As Glasgow's feminist film festival prepares for its second outing, co-founder and producer Lauren Clarke discusses breaking through stereotypes to explore the complex lives of women everywhere
'Congratulations to those men,' said Issa Rae, stony-faced, as she announced the all-male nominees for Best Director at the 2020 Academy Awards. A new decade; an old problem. Despite a growing number of women taking their place behind the camera and directing some of the most interesting and commercially successful films in recent years, there still remains a critical lack of institutional recognition towards cinema helmed by women.
Some have stepped up their game in recent years – the Edinburgh International Film Festival, for instance, featured a strand of entirely female-directed films for its 2019 edition – but Lauren Clarke and Kathi Kamleitner weren't satisfied with films by women being relegated to a 'specialist' strand. 'Glasgow has such a vibrant and innovative film exhibition landscape, but there wasn't a festival solely dedicated to celebrating and elevating the work of womxn filmmakers,' says Clarke, the co-founder and producer of Femspectives. 'When Kathi and I started Femspectives in 2018, we wanted to create a space for everyone to come and engage with film and use it as a springboard for discussion about feminisms, politics and social issues. We wanted to champion the work of womxn and highlight some of the innovative, intelligent and radical work being produced.'
The Awakening of the Ants
The response to their inaugural festival last year was enormous, which has emboldened them to double the programme for this second edition, and present a wider slate of films from 11 different countries. The festival opens this year with VAI, a portmanteau feature directed by nine Pacific filmmakers, which explores the disappearance of indigenous traditions across island communities through the lens of one woman's life. Elsewhere in the programme, a woman resists mounting pressure from her in-laws and husband to have another child in Costa Rican feature The Awakening of the Ants, and two indigenous women's lives are changed forever after a chance encounter in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open.
But it is documentaries that make up the bulk of Femspectives' programme, exploring the past and present struggles of women amid social and economic pressures, and suggesting that the search for justice and equality are ongoing processes. The hidden lives of Filipino domestic workers pose trenchant questions around modern day slavery in Sung-A Yoon's Overseas, while In Search … follows Beryl Magoko's encounters with fellow survivors of female genital mutilation, and her journey towards reconstructive surgery. Other highlights include the Scottish premiere of The Archivettes, a documentary centred around The Lesbian Herstory Archive, which was founded in New York City over 40 years ago and has continued to flourish since, and nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, Tasha Hubbard's award-winning documentary on the murder of Colton Boushie and anti-indigenous racism in Canada.
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up
The programme is organised into three thematic strands, centred around relationships between women, the role that memory plays in political resistance, and the right to make decisions over one's own body. But Clarke is keen to stress that these themes should not be viewed in isolation from one another. 'Even though we split them up into these strands, the films interlink and connect at various points,' she says, 'emphasising that no issue really stands on its own.'
Indeed, the diversity of Femspectives programme speaks to how the lives of women – and the work of women directors – resist all categorisation. In bringing them together, however, the festival makes a powerful case for the power of the collective and the differences therein, rather than seeking out a single truth to tell about their lives and experiences. 'We try to select films that will resonate with lots of different people coming from varied experiences and walks of life,' says Clarke. 'It's important for us to foster non-hierarchical conversations where everybody has space to contribute and there is value in everyone's position. It's not about fitting everyone into one box, but rather about finding strength in the diversity and multiplicity of experiences, backgrounds and perspectives.'
The Glasgow Feminist Film Festival, Femspectives, supports womxn directors from all over the world. The third edition will take place online in 2021 and feature guest curators Tanatsei Gambura and Ane Lopez.