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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 05:13 GMT
The challenge for women directors
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Sofia Coppola
Coppola could be the first Oscar-winning female director
Lost In Translation director Sofia Coppola is only the third woman to be nominated for the best director award at the Oscars. Is it the last bastion of male domination in films?

Modern Hollywood has belatedly taken a step in the right direction for equality.

Coppola, who won an Oscar for best original screenplay, takes her place on a select list featuring Jane Campion - nominated in 1994 for The Piano - and Italian director Lina Wertmuller.

Wertmuller was the first female director nominated - for Pasaqualino Settebelleze (Seven Beauties) - in 1977.

Her controversial tale of a Neapolitan man seeking to protect his sisters from a life of prostitution received critical acclaim - but Wertmuller lost out on the Academy Award for directing to Rocky director John G Alvidsen.

Directing decline

And although Dutch director Marlene Gorris won for an Oscar in 1996 for her film Antonia's Line, it was for best foreign language film rather than in the directors' category.

Coppola's nomination raises the question of why women film directors remain such a rarity in Hollywood, even in the 21st Century.

The Celluloid Ceiling - a report issued by San Diego State University last year - estimated that out of the top 250 grossing films of 2002, men directed nine of the top 10.

Bill Murray (right)
Ms Cussons said a male director would not have made Lost in Translation

Furthermore, the number of women working as directors, producers, writers, cinematographers or editors fell from 19% in 2001 to 17% during 2002, the study reported.

In the UK the situation is even worse. In 2002, of the 350 films made in Britain, only eight were made by women.

Jane Cussons, the director of the London-based group Women in Film and Television, said she was "absolutely thrilled" at the news Coppola had a nomination but added it underlined the bias that women still faced in this part of the industry.

Her organisation has set up the Directing Change programme, launched last year, to try and give young female film-makers a break.

High-profile Hollywood films were still almost impossible for women directors to get, with a similar situation in the UK - despite the success of Bend it Like Beckham's director Gurinder Chadha.

Risky business

"I wish they were making huge films with major Hollywood talent, but they aren't," said Ms Cussons.

"The reason we made this Directing Change programme last year was because the figures from the US and here were so bad."

Ms Cussons said she was aware film-making was a risk - and investors often wanted a guarantee in the shape of a known director. Women directors were still not seen to be enough of a guarantee.

Jane Campion (left) with Kate Winslet
Jane Campion (left) was the last female nominee - in 1994

But also part of the problem was the traditional "gender imbalance" in the film industry, with men continuing to dominate technical trades like editing, sounding and cinematography.

Even women's high profile in film production, Ms Cussons said, came from a tradition "producers had a secretary, and she was a girl, and the directors had a secretary, and she was a girl".

Ms Cussons said she had heard a recent story of a top female producer and a female director in Cannes trying to finance their film who were asked at meetings where the director was - because financiers could not believe a woman would be directing.

"There are some really promising young directors at the moment, like Emily Young (Kiss of Life) and Sarah Gavron (This Little Life). We hope that in five or 10 years' time we might well see a few more. Poor old Gurinder can't make them all."

Ms Cussons said she hoped Coppola's success also showed how a film like Lost in Translation needed its female viewpoint.

"Women do have a point of view. The film is quirky and original, and it couldn't have been made by a man."

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