Fe­male di­rec­tors en­ter spot­light

Elle Fan­ning unbound in Al-Man­sour’s Mary Shelley

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To di­rect the ex­te­rior scenes of the award-win­ning 2012 movie Wad­jda, film­maker Haifaa AlMan­sour – the first woman from Saudi Ara­bia to make a fea­ture film – was hid­den away in­side a van. Her home coun­try does not al­low women to work in public with men so she watched the ac­tion on mon­i­tors and com­mu­ni­cated with her ac­tors via walkie-talkie.

“I re­mem­ber the first day she came on the Mary Shelley set she started cry­ing be­cause she’d never been on a film set,” says Elle Fan­ning who stars in AlMan­sour’s lat­est movie, Mary Shelley. Shot on lo­ca­tion in Dublin and Lux­em­bourg, it is an ex­plo­ration into the Franken­stein au­thor’s bat­tle to as­sert her voice in 19th-cen­tury Eng­land.

“One of the most in­ter­est­ing things about ap­proach­ing this movie for me was the fact that (Al-Man­sour) had gone through a very sim­i­lar jour­ney to Mary Shelley in her cre­ative process,” says Dou­glas Booth who plays Percy Shelley. “She came from a world where she had to break through misog­yny and peo­ple think­ing she didn’t have a voice or didn’t de­serve a voice be­cause of her gen­der.”

Mary Shelley is play­ing at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val this year plac­ing AlMan­sour along­side film­mak­ers like Ala­nis Obom­sawin, Agnès Varda, Jen­nifer Baich­wal, Dee Rees, Greta Ger­wig, Brie Lar­son, Molly Parker and other fe­male di­rec­tors who make up onethird of all films pro­grammed at the fest this year.

“There is some­thing dif­fer­ent that hap­pens on set when I am be­ing di­rected by a woman,” says Stronger star Ta­tiana Maslany. “The cam­eras aren’t the gods. There isn’t idol­a­try of the ma­chin­ery. I don’t know if that is a fe­male thing specif­i­cally or just the women I have worked with. There is a deep in­ter­est in min­ing the in­ter­nal life of some­thing, the dy­namic be­tween men, be­tween women, be­tween a per­son and their sur­round­ings, be­tween a per­son and their own body. It’s not ex­clu­sive to women but it is some­thing that I feel is a new thing I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and it is of­ten on fe­male-led sets.”

Fan­ning says she of­ten works with fe­male di­rec­tors like Sofia Cop­pola, who di­rected her in The Beguiled, but “it’s not a strate­gic thing. With­out think­ing about it I worked with four women di­rec­tors in a row.”

“The way women tell sto­ries about women – it’s real,” she says. “It needs to be shown, es­pe­cially for young girls, to re­late to all dif­fer­ent types of women. I think it’s im­por­tant to have women char­ac­ters that are true to how women are and women di­rec­tors get that.”

To en­sure that a new gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers like AlMan­sour are given a chance to have their voices heard, TIFF has made a five-year com­mit­ment to in­creas­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion, skills and op­por­tu­ni­ties for women be­hind and in front of the cam­era. Through the ini­tia­tive Share Her Jour­ney TIFF is plac­ing em­pha­sis on men­tor­ship, skills de­vel­op­ment, me­dia lit­er­acy and ac­tiv­ity for young peo­ple. To help them hit their fi­nan­cial goal of $500,000 for 2017 do­na­tions can be made through tiff.net.

“By sup­port­ing fe­male film­mak­ers, you can make sure the sto­ries women are long­ing to hear are told truth­fully,” says Share Her Jour­ney am­bas­sador Omoni Oboli on the TIFF web­site. “Not only does it empower the film­mak­ers, but it also helps an au­di­ence to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties of women, in­stead of our lim­i­ta­tions.”

Invision torstar news ser­vice

“I do feel af­ter film­ing, I started a new chap­ter in my life, of know­ing what it is to be a woman, maybe, re­al­iz­ing that gift,” said star Elle Fan­ning, about her first adult role on­screen. “Mary Shelley kind of gave me that gift of ma­tu­rity.” Mary...

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