The creative and collaborative processes and
the dynamics of the IWFP

After a short prologue of no more than a minute, a woman’s hand is seen taking a portrait of a woman from a box containing several other pictures. Zoom in, the image freezes. The film’s title The Emerging Woman appears over this photograph.

Next, we see a photograph of four women sitting around a table talking. On the table there are other photographs, a reel of film and a typewriter. The audience can deduce who these women are from the titleswhich read: a film by Roberta Haber, Melanie Maholick, Lorraine Gray, Helena Solberg-Ladd.[2] [open endnotes in new window] The soundtrack accompanying the sequence starts to mix with the voices of the women producing the documentary. Meanwhile, the audience observes the women watching materials on the Moviola, typing, preparing films for viewing, shooting scenes, and selecting images. Then, from the portrait held in the woman’s hand, the narrative returns to the struggles of women. It is not until the end of the documentary that more credits appear, accompanied by the soundtrack; we see quick shots of Gray, Haber, Maholick, Solberg and of the editor Jane Stubbs. Then, the rest of the credits appear on black background.

I chose to open this section with a quick description of the credits in The Emerging Woman because it gives important clues about the creative and collaborative processes and the dynamics within the WFP. This is a collective production in its authorship and the decision to highlight this aspect at the beginning of the documentary emphasizes its importance in deciding the division of roles. This also occurs in The Double Day, which shares interviews with women discussing their difficulties in accessing work in factories, barriers to education and how working as a maid is their only option. Following this, The Double Day'snarration begins providing information on Latin America, while on screen there are scenes from the making of: the team travelling and a woman on the camera giving instructions. The image freezes, the narration stops, and the titles read: “Proyecto Internacional de Cine Feminino S.A” [International Project of Women’s Cinema S.A]. The following names are displayed: Joy Galane, who was already working as filmmaker at the time; Odile Hellier, a French feminist; Melanie Maholick; Mercedes Naveiro, an Argentinean artist who was living in the United States at the time; Dolores Neuman; Anna Maria Sant’Anna, a Brazilian friend of Solberg also living in the United States; Helena Solberg Ladd e Jane Stubbs.

A woman [Helena Solberg] is seen in the back corner of the screen, while another woman looks at the camera display [Christine Burrill]. The title reads“second camera operator Christine Burrill.” The camera follows a woman [Lisa Jackson] as she walks with sound equipment. The camera reaches the face of Brazilian filmmaker Ana Carolina, from the trilogy Mar de Rosas (1977) [Sea of Roses], Das Tripas Coração (1982) [Heart and Guts] and Sonho de Valsa (1987) [Dream Waltz]. The titles read:“Production manager, sound editor Jane Stubbs. Assistant editor Joy Galane." In the same shot, the camera returns to the woman with the sound equipment and another woman [Jane Stubbs] appears from within a car. A woman [Solberg] gives instruction to another [Burrill], both close to the camera. The title reads“Director Helena Solberg Ladd.” A woman [Ana Carolina] takes still photographs with a photography camera covering her face. The title reads“Photographer Dolores Neuman.” The same woman [Jackson] that is seen with sound equipment records the voice of a possible interviewee. The title reads“Sound Lisa Jackson.” A man [Affonso Beato] holds a light meter with a woman [Solberg] in the background. The title reads“Cinematographer Affonso Beato.” In this shot the credits appear and in the subsequent scene, the audience is shown scenery as the soundtrack begins and the title of the film appears.

Although in this case they had chosen to credit those that were on the team, the first information that the audience receives is that the film was produced by the IWFP and who its members were at that moment. Even some not-so-important roles in the conventional filmmaking hierarchy were also credited at the beginning, performed by women who were part of the filming trip. It is very significant to show the team (which, as I have already remarked, were mostly comprised of women) and the members of the IWFP in the first shots of different productions. First, it demonstrates a commitment to the strength of the collective; it emphasized that the division of roles and the fact that there was a director did not mean that one was in charge and the others obeyed. It should be noted that the director’s name does not appear first in the group— and not even first in the individual credits, with the exception of Simplemente Jenny.

In this documentary, all of the production information is presented at the end. After one of the teenagers affirms that they wanted to be simply Jenny, a track played by an Andean flute begins and the scene portrays the faces of Bolivian girls. The image freezes on the girl with the darkest skin, who has braids, wears a hat and looks challengingly into the camera, and the text “Produced by International Women’s Film Project” appears over the image. Subsequently, “Director Helena Solberg Ladd” appears on the screen; I will discuss the director’s increased visibility in this production below. The following names are also highlighted in the following order: “Editor Christine Burrill,” “Final Editing Grady Watts,” “Assistant Editor Melanie Maholick,” and “Photography Affonso Beato.” The rest of roles appear together, over a red screen.

When I spoke with Helena Solberg in October 2021, the director expressed that the creative and collaborative processes and the dynamics of the WFP/ IWFP were different in each of the feminist trilogy films. The Emerging Woman was, without a doubt, the most collective of the three, according to her account. Although there were individual roles, they all read texts that were then debated in meetings, discussed the photographs that would be used, and talked about the structure of the piece, etc.

The Double Day was a project that really mobilized Solberg, the Latin American member of the group, who also had a better understanding of the subject-matter than the others. Clearly, in The Emerging Woman the opposite was true as Haber and Maholick were studying the history of feminism in the United States. With that said, Helena Solberg was helped by the fact that she was already living in the United States at the time and the others knew enough to teach each other.

Yet, despite being a Latin American woman, Solberg felt that she needed to formally study before the filming of The Double Day began. Therefore, in 1974 she decided to participate in a seminar about feminist perspectives to analyze Latin America. Held in Cuernavaca, Mexico, it featured people such as Helen Safa and June C. Nash. Safa, from the United States and Heleieth Saffioti, from Brazil are both feminist academics whom Solberg has always cited as major references for understanding the situation of women from the subcontinent, a preoccupation or an interest that she ended up bringing to the screen.

I believe there were several reasons as to why Helena Solberg reported in its first stages that The Double Day was not as collective as her previous film. Primarily, the rest of the team lacked training in filmmaking and had little experience with Latin America. Besides, they had to manage a huge schedule taking approximately three months in which they needed to film images and record sounds without actually being able to see the material. Nevertheless, in an interview for Off Our Backs with some of the members of the IWFP, Solberg described how the collective reconciled collective authorship with the division of roles in post-production:

“Editing is harder to do collectively, even if you agree in principle and try to make it possible to have 8 or 10 people sitting around the stinback [sic] making decisions. So there were three of us doing the actual editing: Christine Burrill, Suzanne Fenn, and myself. But the room was never closed to other people and I think it was pretty well understood that at any time anyone could come in to give their opinions. Also, we had talked so much before making the film and we know each other so well that there wasn't any big issue as to where the film was going. It was mainly a question of doing the best possible on something we had all agreed upon before” (17).

Simplemente Jenny, as would be expected, had different creative and collaborative processes and different dynamics. The material had already been recorded and Helena Solberg knew what she wanted to do, since she had identified the missing dimension of The Double Day. As I mentioned before, it was a compilation film which, according to Solberg, was produced in California by just the director, Christina Burrill and Melanie Maholick. It is possible that Grady Watts and Rose Lacreta made some contribution before or after their stay on the east coast, considering that they appear in the credits.

It is clear that, despite the differences between the creative and collaborative processes and the dynamics found in the comparison of The Emerging Woman, The Double Day and Simplemente Jenny, there is an indisputable importance to producing films within a collective. This explains why in the three works analysed here, the collective’s name is always featured as the first slide of credits following the title, at the start or end of the production.

I would like to briefly return to a matter that was previously alluded to here: the dimension of learning in these collective experiences. In the interview with Burton, Helena Solberg stated that the exchange of knowledge in The Emerging Woman was intense. She was teaching the others about film, learning about the history of feminism in the United States and, as a team, they were fostering the knowledge that each woman brought to the table.

Another example worth highlighting, is that of Lorraine Gray. A few years after starting to build the WFP/IWFP with her experience in still photography, Lorraine Gray launched With Babies and Banners (1978). This 45-minute production tells the story of the Women’s Emergency Brigade during a strike held at General Motors Michigan between December 1937 and February 1938. The film holds a prominent role within feminist cinema of the United States. With Babies and Banners was produced under The Women’s Labor History Film Project, and not the WFP/IWFP. But without a doubt, the experience gained in the collective was crucial both for Gray to become a director and for Melanie Maholick (assistant editor of The Emerging Woman and The Double Day, with no prior experience in film) to become one of the editors. It is also felt that all contributions were relevant, as Melanie Maholick pointed out in an interview to the magazine Off Our Backs, 1976:

“One way I feel we are [a collective], is that within the IWFP we all get paid the same salary for a day’s work, whether it’s for direction, assistant editing, or research. When we hire someone to do some typing or translation work we also pay them that same rate. We’re trying to take into consideration that often different class backgrounds afford different educational opportunities for gaining certain skills. But we feel everyone’s work is equally necessary to the project” (17).

In order to fully understand the creative and collaborative processes and the dynamics within the collective it is important to look beyond the longest-standing members of the IWFP, and also consider the temporary partnerships. As an open group that was comprised of women from different countries, the IWFP had occasional contributions from those who were passing through or staying for a period in the United States. This was the case of filmmaker Tetê Moraes, a Brazilian exile living in Chile who was forced to flee in 1973 and travelled to Washington. Moraes contributed to the research for The Double Day.

In an interview, Helena Solberg spoke about the eclecticism of the IWFP with regard to the nationality of its members, considering both the permanent and temporary members. Her wish had been that more Brazilian women had taken part, though this was not easy, because she had already been away from her country for years. That said, as mentioned earlier, Rose Lacreta was responsible for the additional editing in Simplemente Jenny and collaborated with the filming in Latin America. Additionally, the director Ana Carolina, whom I briefly mentioned above, was also present on this trip at one point.

Final considerations

The WFP/IWFP was an initiative very much in tune with its historical moment and geographical space. On one hand, it aligned with the characteristics and structures of feminism in the United States. On the other hand, it also aligned with political and militant film collectives from Latin America, such as the groups Cine Liberación, Cine de la Base, Cine Urgente, Ukamau, etc. At the same time, there are important features to be highlighted. Famous New Latin American Cinema groups, such as the Grupo Cine Liberación and the Grupo Ukamau, were primarily national. This also applied to the feminist collectives of the second half of the 1970s, such as Cine Mujer in Colombia. The IWFP already had women’s internationalism in its concept, in its origins, and in its very name. In addition, it brought about a major reversal in the geopolitics of audio-visual production, because there was a woman from the Third World (albeit from the higher classes of Brazil) directing in the United States.

For my analysis, I have drawn on the credits in the three selected documentaries, offered an overview of WFP/IWFP’s main members (looking at their careers within the collective and beyond), and analysed the creative and collaborative processes and the dynamics within the collective. This discussion has allowed me to present an idea, albeit partial, of what the WFP/IWFP was, through the perspective of Helena Solberg. In addition, I find this is an important and singular moment in the history of women’s film and cinema in the United States and Latin America. I contemplate some of the collective features, namely, how both ephemeral and enduring relationships were built within the group, the challenges of creating collectively and performing individually or in pairs/trios, as well as the translation and explanation of these rich processes onto the screen. Helena Solberg’s perspective has been centred, but I also hope to add here to the research on the pioneering feminist cinemas in/from Latin American, especially in their collective forms. When the current situation changes, (which in Brazil has already claimed thousands of lives, not only in the pandemic but in the negative, genocidal ways that the governing authorities have dealt with it) I intend to continue such investigations by incorporating more points of view; surely there is still much to be written about the WFP/IWFP.

Last, I would like to close the article with an iconic image which depicts both the collective and the endless possible answers in research. It is a photograph without a date or authorship that we could identify. A photograph that has a part compromised by a light that “leaks” at the moment of shooting, and which, in addition, bears the marks of the passage of time. Moreover, it gathers all the women behind the making of the The Double Day, wearing the same clothes. On a very cold night in Bolivia, the production crew got more suitable (and similar) pyjamas; but pyjamas and blankets were not enough, the warmth of the group was also necessary. As long as the struggle of women exists, the warmth of the group will always be (as it always has been) necessary.