Good news for those of you who enjoy films and are not misogynists: the Dublin Feminist Film Festival is back for the third year running! This year is a bit different to the last two. This time there’s a theme, ‘Othered Voices’, and as well as a premiere, the Festival comprises ‘half a dozen features, loads of shorts and a couple of other events, such as discussions and Q&As,’ says Festival Director Karla Healion, who spoke with Totally Dublin.
The theme is uniquely interesting in its ability to encompass both the intuitive ‘literal voice, where women are under-represented’ and more subtle underrepresentation, ‘the figurative voice, such as a story told from a female point of view, or the vision of a writer or director who might be considered a feminist voice from behind the camera’. Attention on The Bechdel Test (described by Healion as ‘analysing women’s film dialogue using a simple quantitative formula’: namely, do two women have a conversation together about a subject that is not a man) has become a media sensation, drawing attention away from ‘women’s vocal and verbal representation,’ or lack thereof. So expect interpretations of ‘the voice’ as a character’s or filmmaker’s particular point of view. Thanks to the theme, you can also expect a festival with real direction, ‘something to direct the programme and facilitate discussion, or provoke ideas around female agency, or feminist cultural production,’ as Healion explains.
With the mission statement being to help counteract the mis/under-representation of women in film, the Festival has as much cultural import and relevance as ever. Healion points to the fact that behind the camera women are still badly under-represented, which may not be one’s first thought when considering women and film. The Festival aims to encourage women into the film industry itself by spotlighting the involvement and contribution of women behind the scenes. As with feminism generally, visibility of women in the industry ‘helps to break down the barriers to success and aspiration’. Healion explains: ‘If you can see someone as a role model, that you can aspire to, you can imagine yourself doing it too.’
But is there much the Festival can achieve? Well, things are getting a bit better. ‘The on-screen representation of women is improving,’ according to Healion. In other areas too, ‘there are great efforts to include and promote feminist film within loads of festival strands, which is just brilliant.’
Why put on a feminist film festival? To this day, the vast majority of film festivals screen films ‘made’ (that is, directed/written/produced) by men. Then there’s the issue of women being ‘less confident and less supported in terms of opportunity.’ The Dublin Feminist Film Festival is another opportunity for women and a chance to showcase and discuss feminist work.
To improve matters to the extent of achieving full equality, Healion believes that it’s important to ‘support, celebrate and highlight their [women’s] achievements behind the camera, as well as characters we see portrayed in front of the camera. We need to keep pushing and creating spaces where women are celebrated.’ Of course, certain groups of women face particular difficulties, a fact that has not been forgotten by the Festival. Healion is aware of this and believes it part of her work as Director to ‘help amplify the voice of other under/mis-represented groups, such as the LGBTQ community, or people of colour.’
As for the naysayers and opponents of a solely feminist festival, Healion’s experience tells her that they are usually in opposition because of a failure to ‘really engage with notions of cultural equality or gender imbalance.’ Clearly they have not had an impact in the progression and evolution of the festival.
The Dublin Film Festival is not the first, nor the only new and independent Dublin based film festival. This year saw the creation of the Cult Horror and Dublin Workers’ Film Festivals. Along with the slightly less new Dublin Doc Festival, a place for independent film programming is being carved. For Healion this is a positive: ‘the important thing is to allow people access to alternatives to the mainstream, and to create feminist (in our case) spaces where women and feminist viewpoints are prioritised and given room to be explored.’ The newness and independence of the Festival has not hampered its ability to draw high profile participants. In the past the iconic filmmakers Vivienne Dick and Lelia Doolan have engaged in discussions.
Words: Sarah Taaffe-Maguire
Images: Dublin Feminist Film Fest, Alison Bechdel