WoC Film I: Kathleen Collins’ LOSING GROUND

Elsewhere cinema’s Scalarama contribution will begin a season by Women of Colour filmmakers.

New research has confirmed that since diversity and representation became the latest buzzwords within film industry dialogue, little has in fact changed and a staggering 92.5% of the 100 most popular film in the us box office remain directed by men.  Which raises the question at which point does this dialogue diverge, is paraphrased and misinterpreted? Without direct action and industry commitment, such as the swedish film institutes 50-50 funding distribution for male and female directors, there would seem that little change will ever happen. In Fact one of the things that our 58% project aimed to do is to turn this dialogue into action.

Following 58% inaugural season, it was evident that there was a world of neglected cinema that remains to be seen and an audience keen to see it. Cinema is a powerful medium which serves two equally valuable purposes; cinema as entertainment and cinema as a tool to encourage social and cultural awareness. It’s undeniable that cinema encourages a much needed escapism, however its can also be used as a tool to share stories often neglected by mainstream media in order to build up a richer understanding of the world we live in.

In light of recent events; such as the increased hate crimes following the Brexit vote, the French burka ban and the Black Lives Matter movement, to name but a few, it feels increasingly necessary to expand our awareness and understanding of the cultural diasporas that surround us. With all of this in mind, I felt a season on WoC Filmmakers was a perfect starting point to engage new audiences and explore the perspective of black female directors.

downloadThe season will start with Kathleen Collins’ LOSING GROUND, 1982, recently restored and went on theatrical release ‘last year’… only 33 years after it was made. The film debuted at New York’s Lincoln Centre, where critics coined it as  ‘both a time capsule and a timeless gem’.

The fact that LOSING GROUND is most frequently described as ‘One of the first feature films directed by a African American woman’ is cause for concern because it highlights two things about the film industry: One, that up until 1982, it encouraged or allowed its black female population the opportunity to make films; Two, that despite Kathleen Collins’ achievement, her contribution remains an anomaly within narrative filmmaking.

Collins was an activist, writer, philosophy lecture and filmmaker, and had studied literature, film and philosophy in Paris. Before embarking of making films, she’d written stage plays and helped develop the film studies programme at City College of New York. As for her filmmaking skills they involved scriptwriting, producing and directing the films. Her achievements were phenomenal, when considering she died aged 46.

LOSING GROUND is a closely observed portrait of a withering marriage between philosophy professor Sara (Seret Scott) and her painter husband Victor (Bill Gunn) whilst on a summer break where the relationship is tested to the limits. ‘Driven as much by mood and setting as by plot’, the narrative unfolds in a cleverly written, intellectual and even comical manner which allows collins to explore her philosophical wanderings and deconstruct topics relating to race, class, sexuality and relationships. The plot also includes a familiar film within a film narrative, where art imitates life with heightened emotional consequences towards the end of the film.

facebook_event_503125233218545 tumblr_oa85fzvwim1qzqju7o1_1280

Despite rave reviews from the festival circuit and winning various awards, Losing Ground failed to gain distribution as it didn’t fit the hollywood stereotype of black america in the wake of the blaxplotation era. Against all odds however, and despite her untimely passing, Kahtleen collins’ contribution to her generation’s black-film movement was long lasting. Losing Ground developed a mythological status within academic and film studies circles and many filmmakers regard it as one of the influential films that inspired their career, despite having never been seen by most until last year’s anticipated theatrical release.

Programming initiatives such as 58% are necessary to ensure films like Losing Ground aren’t lost to history books and that they become part our daily programme, because in doing so it could change peoples’ mindset about film and more importantly about how they perceive and treat other people.

Elsewhere Cinema present LOSING GROUND on Sun 18th Sep, 5:30pm.