Film Forward

Meet The Inspiring Woman Populating The Internet With GIFs Of Female Filmmakers

"It’s my honor and privilege to bring attention to the work of women ..."

When you hear the words "film director," what defining characteristic comes to mind? If the first thing you think of is their gender, the fact that they're mostly men, you're not alone. The vast majority of visual references to film directors online, a place many of us spend large portions of our day, is overwhelmingly male. So, thanks to an idea spawned from a simple Google search last year, one filmmaker is working to change that reality — one GIF at a time.

Elena Rossini, an Italian filmmaker, recently began a project titled "This Is What a Film Director Looks Like" with her end goal being to increase the representation of women directors online, to show that they are here, they are doing great work, and they are capable of inspiring a generation of little girls to be more like them.

"The images we are exposed to shape the way we see the world," Rossini tells A Plus via email, detailing how an experimental Google search result for "film director" had yielded top results that were overwhelmingly male, with the first female director being shown not even being a real woman at all. It was a Barbie whose assigned "job" was a film director. "I was appalled."

"So, earlier this summer, I had a thought: Maybe I could harness the power of the internet to populate the web with images of female directors — promoting their visibility and thus normalizing their presence," Rossini details, noting that GIFs immediately came to mind to use as a medium because of their prevalence in pop culture. "And it's working!"

The initial plan, Rossini says, was to produce one GIF a day for a month but, with all the traction it's getting and the recommendations people send, she "could continue and make hundreds."

"The reactions to this project have been overwhelmingly positive. With each new post, I receive supportive comments as well as many suggestions for new women directors to feature. Word of mouth and retweets have allowed the project to get on the radar of women directors that I didn't know, who are now following the project and sharing it," Rossini adds. "So I'm making new connections and discoveries every day. This is confirming to me something I already knew: There are so many of us out there. It's my honor and privilege to bring attention to the work of women directors, from first-timers to A-listers."

Rossini notes that growing up and up until graduating film school, she believed that working hard was the key to success and that applying oneself would help you achieve anything you want. While studying to be a filmmaker, Rossini explains that teachers and classmates supported her, providing positive feedback and speaking highly of her potential. When it came time to enter the job market, though, she says that "proved to be a real shock."

"I often felt as if I was a 5-foot-1 man voicing my desire to play in the NBA — a look at me was all producers needed to dismiss me as a director," Rossini states. "I've been working as a film director for over a decade and my biggest challenge has always been the issue of credibility," Rossini explained. "Whenever I introduce myself and say that I make films, the first follow-up question is inevitably 'Oh, are you a film student?' or 'What kind of little videos do you make?' Noticing how female film directors are virtually invisible … must play a role in this, affecting people's perceptions of what a film director looks like."

Because of this, Rossini mentions how she carved out a career that is "anything but traditional" outside of the film industry itself. Instead, she aligns with and works with brands and organizations that share her values and approach her because of what she believes in and stands up for — notably her advocacy for the empowerment of women and girls.

With reports highlighting the lack of female directors on television and in movies, projects like the one Rossini is producing further push the conversation forward about equal representation for women — both in front of and behind the camera — in Hollywood.

"The work of Geena Davis' institute and blogs such as Melissa Silverstein's Women & Hollywood have been crucial in raising awareness about the need for more diversity in film. The phenomenal success of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman was also a sign that women directors can make huge box office hits — and audiences want to see empowering stories about women," Rossini concludes. "Progress had seemed so slow throughout my adult life, but the pace has accelerated in just the span of two years. I feel this is the beginning of a beautiful sea of change in our culture."

Follow along with Rossini's GIF series on Twitter or on GIPHY.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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