Pantheon of Women in Film Celebrated at the 45th Créteil Films de Femmes Festival

Article by Moira Sullivan
Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo

Copy Edited and Posted by Heaven Infinity

Créteil Maison des arts et de la Culture

The 45th Créteil Films de Femmes (International Women’s Film Festival) celebrated its 45th anniversary from March 24 – April 2. For nearly half a century, the festival has screened the work of women behind the camera and created a forum with professional meetings, debates, and discussions on the artistic, political, and social commitments of filmmakers from all continents and their films. The festival is supported by the mayor of Créteil and Val-de-Marne and the cultural department of the Île-de-France region. This government support in part is responsible for the festival’s longevity. Festival Director Jackie Buet has the major role of organizing Créteil, and it is her extraordinary leadership and dedicated staff that has made it possible for this festival to continue.

Located seven miles from the Paris city center at Place Salvador Allende, the offices of the festival are in the Maison des Arts et de la Culture in Créteil. Before becoming part of an urbanization project in the late 1960s, Créteil was an industrial center. Ma môme, sung by the popular songwriter and poet Jean Ferrat about a woman who works in a factory in Créteil, is heard from a jukebox in a bar in Jean Luc Godard’s Vivre sa Vie (1962) as we see close-ups of Anna Karina. Karina was a frequent guest at the Créteil festival and guest of honor in 2009. 

For the 45th  anniversary edition, entitled “La Fabrique de l’émancipation”  (The Fabric of Emancipation), 45 films were chosen by the programming team and by the public: “45 years / 45 films”. Ten of the films listed at the end of this article were screened at the festival and throughout April on “Festival Scope.” I have documented the festival for the past 20 years and include photographs from the 20th anniversary in 1998  and this year’s anniversary in this report.  The 20th  anniversary had many celebrated filmmakers in attendance such as Margarethe von Trotta and Ulrike Ottinger (Germany), Barbara Hammer and Patricia Rozema (US), Susan Osten (Sweden), and Safi Faye (Senegal). The year-to-year event honoring filmmaking by women has been ongoing since its inception in 1979, In the past, luminary women filmmakers like Margarethe von Trotta chose to premiere their films at Créteil but with the expanding global film festival circuit Créteil is one of many first stops for emerging or veteran women filmmakers).

Filmmaker Lizzie Borden, who won the public prize for Born in Films in 1983, attended both anniversaries. . The list of filmmakers and actors who have attended this festival through the years is phenomenal. It includes  Agnès Varda, Delphine Seyrig, Amma Asante, Barbara Sukowa (president of jury 1987)  Jamie Babbit, Xialou Guo, Shabana Azmi, Maria Schneider, Margot Nash, Rachel Perkins, Yasmin Ahmad, Jane Birkin, Juliette Binoche, Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, Irène Papas, Kimberly Peirce, and Anna Karina. Safi Faye, who died late last year and lived in Paris, was honored in a special tribute this year.

The festival opened with Julie Bertucelli’s autoportrait Jane Campion, La Femme Cinéma which debuted at Cannes in 2022. Campion has long held the distinction of being the only woman to win a Palme d’Or for The Piano (New Zealand 1993) up until 2021 when French director Julia Ducournau’s Titane was given that highest of honors. In 2013, lead actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos shared the Palme d’Or for Blue is the Warmest Color,  the first time actors shared the award with the winning film.

Jaime Babbit 1998

This year the jury prize at Créteil went to Trenque Lauquen by Laura Citarella (Argentina 2022), a narrative  in two parts about a biologist who catalogs plant species in the small town of Trenque Lauquen in Argentina and goes missing.

The Prix du Public(Public Prize) for feature films went to Fifi by Jeanne Aslan and Paul Saintillan (France 2023).  Born in Turkey, Aslan spent her youth in north-east France. Fifi is the story of 15-year-old Sophie, who is given the keys to her neighbor’s home for the summer and embarks on a relationship with her friend’s older brother Stéphane, who stays home after his family departs.

The Prix du Public for a documentary feature went to Geographies of Solitude by Jacquelyn Mills (Canada 2022), an experimental film shot in 16mm on the rich ecosystem of Sable Island in the Northwest Atlantic. The film’s guide is long term environmentalist Zoe Lucas.

Other highlights of this year’s festival include a special evening dedicated to the Nobel Prize recipient in Literature, Annie Ernaux, who attended the screening of Michelle Porte’s documentary Words As Stones, Annie Ernaux Writer. Ernaux is famous in France for writing about her working-class upbringing and how she transcended it through education.

The work of Haitian-Canadian Miryam Charles was of special interest, a filmmaker that has not previously been screened at Créteil and who debuted her first feature film Cette Maison (This House, Canada 2022) at Marché du Cinema at Cannes last year. The film concerns the alleged suicide of a teenage girl. In this rich cinematographic journey, Charles and a cousin of the teenager make revelations that put the alleged suicide into question.

Miryam Charles

Lizzie Borden met with festival director Jackie Buet face-to-face. As guest of honor, her work was enthusiastically received by a new generation of cinéastes with seminars on her trilogy of films: Regrouping (1976), Born in Flames (1983) and Working Girls (1986). Born in Flames’ relevance today is illustrated by its intersectionality of race, gender, and class that debunks the myth that second-wave feminism was a ‘white women’s movement’. Featuring Kathryn Bigelow as a member of a youth socialist feminist journal, the film is set in an imagined version of the US in which the Socialist Revolution succeeded ten years before the story begins. Borden took seven years to acquire funding and make the film.

The brilliant editing of Born in Flames resembles the “choreographic” editing of Borden’s first film, the 1976 documentary Regrouping, which features four artist members of a women’s group. During the course of filming the project, Borden introduced other women into the original group, creating an experimental film on the practices of collectivity. Forty years later she released the original film digitally restored by Anthology Film Archives. Borden said you could watch the film, even fall asleep, reawaken, and become immersed in the film’s creative matrix. That is exactly what happens watching Born in Flames four decades after its making.

Born In Flames

Three pristine prints of the films of Margarethe von Trotta were screened at the Créteil neighborhood cinema “La Lucarne, ” which has excellent screening facilities. Christa Klages’s Second Awakening (1978) is about an armed robbery by six accomplices including Christa,  the mother of a young girl in a daycare center financially forced to close. The bank heist is to pay for the center. The bank teller at the robbery refuses to identify her in solidarity with her actions of  “robbing from the rich to give to the poor.” The lightheartedness of the film foreshadows von Trotta’s somber narrative German Sisters based on Christiane and Gudrun Ensslin from the national terrorist collective Baader-Meinhof, played by Jutta Lampe and Barbara Sukowa (1981). The story of the Polish-German revolutionary socialist that has been a heroine of feminist groups is taken up in Rosa Luxemburg (1986) featuring Sukowa. Von Trotta richly chronicles the party politics of the time revealing how Luxembourg is later assassinated.

The festival closed with a documentary screened at last year’s ACID section at Cannes—Polaris by Spanish director Ainara Vera, who attended. Beautifully shot, the film is a juxtaposition of a woman who navigates the ice floes of the Arctic Ocean as her sister Leil gives birth to a daughter in France. Vera won the  “Anna Politkovskaïa Prize” for best documentary in 2017 for See You Tomorrow, God Willing! in honor of Politkovskaïa, the murdered Russian human rights journalist.

Margarethe von Trotta and Jackie Buet

The abundance of women in film showcased during Créteil’s 45 years, confirms the festival is the longest lasting showcase of women in film in the world. Focus has been given to international filmmakers from all corners of the world, from the Antipodes to Asia to Scandinavia to Africa and the Mediterranean. Special programs are featured each year, such as the films of Dorothy Arzner in partnership with the Cinémathèque française (2017); the experimental Greek filmmakers that came to France in 1975 as exiles, Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki (2005); and British filmmakers: Amma Asante, Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay, Sally Potter, and Mira Nair (2007). This year Annie Ernaux’s visit was a great honor.

Throughout the month of April, the festival made the following films—important landmarks in women’s cinema—available on Festival Scope.

Barbara Hammer, 1998

Mr. Jones, Agnieszka Holland (Poland, Britain, Ukraine 2019). A biographical drama based on a true story of a Welsh journalist who has interviewed Hitler and hopes to meet  Stalin and write about his five-year economic plan. He is confined to Moscow for his research but breaks the travel restriction and visits what is now Ukraine, an area beset by mass hunger.

The Swamp, Lucrécia Martel (Argentina, Spain, France 2001). At La Mandragora, a decaying rural mansion with Amerindian servants, Mecha spends the summer with her four children and her cousin after a fall.

Frameworks: Images of a Changing World, Helen Doyle (Canada, France 2012). A quest by the filmmaker on the meaning and scope of the image.

Fruit of Paradise, Věra Chytilová, (Czechia 1969). Eva and Josef live in a boarding house with Robert, a mysterious stranger, who turns out to be a wanted-by-the-police murderer of several women.

A Very Curious Girl, Nelly Kaplan (France 1969). Daughter of a gypsy, Marie lives with her mother in an isolated cabin in the forest, subsisting on menial jobs. After the death of her mother, Marie takes revenge on society.

Musidora – La 10e Muse, Patrick Cazals (France 2014). Star of French cinema in the 1910s, actress, director, producer and first “vamp” of the 7th art, Musidora was a myth during her lifetime. The film complements that history with unpublished family-archives documents (photos, drawings, manuscripts, letters).

God’s Offices, Claire Simon (France 2008). Several women consult advisers in a women’s clinic for family planning and sex education.

Outrage, Ida Lupino (US 1950). In a small American town, the young accountant Ann Walton is about to marry Jim Owens but runs away after she is assaulted.

The Camera I, Françoise Romand (France 2011). A cinematographic self-portrait with metaphysical questions on cinema, love, and the filmmaker’s family of Armenian origin.

My 20th Century, Ildikó Enyedi, (Hungary 1989). In 1880, Edison invented electricity and twin girls were born in Budapest. Separated after the death of their parents they reunite in 1900; one of them has become a femme fatale, the other an anarchist.

Event Programmer, Norma Guevara and Festival Director, Jackie Buet

The archives on the festival’s website include catalogs of the 45 iterations of the festival, featuring the films and special events that have made Créteil the international capital for women in film. Take some time to look over these documents for they are timeless artifacts of the groundbreaking cinema that has transpired at this festival that still inspires women today. When I look through these catalogs, the classic representatives of women’s cinema and their visionary makers seem timeless. They have an ethereal quality that shows the evolution of women in film from pioneer work all the way to the films of today. My memories of meeting the filmmakers and the public’s enthusiasm remain unforgettable. For me, these filmmakers carved out what women and film mean.

To connect with author, Moira, visit her profile.