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    • Chloe Zhao directing Nomadland.

    • Margaret Toft ’21 directing “Heart of Hopkins”

A Celebration of Women in Film

Amalia Tuchmann ’23 Assistant Arts Editor
According to a recent study, women comprised 16% of directors working on the top 100 highest-grossing films in 2020, up from 12% in 2019 and just 4% in 2018.
On an even more encouraging note, 47% of the overall feature slate for the Sundance Film Festival’s 2021 lineup is directed or co-directed by women. Three women were nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Director this year, the first time in history more than one woman has been recognized in the category. Chloé Zhao won the award for her film Nomadland, becoming the first woman of color, and the second woman ever, to win the accolade. In honor of Women’s History Month, and in honor of all the historic strides women in film have made this year, the Hopkins community celebrates the successes and talents of women behind the camera.

Hopkins’ very own Margaret Toft ’21, a director and screenwriter, released her most recent short film in March, titled “The Heart of Hopkins.” Toft particularly enjoyed “the collaborative scriptwriting process with [Associate Director of Communications Jemma] Williams and [Director of Communications John] Galayda,” and said that “being able to bounce ideas off each other was super fun.” She chose to pursue filmmaking because she “really liked the idea, specifically as a woman, of being able to have control over my projects.” When they were an underclassman, they “thought that acting was going to be my creative outlet, but I was always frustrated by how the gender imbalance carries out in theater: there are only a few female roles and those are usually the stereo- typical ingenue.” After experiencing this, she started to direct her own projects, “because if you’re writing and you’re directing, then you get to decide who gets the roles and how the gender balance plays out. I liked having that power to make it diverse and make it equitable.”

Hopkins Video Production teacher Ian Melchinger noted that “a lot of women who get into directing have to come through something else to get there, like Angelina Jolie and Jodie Foster, who had been movie stars, and then got to direct. I think being forced to know one thing really well before you direct makes you a stronger director, and what I love about some of those movies is that you can really see that they’ve got multiple abilities.” Melchinger admires director Ava DuVernay, because “She made a completely rock solid winning feature film (Selma), which is not so easy. And then she made 13th, which I thought was a stunningly effective documentary. And then she put it all together and made When They See Us, which is sort of a dramatized, real life, documentary, and she’s just getting started! I’m looking forward to aging and watching Ava DuVernay continue to make important, exciting stuff.”

Hope Hartup, who teaches American Film Studies at Hopkins and is one of two directors for the Hopkins Drama Association, agrees with Melchinger that women who were actors before directors bring a beneficial perspective. A director she admires is “an actor-director in the fifties named Ida Lupino. Lupino did a lot of what we call B movies, sort of detective film noir kinds of movies, and was actually able to get behind the camera and direct a number of her own films. Given that it was the fifties and the culture was a very masculine one, for her to have the strength and determination to soldier forward and create her films speaks to her as a dynamic director who had a vision for what she wanted to create.”

For those interested in specific film recommendations, Toft suggested the movie Boys Don’t Cry by Kimberly Pierce, which is “nasty, but in such an interesting way.” She loved the director “because they started off in the typical light, nice little fun romance, and then it just went so dark at the end.” Melchinger recommended “Deborah Granick’s movie Winter’s Bone, which is an example of how much you can do with a tiny budget, if you just really understand the place that you’re in. It’s a really hard trick to make a movie where everyone watching it thinks that they see thought going on in the main character’s face, and they think that they’re the only one who knows.” Hartup mentioned The Hurt Locker by Katherine Bigelow, which she found “really amazing in the use of sound, and the use of editing to get inside the experience of being a soldier in Iraq. There are some visual and oral moments in particular that still come to me right away whenever I think about that film.” Other members of the Hopkins community recommended Pariah by Dee Rees, The Farewell by Lulu Wang, and Girlhood by Céline Sciamma.

To any other women and girls interested in directing or getting involved with filmmaking in other ways, Toft advised, “do it and do not wait for any people to give you the opportunities. The only reason I was able to produce movies on my own at Hopkins was because I stopped worrying and waiting for other opportunities to come to me. Specifically for girls in the entertainment industry, it’s so hard. You can’t wait for someone to pick you out and tell you you’re great. You just have to make the stuff you want to make.” If you are a woman or a member of another marginalized community, and are considering directing, producing, or writing your own movies, take the leap and try it out, because the world always needs more stories told by people who bring new perspectives and life experiences to the table.
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