Eileen Leahy reports from the recent Feminist Film Festival and takes a look at three films that screened.
The first Feminist Film Festival in Dublin was a great success, money was raised for the charity Sasane and the films were well attended. In particular the festival was a great opportunity to see some feminist classics, for example Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) as well as more recent films like Chiemi Karasawa’s Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2014) and a range of interesting recent shorts. There was a great buzz around the New Theatre, as a venue it’s a good size and location to create a lively atmosphere and small enough to allow audience members to feel like conversations can be started with strangers. And all the screenings were followed by lots of lively conversations among diverse audiences, of all backgrounds and all ages, which is just what a good festival should be.
Bananas on the Breadboard (Joe Lee, 2010)
A documentary made by Joe Lee in collaboration with the communities of Dublin’s Markets Area, a part of Dublin that stretches from Moore Street to Smithfield in the north-inner city, Bananas on the Breadboard presents an oral history of the area and an affectionate tribute to the women street traders that have become iconic of an authentic Dublin inner city. The film provides a detailed examination of the history of north Dublin’s markets, the local industries and a disappearing way of life in the inner city, with a strong focus on the women street traders of Dublin and their struggle for the right to make a living. Archive film and photography are combined with interviews with local residents, community activists and historians, along with footage of the area in the present to provide a fascinating portrait of this part of the city from medieval Dublin to the present day, from the point of view of its local communities. Of particular interest is the social history presented in this film that shows, in general, how a city evolves and, in particular, how local communities have had to struggle to survive these changes. This film’s strong focus on a perspective from local inhabitants presents an interesting counter to the stereotypical touristic portraits of Dublin that we usually see on-screen.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
As a three and a half hour long experimental “masterpiece” this film seemed like a bit of an undertaking, but in fact there is something very hypnotic about the repetition of the mundane, domestic routine that made it quite comforting. And it was this dull repetition that allowed the narrative to have an impact, because it is in the minor, unremarkable incidents that we see the title character begin to unravel, an unravelling that mightn’t be noticed without the preceding drawn-out focus on the minutiae of her daily routine. I fully expected to be bored and took on this screening because the film is one of those “must-see” works. In fact, it was a really enjoyable film, one of those films that you can really only appreciate by watching in a cinema and I am so glad that I saw it. The performance from Delphine Seyrig, who played the title role, was simply superb and the attention to detail in every aspect of the filmmaking underscores her meticulous creation of this quiet, routine driven character. The final act of violence, therefore, does not shock, but somehow seems a completely logical and natural outcrop of how this woman lives her day-to-day life and it seems to speak to something intrinsically feminine and rarely visible onscreen.
Elaine Stritch (Chiemi Karasawa, 2013)
Karasawa’s documentary is not only a compelling portrait of this Broadway and television star but it also presents a complex exploration of ageing. The thoroughly engaging 86-year-old Stritch is shown as she tours a one-woman show of Sondheim songs, from rehearsal to performance, and this becomes a frank and searing portrait of her struggles with ageing, with alcoholism and with diabetes. The documentary uses a combination of fly-on-the-wall type scenes of Elaine rehearsing, in her hotel suite, her visits to hospital and her on-stage performances, alongside interviews (many of them with her celebrity friends) and archives, to present a really enthralling picture of this feisty, difficult but utterly captivating woman. In one memorable scene she berates the camera operator for not following her into her hotel kitchenette and insists on a reshoot. In this way the film makes clear Stritch’s complicity in how the documentary represents her, a very clever device from the filmmaker that manages to let the audience know that here is a performance from an accomplished and astute professional. But this doesn’t take away from the film’s power; it only makes her all the more compelling to watch. Particularly memorable are the shots of her prancing around New York’s streets in a vibrant fur-coat and shorts, a brilliant riposte to the idea of “all fur coat and no knickers”. Overall this film is a vital and forceful portrait of ageing, in a world where older women are pretty much invisible.
The Feminist Film Festival took place Saturday 30th – Sunday 31st August 2014.