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Who Does She Think She Is? (Pamela Tanner Boll, 2008)


A group of female artists work to justify their work/life balance in Pamela Tanner Bollís strenuously argued documentary Who Does She Think She Is?. This film, somewhat indifferently made from a technical perspective, focuses on six female artists including two painters, two sculptors, a drummer and an actress. Through a series of interviews, each of these artists speaks about trying to balance the demands of motherhood with their creative drives. The feelings of guilt and ostracism that they face since they donít devote themselves entirely to their children are a constant threat to their productivity and happiness. This internal conflict is most expressly manifested in sculptor Janis Wunderlichís work, which frequently depicts two-headed women, torn between mutually exclusive impulses.


These women are likeable and seem to have their lives in order, which makes Tanner Bollís insistence that it is too difficult to balance a family life and a creative life somewhat spurious. Certainly their children, who one might imagine to be the central source of their anxieties, universally appear to support their moms. There is a bitter divorce or two here and a few hurt feelings, but there doesnít seem to be evidence of art destroying the artistsí personal lives, which makes one feel that the film overstates its points about the challenges of being a working artist with a family. More convincing to be sure are Tanner Bollís examinations into the institutional, historical and industrial reasons that women are undervalued as artists. A series of statistics rattled off by the Guerilla Girls, feminist performance artists who don gorilla masks and protest the patriarchy of the art world, make for Who Does She Think She Is?ís most cogent points. Indeed, hearing that female artists make one third the salaries of their male equivalents or discovering that ten percent or less of museum exhibitions feature the work of women demands change.


Who Does She Think She Is? is ultimately a call to arms, designed to foster further creation, which is a noble goal, if not an especially controversial one. The filmís clear-eyed view of the art world is tough to argue with, but obvious routes to change in the status quo are beyond the filmís scope. There are moments here that relay genuinely new information (drummer Layne Redmondís brief lecture about the prominence of the instrument in ancient cultures is a highlight), but generally one gets the impression that the film could go deeper. The mere existence of Who Does She Think She Is? demonstrates how great the gender divide in the art world still is. It is sad that the film delivering this message seems too polite to spark much in the way of revolution.



Jeremy Heilman