February 13, 2015

A Feminist Film Festival For Movies That Pass The Bechdel Test

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Occasionally I get emails that pop into my blog inbox that make me go YAYAYAYAYAYAY.

And one of them was this – an announcement that there is such a thing as The Bechdel Test Fest! This is a year-long film festival kicking off this month to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Bechdel Test, (coined by animator Alison Bechdel in 1985):

Here’s a recap of the criteria:

1: It must have at least two female characters
2: They must both have names
3: They must talk to each other about something other than a man.

Throughout the year, The Bechdel Test Fest will host screenings of much-loved classics (I’m hoping Erin Brockovich makes it in there) and newly-released films (Obvious Child plz) as well as showcasing work from upcoming filmmakers. Events will include Q&As and will inspire conversation on issues that face the representation of women on the big screen.

There’s been lots of discussions around female representation film recently. Such as Scarlett Curtis writing about how the Oscar nominations are a bit of a shambles the year. Also Rom-com scholar Chloe Angyal’s claim that “If you’re looking for a rom-com that gets the official feminist seal of approval, just stop. It doesn’t exist.”

Corrina Antrobus, Curator of the Bechdel Test Fest said: “The film festival aims to create conversation and to activate change through insight and inspiration, in a fun and thought-provoking environment. It is an opportunity to proudly showcase films that do pass the test, to credit and identify those on and off the camera that represent women equally and as empowering protagonists.”

So, I managed to get some time with Corrina – and asked her some questions! Hope you enjoy:

Emma: How do people get involved in entering their own short film into the festival (that of course passes the Bechdel test?) – any criteria?

Corrina: Short films simply need to be no more than 15 mins long and of course need to pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Loads of films limp over the line but we’re looking for the ones that go above and beyond!

E: What’s your response to the poo-pooers saying that this festival is closing women off from the bigger film conversation?

C: Women make up 50%, if not more, of the cinema-going nation (not to mention the population of the world) yet Hollywood still struggles to place enough women on screen to match that demographic. This gives us an unrealistic representation of the world which can cause a problematic society. In my book that IS part of the bigger film conversation. You just have to watch Colin Stokes’ Ted Talk on how Hollywood Shapes Masculinity to see the importance of the fair portrayal of what masculinity and femininity is through the lens of the media. So far (so lucky) we’ve not had any negative responses, and everyone has been really positive and we’ve had loads of people wanting to help out or come along.

E: What are you most looking forward to, during the festival?

C: One of the things I most enjoyed about our opening event Reclaim the Rom-Com was listening to how much people enjoyed the films we screened at the Genesis cinema. Listening to everyone belly-laugh though Obvious Child and clap at the end of The Philadelphia Story was so heartwarming. I can’t wait to create more of those experiences!

E: Do you think this will change perceptions around female representation in movies? What needs to happen?

C: I hope it makes filmmakers think twice about the portrayal of their characters and make audiences aware that having such a dismal amount of women in cinema should not be a thing. Conversations need to happen which is what Alison Bechdel’s test instigates. Because the rule is so problematic (it’s by no means a seal of feminist approval or of a quality film) people enjoy debating its flaws but it raises the very important question of where are all the women? Getting that question answered is now what needs to happen.

E: Do you think we should be worried about the films mostly starring and created by male/white/straight people in the Oscars nominations this year?

C: Yes, because it’s an unfair portrayal of the world – a world where women don’t exist and can’t be apart of. It sends the message that women don’t make good-enough films and only movies about straight white men going through tough times are good enough for an Oscar which is of course untrue. That’s not to say the films nominated are not worthy – they are all great – but one of the main problems is we don’t have enough women making films in the first place. We need more platforms for visibility and training and support in getting the confidence to venture into this boy’s club that we deserve to be a part of.

E: What’s your message for anyone (male or female!) trying to get into the film industry?

C: Don’t be intimidated. Create or be a part of a network of people who support your vision and want to be a part of your success. Networking either in person or through social media helps immensely as is making sure you’re in the right places at the right time to show you mean business. Women In Film And Television, Shooting People and Film Hub London do really useful events and offer so much good advice.

If you’ve got an idea that keeps you awake at night, talk about it with the relevant people until it becomes a reality. Don’t think ‘if’, think ‘when and then get support on the ‘how’.

You can follow the film schedule here – the next one is in March called ‘Little Women Big Stories’.

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