Concordia researcher examines women's experiences in film school
In the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the film industry continues to struggle with its entrenched gender gap behind the camera.
Last year, only eight per cent of directors who worked on the 250 highest grossing films in the United States were women, down one percentage point from 1998 levels.
Now, Tracy Ying Zhang, postdoctoral fellow at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, is looking further back in women filmmakers’ educational experiences to examine how they come to identify with the medium.
“This project’s primary objective is to explore the relationship between women student filmmakers’ identity formation and how they learn in film school,” Zhang says.
“To achieve this, I have been organizing a participatory photography project that aims to generate a web-based digital dossier, featuring participants’ photos, interviews and stories.”
Drawing on both visual and textual data, Zhang will analyze how female students cultivate an artistic self. She will also investigate the socio-structural factors that influence female filmmakers’ career choices and artistic approaches.
Upon completion, Zhang will publish her findings as gender-focused policy recommendations for the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and the FCTMN.
“The research results will reveal the challenges and opportunities that women students confront in film school,” she says. “This knowledge can lay a foundation for revising the current policies and pedagogical models to further support future women filmmakers.”
New insights into gender politics
One of the aims of the digital dossier is to communicate participants’ concerns about film production education with a public audience. By doing this, Zhang hopes more individuals will be aware of how female student filmmakers overcome or cope with difficult circumstances in school.
“This knowledge will be especially useful to fostering a community of aspiring Canadian women filmmakers who may have similar experiences,” she says. “The dossier can collectively inform policy-makers and devise strategies for fighting the sexist culture in feature film production.”
At Concordia, Zhang appreciates the support she receives from her supervisor Catherine Russell, distinguished professor of film studies. She credits Russell for her crucial role in helping set up the project at the university.
Zhang is also grateful for the film school’s dynamic student community, which is a very important motivating factor for her.
“My research coordinator and participants inspire me to rethink this research and develop new insights into gender politics and film education,” Zhang says.
What advice does she have for film students who want to get involved in similar lines of research?
“It is very important to spend time and emotional energy building relationships with research participants, to empathize with them and to protect their privacy.
Zhang’s research receives funding through a Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellowship as well as support from Femmes du cinéma, de la télévision et des médias numériques (FCTMN).
Find out more about Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.
The Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellowship is supported by the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.