Professor Elisabeth Subrin's Course Encourages Women in Film
by Logan Beck
Associate Professor Elisabeth Subrin proposed a new idea for an elective course shortly after she first arrived at Temple, remarking how marginalized women’s film remained in the film industry, as well as in academia.
With support of Temple’s Department of Film and Media Arts, the Women Film/Video Artists course was born, and is now a permanent part of the curriculum.
According to Subrin, only six percent of commercial narrative films released in America are directed by women.
“There's no other industry, including the United State Congress, with worse numbers,” Subrin said. “This is reflected in film school as well. Women students are consistently the minority in undergraduate film programs, and the disproportionately few films by women they're exposed to doesn't help them to be able to envision themselves as filmmakers - as makers of meaning.”
These figures inspired Subrin to develop the course, and give her students exposure to theoretical, aesthetic, and conceptual contributions of female filmmakers, as well as expand their knowledge of independent cinema and moving image art.
“I expose them to feminist film theory, and a brief history of American feminism, although no one is required to define themselves as a feminist, or write about filmmakers from a feminist perspective,” Subrin said. “While it's not the primary purpose of the course, I have discovered that by exposing students to issues of gender and representation within media, they become more sensitive to sexism and gender bias, and carry that consciousness into their lives. I've learned from teaching this class that often sexism is simply just a lack of information, which is actually very heartening as a professor.”
Subrin’s blog, Who Cares About Actresses, details the alarming data demonstrating the minimal exposure of female creators in the industry. Despite bleak statistics, Subrin intends for the course to be empowering and encouraging to females in film, by introducing the spectrum of films created by females, as well as exploring the intersection of gender and expression, the diversity of women’s voices, the contributions of feminist film theory, among other topics.
This semester, the theme of the course is “The Gaze,” prompting the class to examine the ways the camera has the ability to control the way people view the world and those around them, not only in terms of gender, but in terms of race, class, and even via surveillance, such as explored in Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour.
Throughout the four-hour-long class, film majors and non-majors will have the opportunity to not only watch films, but discuss particular themes or historical moments, as well as assigned readings in great detail.
For junior film and media arts major Rachael Moton, the discussion aspect of the course proved to be beneficial for her understanding of the material.
“I really enjoyed the class because it was more like a open discussion of the material,” Moton said. “We were all able to speak as a group about the films and readings we discussed.”
The film selections for the course are carefully determined to guarantee that the students also gain a sense of the history of independent and experimental film and art, rather than simply relying on mainstream works.
“I show them feminist classics, such as Lizzie Borden's Born In Flames and Julie Dash's Illusions, and also far more obscure work,” Subrin said. “However this semester I've also shown them films by great international filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman, Agnes Varda, Lucrecia Martel and Samira Makmahlbaf. Because I want them to see less accessible cinema, I don't show work by Temple alumni or my own, although there are so many great filmmakers in our department! But they know how to find them.”
These films selections enhanced Moton’s experience in the course, especially as a student in the directing concentration.
“The most important thing I learned was just the vast amount of female filmmakers that exist outside of mainstream media,” Moton said. “We were exposed to so many filmmakers and video artists that I had never heard of until this class.”
Ultimately, Subrin’s goal is to empower the unique voices of her students, and to continue to educate them in hopes that they become more sensitive and aware of diversity and sexism and gender bias.
In Moton’s opinion, the course does just that.
“This course is important because all of my other film classes are very male centric,” Moton said. “As a woman it's so important to see that there are people like me that are successful in this industry.”