FEMALE directors will be under the spotlight at the Cork International Film Festival (CIFF), which takes place at the Gate Cinema, the Everyman and the Triskel as well as online from November 5-21.
‘Female Visions Retrospective’ is something of an antidote to the male gaze, which depicts women in the visual arts (and literature) from a masculine heterosexual perspective.
It presents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer. That’s not to overlook some female directors, who are rooted in this tradition.
But for the CIFF director of programming, Anna Kopecká, the ‘Female Visions Retrospective’ is a celebration of “bold and uncompromising Irish and international female directors, paying tribute to their fantastic work that changed the history of cinema and keeps challenging our understanding of what cinema is.”
Audiences at this programme strand, which Anna hopes will be made up of both women and men, are invited to discover or rediscover fiction and documentary films by “visionary female filmmakers” both on the big screen and online.
While women directors are under-represented in feature films, the situation is better when it comes to documentaries, said Anna.
“What we’re hoping to do with the ‘Female Visions Retrospective’ is challenge our perspective of cinema and try to change it by covering something daring and exciting. It’s not just about giving representation to women.
"It’s showing how some female directors are really special and are changing the history (of film.) You can still see some female directors making the same films as male directors. But in our retrospective, you can see other ways to make films. Some male directors are trying to challenge the traditional male gaze type of cinema but it’s questionable. It’s a subject of debate.”
The female retrospective includes six international features by acclaimed directors including Beau Travail from French director Claire Denis, The Mourning Forest from Japanese director Naomi Kawase, and Daisies from Czechoslovakian director, Vera Chytilová.
Ireland is represented by Pat Murphy’s Nora, which is about James Joyce’s wife Nora Barnacle, and Kirsten Sheridan’s Disco Pigs, made 20 years ago, based on Enda Walsh’s hit play.
There will also be a specially curated programme of shorts. And there will be an online exclusive documentary on Maya Deren, one of the pioneers of female cinema. The documentary, In the Mirror of Maya Deren, is directed by Martina Kudlácek.
Anna, who is Czechoslovakian, says Daisies is regarded as a milestone in the Czechoslovak New Wave movement in the 1960s.
“It’s a most iconic film, made by a female director. It’s anarchic and full of experimental stuff. This film is still very popular. It’s important for me to show it in Cork. A lot of people probably know it, but not everyone.”
The film was banned in the Czechoslovak socialist republic.
“Vera Chytilová had huge problems with the regime and of course, her film is criticising society.”
Anna says that the artistic imperative often finds expression with “the political approach”. For example, the documentary Fatma 75, to be screened, is directed by Selma Baccar.
“It’s a history of the status of women in Tunisia from 1930 to 1975. The director is also a politician. She was always fighting for women’s rights.”
Describing French director Claire Denis as “a visionary director who is exceptional in every way,” Anna is pleased to screen her 1999 film, Beau Travail. It’s loosely based on Herman Melville’s 1888 novella, Billy Budd. The story is set in Djibouti in East Africa where the protagonists are soldiers in the French Foreign Legion.
“Claire Denis’s movies are definitely not what you’d expect of a female director. She doesn’t make classical romantic type movies. Beau Travail is an important movie, especially when it comes to LGBTQ issues. It’s not a gay story but it talks about desire and jealousy. It features the male gaze - on males. It’s one of the best films ever.
“It’s definitely an example of a director who is not traditional in any sense.”
The CIFF is also screening films, directed by women, that are part of the main programme. The festival kicks off with the love story, Ali & Ava from Clio Barnard (‘The Selfish Giant.’) Set in working class Bradford, the film follows friendly, outgoing landlord, Ali, and Ava (an Irish born single mother of five), who form a close bond through their love of music.
It will also screen Blue Moon, directed by Romanian Alina Grigore. The film won the top prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival this year. And Titane, directed by French woman, Julia Ducournau, will also be screened. It won the top award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Ducournau is only the second woman to receive the Palme d’Or, and the first woman to win it alone.
“It’s an action movie, completely the opposite of what you’d expect from a female director. It’s not for everyone as there’s a lot of violence in it.”
Anna says of the festival: “We continually seek to champion new voices as well as celebrate auteurs and established directors through our curated programmes.”
The festival, now in its 66th year, commissioned emerging visual artist and Sample Studios graduate artist-in-residence, Elinor O’Donovan to create an art work in response to the programme. Crashers is the title of her digital collage which was developed in response to the ‘Female Visions’ programme, informed by research on ‘the female gaze’ in cinema.