Traverse City Film Festival 2012: Director Julia Reichert

Traverse City Film Festival 2012: Thursday afternoon at Milliken Auditorium, the Traverse City Film Festival screened “Films From the Early Women’s Health Movement,” a collection of three short 1970s films that demonstrate the dangerous personal and social implications of limited reproductive healthcare for women during that era. The films, along with an illuminating commentary by documentary filmmaker Julia Reichert, were not only historically enlightening, but also chillingly resonant of our contemporary issues in women’s health and sexuality. Reichert, an Emmy-winning and three-time Academy Award nominee also presented her 1971 documentary Growing Up Female on Wednesday at the City Opera House. Following Films from the Early Women’s Health Movement, I sat down with Reichert to discuss everything from women’s presence in the filmmaking industry to the meaning and continuous importance of feminism.—Ariana Hendrix for MyNorth.com.

AH: What came first, your interest in filmmaking, or your interest in the women’s liberation movement?

JR: Definitely the movement, although my inspiration to want to start making films came out of the knowledge that we had to do something. There were so many things that needed changing, needed addressing, and one way to do it was through making films. During college I also did a bit of photography and worked for a radio show. There I began to realize that the media had power, and that showing people a film or photograph had the power to make people see things in new ways.

AH: Yesterday at her panel discussion, Susan Sarandon spoke about the rewards and challenges of being so outspoken about her political views, including her feminism. What have been the challenges you’ve experienced in publicly identifying yourself with a movement that’s so often criticized and misunderstood?

JR: When I took my film Growing Up Female on the road, I was on several occasions physically threatened by men in the audience, and was definitely attacked for my views. I think, especially in that period, men were gut-level very threatened even by the very words “women’s liberation” due to the patriarchy of the time. I just often ask people, do you want to have control over your bodies? Well, then you’re a feminist. It doesn’t mean you hate men or you hate yourself or you have no sense of humor. It just means that you think women should be fully equal participants in the world and that barriers still need to be brought down. I think feminism really impacts everyone in a positive way.

AH: Are we in a post-feminist time?

JR: No, we’re not. Women still don’t make as much money as men do, and whether you’re rich or poor, you can still get raped, or beaten, and can get pregnant when we don’t want to or, depending on where you live, not have access to reproductive healthcare. And it’s still not okay to just be us. We’re expected to work out, to have just the right haircut, and just the right clothing. Actually, I think we’ve gone way back in that regard. Before the movement, we used to have to fit into very definite slots, we had to wear girdles and stockings with garters, but then there was a period where you let the hair on your legs grow, you didn’t have to wear makeup or high heels. But now, I really feel that there’s an emphasis on appearance that’s sexually stereotyped, and that the separation of genders has come back a lot more. We’ve come a long way in many regards, but there’s always more that can be done.

AH: As a filmmaker and a professor of filmmaking at Wright State University, how well would you say women are represented in the industry?

JR: Do you know the percentage of women who get to direct? I think that of the 250 top Hollywood films, it’s under 10 percent, and only about 1 percent were shot by women. But a lot of the more recognized contemporary women directors give us really rounded female, as well as child, characters. In so many films, women have no character arc, or are just the sidekick, usually in films directed by men.  I think women directors have brought more complex women to the screen.

AH: Well, you certainly brought these films to Traverse City at an important time in the continued fight for women’s rights. What has been your impression of the Traverse City Film Festival?

It’s been really fun! I have to go swimming before I leave, I just must go to your beach at some point. It’s a great town that I never really knew about before, and I’ve seen a selection of films that I wouldn’t have had the chance to see otherwise, so I’m having a really great time here.

Thursday afternoon at Milliken Auditorium, the Traverse City Film Festival screened “Films From the Early Women’s Health Movement,” a collection of three short 1970s films that demonstrate the dangerous personal and social implications of limited reproductive healthcare for women during that era. The films, along with an illuminating commentary by documentary filmmaker Julia Reichert, were not only historically enlightening, but also chillingly resonant of our contemporary issues in women’s health and sexuality. Reichert, an Emmy-winning and three-time Academy Award nominee also presented her 1971 documentary Growing Up Female on Wednesday at the City Opera House. Following Films from the Early Women’s Health Movement, I sat down with Reichert to discuss everything from women’s presence in the filmmaking industry to the meaning and continuous importance of feminism.—Ariana Hendrix for MyNorth.com.

AH: What came first, your interest in filmmaking, or your interest in the women’s liberation movement?

JR: Definitely the movement, although my inspiration to want to start making films came out of the knowledge that we had to do something. There were so many things that needed changing, needed addressing, and one way to do it was through making films. During college I also did a bit of photography and worked for a radio show. There I began to realize that the media had power, and that showing people a film or photograph had the power to make people see things in new ways.

AH: Yesterday at her panel discussion, Susan Sarandon spoke about the rewards and challenges of being so outspoken about her political views, including her feminism. What have been the challenges you’ve experienced in publicly identifying yourself with a movement that’s so often criticized and misunderstood?

JR: When I took my film Growing Up Female on the road, I was on several occasions physically threatened by men in the audience, and was definitely attacked for my views. I think, especially in that period, men were gut-level very threatened even by the very words “women’s liberation” due to the patriarchy of the time. I just often ask people, do you want to have control over your bodies? Well, then you’re a feminist. It doesn’t mean you hate men or you hate yourself or you have no sense of humor. It just means that you think women should be fully equal participants in the world and that barriers still need to be brought down. I think feminism really impacts everyone in a positive way.

AH: Are we in a post-feminist time?

JR: No, we’re not. Women still don’t make as much money as men do, and whether you’re rich or poor, you can still get raped, or beaten, and can get pregnant when we don’t want to or, depending on where you live, not have access to reproductive healthcare. And it’s still not okay to just be us. We’re expected to work out, to have just the right haircut, and just the right clothing. Actually, I think we’ve gone way back in that regard. Before the movement, we used to have to fit into very definite slots, we had to wear girdles and stockings with garters, but then there was a period where you let the hair on your legs grow, you didn’t have to wear makeup or high heels. But now, I really feel that there’s an emphasis on appearance that’s sexually stereotyped, and that the separation of genders has come back a lot more. We’ve come a long way in many regards, but there’s always more that can be done.

AH: As a filmmaker and a professor of filmmaking at Wright State University, how well would you say women are represented in the industry?

JR: Do you know the percentage of women who get to direct? I think that of the 250 top Hollywood films, it’s under 10 percent, and only about 1 percent were shot by women. But a lot of the more recognized contemporary women directors give us really rounded female, as well as child, characters. In so many films, women have no character arc, or are just the sidekick, usually in films directed by men.  I think women directors have brought more complex women to the screen.

AH: Well, you certainly brought these films to Traverse City at an important time in the continued fight for women’s rights. What has been your impression of the Traverse City Film Festival?

It’s been really fun! I have to go swimming before I leave, I just must go to your beach at some point. It’s a great town that I never really knew about before, and I’ve seen a selection of films that I wouldn’t have had the chance to see otherwise, so I’m having a really great time here.

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