IFC documentary looks at changing role of indie film women

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

NEW YORK -- Nancy Savoca's movies pick up where Martin Scorsese's and Francis Ford Coppola's films leave off, according to film historian Emanuel Levy.

They portray immigrant life on a grand scale, while Savoca -- whose 1989 debut "True Love" about a skittish young Italian-American couple getting married made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival -- offers "a view from the kitchen," Levy says in the Independent Film Channel's "In the Company of Women."

Savoca is one of several directors profiled in the cable network's new 90-minute documentary airing at 7 p.m. Thursday.

It's part history lesson, part movie montage and part dialogue about women's roles in front of and behind the camera, told from the perspective of women in the business including Jodie Foster and Susan Sarandon.

"It's a very rare holiday still for men to be given the opportunity to go into a woman's psyche and see the world and the existential experience of life through her eyes," actress Tilda Swinton said during the documentary.

Directors Gini Reticker and Lesli Klainberg focus specifically on independent films, but didn't make a documentary that bashes Hollywood -- even though few female directors get to make mainstream, big-budget films.

"We focused on independent films essentially by default. In doing our research, it's where most women's careers were fostered and developed. Also, it's where women were greeted on an open playing field," Klainberg said.

Klainberg and Reticker's film takes a comprehensive and interesting look at women in the film business, though sometimes the documentary seems to be taking on too much and the directors would be better served by a narrower focus.

If they came to any conclusions, Reticker said, "It's that we want more. More, more, more from women."

Klainberg and Reticker begin with the 1970s, when the women's movement coincided with a film boom, and more women attended film school. Those graduates burst onto the scene in the 1980s with character-driven stories and an alternative viewpoint.

"With the advent of 'Jaws' and 'Star Wars' Hollywood was moving toward these big blockbuster films, and there was suddenly this space in the independent film world to create these stories," Reticker said.

They point to Susan Seidelman's "Desperately Seeking Susan." The 1985 film starred Madonna in all her 1980s black-lace glory, and showed that a story centered on two female protagonists could appeal to the masses. It's one of the most successful independent films to date, grossing $27.4 million.

Several "indie queens" are featured, including Lili Taylor, Parker Posey and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Sexuality is easily the most discussed topic in the documentary. Using sexuality as a tool is tricky and confusing for women, and the documentary captures that. Rosie Perez offers an anecdote about how refreshing it was to work with a female director because there was no sexual tension.

The idea of beauty, intrinsically tied to sexuality, is also discussed, peppered with scenes from Nicole Holofcener's 2001 film "Lovely and Amazing," and Savoca's 1991 film "Dogfight."

Directors and actresses speak candidly about body image, nude scenes, age and the tendency to glorify sex scenes.

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