Discover more from Funerals & Snakes
Something to watch tonight: Monday 13 November
Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema (Cousins, 2019)
Back in April 2020, during the very first Covid lockdown, I was making At the Movies for RNZ from my home studio because the RNZ head office and studios were out of bounds.
The documentary series Women Make Film was about to premiere on the Rialto Channel and I was offered the chance to interview the writer and director of the series, Mark Cousins.
I was very excited about this as Cousins’ first history of cinema, The Story of Film: An Odyssey from 2011, had been instrumental in opening my eyes to a bigger picture of world cinema than I had been aware of until then.
Women Make Film was to be a similarly epic survey of the history of movies, but with a mission to restore the reputation of female-led filmmaking, buried for decades under the avalanche of stories about blokes.
Cousins’ delivery of his own scripts can be an acquired taste. His lugubrious Northern Irish accent can become a bit soporific over time, and he also recognised that a man’s voice telling women’s stories for 14 episodes was kind of defeating the purpose a bit, so he engaged some awesome collaborators: Tilda Swinton, Adjoa Andoh, Jane Fonda, Thandiwe Newton, Sharmila Tagore, Debra Winger and Aotearoa’s own Kerry Fox narrate the episodes.
But the very close reading – and elegant descriptions – of shots, scenes, films and filmmakers remains intact and always well-illustrated with examples.
When I spoke with him via Zoom, Cousins was also locked down at his apartment in Edinburgh and he was bristling at his inability to go and commune with the flickering lights of a movie theatre – he compared it to a religious experience as if he was missing his regular attendance at a mosque or temple.
We spoke for almost half an hour and I had to cut it down to about seven for broadcast, losing some lovely moments. Here’s the almost complete 27-minute version.
Funerals & Snakes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Where to find Women Make Film
Aotearoa and Australia: streaming on DocPlay
USA: streaming on Criterion Channel
UK: digital rental from Apple, Amazon or BFI
The 15-episode series The Story of Film was remastered into high definition and is also available on DocPlay. In 2021, Cousins completed a 16th chapter, The Story of Film: A New Generation which brings the story almost up to date. That’s just landed on TVNZ+ and I’ve added it to my watch list.