Documentary filmmaker Maureen Judge hails from Canada and has an industry CV that spans over 20 years. Working in TV and film she here shares her expertise and talks of the new challenges she faced with her latest project Living Dolls.
Once I started making films I loved it. I made my first 3 films after grad school, I lived in New York for 2 and a half years; women filmmakers were the ones who hired me and they were alternative. It was fantastic. Then I went to Toronto and was looking for assistant editing jobs but there was a recession and there wasn’t much work so I thought ‘why don’t I just make a film?’ I knew I wanted to do it in the future so why not do it now and that’s what I did.
I got involved in documentary and worked on a film about women in WW1. It wasn’t my first foray into films but it was my first documentary and I loved working with a small group of people. I always loved research and it gave me that balance of research and filming. The documentary took 4 years to do, it took 4 years to convince people that this was a necessary project, all the women were dying, and we had to push because no one cared about it.
I do all my research and then throw it out when I start making the film. It’s people that I like working with. The documentaries I direct tend to have a social backdrop and are psychological, focusing on the individuals.
Living Dolls was one of those projects which just came together; they are generally more difficult than this one. The biggest challenge for this was I had been doing a lot of observational documentaries and it wasn’t like that; it was shooting all over the world with different people so I had the luxury of travel but not the luxury of observing the story arc, this was a matter of uncovering what was beneath the surface of the doll collecting.
I had to attack it from a different angle and that was new to me but I was able to bring my skills of working with people in an intimate way to make it happen very quickly. It was also a matter of finding the right mix of dolls. The dolls were a way into someone’s life; it was the way into who these people are. In the end I have 3 men and 2 women as my subjects.
When I started in narrative film there were almost no women directors, there still isn’t. There are more in TV which is fantastic but narrative film not so much. In Canada it is a huge process because narrative films are all government funded pretty much and in the States of course it’s all the studios.
Documentary has budgets I can raise myself so being my own producer I can have freedom I couldn’t have in narrative film. I found a little niche in documentary and I love it and it works well and I can do things about women and nobody says ‘who wants to hear about women?’
There are definitely more opportunities now, but it’s still limited. It’s male dominated there’s no doubt about it, even in documentaries it’s a boys club in terms of directors but there are a lot more women doing it. I’ve tried to focus on the projects rather than the ceilings, it’s your passion and determination and subject matter that get you through, otherwise you get very bitter and it’s hard to work as a bitter person. You’re closed if you’re bitter.
I don’t feel compelled to tell women’s stories; it is internal, it is political but it is internal because that is who I am, it is integrated into who I am.
I love the independence and freedom; I don’t have a lot of regrets. My advice to my younger self would be to learn to move on more quickly otherwise it stifles your creativity. It’s a work process I wish I had come to a little earlier, being flexible and saying ‘if this doesn’t work right now there’s another great idea I can do instead’
I think my advice to young people is always just march on and find routes that work for you; don’t kill yourself, don’t beat yourself up, if you do that it’s just self-defeating.