The Reel Film Series is launching their new series ‘UNRULY WOMEN’ this Thursday evening, starting with the Wachowski’s ‘Bound.’ I spoke with four of the organizers and curators of the series: Simona Mezzina, Ronan Davis, Ania Juszczyk and Lucy Ralston, and they explained why you should be as excited to see these films as they are to share them. And why these ‘unruly women’ demand your attention.
How did you choose the theme for this series of films?
Simona: Our shared focus was on selecting something that was both important and stimulating, but that could also result in something interesting for different people in St Andrews. ‘Unruly Women’ came to life as a true collective effort as we opted for something that could well combine the themes we found most appealing during our discussion, in particular the role and the representation of women and racial minorities in the film industry.
Were other themes being considered?
Ronan: At first we got together and came up with a bunch of themes, though from the outset it was clear that everyone was passionate about providing a platform for diversity within the cinema. We are also really keen for our series to be as enticing and well-attended as possible, so we chose this theme with confidence that it relates to a big part of current student interests and concerns.
Do you think the theme is especially relevant here and now? More broadly, do you think art and film are more important than ever in society today?
Simona: The ‘Unruly Women’ theme definitely came up because of its importance in our historical moment. We wanted to take part in the great discussion women are engaged in all over the world, about their role in modern society and the way they are represented. The fact that we were dealing with movies was of great help since art, and film in particular, are products of their time and have the huge power of talking directly to the audience to express their worries, but also hopes and expectations. People living in the same era undoubtedly come to share the same feelings at some point. What art does, especially in moments of general crisis like the one we live in, is to represent these universal feelings; to tell people that they are not alone, that all of us feel the same way and that we must stick together in order to overcome fear and ignorance.
What is it about these three films that made you want to show them?
Ania: What was important for us in this case was to diversify the screenings, so we did take the production budgets and countries of provenience into account. After choosing a theme for the series, we narrowed it down to six possible films. From there, we focused on finding three that would represent different takes on the subject but also a degree of diversity to make the screenings more varied and interesting. Both ‘Fire’ and ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ have been perceived as very controversial due to their subject matter. ‘Bound’, on the other hand, challenges other gangster films usually perceived as stereotypically masculine. All three share the characteristics of ‘unruly women’ since they demonstrate how female filmmakers have created images that are both challenging and exploratory in the way they show women in cinema.
What do you hope audiences will gain from watching these films?
Ronan: First off, we hope that all those who are kind enough to give over their Thursday evenings will have a great time watching these films on the big screen. But more than that, we want to show just how varied films from female filmmakers are. The lack of representation currently necessitates film series such as ours, but we are keen to demonstrate that these films are not a genre, but in fact just as diverse as cinema itself.
What are the characteristics of an ‘unruly woman’ in film and how do you become one?
Lucy: I think it is important that we make clear that we wish to celebrate all types of women and not simply an ‘unruly woman’; however, there are very social and political reasons we chose this concept. The nature of ‘unruly women’ under our definition for this series, is the positioning of women as exacting self-determination and resistance to the established patriarchal social order in the film industry and larger society. This is why we chose films specifically written and directed by women – as an act of subversion of the male-dominated film industry in itself – as well as starring women, who in their respective narratives, all undermine the realistic oppressive gendered confines they find themselves within. In terms of how you become an ‘unruly woman’, I suppose you resist the patriarchal social order that yourself and other women are positioned within worldwide. And there is no formula: all ‘unruly women’ exist within different circumstances and find different ways to resist, and it is important that all determine their own autonomy in doing so and are not told by us how to be ‘unruly’.
How important do you think it is to showcase films that have been overlooked by mainstream cinema audiences?
Ania: One of the main ideas of the Reel Film Series founders was to showcase films that are less known to our audience. In this series, however, we combine less known titles like ‘Fire’ with more mainstream cinema like ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’, and let the audience not only see the differences, but also draw parallels between these two worlds.
Do you think independent and smaller budget films have a greater opportunity to celebrate equality, diversity, and representation?
Lucy: In a sense, by independent films somewhat exemption from the norms of mainstream studio-oriented cinemas of the world – which privilege men behind and in front of the camera – there are more opportunities for diversity and this has often been reflected in the films coming out of the independent circuits. However, the view that women, people of colour, and the LGBT+ community etc. have some sort of claim on this independent filmmaking space would also be deeply misguided and would ignore the realities that it is very difficult for many independent filmmakers to produce their films at all, and certainly that institutional sexism, racism and homophobia exists in independent spaces as well. And ultimately, I think we should always encourage that all groups be accepted into mainstream commercial cinema – equality can only be achieved when exclusion of the underrepresented in making and starring in all types of films no longer exists.
Finally, if audience members want to discover more ‘unruly women’ in film, which films and filmmakers would you direct them to next?
Simona: Since we had to select just three movies for our series, many others we absolutely loved and thought perfect for this theme had to be left out. From this list, I would highly recommend four titles: Vera Chytilová’s abstract masterpiece ‘Daisies’ (1996); Ana Lily Amirpour’s controversial debut film ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (2014), described by herself as “the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western”; Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s semi-autobiographical debut film ‘Mustang’ (2015) about five Turkish girls fighting for their freedom against oppressive religious and patriarchal power; and finally Andrea Arnold’s ‘American Honey’ (2016), the winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2016 which follows Star’s journey through the Midwest, as she joins a traveling magazine sales crew made up of misfits and gets caught up in their almost tribal dynamics. What I suggest is to start with these four titles, they certainly won’t be disappointing, and then go further in the exploration of women directors in the industry. You will be surprised by how many they are, and their huge talent will make you wonder: how come I didn’t know about her before?
For more information about Reel Film Series screenings go to: https://www.facebook.com/ReelFilmSeries/?fref=ts