It is a well known fact that the film industry still is a male dominated field and major players like the Motion Picture Academy fight an uphill struggle around diversity and inclusion. It isn’t surprising that the most prestigious film award in the world has been nicknamed ‘Director's Boys Club’ during its 92 year long history. Only five women have ever been nominated for the ‘Best Director’ award and Kathryn Bigelow remains the only female director to this day, who has ever taken the trophy home. Recent changes to the Academy’s board sparked hope amongst female, non-white and lgbtq+ film makers; arguably, that change was overdue.
However 2020’s nominations didn’t see any female directors listed at all.
Moreover, it is a lesser known fact that there is a prominent genre in the film industry that is led by women in the field – which is the genre of documentary film. Documentaries have long been a more welcoming environment for female filmmakers and so factual entertainment has seen a much steeper surge of women, than its big sister – fiction feature filmmaking.
Surely this isn’t just about documentaries being a more accessible stepping stone to the world of fiction. But it also has a lot to do with the way women apply themselves to the often highly socially critical topics of documentary films. Historically, it is worth acknowledging that female anthropologists have been amongst the first women to use the camera in order to capture and study sociological and cultural topics of importance. There hasn’t been a clear consensus between anthropologists on whether the camera should be an objective observer that underlines the scientific research or play an active role. Rather, it is more than clear that female documentary directors have made waves in adopting the camera as their weapon of choice, in fighting many social injustices. Not that men aren’t able to show empathy, but it seems a greatly fitting objective for women to inhabit a genre of filmmaking that usually requires a significant deal of sensitivity, sensibility and empathy alike.
There are many great female documentary makers out there, like Ava DuVernay, who I admire, but in this article I’d like to introduce the all-female documentary collective Tiger Nest Films.
Founded by Leslie Knott and Clementine Malpas, the two inspirational filmmakers have won countless awards between them and have worked with all major media outlets like Netflix, BBC, CNN, Channel 4...and the list goes on. Together with several female freelance contributors, they create women focused, compelling films that help to make real changes in the world. From the most dangerous places around the planet, those daring women cover topics such as human trafficking, ISIS, refugees and so much more.
As a filmmaker, it is crucial to maintain a calm, trusting, non-threatening and tender manner in working with delicate subject matter. And it seems that this collective of women is bringing together these human qualities and successfully pairing them with professional knowledge of shooting, editing and photography.
The outcome is socially aware films that point an arrow for society to look at the world through an eye-opening lens. And it might be that the female gaze is just the special ingredient that makes women triumph in the field of documentary filmmaking.
Angelina Jolie Pitt gives hope - Tiger Nest Films for UNHCR