

JULIE DELPY

Julie Delpy, along with her collaborators Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, helped to push the independent cinema movement of the 1990s with the release of the first film in the ‘Before’ trilogy. The film was written by Delpy, Linklater and Hawke and the combination of all their voices ensured that there was a strong male and female voice throughout the film.

The majority of the film is spent following the characters around as they talk about their hopes and fears and share ideas that they have never dared even say out loud before. Their youth and their fledgling relationship are both shown with sensitivity and it is evident all three love the characters they have brought to life. In contrast to other popular romantic films of the decade, Before Sunrise was uniquely a film that did not contain a one-
dimensional woman but rather made her an intelligent and compelling character, thanks to Delpy.

Her unapologetic approach to writing female characters and their stories continued in her work throughout the trilogy and her other work such as the both ‘2 Days’ films. Delpy has shown the significant impact a woman’s voice can make when telling women’s stories and, more importantly, how collaborations can lead to more interesting work. Her work with Hawke and Linklater but also Chris Rock and Adam Goldberg have shown that stories are far more interesting, and universally relatable, when several voices are interwoven into them. -Aleena Augustine

ANDREA ARNOLD

If I were to have a dinner party for the women of cinema, my first invitation would unquestionably go to Andrea Arnold. British to her very core despite ventures into American film and television, Arnold is no less than iconic to me in reflecting my home how I know it best. Unfailing in her attempts to capture the most minute of details about life in Britain, embracing even the aspects we may want to hide from the outside world, she manages to maintain a rare balance of beauty with candour. Arnold possesses a boundless imagination riddled with intricacies, and through her work she demonstrates an unparalleled ability to transport her audience straight into the centre of her vision, to the point where you can almost see, smell, hear and touch the scene around you. Often she speaks a novel without saying a word, and in doing so she’s not only become a vicarious voice for those that often aren’t granted one – the underprivileged, young people, women – but equally a copious source of inspiration. Working frequently alongside film festivals as well as consciously hiring non-actors, Arnold is a model in her quest to make the industry more accessible. Her work is fuelled by a genuine enthusiasm for film as well as an appetite for justly recounting the stories of actual people – she’s an unmatched example of what filmmaking should be about. She’s a slinking underdog amongst a vast ocean of directors, and yet she really ought to be considered a titan by now. Yet to create a film I haven’t developed a borderline obsession with, I am ineffably proud to hail Andrea Arnold my hero, both as a filmmaker and a woman. –Beth Piket

VIOLA DAVIS

Viola Davis is known as many things to many people: actress, philanthropist, producer, Oscar winner, wife, feminist. Even Shonda Rhimes’ sociopathic lawyer. To me, she’s all those things and more. The first film I ever saw Mrs. Davis in was Tate Taylor’s The Help in 2011, and I cannot watch the final scene without being moved to tears. Since then, I’ve seen her evolve continuously before my eyes, submersing herself in character after character, truly embracing their flaws and their strengths equally. Viola Davis has the rare, special ability to portray the rawness and durability of the human spirit. It is easy to tell that she empathises with each character she becomes, whether it’s with their situation, their patterns of thought or their treatment of others. Most importantly, she gives each of them a voice.

Nowadays, everyone has something to say, at least, they think they do, and often it’s the individuals with the loudest shouts and deepest pockets who are able to get people to listen. But whether it’s an inherent skill of hers or she has been practising over the decades, Mrs. Davis’ refreshing grounding in reality evokes a sense of understanding, of admiration and of empowerment to audiences who watch her films. That’s what I’d ask her if I was ever given the chance: how to find my voice. The older I get, the more difficult I find it to truly be myself, to find value in what I have to say, even if it’s something trivial. But when I watch Viola Davis on the big screen, I see a proud, confident woman, and I want to become that too. I’d ask her what it’s like to be her, an African-America woman with dreams and struggles of her own. If she’s still wary of herself despite being an A-lister. I’d ask her how she can oppose others without hatred. In her Oscar acceptance speech, she said: People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell Viola? And I say . . . the stories of the people who dreamed big, and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost . . . to celebrate what it means to live a life.” As someone who struggles with her own life, I’d ask her how to truly live. –Kacy Hogg

ANN MILLER

Tap dancer extraordinaire Ann Miller would be a wonderful dinner party guest, as she’s not the most well-known female figure from Hollywood’s Golden Age, but was arguably one of the most talented. Miller began her career as a dancer at the age of 13 after managing to secure a contract at RKO Pictures by convincing them that she was 18 years old. She went on to work at Columbia, Republic, Paramount, and then finally MGM where she stayed for 12 years. During this time she fell into acting and singing alongside dancing, and starred in musicals such as Easter Parade, On the Town and Kiss Me Kate. Her performances were always so vibrant and charismatic and appeared completely effortless no matter how fast she was dancing (she was rather renowned for her speed). I would love to find out from her what it was like being a female tap dancer during that classical era, and whether she felt any pressure to prove herself amid her male contemporaries. Maybe she could also teach me a step or two! –Holly Weaver

 

Who would be your dream woman in film dinner date? Let us know over at our Twitter @screenqueenz

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