A film very much of the time, for the time, Half the Picture is a fearless, resonant documentary.
There is change brewing, if it hasn’t already mounted, in the film industry. With the numerous revelations of the history of sexual harassment and assault within the industry, questions are being asked and issues are being pushed as to how Hollywood can revert and expel its longest standing problem: sexism and gender inequality. This is the problem addressed by Half the Picture, Amy Adrion’s new documentary, in which the director conducts several interviews with female directors who give their stories of success and their struggles.
Half the Picture operates in a highly cyclical manner; a particular problem faced by female directors is brought up, such as the inability to get a directing role that could serve as a platform for their career, and then this scenario is spoken about by the interviewees on hand. It can understandably at times become repetitive in its structure, but this is the key to what makes Half the Picture so powerful and so, so vital. The directors speak with unflinching honesty, a mix of both veterans and less experienced filmmakers. With the former, the likes of Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World), Lesli Linka Glatter (ER, The West Wing, Homeland) and Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight) share their stories as to how they managed to get their break; Spheeris and Glatter in particular have their tenacious mentalities on show, but the startling scenarios faced by female directors are highlighted as Glatter talks about a meeting with an unnamed male executive which started with him asking “So when are we taking our clothes off?”
It’s revelations like these that make Half the Picture so important and relevant. Hollywood’s history of sexual harassment has come to the forefront recently, but it’s still alarming for us as an audience looking in at the industry to hear how frequent such encounters have been. However, the issues of abuse and harassment are not dwelt upon; instead, the film is more of an examination of different filmmakers’ experiences which all end up with a similar outcome. Half the Picture delves into the barriers these directors have faced, all of which are so maddening to hear about because they virtually all stem from the fact that they are not a white man. The film justifiably scrutinises the male dominance of Hollywood. Whilst some may try to put down Half the Picture as forcing an agenda on the viewer, this essentially is the point, but the agenda is not an agenda, it’s a message that we should have gender equality in all walks of life and that the film industry should be no different.
Towards the latter stages, the legality of such inequality is brought into the question, framing the film against the ongoing EEOC investigation. The discriminatory scenario that the female directors at hand find themselves faced with adds further fuel to the infuriating fire that Half the Picture stokes; this is a documentary that is informative, maddening and, above all else, emotional. The subjectivity of the piece is unabashedly flaunted, allowing us to connect with this struggle on an emotional level and Adrion has every right to make it so.
Whilst Half the Picture may be somewhat repetitive and its relatively short 95-minute runtime leaves behind some unexplored areas, it still manages to stand out as essential viewing, especially in our current climate. Wearing her heart on her sleeve, Adrion crafts the documentary with clear passion, it poses stirring questions and ultimately asks a big open one – what are we going to do now?
Half the Picture (2018), directed by Amy Adrion, screened as part of the 2018 Sundance London Film Festival.