Excutive director Tamara Van Strijthem and activist Naila Ayesh discuss the importance of women's empowerment ahead of the politically-minded film festival's 11th year
Films that disrupt commonly held narratives have a power that extends beyond their artistic and creative means. Since 2008, Take One Action! Film Festival has been dedicated to this idea of disruption, exploring themes of global change through a programme that includes films dealing with topics ranging from climate change to social movements across five continents.
'Our mission statement was to make world-class films about issues of global concern more widely enjoyed and discussed by diverse communities in the UK,' says executive director Tamara Van Strijthem, 'to inspire and empower people to take their own creative steps to address current global challenges. Showcasing the best international cinema that explores and responds to the crucial issues of our time; linking the local and the global; breaking down the barriers that separate us; inspiring and empowering audiences … this is still very much at the core of our ambitions.'
The arrival of the 11th edition of the festival this autumn brings with it 45 events, with a key emphasis on women's empowerment. Over 60% of features screened are directed or co-directed by women and this year's Sisters strand is all about presenting inspiring and unique insights into the stories of female trailblazers.
'The films in our Sisters strand reflect a wide range of experiences, hopes and struggles, from the Palestinian women whose contributions to non-violent resistance has so often been overlooked, to the South African grandmothers embarking on a defiant struggle for social justice in their poverty-stricken mining town; from the Swedish hip hop artist challenging homophobia, sexism and racism to the story of the first Muslim Somali refugee woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives. These are rousing, complex portraits of female trailblazers unapologetically pushing for radical change.'
Time for Ilhan
Naila and the Uprising, which closes the festival, centres on the life of activist Naila Ayesh, providing a snapshot of the role of women in the First Intifada, following the course of Palestinian resistance from the beginning of the occupation to the present day. 'The documentary covers the First Intifada which happened in 1987 and which all Palestinians were a part of,' Ayesh explains over a Skype call from her home in Ramallah. 'It was a peaceful uprising against the occupation and, though this is my story, thousands of families have the same story.'
The documentary, created by Brazilian filmmaker Julia Bacha, offers a touching and emotional portrait of an incredible women who fought with tenacity and spirit for liberation from military occupation and gender equality alongside a generation of Palestinians, despite being imprisoned, deported, tortured and more. Naila and the Uprising is a painful reminder of a movement that is far from over, one that Ayesh believes women have largely been erased from.
When asked about the importance of the Sisters strand and films like Naila and the Uprising, Van Strijthem says: 'Feminism may have, at times, been reduced to a privileged, narrow concern with sexism but – and this is where our Sisters strand reflects some fantastically positive trends – it is a broad movement that now welcomes much more diverse voices. There's a more robust awareness of the way sexism is closely interconnected with economic exploitation, with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, religious hatred, environmental destruction. And all the women – including of course trans, disabled and migrant women – and the men who push back against these forms of oppression, are joining forces across what would have traditionally been entrenched divides. This is a radically different path towards equity – and a formidable source of hope.'
Naila and the Uprising
The question of hope is one that remains entrenched in the back of Ayesh's mind, and though the current political situation has removed some of her optimism, her hope for the future of Palestine remains intact.
'The hope is always for Palestinians to have their justice and to have their security and to live in peace,' she says. 'This is the general hope for every Palestinian; to have our independence like other people in the world. The main message of the film is a message for the youth; to learn from the experiences of the older generation. At the end of the film, you will see a clip of my son and this is a very clever message from Julia, because it shows that it's time for the Palestinian youth to take the initiative and to take on an important role in society.
'The second message is that when we as Palestinians are united, we are strong. I want the international community to see what is going on and how much the Palestinians suffer from the occupation. They must know that Palestinian people deserve to have their rights. The film may focus on my story but it is the story of thousands of Palestinian families. It's not personal, it belongs to everyone.'
Take One Action! Film Festival, various venues, Edinburgh & Glasgow, Wed 12–Sun 23 Sep, full programme at takeoneaction.org.uk
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A film festival with a political slant, founded on the belief that 'cinematic experiences can inspire lasting change' and offering a series of talks and programmes showing how films can be used to empower communities on an international stage.