Written by Karen Alexander
It is increasingly commonplace to hear how media savvy university students are. Active not only as consumers but also as producers of a variety of media, students bring to the classroom a range of skills and a thirst for stimulation that teachers struggle to keep up with. Fortunately for those who seek to capture students’ attention with course materials beyond the printed text, there is a rich tradition of feminist documentary film that can enhance the teaching of complex issues in the feminist classroom.
Yet, although academics are trained to read, analyze, and critique written scholarship, few approach filmic texts with the same level of sophistication. Scholarly book reviews that assess the merits of texts are in plentiful supply—not so reviews of documentary films addressed to an audience of university teachers. Hence the need for a resource that would not only help teachers find films to complement class readings but would also evaluate those films as teaching tools, give advice on how they might best be utilized and accompanied in the classroom, provide models for the scholarly critique of documentary film, and in the process raise awareness of the work of talented feminist filmmakers. Films for the Feminist Classroom (FFC), an online, open-access periodical, aims to be that resource.
Since our first issue was published in the spring of 2009, FFC has featured more than a hundred films in reviews written by scholars in disciplines across the humanities and social sciences, among them African and African Diaspora Studies, Art History, Anthropology, Education, Film and Media Studies, Geography, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Public Health, Sociology, and Women’s and Gender Studies. We have worked with many different distributors, including those with a long tradition of promoting feminist film, such as Women Make Movies and Third World Newsreel, as well as fledgling companies and young directors distributing their own productions. Films we’ve reviewed reflect the scope of feminist inquiry, with titles such as No! The Rape Documentary; La Quinceañera; They Call Me Muslim; Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy; License to Thrive: Title IX at 35; Girls Rock! The Movie; and Work and Respect.
The response to the journal has been enthusiastic. We were delighted when Feminist Collections exclaimed “What a fabulous new resource!” in their write-up of FFC, and filmmakers have written to express their gratitude for bringing attention to their work, calling our reviews of their films “touching” and “wonderful and insightful,” to use two examples. We’ve learned that our work is valuable not only to teachers but also to librarians keen to make the most of their budgets when purchasing films for their collections.
In true feminist form, FFC is run by a collective1. We operate on a purely volunteer basis, each of us making time in our busy schedules for this labor of love. The diversity of interests and expertise among members of the collective is a strength. We look for films on topics we are passionate or curious about, and draw on our knowledge to select expert reviewers. Although reviews form the main content of FFC, each issue also includes a special feature. Some of these—such as interviews with Abigail Disney, producer of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, and Jennie Livingston, of Paris Is Burning fame, and a media-rich article by Alexandra Juhasz on the lesbian collective aesthetic behind Cheryl Dunye’s recent film The Owls—shed light on the processes and concerns of feminist filmmakers2. Others address the dynamics of film in the classroom more directly; one example is the fall 2010 roundtable on the ethics of teaching sexually explicit film, which includes essays by Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Mireille Miller-Young, and Carlos Decena. Plans are in the works for coverage of a Muslim women’s film festival as well as for an interview with social documentary artist and prisoners’ rights activist Carol Jacobsen. Summer 2010 saw publication of a supplemental issue formed around an interview the FFC collective conducted with feminist filmmaking icon Barbara Hammer in advance of the retrospective screening of her work at the Museum of Modern Art. This supplement not only introduces some readers to an important figure in the history of feminist film, but also highlights Hammer’s present relevance by focusing on her relationships with and influences on other women artists and filmmakers. For instance, one piece explores the value of intergenerational dialogue as Gina Carducci, a young filmmaker with whom Hammer collaborated on Generations (2010), describes the fruitful exchange in which they engaged in making the film.
We think Films for the Feminist Classroom helps to bridge the gap between feminist filmmakers and scholars as well as serving pedagogical aims. We hope we will be successful in bringing teachers to a greater awareness of how to use the filmic texts they select for their classrooms, making them sensitive to filmic language and construction so that they can provide critical analysis for their students. We also hope that our publication will support the work of feminist filmmakers by bringing them to new audiences, including: students, teachers, and librarians. So, filmmakers, send us your films for review! 3.Teachers, send us your proposals for reviews!4. We operate on a purely volunteer basis, each of us making time in our busy schedules for this labor of love. The diversity of interests and expertise among members of the collective is a strength. We look for films on topics we are passionate or curious about, and draw on our knowledge to select expert reviewers.
- The collective currently consists of myself plus co-founder Deanna Utroske; Rutgers Women’s and Gender Studies PhD candidates Jillian Hernandez and Agatha Beins; Julie Salthouse, who is a chapter director for Girls Learn International; recent Rutgers graduate Katherine O’Connor; and current student Julie Chatzinoff.return
- Juhasz’s article, “A Lesbian Collective Aesthetic: Making and Teaching The Owls,” describes the collaborative process behind the making of the film. Juhasz was one of the producers of the film as a member of the Parliament Film Collective, and the article itself reflects the collective ethos of the project by including the voices of others involved in the film.return
- Films for review can be sent to Films for the Feminist Classroom, c/o Signs, Rutgers University, Room 8 Voorhees Chapel, 5 Chapel Drive, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Please note that we cannot guarantee that review copies will be returned.return
- See the FFC call for proposals here. We can be reached at FFC@signs.rutgers.edu. return
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