Since 1967, the Academy Awards’ Cinematography category has had a total of 245 nominees. None of these has been a woman. However, a female presence has increased in this role throughout the decades. Alexis Krasilovsky’s film Shooting Women provides an intimate look at the change in the role of Director of Photography over the past decades, as women camera operators have emerged and altered the landscape of the film industry worldwide.
Krasilovsky’s film begins with 1967 archival footage of a reporter asking an interviewee what he thinks “about a woman as a camera man.” The man is puzzled, proceeds to laugh and eventually explains that “[he] realize[s] that [he] has a hard time answering that… a woman as a camera man.” This opening scene encapsulates the underlying issues faced by women in the industry over the past several decades, as they have attempted to claim their place in male-dominated production crews. The depth of the problem is, perhaps, most apparent in the reporter’s phrasing: ‘woman as man.’ A ‘camera woman’ is non-existent vocabulary at the time of the interview, as are gender-neutral terms such as ‘camera operator.’
An array of interviews follows this scene, the majority carried out with female camera operators, concerning their experiences in the industry. While each of these women’s stories is intriguing in its own right, the film’s international focus significantly increases their stories’ power. Viewers take a journey around the globe, discovering similarities and differences in attitudes towards and working conditions experienced by female DPs in different national cultures, including: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Senegal, and Spain. In this way, Krasilovsky creates the implicit argument that although these cultures may be different, the experiences of women in this traditionally male occupation share significant commonalities. [End Page 80]
Main themes explored in the film include gender inequities, ethnic differences, and the day-to-day working relationships between men and women. Viewers witness how critical issues such as gender discrimination are manifested across cultures, in various ways and degrees. Interviews with Indian crew members, both male and female—including married couples where both spouses work as DPs—illustrate the strongest gender division in the documentary, with men suggesting that if a woman wants to work on the set it is, nonetheless, still entirely her responsibility to take care of her husband and children at the end of the day. Ashok Metha, a Bollywood DP, suggests that it is difficult for women “to handle so many people and so much stuff.”
Sexual harassment is a second problem that strains working relationships between the sexes during production, an issue illustrated by Kirstin Glover’s recollections of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s repeated inappropriate touching of her on the set of Pumping Iron (1975). Erika Addis, an Australian-born DP, argues that while female members of production crews have been discriminated against, such allegations would almost be impossible to prove. The film mentions a variety of organizations that have emerged over the course of the previous decades to assist women in the film industry, but no background information is provided on these groups. Such organizations include Studio D—a women’s film studio in Canada created in 1974; Women in Film and TV (WIFT)—a New Zealand based group born in 1993; and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), established in 1977. However, to the film’s viewer, the history and role of these organizations within their respective film industries remains unclear.
Krasilovsky’s refusal to rely on voice-over narration is impressive. Instead, interviewees guide viewers through the experiences of the film’s featured female cinematographers. This treatment, however, also results in the lack of a clear timeline and is the main shortcoming of this documentary. The film was shot over the course of at least twenty years (information only discovered in one of the special feature interviews on the second disc) and hardly any date captions are provided. Unless the story shared by an interviewee is linked to a particular event...