The year is 2017, the month is October and the film world changed forever when dozens of women came forward and made very strong and convincing accusations that Hollywood mogul and highly respected film producer Harvey Weinstein engaged in acts of sexual harassment, assault and rape. What began next, was a movement; a step towards change, towards self-respect and addressing how women in the film industry have always taken a passenger seat to men in all areas.
Almost three years later, the film landscape has changed, even if it is not as drastically as we’d like it to be. Ideals and terms such as Inclusion Rider has been slowly being inducted into the film industry vocabulary, including a strong position taken by Michael B. Jordan, vowing to adopt the rider to all of his future films. In addition to these actions, global film festivals around the world, including TIFF, Telluride, Cannes and of course, Sundance, have made a conscious decision to include more female-directed films into the festivals, resulting in an increase in the number of female directors each and every year (even if female directors have yet to break the Academy Award Directory category mould). Yet, while the increase of female directors at Sundance only grow a small 4% from 2019 to 2020, that 4% showed a very steady and much needed progression. Thankfully for us, included in that rise of percentage, comes Kitty Green’s narrative feature debut, The Assistant. And while many may think, based on the very ominous first trailer, that this is the first Harvey Wienstein inspired narrative film, Green assures audiences, it’s not.
“I mean, there are definite connections and I absolutely drew inspiration from stories I had heard, but I think it is reductive to say that this is a film about Harvey Wienstein because it’s about something so much bigger than that; it’s about a systemic problem, a cultural problem that is making our workspaces unsafe for women and preventing them from getting into positions of power”, declares Green. “Raising awareness towards what is acceptable in our behaviours and highlighting a behaviour that is still going on, that was one of the points of the film. More importantly, highlighting how some behaviours can affect people with less power in organizations is another goal we had with the film” exclaims Green.
Yet, while many have seen the connections with her film and the real-life events flooding the media towards the once respected Go-To Oscar producer, others, including unnamed male film critics, have stated that Green’s film may no longer be relevant in 2020. Green had a lot to say about that. “I wasn’t interested in the facts; a list of itemization of facts. What I was interested in was something more emotional, something more human…a feeling; more-so than a news art-piece. This issues is more relevant than ever! For me, the film was a highlight of these little glances, looks and tiny moments that often go unnoticed [especially for men]. I think women often pick up on them”.
The Assistant, aside from also being a relevant piece of contemporary cinema, also really, asserts itself as an empowering piece of cinematic art, even if though unintentionally. The film, which asserts itself as a “day-in-the-life of” type film also sparks many debates over gentrification and diversification within the industry, and does not assert itself as a “female empowerment” film, but just a film about empowerment and self-worth, regardless of gender.
“Looking at who has power, how it can be abused, and how it can be spread; that became the goal of the film. What I was trying to do was get people to emotionally identify with a person in that position, as opposed to just reading about it and it being a fleeting notion. Being in a position where you are stripped of your self-confidence and self-worth slowly over a day, watching these tiny moments unfold, that was the overall goal. Throughout the shoot, we identified these tiny moments as, what I liked to call, ‘micro-aggressions’, under mining someone’s self confidence. We called this, death by a thousand cuts” says Green.
While The Assistant really is a very relatable and very realistic display of the day of one person’s life, the film is infinitely watchable and enjoyable. Containing minimal dialogue and showing power in action, following actress Julia Garner and her character Jane doing a lot of mundane tasks, really allows audiences to submerge themselves into the narrative and associate themselves to the character, a faceless mirror representation of oneself. Essentially, the film is a testament to the world of working; a film about work, a film about tasks, doing and putting in the time and identifying yourself with a character who, was or is, at one point, you.
When asked how the transition from Documentary filmmaking to narrative feature filmmaking was, Green assured us there were great advantages with shooting a fiction film, and for The Assistant, it served the narrative better for it to be fictionalized as opposed to a documentary. “With fiction, you can really set things up and I wanted to to make sure the camera would catch these tiny moments we filled the film with” addresses Green.
Luckily, the form of the film was less important to her than the goal she was trying to achieve. “Rather than having a direct goal, what I feel like we were doing with the film was interrogating these systems of power. Form isn’t important for this story; what’s important are the issues and themes we’re exploring and conveying these notions on a universally palpable level” clarifies Green.
Nonetheless, its safe to say that The Assistant is a very riveting and timely piece of cinema, and there is no better time to watch it, than now! Atmospheric and visually alluring, The Assistant is one satisfying piece of cinematic art. Avoiding spectacle or built up melodrama, the film presents itself in the same way a regular yeti affecting day would present itself to a person.
Concluding the interview and having to say goodbye to Green’s lovely Australian accent, we discussed the power and impact of the film and where she wanted The Assistant to go; what lengths the film had in a day and a world like today’s. “The first goal in solving a problem, is recognizing there is a problem”, commented Green before we parted ways.
Those finals words left me so inspired for the rest of my day, knowing there were people and films that still want and desire to inspire change in so many corners of our troubled and very broken world, gave me hope. A hope that will undoubted be followed in a new decade of cinema.
The Assistant is playing at the Cineplex Cinemas Varsity and VIP cinema. We suggest you catch it before its too late!