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Media festival addresses gender gap in film industry

Feminist and Women’s Media Festival spotlights female perspectives in cinematic productions

From film screenings and panel discussions to a keynote address from a Bollywood actress, the Creative Arts Council’s Feminist and Women’s Media Festival is taking over the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts and the Cable Car Cinema for a series of free events this weekend.


Planning for conversation

Several PhD students in the Department of Modern Culture and Media put together the event, said Maggie Hennefeld GS, one of the organizers.

In 2010, Hennefeld helped coordinate the Providence Women’s Film Festival. This year, she and her colleagues sought to recreate a different version of that festival, “making it more global and diverse,” she said.

Beth Capper GS, another MCM PhD student and organizer of the series, said the festival aims to allow people “to have a conversation about feminism and women as organizing principles for artwork.”

“We want to use the films and the artworks to … think through theoretical questions,” she added.

Capper explained that the festival is not aimed to give an “overview” of feminism or even to celebrate the terms “feminist” and “women.”

“We’re trying to think through the complex interplay between what (these terms have) made possible and what they’ve made impossible through various historical moments,” she said.

“If we don’t continue to organize and curate around these kinds of terms, then they just drop out and we just recede back to a kind of status quo of white male-generated media,” she said, underlining the necessity of creating a space for female-created media in an era of continuing gender inequality in the field.


Filmmaking on the frontier

Nilita Vachani, a writer, filmmaker and professor in New York University’s Department of Undergraduate Film and Television will participate in a panel Sunday that will explore “borderization and borderlessness,” according to the festival’s website.

“I’m … talking about borders as borders of the mind, so imaginary borders that we construct that have to do with linguistics, race (and) ethnicity,” she said, adding that the main character in her film “When Mother Comes Home for Christmas” transcends a kind of border when she takes on a traditionally male role as her family’s main provider. The film will be screened immediately following the panel.

Nadita Das — an international film star and director who has acted in over 30 films — will deliver the festival’s keynote address this evening. She said she will discuss her experience in both human rights and cinema, adding that she will highlight cinema’s potential for bringing about social change.

The series will also screen “Firaaq” — the first feature film Das independently directed, Hennefeld said.

Female directors are not limited to focusing solely on women’s issues, Das said. For example, “Firaaq” concentrates on the resounding effects of violence on individuals and relationships, she said.

“Often people who are in more powerful positions end up telling their stories and we don’t get to know of the marginalized, of those who are on the fringes, of those who have been deliberately left out,” she said. “It’s really time that our perspective came to the floor and we had platforms to share how we looked at life and art and anything that we experience” as women.


Why women?

“Women have been underrepresented in the industry as directors, producers — as really everything but actresses — since the early silent era,” Hennefield said. “Before filmmaking was a legitimate prestigious medium, (it) was seen as a form of secretarial labor. Women were represented in higher proportions in the film industry then — in the early 1900s — than they have been since.”

“There’s still such a great disparity between how many women end up becoming producers, directors, photographers (and) editors, and how many men do,” Vachani said.

As a professor in film, Vachani sees as many women come to study film as men, she said, but the number of women who go on to careers in film has not increased enough to close the gender gap. “We need to bring those numbers up in a more equitable way,” she added.

Festivals like this have the potential to inspire viewers and participants to enter the film industry, Vachani said.

“Students have to feel empowered — that they can do it, that there are others who have done it before them,” she said. “There are role models out there, and you can stick out and you can have your dreams and you can fulfill them.”



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