Women Film Festivals: Do We need Them?

Recently Ottawa International Animation Festival director and programmer Chris Robinson asked in a private Facebook message to 10 female animators what they felt about gender specific festivals. Namely – programs of films made only by women.

It was a surprise for me to see that among the 10 women there was no consensus that this kind of programing is healthy and good. Some of them said that a women-only program is demeaning, it’s a segregations that promotes further isolation, others said that we should be considered equal to men and thus there should be no gender specific festivals, some others said that selecting films based on gender is meaningless on scale of humanity – we all basically have the same needs and obsessions that reflect on our work.

My personal opinion on this subject has evolved over last 15 years. In the hopeful beginning of making animated films I dismissed any differences between men film makers and women film makers.

- In the field of making animated shorts women are better off than men, – I proudly claimed. – Because we are not expected to make loads of money, we are free to make whatever we please. Men, on the other hand, have tremendous pressures to make money so that they could take a girl out for an expensive dinner.

After 15 years of making animated shorts I started to want bigger challenges with higher budget projects. An opportunity would come:

- We love your work! Pitch your ideas to us!

and then it would go:

- Your ideas are great but since we need to please young male audiences, they are not for us. Good bye!

And I would see how a great budget project would go to a young male director-animator.

I would also experience discrimination from women film festivals – quite a few notable women festivals have rejected my film so consistently that I stopped submitting to them long ago. Of course, am not surprised – main characters of quite a few of my films (“Dentist”, “Veterinarian”) are men. Besides, my films don’t have a gender agenda (no one gender is better than the other, I just tell a story). So, I get it – my films are not for young males, so they don’t get shown on TV, my films don’t defend or promote women issues, so they are not shown at women festivals. And it is fine – there are other venues (general audience festivals, websites, blogs) to show one’s work, although without much of a pay. I was trained not to be bitter, so I only slightly soured.

- Women festivals are for the films that can’t get in anywhere else, – I claimed. Partly I was was proud that my films were accepted so well into ‘normal’ festivals and partly I was sour by rejection of my own gender.

Then in 2010 Tricky Women Animation Festival in Austria invited me to have a retrospective. It was the most amazing experience – I saw enthusiastic mixed gender audiences in sold out screenings, I saw films that I would not normally see and I was happy to note (at least the way I perceived it) a difference in the films made by women – they were more poetic, made a good use of metaphors and didn’t strive for narrative clarity typical for commercial films. They seemed inspired by art rather than a story or a character, and were not afraid to invest time and work in manual craft – stop motion, cut-out, sand animation rather than animation technology and softwares. This, of course, was a very superficial observation, as it was based on a selection made by specific women in specific circumstances.

Nevertheless, Tricky Women made me realize that women film festivals do a very important work. First and the most obvious – to showcase quality work that for one reason or another has limited opportunity to be seen by wider audiences. Many of those films, some poetically, some – more straight forward,  bring up issues that are important  specifically to women, like – body image, motherhood, identity crisis, menstruation, menopause, human trafficking and prostitution etc. But some films just depict the world the way we see it, though a lens maybe softer, gentler than men’s.

An audience benefits from seeing those films by experiencing this different point of view. But filmmakers also benefit from their films shown at a festival. One cannot become a better filmmaker if she hasn’t seen her film in front of an audience, if she hasn’t seen her film in the context of other films. There is a value in encouragement, but more than that – being at a festival makes you realize that you may want to make more films, build a body of work – because there is a need for it.

In the same 2010 I was invited to Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival in Turkey. I was not able to go, so they had my retrospective without my presence. Among other films they screened my “Teat Beat of Sex” and “Birth”. In the beginning I didn’t give it much thought, but at some point I realized that Turkey is still a very traditional, conservative country and that showing “Teat Beat of Sex” in such a country is a daring act of defiance. When Flying Broom invited Swedish animator Lasse Persson to present his work (which explores the subject of cross dressing)  and do a lecture on gender bending I knew that Flying Broom is probably one of the most important festivals in the world. One of the tasks of women film festivals is to push the edge, the boundaries between what is socially acceptable now and what we want to have in the more emancipated future.

I was privileged to attend Tricky Women 2013 and shall write about it soon.

Tricky Women 2013 participants and organizers:

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About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
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14 Responses to Women Film Festivals: Do We need Them?

  1. Jud says:

    “Men, on the other hand, have tremendous pressures to make money so that they could take a girl out for an expensive dinner.”
    That IS the reason and it is the only reason we aren’t still living in caves! hehehehee…

  2. Mike B says:

    I think the idea of women’s film festivals are great. Any way of tapping into an interested vertical market is welcome. Unfortunately, as you noted, they are not in the habit of just looking for good films from female filmmakers. Rather, they need to have a woman centric story or point of view. It was for this reason (after consulting with many programmers) that we didn’t even submit to women’s film festivals for the feature my wife wrote and directed, The Playback Singer. Which is a shame, because while our film’s main characters are male, we know from screenings that it resonates strongly with women and deals with relationships in a way that are clearly influenced from my wife’s perspective.

    • I know… although – when I put myself into women festival programmer’s shoes, I see their point: under the Women’s Film Festival banner they want to showcase women issues. On the other hand, if they want to showcase female issues or points of view, by that standard they could show Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” because it does that pretty well.
      I did enjoy Tricky Women Animation festival because while they do select some film with women issues, they also just show fun films by women. It’s a joy.

    • kate says:

      Hello, I am the Creative Director of UK based Birds Eye View Film Festival and we show films by female filmmakers and they are selected on the quality of the work. for example, an upcoming documentary we are screening in April, El Gusto, is about a group of Algerian musicians coming together for a comeback concert (think Buena Vista Social Club); the musicians are male but the director is female. There was no doubt that we wanted it in our programme because its a great film. We are encouraging men to come to our festival because we believe that its important that the audience is gender split. Telling women that other women are great is preaching to the converted, men should see these films too and join us in questioning why there aren’t more female directors.

  3. Muke boy says:

    Women Film Festivals.. now I am curious about it. Before reading this article I didn’t use to think women would necessarily make films that would be noticeable different from men’s… but now I imagine that maybe the overall flavor of a Women Film Festival could be distinct, maybe something so new to me. That raises my interest. I hope I could step on the next Tricky Women, and see.

  4. vicki mager says:

    Hi Signe,

    I just wanted to let you know that I am now volunteering with the Animix festival here in Israel. Thanks for inspiring me

    Vicki

    On Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 6:39 PM, Signe Baumane wrote:

    > ** > rocksinmypocketsthemovie posted: “Recently Ottawa International > Animation Festival director and programmer Chris Robinson asked in a > private Facebook message to 10 female animators what they felt about gender > specific festivals. Namely – programs of films made only by women. It was a > s”

  5. Marija Miletic Dail says:

    I think that any good filmmaker, regardless of gender, should have a chance to show at any film festival. As a woman producer I had a chance to start a studio with women animators only, but I refused,because I would rather have both genders of good animators, than all female studio with some good and some so-so animators – which would’ve been the case at that time. I wouldn’t have a choce if I lived on the island of Lesbos, but since it was Hollywood…I chose to surround myself with the top-notch crew made of both sexes. And I was not sorry!

    • Marija, I agree with you – we want to work with the best in our field, whatever the gender is. As to women film festivals – it was quite amazing for me to see a program of films done only by women. It taught me great deal about my own gender. For the same reason I like children film festivals, LGBT festivals, festivals dedicated to films made only in one country (like Germany). It is interesting. And it is informing, too.

  6. Pingback: Women Film Festivals: Do We need Them? | International Women's Film Festival Network

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