Kathi Kamleitner is a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow. Her research project is entitled On Women’s Film Festivals: Histories, Feminisms, Futures. She also is the co-founder of Femspectives, a feminist film festival in Glasgow, which you can follow on twitter: @femspectives . You can also follow her on twitter: @watchmesee and/or find her university profile: https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/cca/ourpostgraduateresearchstudents/katharinakamleitner/ and/or follow her on twitter:
I always knew my PhD project would not remain entirely desk-based. While I was not officially practice-based either, my research was pre-destined to be shared with a wider audience through practice sooner or later – I research film festivals.
Film festivals are by definition supposed to be a social experience. They are about people interacting in and around cinema spaces as much as they are about screening films. The kind of festivals I’m interested in particularly are community-based events, women’s film festivals, that had their origins in the women movement of the 1960s and 70s.
And it is this history, I brought back to life through an impact activity at the Glasgow Women’s Library made possible by the Student Development Fund.
My research project consists of a variety of case studies that examine the phenomenon of women’s film festivals from different perspectives. A case study on the long-running International Women’s Film Festival in Dortmund and Cologne in Germany exemplifies how these festivals can be positioned among a wider network of film festivals. A comparative case study of two women’s film festivals in London uses a feminist theoretical framework to examine which feminist ideologies become manifest at these events. The final case study takes me back in time and looks in greater detail at the first women’s film festival held in the UK.
The Women’s Event at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1972 was the first of its kind in Europe. Only the First International Festival of Women’s Films in New York City happened earlier. It was co-organised by Lynda Myles, Laura Mulvey and Claire Johnston and enabled by a drastic shift in festival programming after the filmmaker protests at the Cannes Film Festival in 1968. Since then, Edinburgh had become a festival of the cutting edge – programming retrospectives of (then) little known US-American directors, such as Sam Fuller Douglas Sirk. Myles, who had become involved with the festival during this time, suggested to dedicate a special season during EIFF 1972 to the cinematic contributions of women, and subsequently got Mulvey and Johnston on board.
The programme included more than 30 films by women that were made between 1923 and 1972. The oldest film screened was Germaine Dulac’s The Smiling Madame Beudet, followed by Leontine Sagan’s Girl In Uniform (1931) and Leni Riefenstahl’s The Blue Light (1932). Among the newer titles were Jane Arden’s outstanding experimental feature film The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) and Kate Millet’s Three Lives (1971). In between, you could find anyone from Maya Deren and Dorothy Arzner to Nelly Kaplan and Vera Chytilova.
Despite the significance of the event and the high number of influential filmmakers represented in the selection, information about the festival is not very easily accessible.
To learn more, I initially conducted interviews with the surviving members of the organising team, Laura Mulvey and Lynda Myles, who were able to provide a list of film titles that were screened back then. Subsequently, I managed to collate more material about the event from the National Library of Scotland, helping me to form a detailed image of the festival for my final case study. One moment from the interviews, however, stuck with me. Laura Mulvey had been telling me about their intention to not just question the male-dominated canon of film history, but also to create a new canon of female-directed films. And yet, the vast majority of the films on the list are as far from “the canon” as they were when they were first made. Jokingly I said to Mulvey, how amazing it would be to organise a re-run of the festival and screen all these films again. That would be amazing, she said.
And so, a plan was born. I wanted to organise screenings of the films that were shown in Edinburgh in 1972, let people know about the event and give the films another life.
In order to do so, I applied for the Student Development Fund from the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities and was awarded a grant to organise this impact activity in May 2018. It was far from easy to track down all the films from the original line-up. Some prints where lost, in other cases it was not clear who owned the rights, and yet for others, I could not even find current contact information. Instead of a week-long re-run of the original festival, I settled for a one-day event at the Glasgow Women’s Library, screening two films.
But the event was not only an extension of my research, it was also part of the Radical Film Network 1868 festival, and formed the launch event of Femspectives, a feminist film festival in Glasgow. Co-founded with Lauren Clarke, Femspectives is our attempt to continue the legacy of the 1972 Women’s Event in Scotland.
We invited audiences to join us at the Library for an afternoon of screenings, beginning with Jane Arden’s The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). Based on a play that Arden had developed with her feminist theatre group Holocaust, it was the only film shot in the UK during the 1970s that was solely directed by a woman. To frame the film, we had invited Charlotte Procter from LUX London, whose expert insight on the work of Jane Arden provided our audience with the necessary context to enjoy the film. The screening was followed by an in-depth discussion in smaller groups, giving everyone in the audience the opportunity to participate in the conversation and creating a more intimate environment for debates.
The second film of the day was Sue Crockford’s A Woman’s Place (1971), which documents a women’s rights conference in Oxford, features street interviews with women about their rights and follows the Women’s March in London in 1972. The film shows the real social context in which artists and filmmakers like Arden practised in. Together, the film exemplified the kind of climate women were facing in Britain at the time of the Women’s Event in Edinburgh – but they also allowed us to reflect upon what had changed since then; and what has not.
The audience feedback gathered at the event was extremely positive. Not only did participants comment on the safe environment we had created to discuss women’s issues, but they were also fascinated by the history of the Event in their own home country. Posed with the question, whether there should be more events like ours available to watch and discuss films by women, every single feedback form we collected stated a clear yes.
By re-staging at least part of the 1972 Women’s Event, which is an integral case study in my PhD project, allowed me to disseminate some of my findings with a public audience, but it also gave me the opportunity to see what happens if we breathe new life into historical research and give the issues from then a new platform today.
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