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Hundreds of Barbra Streisand fans braved a wet and stormy L.A. night to journey to the ArcLight Hollywood on Tuesday evening for a screening of Yentl and to hear a Q&A with the film and music legend.
The event is part of a new initiative launched by Women in Entertainment and the Writers Guild of America West to spotlight the work of prominent women writers working in film and television.
Streisand wrote, starred in, produced and directed Yentl, which was released in 1983. The film is one of just three movies that she has directed, but those films have earned a total of 14 Oscar nominations.
Streisand was greeted with cheers and a rousing standing ovation when she first walked into the packed theater and sat down with United Way executive and former Los Angeles Magazine publisher Erika Anderson for a moderated Q&A session.
Yentl centers on a young Jewish woman in early 20th century Poland who disguises herself as a man so that she can study the Talmud after her father dies. Streisand said that it was that relationship between a daughter and father that inspired her to write the film. “I think my father’s death had a lot to do with who I am today. It just meant a lot to me to be able to make a story where I could create a father, a father I never had because he died when I was 15 months old. I was so intrigued by that relationship and also the great tradition in Judaism is knowledge, learning and my father was a teacher.”
Streisand wasn’t her own first choice to direct the film, but after pitching it to Milos Forman he was so impressed with her vision for the movie that he encouraged her to direct it herself.
“Milos Forman, when I was discussing it and sharing my vision of it, he said to me, ‘why don’t you direct it yourself? You have it all in your head.’ And I thought ‘Oh my gosh, really?’ I was afraid. I was afraid to do that.”
She also admitted that she wouldn’t even put her own name on drafts of the script she wrote because of the criticism she received from starring in A Star is Born.
“I didn’t put my name on it because I was afraid after being so attacked in A Star is Born in 1976 and when I did these versions of Yentl,” she said. “I was so afraid of being attacked or people not personally liking me that I just didn’t even put my name on it.”
Although Yentl was a box office hit and well-received by critics, Streisand discussed the long and arduous journey she had to go through to get the film made and how the infamous Hollywood bomb Heaven’s Gate almost derailed the movie entirely.
“The journey was tough. But actually after 14 years, because it went from place to place, the terrible thing about it was that the day we handed in the script and budget to, I think it was Orion, the day that The New York Times printed the review of Heaven’s Gate, so all of a sudden our $13 million budget became 10.”
She also mentioned that Yentl alone will take up three chapters in her upcoming memoir that she’s currently writing. Saying that she found being a director for the first time intimidating, Streisand shared why she thought shooting in England with an English film crew made it easier for her as a female director.
“I didn’t know how they would react to me as a first-time director and a woman … I think they were so wonderful because they had a queen — they had a woman like Margaret Thatcher as prime minister,” she added. “They weren’t intimidated by me because they had powerful women symbols.”
Streisand also mentioned which current female directors she most admired. “I love this movie by this woman director, it’s called Capernaum by Nadine Labaki. It’s a brilliant film.”
Screenings will be held one a bi-weekly basis from now through August.
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