Female Directors Come Into Spotlight

Courtesy of UCI

Courtesy of UCI
As part of its “Women Direct Movies” series showcasing female directors, the UC Irvine Film and Video Center screens “Chants of Lotus,” a film following the struggles of four Indonesian women.

There have been few female directors that pop into a casual moviegoer’s mind. Many people recognize Sofia Coppola but she’s often in the shadow of her father, Francis Ford Coppola. The majority of recognition for women in film comes with actresses, with many of them gaining recognition because of their stunning good looks. But rarely is there appreciation for the ladies behind the camera. Why is this?
Well, there simply have not been many female directors involved in mainstream cinema. The big budget male directors of Hollywood blockbusters feel as American as apple pie. Names like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and David Fincher will catch the eye of even the most laid-back movie fans. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t female directors pushing their own causes.
The UC Irvine Film Series “Women Direct Movies” showcased female filmmakers, and the latest installment is a perfect example. “Chants of Lotus” illustrates four women in Indonesia and their struggles. Each woman’s story is told through a different female director.
Fatimah Tobing Rony, a UCI associate professor of film and media studies, tells the tale of an ill-reputed midwife diagnosed with cancer who is trying to protect an autistic child. Upi Avianto illustrates the story of a student in high school whose interest in readily available sex changes her life and the lives of her friends, while Nia Dinata deals with child trafficking that separates a mother and daughter. Lastly, Lasja Susatyo also deals with the mother/daughter relationship in the heartbreaking account of a mother’s plight with AIDS.
The stories that the film deals with are very real happenings that Indonesian women have had to deal with.
Rony also stressed the importance of education in the film. Along with the producers and writers, Rony conducted research in Indonesia and discovered that singular midwifery, where a woman assists in childbirth instead of doctors, was a real issue.
Other subjects, such as the free sex environment depicted in Avianto’s film and the horrifying child trafficking story, were based on true stories that were prevalent in Indonesian society. These touchy topics are ones that are rarely aired in such a public outlet as the cinema.
While the films deal with Indonesian problems, they are very much independent of each other and take the feel of their directors. An illustration of this can be seen after Rony’s somber story on the isolated island of Pulau Kelapa ends with a quiet whimper and Avianto’s tale begins with a lively depiction of an urban Yogyakarta with distorted J-rock guitars wavering about in the background. Avianto’s film contains little drama until its ending and can nearly be seen as comedic in order to prevent the audience from gagging in disgust.
The child trafficking piece is suspenseful and leads to a climatic ending, while Susatyo’s emotional film starts out with one of the more graphic scenes in all the films but quickly sustains a touching tone that’s likely to move some to tears by its ending.
Rony commented, “The directors were very much responsible for their own films, there was a certain freedom given to get it done.”
The original score by the talented team of Aghi Narottama, Bembi Gusti and Gascaro Romano shifted with each film, from soft violins and classical guitars to jagged rock and roll, and helped mold each piece of work.
With low budgets, rapid deadlines and contentious topics, these directors had to show a certain passion in order to get through making this movie. Rony described her film-making process as “running at full speed for the fun of it.”
Aside from the easy relation these mothers felt with their work, the fact that they are women shouldn’t have much to do with how their work is received. What should matter is the substance of the work itself.
While there haven’t been many headlining female directors, this film proves that there are women passionate about the art of directing. Headlining or not, art made through passion deserves attention from the masses.