Radical feminist cinema [a conversation with Ewa Szabłowska]

Mateusz Demski
It is going to be a rebellious edition [an interview with Marcin Pieńkowski]

In the Good Girl Gone Bad section, I decided to use radical feminist cinema as the key selection theme. "I showed liberated, emotional and exhibitionistic artists who are not afraid to call things for what they are and who grapple with a male-dominated world," says Ewa Szabłowska, curator of the New Israeli Cinema, Films on Art and the Third Eye: Good Girl Gone Bad sections.

Mateusz Demski: Are women the future?

Ewa Szabłowska: I hope women are the future of cinema.

OFF Camera, Transatlantyk, now New Horizons and the Good Girl Gone Bad section. Women have certainly gotten support from Polish festivals this year.

The symbiotic thinking of Polish programmers is clearly a natural reaction to what is happening in Poland. At a time when women are heading out into the streets to fight for their dignity, it would be difficult to ignore this. Good Girl Gone Bad is a section that shows women in opposition to patriarchy. Radically improper girls, the sort who took the wrong path but have no intention of turning back. Their state of mind is perfectly reflected in the portraits of mothers in Marianna Palka's "Suki" and Lucile Hadzihalilovic's "Evolution", the hysterical teenagers, anorexics and drug addicts from Helene Hegemann's "Axolotl Overkill" or Julie Ducournau's "Raw".

So, to quote, this is a combat version of feminist cinema.

In the Good Girl Gone Bad section, I decided to show radical feminist cinema and show emancipated, emotional and exhibitionistic artists who are not afraid to call things for what they are and who are not afraid to grapple with a male-dominated world. Feminism is a very diverse movement in which every woman can find her own path. The Good Girl Gone Bad section is derived, however, from its radical faction. It is similar to the sort of expression seen earlier in Guerrilla Girls, Riot Grrrls, Pussy Riot or slutwalks. This is cinema born of female anger that expresses itself in disagreement with the patriarchal order.

And not only of female anger. Bruce LaBruce has joined the ladies.

His is quite a different voice in the section, which consists entirely of films shot by women. That said, Bruce LaBruce is considered the father of queercore and has struggled with patriarchal heteronorms for twenty years, so his work fits in perfectly with the ideas of feminism. His "The Misandrists" is about a terrorist group known as the Female Liberation Army—a stronghold of lesbian separatism. This is ironic cinema, on the one hand combining Marxist rhetoric with pornography and ironic humor with the traditions of B movies, and on the other, a clear political declaration. 

Political declarations can also be found in the New Israeli Cinema section. What is the situation with women in Israeli cinema? 

Israel is a very interesting case, because it is an extraordinarily diverse society. Some women are completely emancipated and live in liberal cities such as Tel Aviv or Haifa, while others form highly religious and closed communities. Among the former are directors like Hagar Ben-Asher and Hadas Ben Aroya. In their films, "The Burglar" and People "That Are Not Me", respectively, they show girls who would not be out of place among the protagonists of Good Girls Gone Bad. That stream would also be a good fit for Maysaloun Hamoud's extraordinary film "In Between", which portrays millennial Palestinians as scantily dressed, liberated party animals. Interestingly, the film was seen by conservative Palestinians as so shocking and offensive that a fatwa was issued in Palestine for the first time since 1948.

But that is just one side of the coin. You have also talked about ossified, anachronistic communities that are subject to radical rules. Is there still a place for cinema in such communities?

Another great discovery in our section—film critic Marlyn Venig is going to talk about this—is Hasidic cinema, the film practices of women from ultra-religious communities, where having a television set at home is forbidden. But this fascinating social phenomenon is also a bottom-up movement that is motivating women. Films shot and produced by women are aimed at audiences made up of Orthodox women. For religious reasons, men may not act in these films, they may not be a part of the production crew and they may not even watch them together with women. Around eight of these films are produced every year, and they are not shared beyond ultra-religious communities in Israel and the Diaspora. We will show one of them in the New Israeli Cinema section.

Do the films on art offer any similar discoveries? That is yet another section that you are responsible for.

This year's Films on Art focus on showing peculiar and unusual artistic interests that can be described as post-artistic activities. Both the characters and the filmmakers are artists balanced on the edge of hard reality and extravagant fiction. Their passions—though they may seem odd and they may take their enthusiasts far beyond the social and artistic mainstream—are a visionary unsealing of the system through the power of their imagination. The artists' film adventures take on various forms: from a trip inside a sleeping body (somniloquies) through searching for ecstasy and edification in the phenomenon of rotation (Spin) to a manifesto from the frontier of philosophy, economics and politics.

What does this manifesto consist of?

I'll give you an example. In her performance-art film "HAMSTERs", Belgian director Martine Doyen explores, in a very unorthodox fashion, the currently popular concepts of trauma and post-traumatic stress. She organizes a street happening in the form of a medieval "epidemic of dance." Doyen takes as her subject the still-unexplained phenomenon of plague dancing, where whole villages and towns would fall into dancing trances lasting a few days or weeks. They were something of a collective hypnosis, the result of stress, hunger, war and trauma. In her experimental film, Doyen tries to induce this sort of collective hypnosis following a terrorist attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels. She flips the saying that "terrorism is theater" and shows that "theater can be terrorism" or, in other words, a form of struggle. Art then becomes its weaponry.

This looks more like a political manifesto than an artistic one.

This is because art has, for some time, been functioning beyond galleries, and the interests of artists boil down to, as you noticed, existence in the modern world. Artists' aesthetic obsessions have thus become a kind of life strategy, an outlet for the imagination that allows us to perceive reality in a completely independent way. Their films open up the mind and draw attention to familiar issues, but which are often experienced only superficially. Thus, unlike other sections, which often have an impact on the viewer's emotions, here we are dealing with purely intellectual adventures, puzzles that run counter to a system of knowledge we were once inculcated with.

Such as?

"Where Is Rocky II"? is literally a brain teaser. The film tells the story of the search for an artwork by Ed Ruscha, an artifical stone called the Rocky II, in honor of Sylvester Stallone, that was lost in the 1970s. Pierre Bismuth, known to Polish audiences as one of the co-writers of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", spent years looking for this lost work on his own. When traditional methods used by art historians failed, he decided to hire a private detective. This rather unusual pair—an artist and an investigator who had previously dealt with criminal law issues—significantly expand the scope of techniques used in investigating lost works of art.

Is this still the realm of art?

That is a completely justified but difficult question. Nowadays, art can literally be anything. But with all this ambiguity, one thing remains certain: post-artistic journeys, whether we call them art or not, are simply incredibly inspiring.

Interview by Mateusz Demski

Mateusz Demski

Urodzony w 1993 roku. Publikuje między innymi w "Czasie Kultury”, "Dzienniku Zachodnim”, "Popmodernie", "artPapierze" i "Reflektorze”. W wolnych chwilach poszerza kolekcję gadżetów z "Gwiezdnych Wojen”.

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