The films in the Providence Women's Film Festival may speak for themselves, but in the Women's Film Festival Symposium on Friday, a panel of filmmakers and academics discussed the questions these films raised.
"The question of ‘what is a women's film' is implicitly explored by the juxtaposition of films," said Matt Noble-Olson GS, one of the organizers of the festival. With the symposium, he said, "we wanted to make that explicit."
The discussion began with a look at each woman's work. Filmmaker and choreographer Yvonne Rainer waxed nostalgic about feminist activism in the '60s and '70s. Yvonne Welbon, a documentary filmmaker and department chair and assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., presented a pragmatic comparison of black women filmmakers' budgets, exposure and opportunities to those of black men and the industry as a whole.
"Women are not having the opportunities that men are having across the board," Welbon said. "Women are 51 percent of the population, but we are directing 7 percent of the movies."
Though women have worked on documentaries, multimedia projects and television, Welbon focused on the lack of female directors in feature films "because you don't know the names of documentary filmmakers or who directed the last episode of ‘Glee'. "
Patricia White, a professor of English literature and film studies at Swarthmore College, focused on women's historical and current roles in film festivals around the world. She noted the prevalence of women directors at these festivals, facilitated by the fact that new directors, often women, made many of the breakout films.
But she also said there were no films by women at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and pointed to the lack of academic analysis of women's film. "If it isn't written about, if it isn't historicized, it disappears," she said.
During the question and answer session, the audience had the opportunity to hear where the panelists differed. Their disagreement was most evident when talking about what exactly defines a women's film.
White and Associate Professor of Modern Culture and Media Lynne Joyrich agreed that there is no clear distinction between men's and women's films, but the term "women's film" is simply "a lens through which we analyze" the film's themes, Joyrich said.
Welbon, on the other hand, said men's and women's experiences are different and therefore men and women make different types of films. Still, there are "many different types" of women's films, she added.
Rainer presented a third position. Though "men's experience in society is very different from women's," she said, representations of experiences in film cross gender boundaries, making the distinction between men and women less clear.
This variety of opinions is just one example of the festival's diversity. The festival, which ended Sunday night, exhibited over 40 films, spanning 115 years and 15 different countries, according to co-organizer Maggie Hennefeld GS.