American Independent Female Filmmakers: Kelly Reichardt in Focus

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Hall, Dawn
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Middle Tennessee State University
Female directors are historically underrepresented in the film industry. By studying the careers of independent women directors, scholars can identify their opportunities and challenges to create a more diverse and equitable industry. After synthesizing recent studies of women in film, this project focuses on the career of Kelly Reichardt as one example of the creative methodology, production, and content of women's work in the indie sector.
After the introduction, a current snapshot of American independent female filmmakers' careers, chapter one introduces Reichardt's early influences and growth. Chapters two through five focus on micro-budget production decisions that affect content, aesthetic, and cinematic choices. Chapter two analyzes Reichardt's experimental techniques and feminist themes in her first feature RIVER OF GRASS (1995) and begins a discussion of genre mixing that extends to subsequent films. Chapter three examines her turn, after a twelve-year hiatus from filmmaking, to minimalism and a focus on cultural concepts of masculinity in OLD JOY (2006). In her next film, WENDY AND LUCY (2008), highlighted in chapter four, Reichardt responded to a lack of political will in addressing the pervasiveness of poverty and homelessness, issues complicated by gender. The chapter also explores ecofeminist themes of human collateral in the wake of natural disasters. With her largest budget to date, Reichardt made MEEK'S CUTOFF (2010), a feminist Western that critiques contemporary political landscapes, as detailed in chapter five, which also discusses her strategic uses of slow cinematic techniques and 1.37:1 screen ratio. The conclusion draws from Reichardt's production model to address issues facing women in film.
By chronicling Reichardt's career and production methods, this project explores women's underrepresentation and attempts to draw conclusions about female career longevity in the independent sector. Reichardt offers a contemporary, sustainable career model for independent filmmakers; one that does not aspire to commercial success, but instead impacts scholarly and industry communities. With Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, and Nicole Holofcener, Reichardt belongs to a small group of American women filmmakers with a distinctive and growing body of films. This project hopes to expand the existing body of research and support changes in perception and opportunity related to women in the film industry.
Ecofeminism, Gender and Women's Studies, Independent Film, Kelly Reichardt, Masculinity Studies, Neorealism