Sini Anderson’s documentary The Punk Singer is many things. It has been unfairly criticized for being a glowing highlight reel of Kathleen Hanna’s artistic, feminist, activist, and musical projects bordering on hagiography, and for not focusing enough on the larger movement of feminism or Riot Grrrl. In my view, those misguided criticisms miss the fact that the film, at once fierce and delicate, delivers feminism through a punk rock lens via the life and music of Kathleen Hanna.
This is the first in a two part series discussing the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival. Part 1 focuses on Créteil, and part 2 focuses on Cannes.
At the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival, every film is made by a woman. You do not have to search through the catalogue to find them; they are the pulse, the centerfold, and the vision of this showcase of women in film—and have been since its founding in 1978. In the past, this was the festival where women chose to premiere their films. Luminaries from the film world such as Agnès Varda, Sofi Faye, Chantal Akerman, Irene Papas, and Jeanne Moreau came to the festival to meet the public, show their films, and discuss their work. The atmosphere has changed, however, as funding for women in film has declined and as we moved into a different film climate with streaming platforms and new ways of showcasing, promoting, and packaging a film.
Créteil is still an important cultural event sponsored by the French government and the municipality of Créteil. It is completely different from the Cannes Film Festival where women are struggling for inclusion. The awards at Créteil are prestigious and the prize money is substantial. For 40 years, the festival has held the devotion and support of feminists in France and throughout the world. A regular feature of past festivals was a spotlight on films made by women from a certain geographic area such as the Antipodes, the Mediterranean, North America, or Scandinavia. Later editions of the festival have been built around themes.
Funding for women in film is problematic, which is why inclusion is very important to any festival. A film that is selected or wins a prize at a festival it is more likely to find distribution, and the same films that are entered into festivals find their way into other festivals or other streaming markets. In addition to awards and prize money, Créteil also gives female filmmakers a networking forum of other women working in film with seminars, debates, political manifestations, and visits from local politicians. The festival also engages youth with a Créteil University jury and has a wide age spread from teenagers to octogenarians.
The 40th edition of the Créteil festival ran from March 9-18, 2018. At the festival, the German director Margarethe von Trotta was selected as its “Guest of Honor.” This choice was perfect since she is a director whose work has spanned much of the festival’s four decades. Von Trotta’s films feature strong female characters and provocative political content in the aftermath of the Nazi regime. As the guest of honor, she was on hand for a Master Class and attended several screenings of her films. Her films, which have been extremely important to feminists and have screened at Créteil in the past, include The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) with co-director Volker Schlöndorff; The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1978); Marianne & Juliane (1981); Rosa Luxemburg (1986), which was nominated for a Palme d’Or and winner of the Best actress award that year for Barbara Sukowa; and Trois soeurs (1988), which was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Von Trotta’s more recent films include Rosenstrasse (2003) and Vision (2009), a film about the German nun Hildegard von Bingen. Her most recent film Hannah Arendt (2012) is about the famous German political theorist. Both von Bingen and Hanna Arendt were played by Barbara Sukowa. At the Cannes film festival this year, Margarethe von Trotta presented a documentary on the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman titled, Searching for Ingmar Bergman (France, Germany, 2018 ).
Another major highlight of the festival was an homage to the late Lebanese-French actress Delphine Seyrig. Together with Carole Roussopoulos, she made Sois belle et tais-toi (Be Pretty and Shut Up 1976), and that film was screened in a gala event. The film, archived at the “Simone de Beauvoir Audiovisual Center” in Paris, was shot on 16mm film with handwritten credits and has not been digitally remastered, so viewers clearly experience the fact that it was made decades ago. Seyrig interviewed 26 actresses on working in film, including Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Maria Schneider, and Andy Warhol actress Viva. They reveal the conditions for women in the industry at a time that predates the activism of #TimesUp and #MeToo. Maria Schneider spoke about making the Last Tango in Paris and explained how Bernardo Bertolucci was not interested in anything other than her physical appearance; he planned her scenes in the film solely with Marlon Brando. This information predates the recent media frenzy last year about Bertolucci’s admission that he sexually harassed Schneider. Bertolucci said about one scene that he wanted the reactions of “a young girl being raped, not an actress.” Maria had been telling the story all along, but no one listened to her in corporate media.
Roussopoulus and Seyrig also worked on the French version of the “SCUM Manifesto” by Valerie Solanas, where Roussopoulos dictates the text and Seyrig types—both wearing bandanas. Seyrig has been featured in many important art house films such as the famous Jeanne Dielman in 1975 by the late Chantal Akerman, India Song by Marguerite Duras (1977), and Freak Orlando (1981) and Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia (1988) by Ulrike Ottinger.
This year, the opening night film was Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017), directed by Mouly Surya (Indonesia) about a young woman (Marsha Timothy) living on an Indonesian island who raises cattle. She is visited by bandits who assault her, but she plans a brutal revenge.
Also of interest was the Polish film Birds Are Singing In KigalI by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze (2017). Krzysztof Krauze died in 2014, and his wife Joanna finished this amazing film built around the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In the film, a Polish ornithologist, Ann Keller (Jowita Budnik), is in the country at the time and rescues a Rwandan woman, Claudine Mugambira (Elaine Umuhire), whose family has been massacred. Their reentry into Poland is wrought with turmoil and painful memories. The cinematography, elliptical editing, and non- linear form make this one of the best films of 2017, and the film received special mention from the Jury.
Another film of special mention is the documentary Orione (Argentina) by Toia Bonino. This is a fragmented document about Alejandro “Ale” Robles, a young gang member shot to death by the police, whose life is retold in a mosaic of images. His mother tells part of the story while making several luscious cakes.
This 40th festival was outstanding in many ways. The films selected by Créteil programmer (“Chargée de programmes”), Cuban born Norma Guevara who was part of the festival’s “equipe” (team) for many years, were excellent; nearly every screening contained a film of high quality. One of my favorites was The Road Forward (2017), an innovative musical documentary directed by Marie Clements on Canada’s “First Nations” activism and their history going back to the 1930’s. The stories are told by Native brothers and sisters who are artists and performers that reveal their strength and experience in a dynamic film form.
The Public Prize went to Pin Cushion by Deborah Haywood from the UK, a story about a teenage girl and her mother Lyn. They both move to a new town for a fresh start, but Iona falls in with the wrong crowd: a group of snobbish teens who are cruel to her behind her back. Lyn is called the town freak because of her eccentric homespun clothing but is desperate to make new friends. The art direction of the film is brilliant, and the story is one that is endearing and tragic, based in part on the filmmaker’s life experiences.
The Jury Prize went to Medea by Alexandra Latishev Salazar (Costa Rica) about 25-year Maria Josée who grows up with parents who don’t care about her. She takes a special interest in a young boy, and unbeknownst to all, she becomes pregnant. From the title, which invokes the myth of Medea who killed her children, it is clear that her relationship with the unborn child will be traumatic.
On the occasion of the 40th film festival, two French filmmakers, Chris Lagg and Sophie Nogier, presented an excellent documentary that chronicles the history of the festival through interviews with director Jackie Buet and the former co-director Elizabeth Trehard. The festival originated in the suburb of Sceaux in 1978 and later moved to Créteil where the prefecture government took a great interest in the event and helped sponsor it. The film shows how many filmmakers and actresses have guested the festival through the years including Mira Nair, Anna Karina, Catherine Deneuve, Bernadette LaFont, Dominique Blanc, Julie Dash, Kimberly Peirce, Susanne Osten, Ulrika Ottinger, and countless others. The film has a good tempo with excellent editing—a fitting testimony to this retrospective of 40 years of women behind the camera and on screen.
Above all, credit is due to Jackie Buet, the phenomenal artistic director of the event, who has worked for the festival since its inception. Buet gathers together the best, most innovative films and arranges seminars each year. Each festival begins with Buet’s dynamic written testimony regarding the importance of the work to be seen during the 10 days and ends with a summary of the event. Buet is an insightful cultural critic and outstanding feminist whose work through 40 years of Créteil is nothing less than heroic.