One of the reasons I went to Colgone to the International Frauen Film Festival was to be a part of a dialogue on the status of women's films festivals. The festival invited Skadi Loist a researcher from the Media and Communications Studies Department at the University of Hamburg who has done research on film festivals throughout the world. She is also the co-founder of the Film Festival Research Network.
She started off the conversation with a presentation: Social Change?! The status of Women’s Film Festivals today.
She agreed to let me publish her presentation. (Please note with her permission I have done some work on the translation where necessary)
I was very intrigued by the proposition to introduce a discussion, or conversation about the status quo of Women’s film festivals (WFFs). But then, on second thought, how to start on this vast topic? What to tell that most of you don’t know about, already?
Independently of the specifics of each individual WFF, I think it is safe to say they all came about because one woman, or a group of women, decided in a particular place and time to do something about the perceived and real inequality of the sexes, to do about the lack of representations, and the lack of films by and about women.
The first WFFs started in the early 1970s, many of them are now defunct [New York (1972-80), Toronto (1973)], the oldest still running is Creteil (1979); Köln’s former festival Feminale dates back to 1984, Dortmund’s Femme Total to 1987. Yet, the time of WFFs is far from over. Many festivals have been founded in the last few years – not only in Asia or South America, but also in North America and Europe. Then and now, these festivals were started by filmmakers, students or critics of feminist film theory. WFFs, in their core carry an element of activism, feminist activism. They are fueled by a drive for social change; by an urge to create a counterpublic sphere, a place where women can meet, defy sexist (and heteronormative) social conventions, form a group or network and mobilize around issues of feminism.
This being said, and despite this common denominator for WFFs, there is also a multitude of different shapes that film festivals with a feminist core can take. The particular individual formation of a WFF depends on many factors, such as the social and societal surroundings, local and regional politics, the particular trend of feminist discussion in each place, the conditions for women in film in each production context, the availability of resources, the commitment of women to start and continue to run a festival etc. (I am sure we can compare and differentiate festivals when we talk with numerous women in attendance.)
There seems to be a resurgence in WFFs, but many of them focus on a niche: lesbian, regional, race: Queer Women of Color FF (SF), Intl Black Women’s FF (SF) Images of Black Women: African Descent Women in Cinema (London, UK), Network of Asian Women's Film Festival; Bluestocking Film Series (USA) (films must pass the Bechdel Test)
No matter how old or young a particular WFF is, there is one question that will return constantly: Why do we need a WFF and what are the functions it should serve? Rather than give definitive answers I want to briefly speak to 5 issues and raise a few questions around the keywords of 1) counterpublics, 2) feminist movement, 3) networking, 4) ghetto, 5) professionalization.