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.
Signe Baumane received a BA degree in Philosophy from Moscow State University in 1989. Eight months after giving birth to her son she was checked into a mental hospital and diagnosed as manic-depressive. Despite the diagnosis, Signe made 3 animated short films in Latvia before moving to New York in 1995. In New York she continued to work in the field of animation and made 12 more award winning animated shorts. Her films have been accepted at Sundance, Berlin, Annecy, Venice, Tribeca and hundreds of other film festivals around the world. “Rocks in My Pockets” is her first feature film project.
Republished with permission.