Maggie Hennefeld and Beth Capper are PhD candidates in the Modern Culture and Media department at Brown University. They have organized a Feminist and Women’s Media Festival, with three other graduate students in the department, Lakshmi Padmanabhan, Brandy Monk-Payton, and Rijuta Mehta. The FWMF is being hosted at the Cable Car Cinema and Brown University’s Granoff Center in Providence RI from March 13-March 16. The festival includes screenings of documentary, narrative, and experimental cinema, a photography installation, symposia panels, and a keynote address by Nandita Das. Screenings, panels and events are free and open to the public. For a full schedule, click here.
The festival begins this Thursday, March 13 with a Magic Lantern program, BODY/VOICE: Women’s Experimental Cinema. For more information, click here.
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Sophia Seawell: To start with the basics, we were wondering where the idea for this film festival came from, if there’s a particular intention, and how, after you had the initial idea, the concept developed into the FWMF?
Maggie Hennefeld: In 2010, another grad student in the Modern Culture and Media Department, Matt Noble-Olson and I did a Women’s Film Festival, with all the screenings at the Cable Car Cinema. I think the programming privileged a kind of feminist avant-garde experimental cinema from the seventies and eighties. We showed a lot of Yvonne Rainer, Su Freidrich’s work, Maya Deren. And then a couple years ago, Lakshmi Padmanabhan, Brandy Monk-Payton, Rijuta Mehta, and the two of us began talking about doing it again and making it more diverse both intermedially—not necessarily doing just cinema—and diverse in terms of the kinds of programs in the festival.
Beth Capper: Yeah, I think that the curatorial framework for the festival, if I’m right, that you organized in 2010 was thinking through what women’s film is, which is super interesting and an important question. And then one of the things that came up in our discussion in developing the conceptual framework for this festival was instead thinking through the tensions between ‘feminist’ and ‘women’ as frameworks for curating work, and thinking about how both of those frameworks have different histories of exclusion. We’re using the terms in some ways to put tension on one another. Is there now a divergence between what a feminist film is and what women’s film is?
MH: Its worth mentioning that our title has morphed quite a bit in the last year as well. At various points it was ‘the Global Women’s Film Festival,’ and then it was the ‘Crossing the Frame: The Women’s Film and Media Festival.’ A few people have asked about the conjunction ‘Feminist and Women’s’—doesn’t one sort of imply the other?—and again, at first it was just ‘Women’s’ and a few people raised questions about what identities and groups that just privileging ‘women’ as a signifier excluded. Trans* people who don’t necessarily identify as women, for example. These are very much open questions that we hope come up as well during the panels and in between screenings.
Ann Kremen: So what does it mean for you to be putting ‘feminist’ and ‘women’s’ together in this way?
BC: It’s not that we think there’s any definitive border between either term. Obviously, there’s this model of feminism that sees this progressive narrative in which at a certain moment, African-American and working-class women interrupted white bourgeois feminism and either contested feminism as a frame or said ‘we’re not going to be feminist.’ One of the things to do from the get-go for us, is to problematize even that model of feminism and to say no, there are co-constitutive feminisms happening alongside one another, and thinking through this US-centric model of feminism in particular. Feminism is going to look very different from all over the place. Lakshmi, who is Indian, was saying, that’s really not a narrative of feminism that I ever grew up with or that I ever thought about. So there’s that tension that we’re thinking through.
MH: I think feminism, just to historicize the term a little bit, there’s always been certainly a coalition politics between feminism as a movement and women as an identity that’s defined in relation to all of these other identities like men or trans* or just the resistance to identify in terms of sexual categories in general.
AK: With this programming, it seems as though you’re trying to make visible alternative histories of feminist media and politics in order to problematize the American or European narratives about feminism.
BC: Definitely. About feminism and about the term woman as an identity category, in order to think about the ways that both terms have been used to do violence to people and continue to be used in the name of violence. There are ways in which feminism has become extremely nefarious, especially I guess what we call liberal feminism. in terms of its entwinement with the carceral state. So we’re not just interested in celebrating these terms but also in problematizing them as useful categories.
We’re also interested in problematizing the progressive historical narrative of the idea of waves—this article came out recently about the fourth wave of feminism, which is bizarre, because I didn’t know that we were still using that rubric to think through what is an extremely contested, even within the boundedness of one national frame.
SS: Something I was thinking about when you said an original title for the Festival was a Global Women’s Film Festival is that I think about race as so specific to the place—has there been a tension in trying to talk about race in a more global perspective?
MH: Part of the concern was that we didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin and not be able to do justice to these global histories. So the archives we’re looking at on Saturday are primarily African-American and African; Friday and Sunday there’s more focus on the borders between India and Pakistan and on global circulation between India and the US. We’re focusing on specific places or locations in order to have a more engaged sense of what we mean by the global so that it doesn’t become an empty buzzword.
BC: Again, I think there’s only a certain amount you can do in a festival, which is why we shy away from using the word global as part of our title, because we’re not trying to encompass whatever the global means in relation to global women’s or feminist media, we’re not trying to influence that. We’re trying to strategically bring together certain works to ask particular questions about particular locations and times and places.
SS: I feel like Industry and Borders particularly complement each other, if we talk about ‘global’ in terms of globalization and its effects.
MH: Imperialism, colonization. What borders aren’t we thinking about?
SS: What other conversations are you hoping that the festival creates or contribute
s to, in terms of Providence, feminist communities, or conversation about media?
MH: At the Habits of Living conference hosted by MCM in Spring 2013, there were a lot of FemTechNet panels, and the word “feminism,” in some of its fourth-wavey resonances—as this utopian merging between feminist politics and all of the things that new media, digital media, may or may not make available—was coming up. One guy in the audience just said, ‘why are you using the term feminism, I’m down with the identity politics you’re talking about but I strongly disidentify with that word feminism.’ And even some of the artists whose work we’re curating in this festival, have said, ‘I’m excited that you’re including my work, but just so you know, I don’t identify as a feminist’—and I don’t know what’s going on with that?
So I am interested in, if not destigmatizing the term feminism, raising questions about why it’s no longer seen as a hip or relevant word, just getting that word back in circulation a little bit more, as a politics that actually exists, that is not outmoded, that we need to be thinking about.
BC: One thing also, beyond conversations, is just the fact that some of this work is really not easily accessible or available. It is really awesome that people get to see it—it’s not just things that you can see on the Internet or easily go see in a gallery. That people get to see this work is in and of itself a really important aspect of this festival.
MH: Sure, that goes back to the first question about how this all came to be. We haven’t mentioned Lynne Joyrich enough, who’s our professor in MCM and has been our main faculty sponsor for doing the festival. The six of us, the five grad students and Lynne, were meeting for the first time, and we were all so on board with the festival. And then you know that moment when you’re like, ‘I’m thinking of a word, let’s all say it at the same time’—and the words, and the titles, and the names for potential guests we were coming up with could not have been more different, and often we hadn’t even heard of the other suggestions. So I think that this program is radically dialectical and I think it will blow all of our minds, to take on that challenge of sitting through the whole thing and really thinking the relations between all of this vastly diverse programming.
MH: And, you’re going to have to enlist a buddy, because there’s some parallel programming, so unfortunately you’re going to have to say, you go to Granoff, and I’ll go to Cable Car and we’ll report back later.
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Stay tuned for the second part of this interview, in which Maggie and Beth will provide more detailed explanation on the festival’s programming.
Interview by Ann Kremen and Sophia Seawell
Image (source): still from Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi.