JUNE/JULY 2014 an eye on the cinema by NISI MASA
SIGHT SWIPE Fish Tank: a female masterpiece? DOSSIER Motherhood: To be or not to be Interview with Isabell Suba Dionne Walker
“It’s not that I resent the male film making, but there is something that women are doing that we don’t get to know enough about.” (Jane Campion, Opening Ceremony Cannes 2014)
[The gender imbalance in directing is] “a bit like a country not being filmed – and that country not having a voice. It really does matter.” (Lynne Ramsay, The Guardian, 2012, read the whole article here)
CREDITS Más y Más is a publication by NISI MASA NISI MASA European Network of Young Cinema 99 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis 75010 Paris, France email@example.com www.nisimasa.com Editorial Staff Team Matthias Van Hijfte firstname.lastname@example.org Mirona Nicola email@example.com Francesca Merlo firstname.lastname@example.org Collaborators Robyn Davies Simran Hans Kathi Kamleitner Sophie Charlotte Rieger
cover photo credits: www.telegraph.co.uk
SIGHT SWIPE 5 6-7 8-9 10
Bande de Filles
by Simran Hans
Fish Tank: a female masterpiece?
by Matthias Van Hijfte
Teenage Girls Feature
by Robyn Davies
by Mirona Nicola
The Female Push
by Simran Hans
DOSSIER 12-15 Motherhood To be or not to be
by Kathi Kamleitner
INTERVIEW WITH 16-18 Isabell SUBA
by Sophie Charlotte Rieger
19-21 Dionne WALKER
by Matthias Van Hijfte
Bande de Filles by Simran Hans
Desperate to escape the vice-like grip of her violent, overprotective brother and the responsibility of taking care of her younger sisters, Marieme takes up with a tough, jean-jacketed trio led by ‘Lady’ (Assa Sylla). Swapping her sweatpants for a leather jacket and a sultry, lipsticked pout, she joins Lady, Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) and Fily (Marietou Touré) for an afternoon at the shopping mall. Impressed by Marieme’s resoluteness, Lady rewards her with a gold nameplate necklace that reads ‘Vic’ - as in ‘Victory’. The film’s opening sequence, an all-female American football match played out in slow-motion, set to throbbing eighties electro-pop, sees the girls tackling one another with a vigour that is often reserved for their male counterparts. Sciamma does not shy away from the toughness that is required of these girls. Lady prepares for a public fight, applying red lipstick like war paint in a local kebab shop, only to be beaten savagely by a hood rival. Later, in an act of solidarity, Marieme takes part in a fight on Lady’s behalf, kicking her opponent to the ground and cutting her lace bra off in triumph with a penknife. These fight sequences mirror the physicality of the opening sequence, giving these young women the opportunity to show their physical and mental strength. It’s not all doom and gloom though; Girlhood glows and pulsates with life. Sciamma captures the purity of female friendship; the girls sleep in a pile like kittens, hugging and dancing with each
photo credits: www.cinema.jeuxactu.com
hile Sciamma’s Water Lilies and Tomboy explored similar themes of youth, femininity and identity, Girlhoood sees a change of pace for the director. Crackling with frenetic energy, Céline Sciamma’s third outing is her boldest yet. Focusing on sixteen year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré), an under-achieving tomboy living on the outskirts of Paris, Sciamma looks at the perils, pleasures and pressures of being a teenage girl.
other. The film’s high point sees the girls renting a hotel room with money they have stolen from their peers. They throw a private party, spiking their Coca-Cola with whiskey, luxuriating in bubble baths and blowing smoke rings in their shoplifted dresses. The party reaches a crescendo with a transfixing dance sequence set to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’. The girls mime the lyrics in mock-music video fashion; shot through a blue filter, they appear like a fever dream. Marieme watches on shyly, desperate to join but still unsure. The camera closes in on Touré’s astonishingly expressive face, bathed in yellow light and piercingly youthful. And then something clicks; she gets up to join the other girls, surrendering to the moment and choosing not to be broken any more.
Marieme in a blonde wig selling drugs to Paris’ elite, are a jarring departure from exuberant mood of the rest of the film. The society within which these girls operate strips them of autonomy and choice; they are not allowed to be strong and independent and vulnerable and sexual. For girls, there are only two roles; the virgin and the whore. To be considered “une fille bien” – “a decent girl” – Marieme must choose a dead-end life of conformity and social stagnation. At its heart though, the film is about the power of female friendship, of sisterhood, of girls sticking together in tough times. The film’s final act drives home Sciamma’s point: that without sisterhood, girlhood is a lonely place.
Girlhood is punctuated by four cut-toblack inserts, which divide the film into four acts. While acts one, two and three track Marieme’s realisation, assimilation and resignation within a conventional narrative arc, the film’s fourth act muddies Sciamma’s otherwise clean structure. Sciamma eschews any happily-ever-after resolution by plunging Marieme into a dark, adult world without the support of her peers. These later scenes, which see
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Cannes #1 2014. You can read the whole issue here.
photo credits: www.tflickeringmyth.com
Fish Tank: a female masterpiece? by Matthias Van Hijfte
ome people may wonder why to elaborate on an effort to make a case for a masterpiece but I think starting the discussion here perfectly fits in the picture of this issue. Films directed by women are often undervalued and not discussed enough. Filmmakers maybe disguise the fact, but masterpieces are also made through history by the acclaim, endless discussion of, and recurring references to films. It is a two-way street and luckily it does not have anything to do with box office returns. Withal, the world of critics is mainly inhabited with my peers (white men) and so some have to take a stand for women who proved their qualities and added value to world of cinema.
way that even in the historic drama Wuthering Heights (2013) the black version of Heathcliff perfectly melts into a well-known story (although the race-lifting issue still gathered a lot of attention).
For instance, Andrea Arnold, she is indisputably one of the ‘grand dames’ of the silver screen. She recently presided the 2014 Critics’ week in Cannes - where she has previously harvested two Jury Prizes in the main competition - and has established enormous respect in the cinema circuit. All her features were lauded for her deep, truthful depictions of social issues that could easily go along as a Dardenne or Loach film.
Mia lives in Essex, one of those areas wherein tourists would anxiously tighten their backpack when they flutter through it. Instead of going out with friends she dances agitated through life. Her attitude breathes the ‘Fuck Off’-sense, although - like many other girls her age - she loves dancing and finds her peace there. It’s her hope for a better future. When the Hip-hop music arouses her muscles, it liberates the true Mia. It is this fact that makes Mia both a representation for a whole generation, while also being the outcast of anger she is when trying to deal with social relations. The opportunity of being the next star in a world of idols gives young girls
Moreover, she feels the mise-en-scène as a true master of cinema and therefore works perfectly with her environment and actors. She does it in such a confident 6
Notwithstanding, all her films stand out, in Fish Tank (2009) things add up perfectly, it is a true masterpiece for more than one reason. As in François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), it perfectly captures a sense of generational struggle. Henceforth, she accomplishes this without losing the small touches of humor and adroit observations that make the protagonist, Mia, such a unique unraveling source of young adolescence.
SIGHT SWIPE the chance to still put that middle finger high up when everything else apparently sucks in their life. Of course, there are inevitably boys. The main attraction here is Connor, not a boy but a sexy young man with a heart. He is the boyfriend of Mia’s mom, and way too old for Mia. Still, the force of someone how genuinely believes in you, can draw in almost everything. Mia becomes fascinated by him and learns it the hard - even deviant - way: people will disappoint you if you expect too much love from them. It’s just a general tendency that the longer, carefully built relationships - that are sometimes tough and cranky - eventually award you with more love than the fresh golden boy who skyrockets your expectations. From start to end Fish Tank’s narrative feels familiar and even easy to relate with. Still, Arnold manages to give urgency to the scenes wherein Mia and Connor connect, with, as towering moment, the scene where Connor takes Mia on her back, and he catches a fish for her. Other key moments - later on in the film - give Mia’s radical behavior much ground, drowning the vulnerable character in ungoverned doubt and anger.
fast as her star rose, after the shoot of Fish Tank she was surprised with a pregnancy. Now, five years later, we hopefully could be hearing from her again as rumors spread that she would have one of the (smaller) roles in Star Wars Episode VII. Furthermore, the film also marked Michael Fassbender’s second powerhouse performance (In Steve McQueen’s debut he turned in a terrific Bobby Sands). He enacts Connor with a charm film buffs have gotten used to of him these days. But what really constitutes his character was just the right amount of creepy edge he added to Conor to make him a believable shameless heartbreaker. By adding to these performances an amazing effort of meticulous Cinema Vérité defined by long term collaborators of Arnold - cinematographer Robbie Ryan and Nicolas Chaudeurge – the film reaches the aforementioned heights. Arnold perfectly knows what she wants in this film without ever being obvious or showing off, a quality that should be treasured. Still, it is all about Mia. She reigns over the film and leaves behind some blows that never seem to fade away.
photo credits: www.michaelfassbender.com
Katie Jarvis is perfectly cast as Mia. She makes all the advantages of putting non-professional actors on screen apparent. Unfortunately, the career of Jarvis faded as
Bande de Filles photo credits: S. Witek
Teenage Girls Feature by Robyn Davies Teenage girls are taking over the world. Or, at the very least, they’re taking over our cinema screens. In a male dominated industry, the last couple of years have seen an influx of female-focused films, in particular those homing in on the lives of young women. And it seems the infatuation is especially strong when it comes to the idea of teen rebellion. We’re currently in a time where the media at large is awash with debate concerning adolescents - whether it’s Miley Cyrus’ antics or high schoolers’ addictions to social media, everyone has an opinion on it. With this in mind, and with the premiere of Céline Sciamma’s Bande de Filles (another bad girl centric film) at Cannes’ Directors Fortnight, it’s time we ask just why contemporary cinema is so obsessed with teenage girls.
ately it’s as if the curtain has been lifted on the dark underbelly of teen life, and it’s exactly what society has feared. In Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, the girls are sex-obsessed, drug-fuelled and dangerous - and more importantly, they enjoy it. After falling in with Alien and his creepy crew, the characters fully embrace that lifestyle, to the extent that a couple of them even delay their return home. Hardly victims of exploitation, they instead feel empowered by their sexuality and criminality with a lack of remorse. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring portrays a different but no less disturbing side of teen behaviour. Here the girls are vapid and shallow, infatuated by the idea of celebrity and determined to embody it at all costs. They rob houses and post self-indulgent evi-
dence of their endeavors online, fully of the opinion that if you don’t document the experience, you didn’t live it. Of course, both representations here are huge exaggerations, but with good reason. These films need to be shocking in order to highlight and allow us to recognise one main factor (and one which might just be the key to the genre’s success): we all identify with teenage girls. No matter how minor the connection, or how reluctant we are to admit it, audiences identify with what’s on the screen, and that’s what keeps them coming back. It’s perhaps this reluctance that has made the voyeuristic approach to these films so popular, letting us observe intimately but from a distance – a ‘guilty pleasure’, of
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Cannes #1 2014. You can read the whole issue here.
SIGHT SWIPE sorts. There’s no denying that Korine made use of this method, as Spring Breakers could hardly be more exploitative. His camera zooms in repeatedly on bare flesh, following the girls who are constantly in bikinis. “Pretend like it’s a video game”, one of them urges another before committing an act of extreme violence, and that’s the message the audience is to take from it as well: live vicariously through these characters and feel a sense of freedom. The same looks like it will apply to Sciamma’s Bande de Filles, or Girlhood. It follows a young girl who changes her clothes, her name, and even quits school in order to be accepted into a gang. Away from the eyes of authority, it’s the perfect set-up for a voyeuristic, freeing experience – and who better to achieve that than teenage girls?
So is this market really so profitable that studio execs are falling over themselves in their haste to produce more? In short, yes. Teen films have always made a good amount of money – after all, they target an audience most likely to frequent the movie theatres – but this new wave of bad girl cinema is attracting all audiences and is therefore bringing in more profits than ever. You need only look at the box office numbers: The Bling Ring pulled in over $19m worldwide while Spring Breakers reached over $30m, despite their low production budgets. It’s a market that is soaring financially, so it’s little wonder that producers are willing to exploit it so much. Teenage girls aren’t going to disappear from our screens any time soon. As long as they want to be talked about, filmmakers will continue to target them, and we’ll continue to watch.
Spring Breakers credits: photo credits: Karlovyphoto Vary Film Festival www.drafthouse.com
It would be easy to assume that cinema is simply condemning adolescent behaviour, but it actually feels quite the opposite. Filmmakers are beginning to catch on to the idea that teenage girls are everywhere because they want to be. Twitter, Instagram, blogs and Youtube, modern culture is full of platforms for them to put themselves out there and garner attention. They’ve always rebelled and experimented in an attempt to shape their personalities, but now it’s much more in the public eye and more open to discussion. Filmmakers are utilising this, almost acting as an extension of that selfexpression. Instead of criticising the apparent obsession
with technology and labelling all teens as shallow, cinema is accepting that the world has evolved, that youth desires publicity and that people will respond to it. It’s a form of understanding. As Sofia Coppola said of the subjects of The Bling Ring, “these kids were trying to find their identity”, and that rings true. Ultimately, teenagers haven’t changed at all, but rather the means through which they express themselves. Contemporary cinema is essentially just helping them to do this in front of a larger audience.
This article was originally published in Nisimazine Cannes #1 2014. You can read the whole issue here.
Self Made photo credits: www.clevelandfilm.org
Self Made by Mirona Nicola
ome days waking up feels like the bed broke right under you, like you don’t know who you are anymore, like everybody, including yourself, seems to have lost it. When it’s not just a feeling and all these things actually happen, you can end up with a telling story. It is not meant to be believable, which does not make it any less real. Director Shira Geffen repeatedly intertwines the paths of two female characters, Michal and Nadine. The first is Israeli, the latter is Arab. Their lives could hardly be any different, but in many ways they are dealing with the same issues. Relationships, the perspective of motherhood, self expression, personal and societal idiosyncrasies all come at them with bullet speed. There is no denying that having this story placed in the social and cultural context of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the motors of the film. The now customary checkpoint that Nadine has to pass every day on her way to work in Jerusalem has her interacting with a young female soldier. They are never on the same wavelength, but there seems to be a mutual understanding that they are just caught up in roles that the current context has assigned to them somewhat at random. Michal, on the other hand, suffering from what seems to be a generalized and recurring amnesia, refuses to answer a question on her opinion about the conflict. But it seems like even if she had known who she was on that particular day and did not have random people walking in and out of her house,
she still would not have been keen on answering yet another question on the matter. The absurdity of the situation is not always easy to take in and it really requires the viewer to enter a ‘game space’ from the very abrupt beginning. For the most part, the script relies on black humour in its sketch-like structure, held together by smooth camera movements. An adolescent that is apparently groomed to become a suicide bomber is asking Nadine for help with his homework. The fact alone that he is bothering with that days before he is probably going to die is irrational, especially when compared to the solution he gets offered for his math problem. If two cyclists depart from a point A at different times and circulating with different speeds, when will they intersect? It depends on the number of checkpoints, of course. Calling Self Made a film about cultures clashing would be an oversimplification, as would be the case for calling it a film about the multiple facets of womanhood. The film intertwines both these themes and has them supporting and enhancing each other. Michal and Nadine don’t have the same skin colour, they speak different languages, their day to day lives unfold in settings that are world apart but nevertheless overlap. When, with the camera sliding along on their tracks, they switch places, nobody seems to notice it, nor do they themselves seem to be surprised by it. The backdrop is different, the challenges stay the same.
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Cannes #2 2014. You can read the whole issue here.
The Female Push by Simran Hans
ith just 5 films in 5 years directed by women in the main competition (out of a total of 81 competition films), it’s not surprising that the lack of female representation at Cannes is a talking point that gets revisited every year. It seems unfair to single out Cannes as the sole perpetrator of gender inequality in the film world, when problems of representation pervade the industry as a whole. However, the burden of championing good practice is one that the world’s most influential film festival must bear, and after La Monde’s damning open letter in 2012 (“At Cannes, women show their breasts, men show their films”), gender inclusivity is a responsibility that it cannot afford to neglect.
This year Cannes is making an active attempt to be more inclusive, with festival director Thierry Fremaux using the press launch as an opportunity to point out that 15 of the 49 films in the programme were directed by women. This, coupled with the presence of Palme d’Or alumni Jane Campion, who presides over a majority female jury (including Sofia Coppola, Leila Hatami, Joen Do-Yeon and Carole Bouquet), seems like a promising response to the accusations of misogyny levied at the festival. However, much has been made of the fact that just 2 female directors – Naomi Kawase (Still the Water) and Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders) – feature in the main competition. Does Fremaux’s statement mark a genuine effort, or is it simply a gesture of face? Could it be that this ‘female push’ is nothing more than a tokenistic attempt to placate the festival’s critics? In an interview with Indiewire, Campion revealed that women directed just 7% of the 1,800 films submitted to Cannes this year. But what does this statistic actually mean? The figure that she cites might not be so shocking if it is proportional to the amount of films being made by women. There’s very little data on this subject globally, though an infographic created by the New York Film Academy, roughly 9% of directors in the US are women. However, while the US has a strong presence in Cannes (8 films across the programme), this is certainly not unanimously representative across the globe. Indeed, one only has to look across the pond to the UK to witness the new wave of British female auteurs like Joanna Hogg, Clio Barnard, Andrea Arnold and Amma Asante that is taking the independent film world by storm. France itself isn’t doing too badly either, with Celine Sciamma and Katell Quilévéré following in the steps of Claire Denis and fast becoming household names.
Research shows that women support women. According to a study done by the Sundance Institute, films directed by women feature more women in all roles – be that on screen or behind the scenes in production and postproduction. The report’s findings show a 21% increase in women working on a narrative film when there is a female director, and a 24% of women working on documentaries. We need more female directors; I don’t doubt that, but – and there is a but – I think looking at the festival in this way is doing the women of Cannes a disservice. Perhaps a more productive, and certainly, a more encouraging way of measuring Cannes’ attitude towards women is by looking at the female stories present in this year’s programme. One of the most compelling, fully-realised female characters I’ve seen this year is Winter Sleep’s Nihal (Melisa Sözen). Though Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s story is an intimate portrait of a man who has spent his entire life marinating in male privilege, his young wife Nihal is just as well drawn. With a bright intelligence that burns behind her eyes, Sözen brings a radiance to her role as a passionate woman who has sacrificed her own dreams to enable her husband’s. From Jonas Alexander Arnby’s smart riff on the monstrous feminine When Animals Dream, which screened in the Critics’ Week sidebar, to Ned Benson’s Un Certain Regard entry The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which was inspired by and written for its lead actress Jessica Chastain, there are plenty of stories that treat its women with respect and reverence. Other honourable mentions include Celine Sciamma’s loveable Afro-Franco girl gang in Girlhood, the ageing eponymous Party Girl and a pair of brilliantly ballsy performances from Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. Last, but certainly not least, the talk of the festival doesn’t seem to be about who will win the coveted Palme d’Or but whether or not Marion Cotillard will win the Prix d’interprétation feminine for her role as the plucky Sandra in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night. Women are at the heart of many of this year’s films, a pattern that feels more revolutionary than any sort of quota. The sheer range of women - complex, nuanced, flawed women - being championed here is something worth celebrating.
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Cannes #3 2014. You can read the whole issue here.
ÂŠ Shayne Laverdiere
-to be or not to be-
Mother: to be or not to be written by Kathi Kamleitner
When it comes to women on the big screen there is a set of stereotypical roles they seem to inhabit: the ‘kickass hottie’ oscillates between distracting the male protagonist and the audiences, the ‘femme fatale’ often sets the ball rolling, and the ‘wife’ creates an interesting antipode to her husband. The most common stereotype however, is probably the ‘mother’. Female characters are conventionally involved with the issue of family and motherhood in one way or another, unless they belong to one of the other groups or have clear reasons not to be concerned with the topic yet – young girls for example. And other than on the TV screen, where we find more nuanced maternal characters, the cinematic depiction seems to be somewhat more traditional and conservative.
ced, but the factor of free choice goes by the board. Of course mothers are not the only source of care and protection. The emotional layer of parenthood is just as well added to male characters in order to emphasise their heroism – for example Ford Brody in Godzilla or Cooper in the upcoming Interstellar. The difference is, however, that it remains an add-on, while for women it often defines their entire behaviour (e.g. Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity). Their actions are closely tied to their ability of reproduction – whether they fight for a better life for their children, or avoid having children in order to have a better life. Whichever a cinematic woman chooses, her decision is portrayed within a set evaluating frame.
Other women’s experiences have a strong influence in one’s individual decision, whether they come from personal conversations or are transmitted through the media.
Although some big-screen mothers have taken the lead and starred as protagonists in more complex roles (The Blind Side or Erin Brokovich), their more common portrayal reflects the sociocultural structures of our patriarchal society and can be located between two extreme ends of a black and white spectrum. On the one end their motherhood is self-evident. The matter of whether to have children or not is hardly raised. They accept their apparently inherent role which demands them to nurture and care rather than to strive and thrive. These mothers are praised for the sacrifices they make for their families and their selfless decisions in life – both in the narrative and by fans. The fictional Robin Wright in The Congress belongs to this category, but also one of cinema’s strongest female characters, Sarah Connor in Terminator. Both devote their own lives to enabling their sons’ future. But what if they acted differently? They would find themselves on the other end of that spectrum surrounded by ‘bad mothers’. Mothers who are unable to cope with motherhood and mistreat their children with ignorance or violence, like Mary in Precious, or even ‘bad women’ who selfishly follow their own desires, instead of having children at all. That this is an actual choice women gained thanks to social and medical progress and which is not necessarily tied to selfishness, is rarely addressed. The mothers presented in these films are admittedly nuan-
Before we dismiss this issue as a sole US-American phenomenon - as the examples I mentioned up until now might suggest - a quick analysis of the programme of Europe’s most important film festival in 2014 – Cannes – proves that motherhood plays an important role in contemporary national cinema around the globe. Like many other film festivals Cannes has reacted to the growing criticism about its exclusion of the female gender by exhibiting more female-directed films than in the last five years together. But not only female directors were put in the spotlight, there was also an increased density of female-centred stories: Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders, the Dardenne brothers’ Deux Jours, Une Nuit, Olivier Assayas’ Sils Maria, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Ryan Gosling’s Lost River, Jonas Alexander Arnby’s When Animals Dream, and David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. I am not trying to create a complete list of all female characters in the selection of films at this year’s Cannes festival, but these are some of the most buzzed films of the selection – and they all prominently feature female characters or have female leads. As diverse as they are though, every single one of them broaches the issue of family and motherhood or the absence of it at least to a certain extent. Having children or the negotiation of why not seems to be a central theme for any female character. But why is that? And is it even appropriate? 13
DOSSIER I am twenty-five. When my mother was my age she was married, had two children and had left her career behind. Today these things have changed. Many women between 25 and 40 prioritise education and career above marriage and family. Statistically the average age of women becoming mothers in the UK rose from the early twenties in the 1970s to about thirty in 2013 (http://www.theguardian. com/uk/2013/jan/24/half-births-mothers-over-30). Other women’s experiences have a strong influence in one’s individual decision, whether they come from personal conversations or they are transmitted through the media. Especially the latter, however, tend to portray women in their mid-30s as ‘baby crazy’. Think about Carrie and Charlotte in Sex and the City for whom husband - and daddy- hunting becomes the highest priority. Or the general tone in media coverage of Jennifer Aniston’s recent engagement. Psychologist Karen Kersting states in her 2014 TEDx talk on ‘baby panic’ that even though young women are told that having a baby too early was bad, they are at the same time driven into anxiety to have it all. This 2004 article in the New York Magazine describes a 29-year-old woman with a successful career who suddenly upon watching a TV programme about female fertility started panicking about her biological clock (http://nymag.com/nymetro/urban/family/features/6030/). Of course the general idea of gender equality and female self-determination is out of question, but these characters and programmes basically suggest that
young women would be better off returning to ‘the old way’ and take care of their career after having children. One thing is clear – women of any age think a lot about having children (or not having them), it will always be a hot topic. This answers my own question: yes, it is appropriate for films to deal with the issue extensively. But it is the way motherhood is addressed that really is problematic. What message does come across when motherhood is either treated as self-evidently or as the ultimate achievement of a woman in her 30s? Is the media trying to convince us to have children early on again? Is motherhood the fundamental dream? Is there something wrong with me if I do not feel that way? Taking a close look at some of this year’s Cannes films I would like to say that no, nothing is wrong. Motherhood in cinema has moved far from being taken for granted. Worldwide filmmakers are breaking with the stereotype after all. Let us take a look at some of them. In Mommy director and writer Xavier Dolan introduces two mothers who struggle with the balance between personal and family life. One of them is widowed single mother Diane Després. She inhabits the title role but experiences difficulties controlling her hyperactive and violent son Steve. Suddenly confronted with having to take care for him on her own, she realises that a demanding child and a conventional job are hardly compatible in her life. She loves Steve and wants to enable him a good future, but realises her restricted possibilities to do so. Although Diane initially accepts her role as mother, she eventually releases Steve into care. Maintaining her own independent life wins the fight over giving up everything for a child. At no point however, her decision is deemed selfish – she did what she thought was best for Steve.
© Shayne Laverdiere
Another single mother who struggles to make a living for herself and her two sons is Billy in Ryan Gosling’s Lost River. Unlike Diane she goes beyond her own limits to keep her family together and gets a job at the local cabaret club where she endures physical and mental exploitation. She is neither the picture-book perfect mum of patriarchal society, nor a ‘bad mother’ who blames her family for her misery. Eventually she takes control of their situation. Admittedly the situation they are in and her actions to get out are not necessarily ordinary but stripped to the bone it signals that even a mother can only take so much for her children.
Probably the most relevant film in this sense is Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which premiered as two films and work in progress at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and as a comprehensive re-edited version this year in Cannes. It tells the story of Eleanor and Connor, a young married couple in New York, from two perspectives – his and hers. They fall crazy in love, marry and have a baby, but when the child dies
photo credits: UNISON FILMS
Eleanor’s initial reaction is to end her own life. She gave up her education and career to become a mother and when even that was taken away from her, she panicked. Although her attempt fails, she disappears subsequently from Connor’s life. Back at the university and surrounded by her own mother (who bemoans the life she has given up for her daughters) and her struggling single-mum sister; she tries to find a new place in life. We watch her claim all the pain the loss of a child evokes, treat her husband as if he had not gone through the same, and pity herself for the life she missed out on. By the end of the film, when she finally sets out to finish her anthropology degree in France, we feel like losing her child was the best thing that could have happened to her. Marrying and starting a family too young took away her chance for an exciting and fulfilling life. Losing her child (and surviving a suicide attempt) ‘allowed’ her to push a reset button in her life and start over again. Lucky Eleanor. What she ignores though is what her behaviour means for others. What is so unconventional about her character is that she is allowed to act for solely selfish reasons.
children early on will eventually realise that their dreams and passions are lost forever and women who focus on experiences, education, and career are self-centred egoists. Again, the audience is lead to believe that there are only two alternatives. As much as I want to appreciate Benson’s turnaround in the portrayal of motherhood, I demand more. Having children early, late, or not at all is an issue that provokes emotional conversations throughout generations – but the focus should not lie on which of these is the “right” choice, because there is no right ‘one’ way. Films need to ease the social pressure that is pushing down on young women and not tie motherhood to the traditionally evaluating elements of renunciation and selfishness. They should talk about this topic in a more open way and start contributing to relieve this pressure.
In a way, she should be the kind of woman I would want to relate to the most. She embodies my generation’s unwillingness to decide. She wants it all, but realises that the traditional order of family and career does not hold up well for her. Like her, I hope to experience great things in my life before I settle down with a family – to be honest, I would rather not have children at all. But somehow, I am still unsatisfied by the image of motherhood given. I do not like Eleanor. She remains a cinematic example of a black and white approach to the issue. Women who have 15
Isabell SUBA by Sophie Charlotte Rieger
photo credits: www.zimbio.com
Isabell SUBA DIRECTOR OF ‘Men Show Films & Women Their Breasts’ Isabell Suba: http://www.isabellsuba.com/ With her feature debut Men Show Films & Women Their Breasts, German director Isabell Suba very subtly unmasks sexist structures of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. The mockumentary shows actress Anne Haug traveling to Cannes pretending to be Isabell Suba and promoting the latter’s short movie Chica XX Mujer while hopelessly struggling with the extremely sexist- yet somehow charmingproducer David (Matthias Weidenhöfer). Things get even more complicated when Isabell (Anne Haug) meets her ex-girlfriend and a queer love triangle unfolds. Why did you make this movie? How did it all start? I was invited to Cannes with my short film Chica XX Mujer and it took me off my feet because it is amazing to get such an invitation as a young filmmaker. But then I asked myself: What use is this for me as a filmmaker at this specific point of my career? And I realized that there weren’t any female directors in competition that year . I very was frustrated and upset by that. Behind those feelings lay my own worries of course: What chances do I have as a woman? Do I always have to prove myself more than men?
Did you ever consider going yourself? You made quite a sacrifice giving up your five minutes of fame! It’s not even five minutes. You go on stage for one minute, people applaud and that’s it. I thought about it in a different way: I could use Cannes as the biggest setting possible, a setting I could never afford with a usual project. Narcissism didn’t stand a chance compared to this.
What exactly was so upsetting?
You movie is about sexism in Cannes but you approach this topic very subtly. Why?
I started to question what it actually means that 90% of all features are directed by men. Men and women are different and that is perfectly right. In that way we get different perspectives on life. But that is also why these different perspectives should equally be reflected in cinema. Of course you can ask: Are female directed movies not as good? Or do they maybe not fit the criteria? But I think you should question these criteria. That’s why I decided to give up my identity and do a film about all this.
Because it would have been a different movie otherwise. Back then I really wanted to work with actors. If I had wanted to talk more about administrative problems and patriarchal structures in Cannes, I would probably have done a documentary. But I didn’t want that. For me it’s enough to only allude to the topic and get people to think about it. If the conditions had been different- meaning more money- I would have done it differently. But I only had 1 ½ moths to prepare and five days to shoot. 17
INTERVIEW How did the film come about? Did you write a script? There was a treatment with all the official appointments, the character descriptions, backstories, and how they react to their environment. But most of the action just happened like it is shown in the film, when we were in Cannes. During the shoot I had to react to the circumstances and at the same time take care of our appointments. Of course some things just slipped my mind. If something didn’t work it out in real life, we would always blame it on the producer in the movie. In the film, Isabell says that buddy movies are a male genre, but actually for me your film is a queer buddy movie. Yes, that’s the perfect description. I meant it exactly like that. These labels belong to everyone and I just adore buddy movies for the whole idea of “two friends against the rest of the world”. In this case, David and Isabell have to stick together because they don’t want to be on their own in Cannes. Buddy movies focus on men way too often. There is a scene at the pool wherein David and Isabell are courting the same girl. This is one of the very typical buddy movie scenes in your film, I think? Exactly. And there has never been a scene like that. If this would end up in them having sex all together and in the end the man is pleased, then it would be a conventional scene. But a film wherein a woman and a man are competing, and then the woman winning… And I didn’t even script that, it actually happened! The funny thing is that people like this scene the most. That tells me that audiences are really in for something new. Do you think women and men make different kinds of movies? The dangerous thing about our system is the black and white categories that lead us to ask exactly this kind of black and white questions. All filmmakers make different kinds of films. Gender is just one part of a human being. Women approach life and society in a different way, automatically; that is because they live, feel, and give differently. Men are more focused on getting somewhere, to look ahead. Of course there are always exceptions. I’m talking about formative tendencies. The pink and blue world of advertising contributed a great deal to this. How does it show in your filmmaking? In the first place, it is interesting that nobody has ever done anything similar to what I did. Why? Because film18
makers, of whom- except for the past three years- 80% have been men, usually think: “Yeeha! I’ve been invited to Cannes! I’m going to pack my tuxedo, my liquor and my condoms and behave like a party tourist for one week.” But the first thought that came to my mind was: “Ok, but what is next?” Do you think that the film industry is going to change in the near future? I hope so. I hope it for the next generations. Women are used to multitasking, they can endure a lot and they are emotional. I think that this mix is what it takes to be a good boss, because women do not focus on the outcome exclusively. And if they ever get to these positions and people get used to it, who will then still ask for a despotic male boss who just wants to screw the main actress? Ok, that is a cliché. Could Cannes work as an event with a gender equal base? Not the way it is now. In an equal setting, women wouldn’t walk the red carpet as status symbols for their men anymore, but to present their own projects and ideas. I think by the day you can make money with this, Cannes will realize these ideas and claim them as its own. I’m waiting for it. Should there be a women’s quota at festivals? As soon as you notice that there aren’t enough female directed movies handed in for a festival, you should make another call: “Now only women”. Women are disadvantaged, so why shouldn’t one make the effort of creating a balance here. It’s not only the job of women to offer their films but also the job of festival directors to change the status quo. You have to work on it until female presence at festivals is completely natural. Why is that so important to you? Radio, music, and film are the most influential mediums for young people. And you have to make sure that they reflect real life. There should also be a bigger variety of skin colors. We’ve heard and seen enough stories of white heterosexual men. Which story are you going to tell us next? My new film will be about a group of 50-year-old women. After their children have left the house they want to conquer the world once more. They do fail but the story is more about taking risks and jumping into life. It’s okay to do something that you didn’t plan out entirely and to risk failure, because if you don’t, you will miss out on life.
Dionne WALKER by Matthias Van Hijfte
photo credits: http://www.dvrse.com/diverseworld/
Dionne WALKER PRODUCER OF ‘DOWN BY LAW’ Producing Down by Law of director George Amponsah, Dionne Walker proves to follow the path of documentary making at the edge of the medium. We talked to her about the development of the project, her place in the world of filmmaking, and the push towards the unscripted hybrid documentary. You frequently curated, produced films, and wrote about the film industry. How hard is it to get your voice heard and which message do you mainly want to bring to the audience? Getting my perspective across is challenging, but I think in any event life is about shifting the apples around in the cart. First obstacle is finding out who you are and who you want to be. Discovering who I am took some time. However, it’s was fun finding out, my exploration involved travelling and engaging with people from Africa, the Americas and many European cities in between. What has influenced you in the documentary world and which projects currently in development elicit your sympathy? I could name a long list, but I will focus on some recent projects: John Akomfrah’s Stuart Hall project, Jeanie Finlay’s The Great Hip Hop Hoax, and Goran Olsson’s Black Power Mixtape; I’m also looking forward to Sophie Fiennes’s Grace Jones - The Musical and Iain Cunningham’s Irene’s Ghost (the last two projects were also in the shortlist of the BFI film fund award that we pitched for at Sheffield Doc Fest). The entire process I’m going through now, making Down by Law with director George Amponsah is very liberating, because I feel like we are in uncharted waters – in the sense we’re attempting to share the experience of Black Europeans to audiences across the Atlantic. Down by Law film is changing our lives, engaging with our characters and observing their courageous attitudes is shaping my own existence.
Could you elaborate more on the project and how you got the support of the Sundance Institute? How is it to work with this director? It’s somewhat a nightmare but you wake up thinking you had a dream. Collaborating in a project where everyone believes strongly in their own ideas is always going to pose a challenge. However, we found a way to give each person space to change lens. As for the support of the Sundance Institute [Smiling delightfully- because we cannot thank them in enough for getting on board this project], I think it started with the director, he gained access to some very interesting characters and made a bloody good trailer- it was his idea to follow childhood friends of the man whose death set in motion the worst civil unrest in recent British History. Essentially, I think Down by Law touches on the zeitgeist of our times, wherever you are. Our main contributors are sharing why they are protesting and why they are anti-establishment. I suppose writing up this context (in the application and in subsequent emails) including the international resonance also helped to make our project stand out. It’s the very essence of Cinéma vérité; as well as a multi –textured visual art piece. What drew you to this project? That we are being given the opportunity to understand what is happening in this community- the Broadwater Farm community is in our [Britain’s] collective memory. Also, that we were going to gain insight and understand the human condition.
INTERVIEW Do you have future projects you want to direct or produce? Currently I’m developing my directorial debut: an Untitled Project that takes its cue from my essay Invisible Women in Paris (http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/society/ article/invisible-woman-in-paris-and-image-of-theblack-female-body-in-europe.html). I wish to focus on the hybrid unscripted form- My Untitled/Invisible Women in Paris project will take this form. Women and evenly the awareness of the African Culture in Cinema (she wrote an essay on Evolving African Cultures) seem to arouse a lot of interest with you. What about the two entries on the Film Festival of Cannes: [Abderrahmane Sissako (Mauritania) represents the new African cinema with Timbuktu in the main competition and "Run" by the Franco-Ivorian Philippe Lacôte in the Un Certain Regard] Are there already more places for women in African Cinema in producing and directing roles? I didn’t see the Sissako film, but I think there is a wilderness when it comes to African European and women directors at Cannes. And Jane Campion, this year’s president of the jury, spoke about this in terms of women directors. I agree with her that: “[…] the festival is emphatically not the problem. […] My sense is that Cannes is very interested in new voices in cinema, never mind where it comes from or the sex of it. It's to do with people who funds films in the first place.” (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/may/12/janecampion-interview-cannes-the-piano)
My own ideas of evolving the African/diaspora cinema are around developing the African narrative to include the broad diaspora and the fluid nature of our experience. My next project and directorial debut will in many ways unpack this notion. In 2011 you conducted an interview with Euzhan Palcy in Cannes: “She said she got all the changes from her dad, even when people said to her father that she was crazy for wanting to be a director. It was something for Gypsies in their eyes.” Is this still the aura of filmmakers today in Africa? Well, I think it’s interesting. I mentioned East Africa earlier, and I think more women directors participated in the workshops than men. In any event I think Kenya seem to have long history of women taking leadership roles, and daring to be. Furthermore, I would say- like Euzhan Palcy- my father allowed me to think that I can do and be anything; as cliché as that may sound. In the last 10 years the documentary world has changed a lot due to technical advancements. What is for you the most interesting development? Perhaps the unscripted hybrid documentary is the new indie movie. I like to experiment with the form, strike a balance between the social message and the social experience. I want to continue to produce and direct indie features that stitch together raw insightful interviews with archives and a well-composed film score. Projects new audiences- in Africa, Europe, the Americas, China, and India- can engage with.
photo credits: www.ioncinema.com
In terms of evolving African cinema, I recently mentored East African directors as part of the Ford foundation supported Docubox initiative, spearheaded by Judy Kibinge. This is a very good example of a player who is developing new and emerging talents from the region.
Le pro bono signifie “pour le bien public”.
Créée en janvier 2011, Pro Bono Lab est une association qui mobilise les talents des professionnels et des étudiants en stratégie, finance, communication, ressources humaines, web ou encore droit pour aider gratuitement les associations qui n’ont pas les moyens d’accéder à ces compétences. Depuis janvier 2012, Pro Bono Lab a mobilisé plus de 1 300 volontaires pour accompagner et conseiller une centaine d’associations. Pour en savoir plus: www.probonolab.org 22
This issue focuses on the role of women in cinema. Their voices are still not heard loud enough. Here we give them the space to present thei...
Published on Jun 26, 2014
This issue focuses on the role of women in cinema. Their voices are still not heard loud enough. Here we give them the space to present thei...