This past Labour Day weekend, Concordia University hosted the Global Women’s Cinema Network international conference. Entitled “Women, Film Culture, and Globalization”, this third edition of the conference focused on women’s various approaches to global film culture, and gathered various scholars of women’s film culture, including members of the international network Global Women’s Cinema (GWC). Established in 2013 by Veronica Pravadelli with the purpose to investigate women’s agency and professional advancement in global scenarios of film production, distribution, and reception, the conference’s two previous editions took place at Roma Tre University in 2013 and at Stony Brook University in 2014. This year’s keynote speakers were Kay Armatage and Skadi Loist, experts in feminist theory, queer theory, and festival studies. The conference addressed questions of geocultural mapping, new approaches to gender theory and representation, transnational marketing, and festival promotion.
Also in attendance was prestigious German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger, who discussed her influential film Madame X: Ultimate Ruler (1978), as well as her latest short, “Aloha” (2016), which premiered at the Visual Arts Theatre in Concordia’s Fine Arts pavilion. Also screened was “Contemporary Women Filmmakers: The State of Things” a new documentary co-directed by Concordia’s own Guylaine Dionne, and Rosanna Maule, this year’s conference director. The three-day conference concluded with a roundtable of women committed to film culture in Montreal and an homage to Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman who passed away last year.
In the first panel which revolved around the theme of “Gender, Place, Identity”, E. Ann Kaplan from Stony Brook University, New York, discussed the representation of Alzheimer’s Disease onscreen, particularly as it relates to the gendered representation of cognition vs. affect, and the difference between men’s and women’s approach and reaction to the disease’s onset in ‘Memory Loss, Gender and the Politics of Care-On and Off the Screen’. Followed by Adrián Pérez-Melgosa, also from Stony Brook University, whose presentation ‘Traces of Vlasta Lah: (En)-Gendering the Early Years of the New Latin American Cinema’, analyzed the forgotten Italo-Argentine director. Vlasta Lah, who approached women’s issues in her work, such as the objectification of woman in media representation and domesticity, particularly within the national context of Argentine culture, was largely ignored, and ultimately forgotten, by both the mainstream critical establishment due to her “imperfect” aesthetic, as well as by the revolutionary left due to the absence of an explicit countercultural or Marxist project. Standing in for Veronica Pravadelli, Rosanna Maule discussed the documentary form as an intergenerational mnemonic device in contemporary Italian documentary cinema.
Following the conference’s thematic organization, the first day’s second panel, “The Submerged Area of Women’s Cinema”, focused on forgotten or marginalized practitioners and approaches in the history of the cinema. Marie-Josée St Pierre, from UQAM, in her presentation ‘How Can We Write the History of Women in Animation Filmmaking?’ discussed how the absence of a critical history of animation has allowed for the further marginalization of women’s contribution to the form. For example, by bestowing on male practitioners important historical milestones, such as Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (1937), which has being validated as the first animated feature. In fact, St Pierre argued, female animator Lotte Reiniger accomplished that feat a decade earlier in Europe with “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (1926). From Swarthmore College, Patricia White’s ‘Wonder Camera: Ulrike Ottinger’s Transnational Gaze’ discussed the attendant filmmaker’s work within the context of 19th century German academic Orientalism, postmodern collage, and revisionist allegory, in which the fetishization of power and spectatorial gaze gives rise to conflicting intensities, particularly within the first wave feminist paradigm. Concluding the panel was Ana Moya from the University of Barcelona, who analyzed female protagonists within certain mainstream movies as belonging to a global tribe focused of affective qualities of community, rather than being subservient to an illusory, heterosexist and patriarchal national identity, whether as an European doctor caught in civil war in Africa, or a North American law-enforcement officer in the Balkans fighting against corruption, in her presentation of ‘Women in Border Conflicts on Screen: Cosmopolitanism and Self-Transformation in Tears of the Sun and The Whistleblower’.
The day’s panels concluded with Kay Armatage’s keynote ‘Structures of Feeling; Gender Audits in Media’ which presented the (dismal) state of inclusion of women practitioners across all positions in contemporary fiction filmmaking, and the steps being taken by both public and private film production entities to correct, or further engender the problem. Responding was Neepa Majundar from the University of Pittsburgh, who in view of the data presented by Armatage called for a collective revolt against male-dominated paradigms of film production by practitioners and academics alike. The day concluded with the world premiere of Ulrike Ottinger’s latest short, “Aloha” (2016), with the director discussing the methodology, funding, and inspiration for the collage film, which used F.W. Murnau’s “Taboo” and her own “Madame X” (amongst other films) as a springboard for a dialogue between the male and female gaze within a homoeroticized context and the objectification of a sexualized Other.