To Have and Have Not a Room of One’s Own

 

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A still from my short documentary,”Muriel Box and the Celluloid Ceiling” (2014): Who is left out of the ‘frame’ behind the camera?

 

In an effort to learn more about the context through which Julie Dash developed as a filmmaker, I have been browsing the virtual world of her alma mater at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

There, I found a link to a 1979 interview with her by the UCLA student cable program, “The View”.

The interviewer, Barbara McCullough, spoke with Dash about her most recent film, The Diary of an African Nun (1977), which was adapted from Alice Walker’s short story of the same name.

It was only a short interview (clocking about 7 minutes), but it was jam-packed with valuable insights into filmmaking, particularly with regards to African American women, as well as into broader thematic issues of colonialism, religion, and identity (via the African Nun).

What really caught my attention, however, were Dash’s comments about studying at UCLA. She praised the facilities offered by the university, saying that they were incredibly valuable for young film students such as herself.

On the surface level, discussing such things as space and equipment might seem less interesting than the actual storytelling side to filmmaking, but I think it really helps draw attention to the very real, logistical struggles of independent filmmaking.

Having a story is one thing, but in the medium of film, having the materials to actually tell these stories is often a significant barrier for novice filmmakers.

 I did look forward to coming to UCLA to use their facilities, because it is very hard as an independent filmmaker to attempt, and bring to completion, an independent film without the sound stages and equipment and so on. (Dash, “L.A. Rebellion”)

Following this, McCullough asks Dash how she will manage these obstacles once she has moved on from UCLA. Dash’s response centered on one thing: money.

It’s really about money, more than anything else. (Dash, “L.A. Rebellion”)

Despite even one’s best efforts, the artistic vision of a filmmaker means little to the rest of the world until money helps bring that vision to reality.

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Odd Woman Out, an autobiography by Muriel Box. London: Leslie Frewin, 1974.

When I heard Dash discuss the significance of having financial support, two names came to mind: Muriel Box, and Virginia Woolf.

Three years ago, I made a short documentary about the British director Muriel Box. For research, I read her autobiography, Odd Woman Out (1974), where she chronicled her journey through the male dominated, British film industry. One thing in particular that stood out to me in this book, which I later used to formulate my primary argument, was Box’s reference to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

 

 

 

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own made such an impact on me in my twenties that I had been possessed ever since with a strong urge to support the cause of equality between the sexes. Thus my approach to this subject was perhaps more enthusiastic and dedicated than to any other theme previously attempted. Unable to chain myself to the railings, I could at least rattle the film chains! (Box 222).

After this, Box goes on to discuss the kinds of financial struggles she faced with her films. The positioning of Woolf beside Box’s financial woes immediately made me think back to Woolf’s own argument: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write” (4).

While Woolf is commenting on women in fiction, I think it can be related to filmmaking as well.

As a creative endeavor, which involves various forms of storytelling (including writing), I think it only fitting that women filmmakers, too, “must have money and a room of her own” in order to tell their stories.

Without backtracking too far into this project of mine, I must say I am intrigued by the connections between Julie Dash, Muriel Box and Virginia Woolf, all women of different times and creative perspectives, yet all fueled by one common goal: to have equal access to funding and facilities in which to work.

At the same time, I cannot ignore the issues of race and class when putting these three figures into hypothetical conversation with each other.

How do race and class influence funding for independent filmmakers in the US? What opportunities were available for African American filmmakers in the 1970s and 1980s, the time when Julie Dash herself was a student?

Who in the film industry gets to have, or have not, a room of one’s own?

 

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The film editing suite at the University of Manchester. Having the proper space and equipment to work with was essential for a student filmmaker like myself. Photo: Lesley Butler, May 2014.

 

Sources:

Box, Muriel. Odd Woman Out. London: Leslie Frewin, 1974.

“L.A. Rebellion – Julie Dash on UCLA’s ‘The View’ (c. 1979).” Youtube, uploaded by UCLA Film and Television Archive, 3 May 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq-9-bt5Ho8.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. London: Penguin Books, 1928.

 

Lesley Butler (lvb717 @ mun.ca), 2017

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