Feminism on Film
Transcription by Vidhya Elango
In ‘Feminism on Film’ guest producer Janan Dean takes us across the pond to consider the health of a cinematic project. She talks to several of the actors who’ve contributed to creating the ‘Louder Now’ feminist film screening series, which takes place monthly, in Newcastle, UK. Dean also speaks to community members who attend these events to find out what draws them to the Star and Shadow Cinema to watch films about women, made by women. Stay tuned to find out!
If you’re interested in clicking around a bit to learn more about some of the organizations Dean and her interviewees discuss in the podcast check out these links:
Louder Now! Feminism on Film Series - http://www.starandshadow.org.uk/on/season/121
Star and Shadow Cinema - www.starandshadow.org.uk
Cine Nova - www.cinenova.org
Newcastle University Gender Research Group www.ncl.ac.uk/niassh/GenderResearch
Northumbria University Department of Arts - www.northumbria.ac.uk/sd/academic/sass/about/arts/subart/?view=Standard
Take a listen here:
For a transcription of ‘Feminism on Film’ read on: Sarah Feldbloom: Hi, I’m Sarah Feldbloom, Shameless Magazine’s Web Producer. A new issue of Shameless has recently hit the stands which looks at health. Arguably, one measure of health is the quality of freedom and safety of public discourse in a society. In this episode of the podcast, we have a special guest producer, Janan Dean, reporting from the UK about a feminist film project that’s creating dialogue. Currently a PHD candidate in Social Work and Science, and Technology Studies, at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Janan worked in the field of women’s community health here in Canada where she grew up.
Now a little teaser for those of you who haven’t picked up a copy of our health issue yet: we’ve included a feature on disability and media written by Kayla Carter, our Media Savvy column, co-authored by Cynara Geissler and Jenny Henkelman, looks at the frenzy of coverage around childhood obesity, and the Counter Culture Classics column, written by yours truly recounts the history of The Sunday Night Sex Show. And for a consistent stream of awesome fresh feminist content in between issues visit our blog at shamelessmag.com.
But now to Janan, reporting on the state of feminism and film in the UK, giving us a taste of the health of public discourse on the other side of the pond!
[Sound up on Janan reporting from the UK]
Janan Dean: I’m Janan Dean, bringing you this Shameless podcast from the UK. Recently, I noticed there was a lot of talk and blogging going on about gender in film. And I was wondering, what other films are out there that either challenge typical gender roles in Hollywood films or just offer a different perspective? And also, how do you find out about them? Well, in the middle of all these questions, I happened to stumble upon the Louder Now! Feminism on Film series, being organized in Newcastle, which is a city in Northern England. Louder Now! is a series of seven screenings, held at a community-run cinema called the Star and Shadow, all with some link to feminism. I got the chance to meet one of the organizers, Rebecca Knight, and she told me a bit more about this amazing series she’s helping organize.
Rebecca Knight: I’m Rebecca Knight; I’ve lived in Newcastle for the last 11 years. I’ve just started a PhD at Newcastle University studying the intergenerational feminist dialogue that surrounds contemporary Hollywood films. I also program films at the Star and Shadow cinema in Newcastle, which is a volunteer run DIY cinema, and it’s a space where you can screen films that don’t really get shown anywhere else.
I was approached by the Gender Research group at Newcastle University and asked to program a series of films about feminism. And, that could have been anything from films which may have a slight feminist edge to documentaries, to just anything that will maybe spark discussion. So, I set off just researching the kind of films that I thought would inspire people to get to get together to talk about issues and maybe build networks. I thought the best thing to do with that would be to screen documentaries about feminists, particular feminists, or particular feminist movements, and also bring in somebody who would be able to lead a discussion after the films to make it more of a communal, more of a social event, rather than just going, sitting in the black room and watching these films.
So it started with a documentary about a summer school last year that took place in London, which was a UK Feministing summer school to train up feminist activists. And we had the filmmaker there, and, as well as the chairs of the Gender Research group and we had a lively debate about what feminism is today, what it can be and how things may have changed. Last month, we had a screening about the riot grrl era of the mid-90s, and it was very American-based, but we had a specialist in British riot grrl came and spoke to us, and everybody joined in the conversations, which led on to discussions about women in music, and, also, again, a DIY ethos, and just why, why is it that women were encouraged to make this kind of music at this particular time? And, does that still exist now? And then, tonight we have Eat the Kimono about a Japanese feminist, Hanayagi Genshu, who, yeah, is just a very interesting character.
JD: I was curious about how Rebecca chose the range of films, so she explained a little bit more:
RK: And I wanted to make sure that these films spanned, spanned the world and it wasn’t just focused on Western, white feminism, that it actually stretched out a little bit more and encourages a livelier debate. And again, we have a range of eras, as well, being displayed; we have something from the 90s, something from this decade. And so, it’s kind of all over the place to try and just encourage people to come in and think about what feminism is today.
JD: What responses have you had from people who’ve attended the events?
RK: It’s been quite an interesting collection of people. It’s mainly people from the universities, whether they work or whether they’re students. But what’s been quite interesting is that there’s a nice mix of ages, but also a mix of other people who aren’t based in a university setting. So, responses so far have all been very positive. What I found the most exciting is that people have started making networks. And on the first night, people kind of started talking, exchanging email addresses.
It’s quite an interesting mix, because some people just come just for the films and they don’t want to partake in the discussion. But there seems to be a core that do stay for the discussion and then the few that join afterwards. All in all, I think, because there’s someone delivering the discussion, it encourages other people to kind of chip in and talk, but also allows those people who, who don’t want to speak up to still be involved and take something away from it. It’s full of little anecdotes and little moments, where people can think and reflect and, and just question. So, I think [laughs] it’s going well, and it’s been quite a positive experience so far.
JD: Well, it was really interesting to catch up with Rebecca and hear about the film series that she’s organized. But now I’m wondering about some of the other key people she’s mentioned. Like, who is this Gender Research group that is sponsoring the event? That question led me to Dr. Carolyn Pedwell at Newcastle University.
Carolyn Pedwell: My name’s Carolyn Pedwell and I’m a lecturer in media and cultural studies at Newcastle University, but I’m originally from Toronto.
JD: So, what do you do here at Newcastle University?
CP: At Newcastle University, I’m the co-chair of a group we have called the Gender Research group. And this is a group that brings together staff, postgraduates, undergraduate students across the whole university, who are interested in gender. Um, gender, also kind of feminist theory, sexuality studies, things like that. Every year, we kind of aim to organize a program event –events - both for, kind of students and staff at university, but also something that people outside the university and the local community can participate in. And what we found is that when we were doing research talks or workshops at the university, that really wasn’t something that felt very open to people who weren’t either studying or working at Newcastle. So we were brainstorming about, you know, how do you to get people engaged, because people are interested in gender and feminism and kind of those issues, but not necessarily in an academic context.
So we had the idea of a film series with six films, um, some popular, some, kind of more obscure or kind of alternative, but all dealing with issues of gender, feminism and each film would be introduced by kind of an expert in the field, or somebody who could talk about it and make it accessible and interesting, um, to kind of a wide group of people. And that’s when we decided that it was a good idea, but we didn’t necessarily have enough expertise ourselves to kind of plan, select the films, and curate the whole series, and that’s where Rebecca Knight came in. What we’ve found is that it has been a huge success, actually. Um, I mean, we’ve only had two events so far, but they’ve both been sold out, and the discussion afterwards has been really exciting and great to see.
JD: Why was the medium of film chosen?
CP: As a genre, film is really one of the key ways that we think through ideas about gender, power, you know, the body; issues of liberation, equality, freedom; issues of oppression or marginalization or regulation. I think as a genre, it can do that in ways that other genres can’t or don’t do in the same way, so there’s scope within film for kind of following a story or a narrative from different angles and over time that you don’t necessarily see in television, for example. And also, kind of room for imagining, like imagining how things could be radically different, that I think is really interesting.
JD: What is the importance of holding events like this?
CP: Thinking before, about, there’s still these questions of, you know, “Is feminism dead?”. An event like this, themed around feminism on film that’s been so successful so far in generating interest, is a really good counter message to kind of the “feminism is dead”, claim that we hear again and again and again. And it’s kind of saying, well it’s not dead, because, actually, all of these people are interested, engaged, sometimes angry, you know, about issues, but also passionate. And I think it’s a really good way, politically, for kind of engaging in debates about gender, power, sexuality, race, age, a lot of the films that were showing are thinking about intersectional issues – so gender as it intersects with sexuality, race, class, nation, and kind of other categories.
Another reason is Newcastle is very interested as a university in being a civic university. So, not being, an ivory tower institution where we only talk to each other, within our own kind of boundaries, but really engaging with the community and the city and being part of it. And I think this is one set of activities that has been quite successful in doing that.
JD: Well, thank you so much for all of that information. Now, I’m getting really intrigued about tonight’s screening and the guest speaker. The film is called Eat the Kimono and it’s described as “a brilliant documentary about Hanayagi Genshu, a Japanese feminist and avant-garde dancer and performer who spent her entire life defying her conservative culture’s contempt for independence and unconventionality” on the Women Make Movies website. I’m really excited to talk to tonight’s guest speaker, Dr. Nobuko Anan, a lecturer in performance at Northumbria University, which is another university in Newcastle.
Nobuko Anan: My name is Nobuko Anan, and I’m from Japan, and I’m working on contemporary Japanese ways of performance in various different mediums such as theatre or streets, or manga or film or fashion and that kind of thing, and I’m a lecturer here at Northumbria.
JD: I asked Nobuko about the themes in the film and how they might relate to modern Japanese feminism, given that the film was made in 1989.
NA: Oh, it could be relevant, because I think Hanayugi, the protagonist, well, she really doesn’t reveal her age. But I feel like maybe she belongs to the generation of the second feminist, the second women’s liberation. So, the seventies generation. So I’m really curious what was happening around that time. People who started their work in the late seventies, there were a few people who were very feminist and they critiqued –well, like I said, they critiqued gender system, gender discrimination in relation to the empire system and all that. So, after that, there are no so-called feminist performers, like, um, feminist in a very direct way. But in my work, I’m arguing that we can look at their work from feminist perspectives, even that they don’t really claim that we are feminist. Especially younger generations, they don’t really overemphasize the politics like the previous generations. But that doesn’t mean that they have no politics at all. So, I think it’s the way of doing politics has probably changed. We might be able to learn something about that from that documentary.
JD: So, tonight’s the night of the screening, and I want to get some views from people who’ve attended in the past and hear what they think about tonight’s film. I ran into Lea and Natalie in the lobby and asked their opinion. What brought you out the cinema?
Lea: Yeah, I’d heard about this from the last event, and it sounded like something that I was particularly interested in, ‘cause I’m interested in Japanese culture. You know, a kimono takes a year to make and it takes about 5 hours to get on, so I’m quite interested to how long it would take to actually eat a kimono as well [laughter from all].
Natalie: Just in terms of feminism, I tend to see a lot of women’s films, read a lot of women authors, and that’s, that’s the way I like to get my feminist fix.
N: It’s really, sort of, a less self-conscious way, and, in a way that um, that just kind of shows women doing something pretty cool.
N:It’s kind of in the way that you would approach anything that you were interested in, or any, you know, something that you wanted to engaged with, I would tend to do it through the arts. Watch films with my friends, go to see bands that have a similar outlook to me. It’s a way of, like, engaging and supporting something.
L: It’s the sharing of ideas in different ways, isn’t it really? So that, you know, this may be a broader group of people would come to something like this, than just something that’s just solely a feminist meeting. You know, I was quite intrigued; I did enjoyed the last meeting, which was about riot grrl, so that was nice to sort of look back on that and review it and see where that had gone, ehm, especially because of the riot grrl connections in Newcastle that I think are still occurring really, throughout the music scene. But, uh, with this particular night as well, I’ve not really heard of any, sort of ehm, Japanese feminists before, so I was really intrigued to see, actually, you know, to see these view points and it sounds great. So I’m looking forward to seeing the film and I’m sure I’ll have a lot of views and ideas about what she says after as well.
N: I’m more likely to come if I see feminism in the title, ‘cause it is dead important.
N:I do feel very strongly that it’s an important struggle even now. So, that would make me come.
L: And it’s, it’s a nice mix of the cultural and the political.
N: Exactly, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.
L: For, for me, that’s what sort of makes me feel a bit more comfortable. So, if I can come along and enjoy a cultural evening which I’ll learn something from, that’s also got some ideas that I’m interested in, like feminism and possibly some other things, that’s brilliant, that’s a great mix.
N: And actually, the discussion is like part of your entertaining night outIf you, like - like, if there’s a discussion linked to the film, if you, like, really got into the film, and–
L: You know, I feel strongly about grassroots level arts and culture, so–
N: Yeah, it’s really, whatever you come to here is dead good. Like, it’s not just, it’s not just what you see. And it’s, you’re kind of surrounded by interesting people and –
L: And, I mean, really, I don’t know if I might agree with everything that, you know, is discussed in the feminist agenda. I’m not, I’m not sure, you know. But I’d still rather come along and discuss it with people…
JD: Well, I really don’t think I could have said it better myself. But, before I head into the screening, I want to ask Rebecca one last question: Now that you’ve gone through this process of planning this film series, do you have any advice for other people out there who might be thinking of doing the same thing?
RK: Oh do it. It is a lot of work finding film distributors who are supportive. So, I’ve worked a lot with CineNova, they only have films made by women in their collection. And it’s very rare, because, well, it’s rare that there are films are made by women, but they’re actually being preserved and archived and available for distribution. So find a distributor that has the kind of films that you’re looking for. And, again, just, just build links – build links with the local universities, build links with any feminist groups that you know of within the area, and just, I think, get them involved, because the more people that you include, the better. From the start, if people have an input, then, it’s only going to be a better success at the end I thinki. But yeah, just go for it.
JD: Great! Well, thanks so much for talking to me today.
RK: Thank you!
JD:I’m looking forward to the film!
RK: Hope you enjoy it!
JD: And that just about wraps up this podcast on the Louder Now! Feminism on Film, film series. We’ll see you next time and thanks for listening.
[Sound up on extro]
SF: I’m Shameless Magazine’s Web Producer, Sarah Feldbloom and that was Janan Dean, a guest producer for the Shameless podcast, reporting on the state of film as a community engagement tool for feminists in the UK. If you’re interested in reading some more about media and health take a peak at our current issue, on stands now. For those of you who have this podcast delivered to you courtesy of some helpful internet robot, you can find links to some of the organizations Janan mentioned by going to our webpage at Shamelessmag.com and clicking on stories, and then podcasts. Thanks so much for listening. Talk to you again soon!