The Criterion Channel has recently made available a collection of films based on the acclaimed series “Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Voices,” originally screened at The Metrograph in 2018.
The films, all documentaries, all directed by women, share women’s stories through the startling intimacy that’s created between the subject and the camera. As the films vary from cinéma vérité to essay to agitprop The Metrograph, as one of the few independent theaters left in New York City, presented as an ideal venue for the original series. Known for its atmosphere, it aims to create the ultimate film enthusiast’s space where one can immerse themselves in film alongside movie professionals who screen and discuss their work.
The series adopted an Adrienne Rich quote from Motherhood: The Contemporary Emergency and the Quantum Leap (1979) as it’s raison d’être:
“One of the most powerful social and political catalysts of the past decade has been the speaking of women with other women, the telling of our secrets, the comparing of wounds and sharing of words… In order to change what is, we need to give speech to what has been, to imagine together what might be.”
Curated by Nellie Killian, Tell Me helped to highlight how the film industry has in many ways, failed women. They’re underrepresented as directors and as subjects in film – an issue the New York Film Academy’s 2018 Gender Inequality Infographic explored. These documentaries are so unique in that they are about women by women which give them a different tone and distinctive voice. These stories and the manner in which they’re told are so very different from anything mainstream filmmaking and even, many independent films have released.
While spanning five decades, the films of “Tell Me” have a common thread. They celebrate women filmmakers as well as the women in their films. By simply giving women a safe space to speak of their lives and experience without restraint, the films capture life-long frustrations and injustice painting intimate and complex portraits of its subjects. These groundbreaking films, all from the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, are mostly documentaries that run under 60 minutes.
Among the films in the collection is Growing Up Female (1971), which focuses on the story of six women, ages 4 to 35, and how stereotypes in the media and advertising, and their personal relationships influence their socialization. It offers an interesting insight into how much has changed over time and how much has remained the same.
The Camille Billops and James Hatch short documentary, Suzanne, Suzanne is a multigenerational story. It chronicles the devastation a life of physical and psychological abuse has wrought on a daughter Suzanne, who is a recovering drug addict, and her mother, Billie.
In Dis-Moi -Tell Me (1980), whose title inspired the name of the series, the director Chantal Akerman sits with and gives a voice to elderly Jewish women who are all survivors of the Holocaust as they recount their lives and family stories before and during World War II. Akerman’s mother is also featured in the film as she recounts tales of her own family. The film offers an intimate and delicate portrait of the lives of its subjects.
The complete collection of “Tell Me” features the following films:
Growing Up Female (Julia Reichert and Jim Klein, 1971)
Janie’s Janie (Geri Ashur, Peter Barton, Marilyn Mulford, and Stephanie Pawleski, 1971)
Betty Tells Her Story (Liane Brandon, 1972)
It Happens to Us (Amalie R. Rothschild, 1972)
Joyce at 34 (Joyce Chopra and Claudia Weill, 1972)
Yudie (Mirra Bank, 1974)
Chris and Bernie (Bonnie Friedman and Deborah Shaffer, 1976)
Guerillère Talks (Vivienne Dick, 1978)
Inside Women Inside (Christine Choy and Cynthia Maurizio, 1978)
Soft Fiction (Chick Strand, 1979)
Dis-moi (Chantal Akerman, 1980)
I Am Wanda (Katja Raganelli, 1980)
Clotheslines (Roberta Cantow, 1981)
Land Makar (Margaret Tait, 1981)
Audience (Barbara Hammer, 1982)
Suzanne, Suzanne (Camille Billops and James Hatch, 1982)
The Ties That Bind (Su Friedrich, 1985)
Conversations with Intellectuals About Selena (Lourdes Portillo, 1999)
Privilege (Yvonne Rainer, 1990)
The Salt Mines (Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio, 1990)
The Transformation (Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio, 1995)
Mimi (Claire Simon, 2003)
No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015)
Shakedown (Leilah Weinraub, 2018)
The New York Film Academy encourages everyone to check out Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories on The Criterion Channel.