A feminine language in cinema

Scheffmann, Dorthe
O'Connor, Maria
Jackson, Mark
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

A Feminine Language in Cinema is a creative-work or practice-led Master of Philosophy project. The creative component is a feature film screenplay, En Abyme, developed for mainstream audience reception in such a way that key aspects of a feminine sensibility are fore-grounded. As a woman screenwriter and director who has been engaged in the New Zealand film industry since the 1970s, I am acutely aware of the marginalised conditions of women in the production of feature films, as well as the marginal reception within the financing arms of the industry when projects concerning women protagonists in everyday sensibilities of being a woman are broached. My aim with this research was to develop a feature script that engages women’s sensibilities. That development was to be undertaken in conjunction with the assaying of the history of feminist struggle in filmmaking and film theorising since the 1970s.

In the course of this research and screen writing, I developed what I have termed a “Feminine Manifesto” that serves to establish some guiding principles for my own approaches to filmmaking and, hopefully, approaches by other women in the industry. Like the Dogma 95 Manifesto, developed by the Danish filmmaker, Lars von Trier, the manifesto establishes a series of propositions or guides for how to act in approaching contexts of ‘re-visioning’ cinematic practice. Unlike the Danish model, my Feminist Manifesto is more allusive, abstract and interpretative, offering more an ethical opening to practice than a defined knowhow to mechanically engage film apparatus.

The exegesis is not the ‘thesis’ of my research. As practice-led, my research outcomes are constituted in the creative work. This exegesis establishes contexts for this research and offers a close analysis of scenes from the film script in order to show, or manifest, how each of the six principles of the Feminist Manifesto are to be understood and deployed. My ‘explanations’ are neither ideal nor exemplary instances of the demonstration of the manifesto principles. Nor are they a mechanical ‘translation’ of the manifesto as if it was an instrument or mechanism for producing feminine cinema. My best hope is that we recognise a resonance between aspiration, promise and invention, such that a realist narrative, a fairly conventional film can show how women’s cinema can function.

My engagement with feminist film theory traces an historical trajectory principally spanning the Atlantic. We find that in both the United States and the U.K. in the early 1970s feminist concerns with equality and questions of the representation of women turned to the medium of mainstream cinema. Feminist film theory made its strongest developments in the UK’s cultural theory adoptions of French Marxist and psychoanalytic theory, along with the reappraisal of popular cultural cinema with the French New Wave analyses of ‘auteur’ cinema. The result with a powerful critique of (particularly) Hollywood cinema for its constitution of an essentialist ‘male gaze’ that erased the ‘presence’ of women as anything other than an object for masculine pleasure.

The exegesis engages with the ongoing debates around the scopic pleasure, and the shifts in theoretical investments from the 1970s to the present, as it establishes a critical context for understanding the impetus for the screenplay, and offers modes for that work’s reception.

Feminine manifesto for screenwriting , Feminine manifesto
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