Monday, July 22, 2013

The London Feminist Film Festival & Its Director Anna Read



Out of 120 women’s film festivals on my list, only three have ‘feminist’ in their titles: the Central Illinois Feminist Film Festival, Cineffable: Quand Les Lesbiennes Se Font Du Cinema–the Paris Feminist and Lesbian Film Festival and the London Feminist Film Festival, now seeking submissions for their second year. I’m curious about what makes a women’s film festival a feminist festival and was delighted to have the opportunity to ask Anna Read, the director, about the festival.

Q: There are four other women’s film festivals in London: Birds Eye View, Images of Black Women: African Descent Women in Cinema, Underwire and Women/Mujeres Spanish Film Festival. Why did you start another one? What philosophy underlies the festival?

I wanted to create a film festival which was explicitly feminist, not only in showing films by women but also in the content of those films. The festival is feminist in that it shows only films by women and also in that we show films with a feminist leaning to a greater or lesser extent. We want to support women filmmakers in a male-dominated industry and to celebrate women’s creativity, and we also want to get feminist issues more into the mainstream, via cinema, and get people thinking and talking about these issues. I would say that the other women’s film festivals in London are also feminist in intent, even if they don’t have the word ‘feminist’ in the title.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

'The Audience', Media Convergence & Audiences

Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II

Because I'm writing a play, I went to People, the National Theatre Live (NT Live) film of a performance of Alan Bennett's play, broadcast by satellite to 250 cinemas around the United Kingdom and to more than 500 cinemas around the world (trailer below). I went because I was curious; it was research. To my astonishment, I was enchanted.

Then I was invited to preview another National Theatre Live film, of a performance of The Audience, a play by Peter Morgan, who also writes screenplays (The Last King of ScotlandFrost/NixonThe Queen). Broadcast from the Gielgud Theatre, directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy ElliotThe HoursThe Reader and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and starring Helen Mirren (trailer below). I was again enchanted.

Margaret Thatcher (Haydn Gwynne) and Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren)

Some stills from the films, like this one, show how obviously they are 'stage' productions, so why did I so love them on film? Why did these fine examples of media convergence – plays on film – seduce me?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

NZ International Film Festival – 2. A Global Women's Film Fest

2. Women-Written and/or Directed Features From Around The World 

I'm going to go with some trailers here, for narrative features only. If you'd like to construct your own women's film festival, try any combination of these, plus some animations – there seem to be a few more by women than usual – and one or two docos. (My unmissable doco is Morgan Neville's Twenty Feet From Stardom, about some women who sing backup; backing singers are one of my current obsessions - clip quietly embedded at bottom of the page). For festival films written and/or directed by New Zealand women see here.

But first, because I believe that women who act and write are key to increasing the numbers of films about women, two films co-written by actors (just in, this article on the trend). Brit Marling co-wrote and acts in The East. Greta Gerwig co-wrote and acts in Frances Ha.

The NZ International Film Festival – 1. New Zealand Women

The Context
This week, the United Nations women's agency, UN Women, joined forces with activist and Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis, to support the first global study of how women and girls are portrayed in family films. The study will examine the top-grossing international movies in Australia, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom. According to Geena Davis, the current dearth of female characters of substance in family films means that children are being taught that girls and women 'don't take up half of the space in the world'. And for Lakshimi Puri, acting head of UN Women:
Gender representation in film influences the perception of women and girls, their self-esteem and the relationships between the sexes... We cannot let the negative depiction of women and girls erode the hard gains that have been made on gender equality and women's empowerment.
Also this week, in a  report for CNN, Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood wrote:
It's clear that Hollywood has a woman problem. It's not just that they don't trust the vision of a woman to direct; they don't trust that people want to see our stories. There's a prevailing sense that male stories are universal, for everyone, and that women's stories are just for women... [Movies] are a reflection of who we are and what we value. They are what we talk about at work on Monday morning. They are how we socialize. When we don't see women, and we don't see women's stories, we get the message that women don't matter as much, that our stories don't count, that our experiences are less valid.
And then Jane Campion gave the following advice in an interview:
My advice to young female filmmakers is: please do not play the lady card [on social media women filmmakers have debated what she means here by 'lady' and 'the lady card']. Don't feel sorry for yourself. Just do your work and let someone else deal with the politics.

But we should mandate that 50% of films produced are made by women. That would be possible with public money. Instantly the culture would change. It can be done.
These reports affected me more than usual, because this week, ever optimistic, I opened this year's New Zealand International Film Festival (#nzff) programme.