Review of Irish Film at The Dublin Feminist Film Festival 2019: Shorts Programme 

 

The Dublin Feminist Film Festival has established firm roots on Dublin’s cultural calendar, shining a spotlight on women in film. It promotes and celebrates female filmmakers, hoping to inspire and empower others to get involved in filmmaking.

Irene Falvey went along to this year’s Shorts Programme.

On Thursday, 22nd August, the Dublin Feminist Film Festival showcased an impressive and varied collection of short films, all made by female directors. 

The Beekeeper (2019) Ireland (6.29)
Dir. Robyn Conroy

As the only animation feature in the programme, The Beekeeper stood out as the most visually arresting of the shorts. Set in a bamboo forest, the landscape feels blissfully detached from the world. In a short timeframe, The Beekeeper manages to create a bond between the two characters – a young girl called Mae and the bear that protects her; their attachment to each other is undeniable. They live in harmony together, nourishing themselves on honey. Disaster strikes when Mae discovers where this food source comes from, a bee sting attack forces the bear to return Mae to her place amongst her own kind. This short film evokes equal parts sadness and sweetness; the joy and simplicity of their connection and the sadness of their true incompatibility.    

Moon Rabbit (2018) Japan (14.25)
Dir. Kae Ho

Moon Rabbit tells the story of 7-year-old Rio as she returns to Japan with her recently separated Japanese mother Seiko and her older brother. Clearly these kids have grown up in America and this trip launches them back into their Japanese heritage, comically highlighted when their cousin tactlessly proclaims how foreign they look. While the film does deal with cultural differences, many other ideas are threaded throughout; themes such as innocence, the stories we tell ourselves and secrecy all feature. The film takes place principally in Seiko’s parent’s house. This domestic setting is used to effectively illustrate the main motif – what goes on behind closed doors.  While this family unit is closely contained in a physical sense within this house, behind closed doors they can easily block each other out. The children are dismissed as Seiko closes the door and confides in her mother about the breakdown of her marriage. Rio’s older brother and her cousin shut the door so that they don’t have to play with her. This barrier that is created by closed doors is lifted when Seiko enters the bathroom where an upset Rio has shut herself in. The privacy that a closed door provides fades and secrecy falls away. This is an insightful film about the secrets we keep and the stories we need to tell ourselves. 

 

Tra na mban / Ladies Beach (2019) Mexico (6.36)
Dir. Carmen Garcia Gonzalez

This short documentary provides an insightful glimpse into the lives of women that brave the chilly depths of the Irish sea every day. Several of the women that meet regularly are interviewed; explaining honestly why they do this and the effect it has on their lives. In particular Martell speaks of the way this ritual has transformed how she feels about herself and how she carries out her life. We get the sense that we are being let in on a great secret to life; the women are infectious in their enthusiasm. What is interesting about this documentary is that it shows a way that these women have carved out an inclusive and supportive community. It is a practise built on bravery and self-respect. 

 

Driving Lessons (2019) Iran (12.48) Winner Best International film
Dir. Marziyeh Riahi

Driving Lessons focuses on an Iranian woman taking driving lessons; it is illegal for her to be alone with her instructor meaning that her traditional and misogynistic husband must tow along for the ride. The film is shot solely in the instructor’s car, taking place over a couple of days of lessons. This keeps the action contained in one place, meaning that the tensions between the two men eventually boil over and erupt. The husband constantly interrupts, is bossy, controlling and makes a lot of chauvinistic statements that sting. However, a twist arrives when we see that perhaps the young instructor is actually worse – he won’t sign his wife’s travel papers preventing her from visiting her sick father. Both the husband’s behaviour and the instructor’s refusal of his wife’s demands demonstrate that even as women in the Middle East are given more rights (driving) progress is still slow. Our female protagonist’s lack of speech throughout the entire feature re-affirms her powerless position. 

 

Clay Project (2017) Ireland (4.50)
Dir. Kathy Raftery

This film examines the work of artist Vanessa Donoso López.  We are brought to a sun-soaked and sleepy part of Spain, bursting with nature and removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. What stands out about this feature, is the fact that it examines the artists approach and ideas/inspiration rooted in her work rather than the outcome. Instead we get a glimpse into the how and the why of a piece of art. The artist makes her art from clay, the camera shows her going through the manual process of turning earth into this material. This means that her art is very much connected to the place it was created. Seeing how this art is made gives us a deeper sense of understanding and appreciation for the artistic process. 

 

Early Days (2018) UK (12.00) Winner Best Film
Dir. Nessa Wrafter

This film highlights the more troubling and traumatic aspects of welcoming a newborn into the world. It examines the internal emotional conflict of becoming a mother. We get a window into Kate’s world as she struggles through the first few trying days. Flashback sequences reveal that it was a painful birth, blood and hospital scenes subvert the typically joyous portrayal of welcoming new life. This film effectively shows the realities that make this transition alienating from the self; shown through Kate examining her inflated post-birth stomach. She feels distaste for her body and estrangement from it when there is no longer life growing inside it. Excluding flashbacks, all of the film takes place within Kate and her partner’s home, creating a sense of entrapment. The only glimpses of the outside world we see comes from Kate looking outside the window and spotting her eccentric and colourfully dressed elderly female neighbour. In the end this woman provides Kate with some solace, concluding the film on a hopeful note. 

 

Mother (2018) Ireland (9.24) Runner-up for best film
Dir. Natasha Waugh

Mother is a bizarrely comical and cleverly creative film. It deals with all the insecurities that a mother may face; depicting all the things she must do to please her family.  The film examines one mother’s attempts to go about caring for her family and husband until she is replaced by a fridge! The fridge can cook better, is more entertaining, can do French plaits and is better in bed. This bizarre and wacky feature is laugh-out-loud funny and smart; making us hope to see more from this director in the near future. 

 

The Shorts Programme took place 22nd August 2019 as part of the Dublin Feminist Film Festival (22—24 August) 

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