Fem&ist is a brand new alternative film festival exploring female and genderqueer empowerment and, honestly, it’s fkn brilliant. It’s one of those really Melbourne things that you can be whole heartedly proud of (not like those gimmicky themed bars that make you just want to bang your head against a wall. I’m looking at you, George’s.) If you haven’t guessed by the name, it’s a feminist film festival and it’s got a keen eye on intersectionality and taking responsibility for white privilege.
I attended the ‘Women in Warzones’ screening on Wednesday night and was blown away by the humanity, strength and compassion on display, especially in the speakers who presented after the films ended. A quick disclaimer: I’m a refugee from the Bosnian War so this session was of obvious interest to me. If you don’t know, the Bosnian and Rwandan wars (which were happening around about the same time) were the first wars where rape was used as a weapon of genocide so obviously the issue of women in war is a major one for me. That said, I’m bringing all the journalist objectivity to this that I can muster and…
It’s still really fkn brilliant.
The evening opened with festival organiser Amanda giving a somewhat sprawling though wonderfully passionate explanation of the films to follow and the layout of the evening. While the off-the-cuff nature of the speech made it a bit rambley, it was clear that she knew her stuff and I personally found it refreshingly organic.
The short films played focussed on the roles and rights of women in various zones of conflict –detention in the UK, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria. Two of the films were animated, short (five minutes and under) and pithy – Robes of War (Robe De Guerre) by Michèle Cournoyer is a lyrical exploration of the impact of war on women while Set Her Free by Priya Sundram focuses on the experience of a refugee woman held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.
Inner Me is a short documentary about deaf women in the Democratic Republic of Congo by Antonio Spanò (an Italian director, Amanda had pointed out, raising questions surrounding what a white documentarian in this context means before the audience even thought of it). The final film was Syria’s Rebellious Women by Zaina Erhaim which focussed on the heroines of the Syrian rebellion and was probably one of the most inspiring pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year.
After the films ended, the audience was treated to poetry by Australian-Somali poet Idil Ali and Texas-born slam poet Arielle Cottingham. Yorta Yorta and Kulin Nations woman and actor Pauline Whyman gave a beautiful and moving speech, and reminded us that crying is a sign of strength, not weakness.
It was an incredibly powerful experience, being witness to such resilience, courage and defiance and I highly, highly recommend attending next year (to be clear, a next year isn’t guaranteed but I am damn hopeful).
Another thing worth mentioning – 20% of tickets for the session were freely available to those displaced by war and this kindness was extended at the Aboriginal Feminism screening to First Nations people and is being extended at the Genderqueer Romance screening on Sunday to gender and sexuality diverse folk.