National Film Board of Canada's All-Women Studio D: Prize-Winning, Controversial. FILM: INTERVIEW
WHEN the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) celebrates its 50th anniversary in May, one of its divisions will just be marking its 15th year. It's called Studio D, and while it's still rather young, it could well be the most talked-about branch of the NFB operation - with activities and priorities that have generated more than their share of controversy. The board describes Studio D as ``the first ever all-women's filmmaking unit.'' It was established in 1974 as part of the NFB's continuing effort to give all segments of the Canadian public meaningful access to its government-funded facilities. Since its founding, the studio has earned solid respect not only from filmmakers and feminists, but from the public and even Hollywood's influential Academy Award voters - who have bestowed three Oscars on Studio D productions.Skip to next paragraph
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Why did the NFB decide to establish a separate unit devoted entirely to women? ``They realized at last that there was a huge audience of women out there,'' says Kathleen Shannon, who founded the studio and served as executive director for its first 14 years. She is one of the pioneers who drafted the original Studio D proposal in an effort to change the status of women at the NFB, which, she says, ``was pretty appalling.''
The board accepted the proposal's ideas and moved to enhance the status of women through a new production facility. ``It all started as a form of tokenism, in a sense,'' Ms. Shannon says. ``But when tokenism is all you can get, you can do remarkable things with it!''
The mandate for Studio D was based on five points, according to Shannon:
Providing employment opportunities for women.
Providing training opportunities for women.
Meeting the information needs of women.
Creating an environment that would facilitate ``exploring our creativity in our own way.''
Bringing the perspective of women to bear ``on all social issues.''
Another motive in the founding of Studio D, according to Shannon, was an attempt to answer a fundamental question: If a ``women's aesthetic'' were given a chance to flourish on its own terms, would it be different from the masculine approach that has dominated cinema since its beginnings?
Shannon says the answer has turned out to be a resounding yes. Even on a basic technical level, she asserts, ``a woman's camera work tends to be different from a man's. We see differently, because we learn to see differently in our lives.''
Shannon illustrates her point with a practical example. ``A few years ago,'' she says, ``I could have predicted what would happen if you sent a cameraman to take some shots of a Montreal street. His footage would show mainly white men between the ages of 18 and 50. There would be a few pretty girls, but none over 30 - unless it were somebody quite ethnic, like a 90-year-old with lots of wrinkles, so people could exclaim what a `wonderful face' she had. There wouldn't be a lot of female heads, but there would be other parts of their bodies.