By Sarah Wilson
In 2017, women made up just 18% of all directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers working on the 250 top-grossing Hollywood films that year. During the ten years between 2007 and 2017, they made up a meagre 4.3% of directors on the 1,100 top-grossing films, with just four black women, three asian women and one latino woman amongst them. In spite of all the advances made for women’s rights in recent years, it’s clear that the film industry remains a notoriously difficult place for women – especially those of colour – to find professional success.
Nobody knows this better than Anastasia Cazabon, a photographer and film-maker based in Berlin and founder of GRRL HAUS CINEMA; screenings of short films and video art produced by female and female-identifying creatives from around the world. In her own words, it’s “a place where diverse and critical voices can be seen, heard and celebrated rather than silenced”.
Starting up in Boston as a way for Anastasia and a friend to show their recently-completed work to friends and family, the event quickly grew into something much bigger. “The idea expanded into having one of my friends perform before the screening and another friend selling her artwork”, said Anastasia, noting that it quickly turned into “a celebration of all these creative, rad women’s work”.
The next event ended up selling out, and from there Anastasia opened the event to the public, taking local submissions and curating the shows through those. And though she’s watched the event grow year on year, the popularity of the screenings was something that initially took Anastasia by surprise. The packed auditoriums, the said, made her realise “how important events like these are needed in the community – especially in cities like Boston, where the art scene is constantly fighting and pushing against the insanely high rents of the city and its conservative culture”.
GRRL HAUS events are unique in their diversity, with the format of each one varying from event to event depending on “the environment we program for each”. Past events have hosted bands, comedians, DJs, performance artists and photo exhibitions to accompany the films on show – though Anastasia stresses that the connecting theme is always “a celebration of the creative work of women”.
Also interesting is the avoidance of a competitive element to the film screenings, with Anastasia and her team much more interested in “celebrating all the work on an equal level”. Rather than being a place for “schmoozing” or “networking”, GRRL HAUS is, says Anastasia, “a place where a Sundance selected short as well as a short directed by an 18 year old [and] filmed with a super 8 camera can be shown in the same program”. The focus of the event itself and the cinema on show is on “the DIY aspect of cinema making,” and GRRL HAUS are committed to screening the work of people who have been traditionally underrepresented in cinema, are just starting out, or are doing particularly experimental work.
The screenings in Berlin, says Anastasia, are “definitely different to the Boston ones”; something she puts down to the fact that “the city is the polar opposite to Boston, in that the art scene is alive and always growing and Berlin would never be considered conservative”. GRRL HAUS has two events planned for this summer in Berlin, with one coming up on 15th August and focusing on dance related films, and the other happening on 4th September with a focus on “death, birth, identity and sexuality”. The audience in Berlin, says Anastasia, “has been so supportive and welcoming” so far, and she promises some “very stunning work” to attendees.
Though she admits to seeing less professional sexism since moving to Berlin, Anastasia still experiences many of the “small” but “frustrating” irritations of being a woman in the industry, including “being talked over”, and “having men explain technical things to me that I learnt before them”. She puts the sexism of the industry down to a vicious cycle of men “hiring other men and only relating to other men’s stories”. It is, she says “incredibly hard to break the pattern”, but with many groups similar to GRRL HAUS popping up lately, she remains optimistic that the “social climate is changing in general”, with “more disenfranchised group voices now being heard and getting the platforms they deserve”.
And if you can’t wait until the next GRRL HAUS event to support some great female filmmaking? Anastasia recommends checking out Agnes Varda, whose name, she says, deserves to “come up as easily and often as Scorsese, Kubrick, or Polanski”.