Conference Report: Women and New Hollywood, Maynooth University (May 2018)

Fjoralba Miraka shares some key insights into the debates during the Women and New Hollywood Conference at Maynooth University in May 2018. What questions do the current histories of New Hollywood raise for feminist scholars of this period of cinema history – and for feminist historians more generally?

These names are important to note, because each of these careers helped to create a path for future female filmmakers to follow. These women of the 1960s and 1970s knocked on that glass ceiling, and though it was tough to break through it, they ended up inspiring a whole new generation waiting in the wings, ready for their shot
(Alicia Malone, Backwards and in Heels, 2017, pp.124-5).

When Maynooth University announced its Call for Papers for the Women and New Hollywood conference to be held on 29-30 May 2018 I thought to myself this is fantastic news! With my own research focus on Women and the so-called ‘movie brats’ (Pye and Miles, 1984) in the age of Hollywood Renaissance, this was the place to be, not only because it was clearly close to my research interests but also because it was the first conference of its kind: exploring the roles of women film practitioners in an age that has invariable been considered as male-driven and male-dominated,. Interestingly, this conference came almost a year after one dedicated to The American New Wave, at Bangor University (July 2017), a conference in which, as I pointed out in my report on that event, overtly raised the issue of the lack of women actively involved in film during the Hollywood Renaissance era. These two conferences are divided by the rise of activism against abuses in the film industry, namely the #metoo and #timesup movements; they still share, from an academic perspective, an interest in revising the established historical narratives of the 1970s film culture.

2018 saw various events employing different perspectives on the past, such as A Different Picture: Women Filmmakers in the New Hollywood Era, 1967-1980, (May 2018) a BAMcinematiek series which established its aim to: ‘correct a historical wrong’ and to provide ‘a counternarrative to the traditional macho mythology of the New Hollywood era’; the 2018 Doing Women’s Film and Television History (DWFTH-IV) conference offered a well-informed, feminist account of women and film in national and international contexts; and Artists and Activists: Second Wave Feminist Filmmakers (June 2018) at the Barbican Centre, ‘a weekend of films from the American Women’s Movement of the 1970s’, curated by the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television. The significance of this ‘wave’ of historical revisionism is twofold: for historians, it demonstrates the wealth of a flourishing film culture since the late 1960s onwards which has been somehow omitted from the film canon or current film histories; and, for practitioners, it creates the necessary context for new generations of women practitioners to draw inspiration from a film tradition of their own.
Amidst such an atmosphere, ‘Women and New Hollywood’ drew attention to the unprecedented number of women in Hollywood production in the late 60s and 70so and sought to bring their stories out of the shadows of masculine auteurist film criticism that has arguably dominated film culture for decades. Panels on adaptation and stardom, historiography, New Hollywood’s end and legacy, as well as on individual women, such as Jay Presson Allen and Barbara Loden, made up the main corpus of the conference.

It started with a powerful message from the opening keynote speaker Amelie Hastie, which sought to offer the alternative story of women’s engagement with film culture to the mainstream story of masculine New Hollywood. Her presentation foreshadowed many of the following talks and discussions, challenging the understanding of the history of New Hollywood as the history of film directors; instead, Hastie’s presentation decentred authorship to relocate the creative genius in the figures of stars, screenwriters, producers, or the collaborations between directors/writers/actors, etc.

Decolonising film history from auteurist preoccupations, as well as opening up the meaning of the word auteur to incorporate the vast creative presence within the filmmaking, is a useful and effective methodological tool for revisiting and reshaping film historiography. In a her keynote presentation titled: ‘All the Wrong Lessons – New Hollywood and Contemporary Auteurism’, Julie Turnock emphasised that this is a decisive step towards learning the right lessons from the past and teaching the right lessons in the future.

The main lesson from this conference was the attention to the decades-long women’s invisibility in film culture as a symptom of a symptom of sexism in the industry. Working through the example of New Hollywood, the conference overall brought strong evidence that a continual devaluing the stories of and about women as well as their work, as opposed to men’s, has taken place. Susan Liddy made this the main point of her presentation on gender and the Irish film industry, pointing out the universal truth that women struggle to be visible and suggesting that the right questions need to be asked in order for the record to be corrected and the history books to be revised.

In my experience of inter-conference conversations this year regarding historical revisionism and methodology, the title of the conference itself demonstrates where we are in terms of feminist scholarship. At DWFTH-IV this year, Yvonne Tasker’s problematised ‘the currently inescapable logic of women and…’ as a paradigm to discuss film history. This resonated with the title of Maynooth’s conference: ‘Women and New Hollywood’, which suggests that we still find these kinds of discursive paradigms for women’s filmmaking necessary. This is because the record has not been set straight yet and the canon has not been ‘fixed’. However, having said that, our times – and these conferences – suggest that we are on the right path toward this end.

I wish to thank Maynooth University, the organisers Aaron Hunter and Martha Shearer, the keynote speakers Amelie Hastie and Julie Turnock as well as all the presenters and attendees for this great opportunity to revisit one of the most influential eras of American film history with a very fresh perspective.

Fjoralba Miraka is a research student at Roehampton University and teaching associate, with a research focus on Women and the Movie Brats in the era of Hollywood Renaissance. She holds an MA degree in American Literature and Culture and a BA degree in English Language and Philology, both from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. She has presented in national and international conferences, and received the Arthur Smith Memorial Scholarship, awarded by the Fran Trust, for her participation in the Women and New Hollywood conference, Maynooth University, Ireland. She occasionally contributes essays at the WFTHN blog and writes film reviews of Albanian films for the online magazine Sbunker

 

References:
Malone, A. (2017) Backwards and in Heels.The Past, Present And Future Of Women Working In Film. Coral Gables, FL, USA : Mango Publishing.
Pye, M. & Miles, L. (1979) The Movie Brats: How the Film Generation Took over Hollywood. (London: Faber and Faber).