Cinematography’s Female Catch-22: Celluloid Ceiling

In the world of film, the revolution has already happened. In the shift from celluloid to digital, filmmakers were freed from the cost, constraints, and rituals of 35mm. With it came the democratic kickback: anyone with an iPhone could make a movie. Well, in the case of two trans women in LA who shot their independent film Tangerine in 2015—three iPhones. Undeniably, the new medium liberated the art form; however, it has not yet blown up the Celluloid Ceiling, the barely visible barrier that still blocks women from reaching their goals and full potential in cinema.

According to the award-winning director, Eva Lanska, whose film Dependent won the California Film Awards in 2018, “Women are not on a good track in the director race. I think that the reason for the small number of female film directors in the cinema industry is that in most cases the employers are men, and they somehow trust men only. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it doesn’t fit in my head. I feel that there is no difference between a woman and a man with regards to the skills and vision they contribute to the films they direct.” Not surprisingly, Ms. Lanska’s hard-won insights line up with the statistics.

According to the latest research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women accounted for only 8% of directors working on the top 250 films in 2018, down 3 percentage points from 11% in 2017 and 4 percentage points from 8% in 2017 on the top 100 films. This is 1 percentage point below the 9% achieved in 1998. A comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2018 and 2017, for instance, reveals that the percentages of women writers, producers, executive producers, and editors increased, while the percentage of women working as directors declined.

When asked to weigh-in on these diminishing numbers for women in the film industry, Lanska draws from both her credentials as a filmmaker and her experience as a single mom. “In no way, the reason for such low and depressing numbers for women in the industry is in the fact that women choose not to be here themselves. Some are accusing women that they are favouring families or motherhood or any of the jobs that are considered to be female. I am a mother, this is the most important role in my life. It can be challenging sometimes, especially because I raise my daughter alone, but it turned out to be the source of inspiration and great motivation.” This unrelenting attitude may well be the source of Lanska’s success so far. By using what others might consider a liability, she has made her motherhood into a proud asset.

Given her success so early in her career, this young director is beating the odds. For it turns out, that 92% of films in 2018 had no women directors. Lanska, on the other hand, is not only directing her own films but drawing their power from her own femininity. Eva emphasizes, that saving and cultivating her femininity is extremely important for her films. She has always delighted in it, so she tries to avoid wearing pants, especially while filming. Wearing maxi skirts throughout the process is a must for her. “I am a woman, and even the message in my clothes shall be claiming this.”

How are women faring in other aspects of the film industry? Again the numbers support Lanska’s experience and observations. In 2018, 73% of films had no women writers, 42% had no women executive producers, 74% had no women editors and 96% had no women cinematographers. One quarter, or 25% of films, had none or just one woman in any of the above roles. Lanska is equally frank when assessing this inequity. “Sometimes, I deny believing, that conservative and someway toxic stereotypes are still influencing the way we live. It deprives people, mostly women, from finding their true calling because of being afraid to choose inappropriately.” For Lanska, the prime mover is to encourage women to take risks and demolish the stereotypes which ultimately deprive the society of reaping its biggest benefits in human potential, especially in cinema.

The website, Shit People Say to Women Directors, has become a horror storehouse of stories that reveal the frequent badgering women deal with. The junction of badgering and working environment was precisely demonstrated with the #MeToo movement, when countless women expressed being harassed or abused by men while working in Hollywood.

It is obvious that spiritualism as a message permeates Eva’s work as well. All her films focus on strong women, who overcome stereotypes and themselves, creating an image of ideal, powerful and persistent women. Currently, Eva is working painstakingly on a film project about the great women of America, telling the stories of women who have achieved their goals, tackled their fears and built dizzying careers by themselves, bringing up children and having no men by their side. Eva believes that this is the right time to show off the true meaning of women’s power and to bring this image onto the screen.

Given her equal passions for life, filmmaking, and family, how does Lanska pull it all off? “I am into time-management more, I work on my efficiency and I am extremely motivated to provoke the shifts in society’s perception that will ensure my daughter lives in a society where gender inequality is nonsense.”

At the end of the day, it is Lanska’s perseverance as an artist that soars above discussions about gender discrimination in the industry. Because, while organizations and associations are taking actions to highlight the contributions of women in cinematography, artists on the front-line like Eva Lanska have already torn through the Celluloid Ceiling, showing women how to ride on the wave of their own artistic effort and vision.