The question came at Ginny Durrin point blank in the middle of biting into her grape leaves. "So has it been difficult to be a woman filmmaker?" She stopped eating, and looked at a loss for words.
Her husband chuckled. "Do you want me to leave, dear?" asked Kip Durrin, the other half of their film company.
"It is hard to be a woman," she said. "It's not hard now for me. But I remember when people would say, 'Oh, you work for your husband?' 'Oh, you keep his books?' "
Not the place to ask that question. Not when the organization that Ginny Durrin started in her living room two years ago was hosting a party last night at the white-walled spaces of the Lunn, Diane Brown, and Newcomer/Westreich galleries. Durrin and colleagues of the Washington chapter of Women in Film and Video Inc. soaked up the attention at the party after the opening of the Second Annual Women's Film Festival -- "Women Make Movies II." The men were merely ornaments, a role some of them seemed to be enjoying.
"Yes, I'm getting my consciousness raised," said Richard Hantgan, a bystander, studying his glass. "I don't know if it's through osmosis or wine."
The opening film in the festival was "Raggedy Man," starring Sissy Spacek and directed by her husband Jack Fisk.
"It's great," Fisk said of this distinction. He beamed as Spacek clasped his hand. "I grew up with a lot of sisters."
Both were optimistic about seeing more women film directors. There are literally only a handful working in feature films. "It doesn't look bleak," said Spacek emphatically.
"Cable TV will change it," said Fisk. "That will be the place for new directors. There will be a big demand."
Someone handed Spacek a glass of white wine. "Cheers," she said, holding up her glass. "Here's lookin' at you."
The program notes on "Raggedy Man," which will be released next month, read: "It may seem incongruous for a Hollywood production directed by a man to lead off a woman's film festival. But 'Raggedy Man' typifies what we hope are strong new currents in the feature motion picture industry."
"Actually I liked it better than 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' " said Michal Carr, who owns a production company with her husband and is the president of the Washington chapter of Women in Film and Video. "It was so real -- all the accents and the sets."
Carr gave credit to Universal Pictures executive Marianne Moloney who pushed for the production of the film about a decisive, strong woman who works as a telephone operator in a small Texas town and raises two sons by herself. "Moloney was determined that it should be made," said Carr.
After the showing at the American Film Institute, Spacek and Fisk answered questions from the audience. An example: "How did your concept of the film change in editing?" Spacek's crack: "He cut out all my best scenes."
The party afterwards was mainly for celebrating and only minor reminiscing among the women filmmakers. "I remember going up to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," said Kitty King, one of the main coordinators of the festival, "and shaking people's hands and bringing them over to PBS to see a little fragment of a film." The little fragment was her PBS documentary "Silver Wings at Santiago Blue" (about women Air Force service pilots) and the handshaking was to get money. "You would finally convince them that you might have something and then they liked it. And then the Ford Foundation liked it." She shrugged, not remembering the exact words that did the convincing. "You had to be gutsy."
"I love it," said Judy Herbert, a film editor who is editing a documentary on Gerald Ford for the Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.. "There's nothing else I'd rather do." In 1968, she went to Channel 67, a public broadcasting station in Baltimore, as a video camera person. "I was one of quite a few women. There weren't many problems." She paused. "When I first got there, one of the old-timers said to one of the crew, 'Pick up the cable. She can't pick it up.' This was two-inch-thick cable. But the women said, 'What are you talking about?' And we picked it up ourselves. But that man is probably retired now."
According to Ginny Durrin, in the film business motivation can sometimes come out of adversity. "Some male directors are short. They're aggressive and they're trying to overcompensate."