Carry Greenham Home by Amanda Richardson and Beeban Kidron
2014, just 12% of the main characters in the 100 top grossing films at the US box office were women, and
they represented only 30% of all speaking characters. Only 7% of the top 250 films at the US box office
were directed by women. Kathryn Bigelow
was the first, and is still the only woman in the more than 87 years of the Oscars
to win Best Director.
response to these alarming statistics, since February the Gulbenkian in
Canterbury has been screening a film season entitled Fifty Years of Feminism, a
partnership with the cinema and the film department at the University of Kent. Professor
of Film Studies Elizabeth Cowie observed that cinema and feminism both arose at
the end of the nineteenth century in 1895 and was moved to mark the
relationship between the two.
“The selection of films in this season is
designed to prompt the audience to think about the progress of feminism and
women’s rights, and the changing landscape for women both in society, and on
film, throughout the 20th century."
Agnès Varda's One Sings and the Other Doesn’t
University of Kent reaches its half-centenary this year and as part
of its celebrations has funded a series of events organised by the Radical
Women: Fifty Years of Feminism at Kent project, including a symposium on
feminist activism in Kent and of course the feminist film season. The project
celebrates the past and continuing work of feminists at the University of Kent
in research, scholarship and activism.
Elizabeth progressed with the idea, her first challenge was to think about what we
mean by ‘feminist film’. "I quickly decided that the season would be
broadly woman-centred, with key films - both fiction and documentary - mainly
made by female filmmakers that address the issues and politics of
being women and exploring stories of women as workers, as wives and lovers;
daughters, sisters and mothers and the constant struggle for an equality that
meaningfully recognises difference."
with any thematic season the wealth of material presented a curatorial
are so many wonderful films that explore female identity, and this season could
only accommodate ten! While there are still far too few films made by women in
general, there are such fantastic contemporary female filmmakers, and it has
been exciting to see concurrent programming at the Gulbenkian that includes so
many related films - new releases such as Wild, and The Falling and Mommy, all
playing at the Gulbenkian in the coming months."
The Falling by Carol Morley, screening in the Gulbenkian's main programme
Professor Cowie, the link between the films in her season and the newer
releases that the Gulbenkian play in their main programme is fascinating.
"What has especially pleased me is how relevant the films in the season
remain. In the newer films, I’ve also been really glad to see the new
confidence to declare feminist concerns in cinema, and also in critical writing
increased interest in feminist concerns in film has meant that the season has
provided an opportunity for the university to exploit their links with the
Gulbenkian to reach new audiences for academically focused film programming.
“The Gulbenkian has long housed an arts cinema alongside its theatre, with
which academic staff have been involved in programming and introducing films
and events. The season has been selected to include the widest possible
audience, not just students and academics," Cowie explains.
Wadjda by Haifaa al-Mansour (the first female Saudi filmmaker) screening in the Gulbenkian's season
this meant making some tough decisions about the diversity of her selection. "I’d
have liked to screen examples of silent cinema by women - certainly Germaine
Dulac’s superb surrealist and feminist film The Smiling Madame Beudet from
1923 and groundbreaking works of of early Hollywood like Dorothy Arzner's Christopher Strong, or Ida Lupino's (who
was born in Britain with connections to Kent) The Hitch-Hiker. The season slants towards British work, so I’m really
sorry I couldn’t include Julie Dash’s superb and radical Daughters of the Dust (Dash's film is though currently on screen in Tate Film's exciting LA Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema season), or films by Chantal Akerman, the great Marguerite
Duras, the contemporary films of Claire Denis, or Margarethe von Trotta's Hannah Arendt, or the wonderful Iranian
women film-makers - the list just goes on and on!"
dedicated her career to furthering discussions around feminist film theory,
Cowie’s final selection, whilst not a comprehensive reflection of the depth of
her knowledge, certainly demonstrates her ardent passion for the subject. “Each
film is special to me. Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank and Clio Barnard's The Arbor are films I really love for the
complex ways in which they each address young women and their intimate struggles
with family and identity. Agnès Varda's One Sings and the Other Doesn’t is a
wonderful portrait of female friendship and a profound celebration of
femininity and feminism. Todd Haynes’ gorgeous melodrama Far From Heaven not
only also references the Hollywood ‘woman’s film’ and the clear inspiration of directors
such as Douglas Sirk, but shows that feminist and woman-centred films can be
made by men, with Haynes interested in drawing out the contradictions posed by
issues of family, desire and race for both his male and female characters as
they navigate life in a repressive society. I am also really pleased to be able
to screen The Song of the Shirt, the 1979 film which is cinematically radical
and politically complex in its investigative rethinking of the history of
Clio Barnard's The Arbor
the film season hits its half way point, Cowie is more convinced than ever that
showing films in the context of feminist curation is a fiercely political
act. “As long as the inequity between
men and women remains in work, family and representation, the politics of
feminism remain important. Should our stories - of men and women - only be told
in films made by men? Do we not need stories of women, too, achieving in the
world, to reflect and inspire?"
Looking into the future, she hopes that a
similar season might be curated at the Gulbenkian, but this time hopes that an equity between male and female filmmakers will have been established so that such a season needn't be labelled as feminist film, but simply "a retrospective of the
plethora of the cinematic riches of the twentieth century."