INTERVIEW: We catch up with Barbara Ann O’Leary, creator of Directed By Women

SQ: Hi Barbara, it’s been two years since we last spoke with you for the first Directed by Women! Aside from now expanding to an entire month from its original 15 days, how else has DBW grown and developed since 2015?

BOL: It’s great to talk with you again. I’ve loved celebrating with you these past few years. Can’t wait to enjoy and share your blog posts during September’s Global Party.

The #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party is so much fun. I’m continually delighted by the innovative ways people choose to celebrate the work of women directors. Of course we love to enjoy and share about women directed films all year long. I do that personally by watching 90+ minutes of work by women directors every single day and posting on Tumblr and Twitter.  But there’s something amazing that happens when we bring our attention globally to noticing and celebrating women directors during a concentrated period of time, which makes the #DirectedbyWomen Global Party a particularly potent film loving experience. No matter where in the world you are the Worldwide Film Viewing Party connects you with a growing community of film lovers eager to dive in and explore films by women.

And you’re right. We’ve expanded. We started off with half a month the first year, but then chose to spread out and claim the entire month of September for each celebration since then. It still has that concentrated feel, but makes it easy for groups with monthly series to participate more easily and feels more luxurious.

This year we’ve declared September Woman Director Awareness Month.  We invite film lovers everywhere to expand their consciousness by learning about and watching films #DirectedbyWomen,  inviting others to join the exploration, and generally relishing new film viewing possibilities. It’s time for the global film community to awaken to the richness of what women directors are making—and have made since the very early days of cinema history.

One thing that‘s grown is the #DirectedbyWomen list of women who have directed film (and I use film as a shorthand for any motion picture creation: TV, webisodes, video installation art, etc). At the moment the list has 10,611 directors and it is growing all the time. I have a backlog of information to add. On the new and full moon each month I dedicate 6 hours to intensively add content to the list. Sometimes I sneak in updates between those times but this work could take all my time, so I have to pace myself.  Every day I find out about more women who have directed in the past or are directing now.  It’s really exciting and I love helping others bring their attention to their work.

I hope during this year’s #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party film lovers will dive in to the list and discover filmmakers they haven’t known about before.  I love it when people help expand the content by sharing information using this Google Form.


SQ: How do you feel about the steady rise of women film-makers getting to helm blockbusters such as Patty Jenkins with Wonder Woman and Ava Duvernay’s upcoming Disney outing A Wrinkle In Time? Are we starting to see real progression?

I wouldn’t call it a steady rise, but I am happy to see Patty Jenkins and Ava DuVernay directing big budget films. And I’m looking forward to more and more women taking on projects with resources that can mobilize their expansive visions and light up big screens globally. I was happy to see the news that Gina Prince-Bythewood will be directing Silver & Black for Sony’s Marvel Universe. These developments might actually get me back into theatres to see superhero movies again

Wonder Woman was a real pleasure. I saw it twice in the movie theaters and found it deeply moving both times.  Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all time favorite books.  I am eager to see Ava’s vision for the film. It’s not an easy book to adapt, but I think she’s making wonderful choices from what I’ve seen and read. It’s hard to wait to see the film on the big screen!

Both Wonder Woman and A Wrinkle in Time are films about the power of unconditional love… the universal force that fuels transformation.  It’s great to see stories that acknowledge the total power of unconditional love.


SQ: The Directed By Women site now features a ‘conversations’ series, speaking to women filmmakers about their lives and craft, how did this come about and what have you learned from these interviews?

Thanks for asking about the #DirectedbyWomen Conversation series.  It started in January 2016, but this summer we’ve had an increase in activity as I put out a call for volunteers and some wonderful film lovers have stepped up to engage in conversation with film directors. We’ve also been showing off the conversations with lively images on social media, which has been a wonderful addition. I’m appreciating the volunteers who have been bringing their skills and their knowledge and love  of films #DirectedbyWomen to the project.

The intent of the series is to offer film lovers an opportunity to hear from women directors in their own words about their process, their projects, their visions, their successes and their challenges.  I see this as a way for the film community to raise awareness.

I’d love for more people to join the process so we can continue to expand the series.  It’s time consuming to engage in meaningful dialogue, but it feels so important.  We hope it adds to the growing shift in consciousness around women as directors globally.  If you read this and think you’d like to join the #DirectedbyWomen conversation team, I look forward to hearing from you.  And if you’re a woman director who would like to be part of the conversation, I’d love to hear from you as well. So far the conversations have been in English, but other languages are welcome. Let’s explore possibilities.

In addition to one to one conversations, we’ve also started doing conversation posts that focus attention on women directors who have work in specific festivals. For that we ask each director a single question that can offer film lovers a glimpse into their process of making the work that will be in the festival. It’s a way to include more filmmakers in the conversation as well as potentially help film festival goers choose to prioritize these filmmakers’ work as they navigate a hectic festival experience. We’ll see where else the conversation series takes us.

If you’ve had a chance to enjoy the conversations, I hope you’ll be on the lookout for these film directors’ work and share the conversations with other film lovers.


SQ: What’s on the agenda for this year’s DBW, for you personally and the site itself, any plans?

We’ll continue to post more conversations and blog posts sharing insights about women directors and their work on the website during September.  And I’ll continue the #DirectedbyWomen Full and New Moon 6 hour Sprints to continue adding to the list of women directors.

As always the focus of the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party is on activities film lovers are creating and sharing. Some of that activity is tracked on the Global Calendar (more on that later) but the bulk of the activity is shared via social media. The hashtag #DirectedbyWomen is the primary way that people can share and discover what’s unfolding. Active sharing is definitely encouraged. The true heart of the #DirectedbyWomen initiative resides in social media… where active exchange takes place and community is fostered.

This year in addition to catalyzing the global celebration I’m making a commitment to local film viewing possibilities by co-creating programming in Bloomington, Indiana. I’m thrilled that the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive is providing their beautiful new Screening Room for five #DirectedbyWomen events co-created with Black Film Center/Archive and IUL Media Services.

Two of the events include filmmaker visits:

Filmmaker Irene Lusztig will be with us in person to share Notes on Feminist Process: Preview of Yours in Sisterhood on September 8. This presentation of her full length work-in-progress will focus on exploration of her feminist filmmaking process. The screening will be followed by Q&A.

Three Short Films About Motherhood screening with Q&A  on September 21 is co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), Cinema and Media Studies in The Media School and IUL Media Services.  Venezuelan filmmaker Alexandra Hidalgo is scheduled to be present along with her family, who are an active part of her filmmaking process. Alexandra is  founder and editor-in-chief of agnès films, a digital publication that supports the work of women and feminist filmmakers.

Other programs at the Screening Room include Lucía Puenzo’s XXY (organized by IUL Media Services), The Revival: Women and the Word (organized by BFC/A) and for the 60th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock High School a screening of Teach Us All followed by a panel discussion (organized by BFC/A).

Every weekday throughout the month IUL Media Services will be screening films #DirectedbyWomen in their space during lunchtime, providing opportunities for visitors to encounter work by women directors in an informal setting.

I also have the pleasure and privilege of facilitating public conversation with independent filmmaker Megan Griffiths on September 1—the first day of the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party—during her visit to IU CInema for the Megan Griffiths: Transforming Script onto Screen series.  And I will be enjoying additional films #DirectedbyWomen in the IU Cinema space, at the Neal-Marshall Black Film Center Library, Farmer House Museum and other venues where #DirectedbyWomen events are planned throughout the month.


SQ: What are some of your favourite events that are listed on your global map this year?

This year’s #DirectedbyWomen Global Map is continuing to grow and will throughout the month of September as we learn more about what’s unfolding. One of the things I love the most about the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party is that people choose to celebrate in so many different ways and it is a truly grassroots, D-I-Y event.  That can result in information being a bit scattered. But I prefer freedom to order… so it’s fine that the information flows in at its own pace. When we know about events in advance we list them on the calendar.  I’m aware at the moment of a handful of exciting events that are being planned, but haven’t been announced yet. We’ll get that information up online as soon as possible.

Other times people are holding house parties or other events that are a little bit under the radar and we wind up hearing about them in the moment as people share on social media using the #DirectedbyWomen hashtag.

There are a lot of wonderful events I could mention. Here are a few that are particularly exciting.

#DirectedbyWomenSpain returns again this year for their third edition September 15 – 17.  Their program at Cineteca Madrid includes screenings of features and shorts, as well as workshops, conversations, and a concert!

And of course we’re thrilled that Scalarama continues to fill the UK with films #DirectedbyWomen during their September celebration of cinema.

In addition to events specifically created for the #DirectedbyWomen celebration, the calendar includes screenings, symposia and other events that are being offered during September. It’s a way to appreciate the groups making women directed content available and also helps film lovers looking for films to watch during the party.  They can head out to those events if they’re in the area, but they can also become informed about films and seek them out elsewhere.

If you know of ANY screenings or other events focused on women directors and their work during the month of September—anywhere in the world—please share that information here. And it is NOT too late to create your own events.

Also it’s important to realize that the celebration doesn’t have to involve physical events.  Lots of people celebrate by engaging in conversation online about films #DirectedbyWomen that they are watching or particularly love. You can also arrange with other film lovers to stream a film at the same time and live tweet the experience. So many possibilities. How do you want to celebrate? Join us.


SQ: We asked you this question during our first interview and we’d be interested again- what have been some of your favourite women directed films so far this year?

I’ll answer that by sharing about some films I watched this year… rather than only talking about films released theatrically in 2017.

I had a chance to see Agata’s Friends (2015) directed by Spanish filmmakers Laia Alabart, Alba Cros, Laura Rius and Marta Verheyen. The film was streaming on MUBI in the US in May. These four young directors created their film while they were still students I believe. It’s a subtle and engaging look at the pressures on friendship that develop as women grow up and expand their horizons. I look forward to seeing more of their work.

I watched Lucía Puenzo’s XXY (2007) distributed by Film Movement. It’s a beautifully crafted Uruguayan coming of age story about an intersex teenager.  I am delighted that we’ll be screening the film in Bloomington, Indiana during the Worldwide Film Viewing Party this year. I am really looking forward to seeing it on the big screen.

Laura Citarella’s Ostende (2011) was a wonderful surprise. I streamed it on MUBI last week. It unfolds in a slow, but stunning way. I am looking forward to seeing her film Dog Lady, which is also streaming on MUBI this month… in the US at least. I know it’s frustrating to learn about films and not necessarily have access to them, but this is something I’m hoping will transform in the coming months and years so we have greater and greater access to work by women directors. I’m holding that vision.

Ah… I just realized those are all three Spanish language films.  I did watch films in other languages as well. Those were just a few that came to mind as I thought about my film viewing this year.

There are so many films #DirectedbyWomen that I long to see—time and access permitting.

One of the main reasons I launched the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party is that I know there are far too many films by women for one film lover to see on their own. No matter how obsessively I watch films I can’t possibly watch them all, so I invite the entire film loving world to join with me.  Together we can view and celebrate the work of women directors—and in the process open up space for women to make more work and receive attention and support to help the film world flourish more expansively.

Thanks for the invitation to share about #DirectedbyWomen. Can’t wait to celebrate with you.


by Chloe Leeson

Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screenqueens. She is 21 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller a whole lot. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, The Beach and Lords of Dogtown. But DON’T talk to her about Paranormal Activity. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff.

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