Eileen Leahy spoke to Karla Healion festival director for the Feminist Film Festival, which takes place on Saturday 30th – Sunday 31st August.
Why organise a Feminist Film Festival, what made you decide to do it?
I guess the thinking behind it was sparked when I visited the charity Sasane in Nepal a few months ago. I ended up meeting the former victims of sex trafficking who established the charity in 2008 in order to train, educate and support other women. They were so amazing, I can’t tell you how incredible they were. And I thought, when I go home I have to do something for them. So I think the first thing for me was to do a fundraiser for those women. And I am also something of a film buff, I love film and I have been active in feminism for many years and very aware of equality – or inequality, perhaps. I think looking at facts and figures, there’s been loads of studies showing that women are still very under-represented, especially in bigger budget spheres, in both making films and as characters in films. We’re under-represented in all walks of life, and the Arts is no exception really. I do think that women are misrepresented on the screen, and that’s a pity, it is the whole Bechdel Test thing where, when you see a woman onscreen it’s usually in reference to a man, she usually has a marital status defined, or is more likely to be nude, etc., or she is not as likely to be the protagonist, not as likely to be the lead. So for me, the more we can do to celebrate women filmmakers, and decent characters, and decent character portrayals of women, and the more we can support that kind of writing in film, etc., the better. There’s still a lot of room for that, until the day when we don’t have to push for it anymore, when it just happens.
Who is involved, is there a group?
There are so many people helping, there was a curatorial workshop with a team of people helping to programme and another team reviewing the shorts, so I have two teams where we can bounce things off each other and look at stuff and talk things through. Because if it were just me it would be too much of a vanity project, so although I’m the sole organiser behind the festival, I got together a team of people who are film experts or filmmakers just for that bit of input and feedback to select the films for the programme.
Was it difficult to find films?
It was very difficult to find women-centred or female-driven films when you move away from slightly more left-of-centre, underground, documentary or art. Female-made or female-led blockbusters and action films, big budget and the fun, silly films that we all like to watch when we have a hangover on a Sunday, are hard to find. So I desperately wanted to show something that is really popular, accessible and inclusive. We considered things like the Kill Bill or Alien films, classics with strong female leads. And I thought well I only have two days, that’s only five or six feature films, I don’t really want two of them to be completely made by men, with whole male crews, written by guys. I just needed to steer clear of that in the end, with such a short programme. So it was a challenge, especially since this is a fundraiser: I need bums on seats, it’s not arts-funded and it needs to have popular appeal.
So what was the rationale for the films you picked?
We had criteria based on things like: if there was a decent representation of women in the crew, or integral crew member, like a director or an editor, writer etc., if there were really well written female leads or characters in it. The more the process went on the more we realised that we really needed to honour those things. There’s a bit of a backlash at the moment against this idea of the strong female lead, I’ve read a few pieces over the last while about that, people saying that it’s not enough to just drop a woman into a man’s role. And the more I thought about that the more that made sense to me. I wanted to tick all the boxes in terms of being made by women, or written by women and have decent characters. Then we sat down and work-shopped it. We thought that we don’t want to simply tick boxes, we do need something that represents non-Western women, we do want something that represents an Irish perspective and we do want to have a decent texture in terms of the programme, aesthetically and tone-wise, that it isn’t all very similar films but that they go well together as a whole. So there was loads of things to consider and each time we reconsidered one element it would have a snowball effect so we were trying to look holistically at the whole programme as something that worked, and I think we got there in the end.
So what would you say is the overarching thing that links the films together?
We’ve tried to make sure that the selection is inclusive, supportive of female filmmakers, showing good characters and covering a few angles and different perspectives. And the open call for short films, which got a good response, adds another bit of texture to the programme alongside supporting some independent filmmakers. We’ve had a scoop with the Irish premiere of Elaine Stritch, Shoot Me (Chiemi Karawawa, 2013), which is really exciting but we’re also showing some lesser known gems, like the Dublin community film Bananas on the Breadboard (Joe Lee, 2010) made with the Markets Area community to honour the women street traders of Dublin, full of rich characters and interesting insights into Dublin, as well as experimental films from Vivienne Dick who will do a Q&A with us and of course a range of other well-known and lesser known works from all over the world. There’s pretty much something for everyone, from popular entertainment to cinephilia.
Will you be doing it again next year? Will it become an annual festival?
I’d love it to, that’s the ideal, the best-case scenario but it really just depends how the next month goes. My real concern is making a few quid for these women in Nepal – that’s my altruistic motivation. My selfish motivation is that I love film and this is just great fun and I’d love to do it again, so hopefully we can make all those things happen and it will be successful enough to do it again next year, maybe with funding so that it can be more sustainable. This year I just wanted to do it, get it out there and learn from some mistakes but equally do it well so that there’s a decent response.
The Feminist Film Festival will take place on Saturday, August 30th, from 12-5pm and on Sunday, August 31st from 12-9pm at The New Theatre, 43 Essex St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.