"These women are being paid, it's just a job, it's not that they're doing it because they enjoy it or it's fun," Harron says. "I don't know that a man would immediately take that angle on it. One of my big bugbears is how prostitutes are romanticized. Probably that in my film is one case where, as a woman, I think I directed it a little differently."
"American Psycho," which premiered at the festival last Friday, is an interesting case because the source material, Bret Easton Ellis' novel, was attacked for its alleged misogyny.
Tom Ortenberg, co-president of Lions Gate Films, which financed and is distributing the picture, straddles the fence on the issue of whether Harron's participation will make the material more palatable to critics and the public. Harron, on the other hand, believes that her gender helped get the movie made and may help get it seen.
"This is not for me to say, but I hope it is less offensive because I am a woman," Harron says. "Because if you're a heterosexual guy, it might play into your worst fantasies. I think Guinevere [Turner], my co-writer, and I can honestly say we don't have fantasies about abusing women. There's no way that we would identify with Bateman."
"American Psycho," however extreme it may be, is also representative of the films made by women at this year's festival in that it addresses a subject not traditionally associated with women.
"I know one guy who said to a woman when she talked about [female directors], 'Oh boy, there goes a whole bunch more romantic comedies I have to see,' " Gilmore recalls.
"And nothing could be further from the truth. There are no chick flicks categories here. This range of women's work in the festival is as diverse and different as everything else in the festival is. In fact, two of the most melodramatic films in the festival are done by men [Marc Foster's "Everything Put Together" and Kenneth Lonergan's "You Can Count on Me"]."
About the only kinds of movies women aren't making are the nihilistic or navel-gazing films that plagued the festival during the mid-'90s. But they are dealing with genres that in the past have been the province of men: coming-of-age films, murder mysteries, sports movies. Again, the question is whether they're putting a feminine spin on this material.
For example, though Christina Andreef says a father-son relationship is at the heart of her family drama "Soft Fruit," she cheerfully admits of the film's three sisters, "I wanted to just have this wave of estrogen that's very hormonal. I wanted to be very unabashed about these big, blowzy girls and their out-of-control emotions." Kasama says her "Girlfight" is a coming-of-age story, a lone-wolf story and an antihero tale.
What everyone seems to agree on is this: The films directed by women at this year's Sundance Film Festival are free of polemics.
"I think that everything I do comes from a woman's point of view, because it comes from my point of view," says Stacy Cochran, director of a Sundance film, "Drop Back Ten," who will not attend the festival because she is about to give birth to her third child.
"I like that," she continues. "But on the other hand, I would hope that I'm not making movies that are about my point of view. I don't like movies that feel like, more than being about the characters or the story, they're about the point of view of the filmmaker. If it felt like that woman really said what women are trying to say, I would probably glaze over."
Another thing everyone agrees on: If a female director breaks out this year, she won't be handed the keys to Hollywood in the same way that a male director would. The studios, burdened with huge budgets and a cadre of (mostly male) executives, are not ready for that yet. What's a woman to do?
"What they do is go, 'Well, the hell with them. I'll just go back and write something I really want to shoot, and I'll scramble around and pull some money together and shoot it,' " Cochran says. " 'And then I'll go back to Sundance with it two years from now.' "