By Anna Brüner
What makes a feminist film? Is it its filmmaker? How it portrays its subject matter? The content of its characters? Its underlying message? Its themes? Now, what makes a feminist film festival? Its target audience? Its panel of artists eager to answer questions? The stories its films convey? A table set up by Planned Parenthood? Or, like feminism, is it something broader? More universal? Thing like unity, equality, representation.
For Chicago’s first annual Feminist Film Festival, held on Film Row April 21st and 22nd, it’s all these things. But one thing stands out in particular that makes this festival the first of its kind in the city undeniably feminist: its voice. Or more, its voices. Perhaps I naively went into this festival expecting to hear from a lot of women, about women, in women's’ voices. And there was a lot of that, believe me, on everything from dating to the humors and perils of sex to struggling with self identity. But there were also moments of silence. Silent anger, silent fear, silent confusion. Stories from every race, ethnicity, and background, some funny, some painful, but all of them unique. Filmmakers of every gender and background. Stories just as diverse in their matter at as they were united in their feminist messages. An audience filled with old bearded men in glasses, a Polish mother and daughter whispering behind me every time the credits rolled, scores of young couples, and clusters of pensive looking girls who knew just when to laugh, and when to remain morbidly quiet.
For the first Feminist Film Festival, there were a lot of different stories to convey. Over the two days, screenings were broken up into potent themes each viewing an anthology of its own of sorts for the various films woven together into each cluster, ending credits from one flowing seamlessly into the opening of the next. “Bodies, Rest, and Motion” and an “Early Bird Midnight Special” outlined the first day of screenings, with themes such as “The Rise and Fall of Kingdoms,” “The Complexity of Modern Life,” “I Am Me,” and “In the Friend Zone” rounding out Friday’s shorts. The themes more than conveniently broke down the schedule of the show, but projected the films of each themes through a lense that might have been hard to grasp for audiences without context. An example of this would be the short “Pifuskin” by Singapore filmmaker Tan Wei Keong, a surreal animated short with no dialogue. By being screened in the “I Am Me” section, I found myself personally identifying with the silent, often faceless main character, as their head becomes a bowl full of blood that crashes to the floor.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the festival, aside from its diversity, is the relatability of each film. Even if it is something small, there is something in each work for everybody, which is the greatest message of feminism: there is something here for everyone. Feminism itself is for everyone.
This first year brought filmmakers from Ireland, Macedonia, Chile, The Netherlands, India, Taiwan, The Philippines, Iceland, Croatia, Spain, Australia, Slovenia, and all over the USA and Chicago, both professional and students. The festival was truly an opportunity and experience for everyone, relaying its core message that feminism itself is for everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are from. My only hope for the festival in years moving forward is that it continues to celebrate this diversity...and that it lasts a little longer than two days.