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Sundance Film Festival 2018: Half the Picture review - essential documentary that shouts #TimesUp from the rooftops

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Half the Picture is an essential documentary from Amy Adrion that perfectly exemplifies the spirit of #TimesUp in Hollywood. Hearing female film and television directors from a huge array of backgrounds speak on their experiences in the industry shines a new light on the issues that plague it.

Harassment and assault are a small part of this documentary that encompasses the numerous and multifaceted challenges women directors face, from not being given opportunities and funding, to being undermined on set, to the pressures of motherhood.

The documentary features only women — from directors to gender-parity experts, representatives from the ACLU, Sundance, Vanity Fair — even behind the camera as we see behind-the-scenes shots of the interviews, the crew is seemingly all-female too. It adds a startling power to the film — when was the last time you saw so many women on screen, and such a notable absence of men?

It also does the job of proving the very point that every single woman in the film reiterates: that women are just as capable, just as good at filmmaking as men are in every single role — they are simply granted less opportunity to prove themselves.

The stories are simultaneously disheartening and inspiring. The likes of Ava DuVernay, Gina Prince-Blythewood, and Jill Soloway explain how despite the doors slammed in their faces, the jobs given to less qualified white male directors, the constant disrespect, it is their perseverance, skill, and love for the craft that has pushed them to endure. The logical happy ending for that story is “… and look where they are now!” but unfortunately, in reality, the payoff isn’t nearly as large as it should be. Or should I say, isn’t as large as their male counterparts’ is, for much less work.

DuVernay incredulously relates how post Selma (), the film that took the film world by storm, she expected job opportunities to if not come flying in, then at least be easier to come by. The industry proved her wrong, and she still had to face rejection after rejection from execs not wanting to hire her.

This is one story among many, and the evidence is made abundantly clear that the issue lies with those in power giving opportunities to people who look like them — a cycle of straight white men’s style and ideas appealing to straight white male executive’s sensibilities, resulting in that being the only perspective reflected in our culture on screen.

The documentary does a brilliant job of letting these women tell their own stories. They speak mont only about their work, but how their families and identities have impacted upon it — from husbands and wives, race, and children. Mexican director Patricia Riggen speaks on how as “a small, brown woman” she was disregarded on set in favour of her (white, male) first AD. Miranda July gets emotional about how hard it is balancing work with caring for her son … and then promptly berates herself, because both being over emotional and a mother are two reasons often thrown in the face of women in the workplace. 

This web of women are interwoven, and you see them namedrop each other as inspirations, as the people who first gave them a break, as friends and colleagues and contemporaries. It isn’t simply a documentary to highlight issues in the industry, but solutions too. The ultimate message is one of hope, and of real, tangible progress in the industry.

A must watch for fans of the industry. Unfortunatly, Half the Picture does not yet have a UK distribution date.

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