Saturday was the 10th anniversary of WITASWAN! I’ve mentioned this in previous posts that WITASWAN stands for Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artists Now. It’s an initiative that was started ten years ago with Jan Lisa Huttner and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Illinois Chapter. The initiative is a movement to support female artists in all fields, but with a focus on film.
WITASWAN came out of research about the “Celluloid Ceiling” that female directors and writers’ lack of recognition, funding, and more in the movie world. For instance, in the history of the Academy Awards, only one woman has won best director. I believe only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director. That’s a problem. There is a lot of talk about how we need more female directors but that’s not the issue. There are many films made by women but they don’t get the press, nor the wide release. There are great films out there that you’ve never heard of. So the idea of WITASWAN is motivate consumers to see films by women, whether at the theater or on Netflix, etc. If we want to see diverse voices that reflect many experiences, we have to do this.
Part of this initiative is SWAN Day (Support Women Artists Now) at the end of March. It was conceived with Martha Richards at WomenArts, Jan Huttner, and AAUW. The idea of SWAN Day is celebrate women in the arts with an event. It could be a movie screening, a play, a lecture or maybe a gallery crawl. There have been celebrations all over the world. For instance, Sophie Dowllar has been instrumental in organizing event in Kenya. She organized the first SWAN day event despite restrictions on public activity. One of her events had over 600 people attend! Here is a 2010 interview with Sophie Dowllar about SWAN day and arts in Kenya. http://www.womenarts.org/2010/03/18/sophie-dowllar-interview-2010/ In the interview, she talks about how artists and WITASWAN activists in Kenya have to deal with challenges that Americans don’t normally have to face. There are difficulties with internet, meeting spaces, travel and much more. Her commitment to the cause is incredible. Rock on Sophie Dowllar! Let’s emulate her example!
So to celebrate the 10 years, AAUW had a special screening of Judy Chaikin’s “The Girls in the Band.” The event was open to the public and held in Evanston. Judy Chaikin flew in, presented the film, and had a Q&A with us. I’ve previously talked about this film in February. https://notwithoutmybowlerhat.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/review-the-girls-in-the-band/
It is an incredible and important film. This film speaks to the important contributions that women made in jazz, which have been left out of the historical narratives. Judy Chaikin shared with us how she got interested. A friend of hers called her up to say that she had met this woman who claimed to have been a drummer in a big band in the 1930s. Her friend thought this was preposterous but did her homework and found out that there were such a thing as all women big bands. So the director got interested, did some more research and found out that there was a story about women in jazz. Then she looked into seeing if the women were any good or were these novelty bands. But the music was great. So there was an important story here.
So go and see this film if you can. It may be released soon on Netflix so you can check it out there. But go out and support women artists everywhere now! Let’s make SWAN day everyday!