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Do We Still Need Women's Film Festivals?

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by Melissa Silverstein
November 7, 2011 10:02 AM
2 Comments
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film festival

If you look around the landscape of film festivals there are many women's films festivals all across the world. But those who work in that area are struggling especially during these difficult economic times. I've been to a women's film festival in Germany that survived budget cuts and put on a great edition last spring that was embraced by the community and the local politicians. I've been to a festival in Romania that wasn't a women's film festival but had a section on female directors and those films were very strong, as strong, or stronger than the films in the main section of the lineup. And I've recently spoken also with the main programmer at the oldest women's film festival: Festival international de films de femmes de Créteil in France and they are struggling for their identity.

Over the years, women's film festival were places where films by women got screened because women had a tougher time getting into the mainstream festivals. In the last two decades women directed films have been infiltrating the lineups of the main festivals in large numbers (not large enough but it's getting better), and it's a no brainer that a female director would rather have her film screen at Berlin or Cannes rather than a smaller female film festival that doesn't get the respect or press or attendance that a bigger film festival dies. I don't blame the directors. They work their asses off. Women directors want to be seen as directors and not women directors, and when your film plays at a women's festival you are putting yourself in the girl box. Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong with the girl box. I love the lineups that populate festivals that are focused on women directors. You get to see films you might not otherwise see. But when you are a women's film festival competing for a premiere or for a film that hasn't been in another festival you are in trouble.

The women directors are always going to hold out for something bigger and less women focused. They would still go to a non-female festival first even if they have made the most women centric or feminist film around. But the reality of the film landscape is that even though women directed films are being seen in film festivals across the world and they are attending film schools in equal numbers to their male peers, women are still having difficulty (an understatement) getting jobs in the film business. Women are less than 10% of the directors. Women's film festivals have the opportunity to call attention to this issue. That's what they need to do. They need to find the best women's films and showcase them. They need to talk about these issues because if women's film festivals don't raise awareness in their communities and with people who care about these issues how can we expect other people to care? I am well aware that there is no organized movement on this issue but women's film festivals could be and should be ground zero for these discussions.

I was inspired to write this post after reading the news that the 2012 edition of the Bird's Eye View Film Festival will not happen due to budget cuts. The thing that Bird's Eye View does better than most other festivals is raise awareness of the issues of the lack of opportunity for female directors. They work it. They work it at a very visible level. They have gotten high profile women very involved and show very strong films that is why the loss of the festival for this year is a big issue. Here's what the founder of the Festival Rachel Millward said about what will be missing this year without the festival.

We will be back, I'm sure of it. But 2012 will lack a festival that has become vital to our culture. Women still make up less than 10% of film directors and 15% of screenwriters. That means that around 90% of the stories we are told through film – stories which influence our culture and our inner worlds – come from a male perspective. Birds Eye View has provided a cultural oasis in which we get to see and celebrate the full potential of that missing half. You hear it said that times of cuts are good for culture: "talent will out". But we do not live in an equal world. If we lose the best efforts of the last decade to counter inequality, we will lose access to the creative vision of half the population. And what a loss of creativity that would be.

This is a moment where we need to understand the realities women's festival face and fight to keep them around. But they need to adapt and focus on the realities of current times. It would be big loss if these festivals don't survive. Hopefully Bird's Eye will be back in 2013. I'll be watching and counting on it.

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2 Comments

  • Kelly Davis | January 12, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    Thanks for this Melissa - as director of the St. John's International Women's Film Festival (around since 1989) I couldn't agree more with your comments. I've been asked the question in your headline many a time but as our increasing audience and submission numbers indicate over the last few years, the will, desire and interest is there for such events. Let's hope our funders continue to feel the same way and see the value. I have no doubt Bird's Eye will be back - we're rooting for them. (glad you like our logo too!)

  • Lisa Nesselson | December 29, 2011 4:39 PMReply

    RE """""that doesn't get the respect or press or attendance that a bigger film festival dies."""
    Interesting typo, given the topic.
    I imagine "dies" should be "does."

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