Still from ‘Anything You Want To Be’, Dir: Liane Brandon, 1971.
Still from ‘Anything You Want To Be’, Dir: Liane Brandon, 1971.
In my PhD project, On Women’s Film Festivals – Histories, Feminisms, Futures, I am researching women’s film festivals and the historical, economical and theoretical contexts that contextualise them. While my focus is mainly on three contemporary festivals in London and Germany, I am also tracing the history and development of the earliest women’s film festivals in the 1970s. This is where the trouble really started. Film festivals are ephemeral events, by definition designed to be experienced by their attendees in the present. When these festivals first appeared in the 1970s, preserving these events for the future was necessarily of secondary consideration.
In my research on historical women’s film festivals, I have come across many loose ends: “skeletons” of festivals, so to speak, or even just individual “bones” without a trace of more information. Many early women’s film festivals have not been preserved for the future. Often that is the case, because these events were community-driven, organised on shoe-string budgets by volunteers, barely acknowledged by the mainstream press and rarely subject of academic research. Therefore, exploring women’s film festivals from that era, even those that made substantial impact at the time and subsequently, has posed significant methodological challenges during this project.
One of the earliest women’s film festivals was The Women’s Event [i] which took place at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) in 1972. It was the first festival in the UK and in Europe that focused entirely on the work of female filmmakers and was co-organised by Laura Mulvey, Lynda Myles and Claire Johnston. It stood out from other women’s film festivals at the time because it was part of a much larger and well-established festival. Since 1968, EIFF had established and fostered radical programming structures which challenged its attendees and local audiences to engage intellectually with cinema.[ii] For the organisers of the Women’s Event this posed an ideal opportunity to create a successful event within the supportive framework of the progressive traditions of EIFF.
The Women’s Event was indeed successful and attracted local to watch and discuss the works of female directors. However, despite this, it seems to have been very poorly documented even at the time. Contemporaneous publications about the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Edinburgh Festivals, organisations dominated by male critics, barely mention The Women’s Event despite its ground-breaking novelty. Even when they do, the authors hardly go into further detail than naming the organisers and a few of the films screened in the programme.
So instead of finding out more about the event via library research, I turned to other methods. First, I scheduled interviews with Laura Mulvey and Lynda Myles, who told me more about their intentions with the festival, their relationship to EIFF and the kind of atmosphere the event had created. They also supplied me with a full list of films that were screened as part of the festival, which included historical works like Leni Riefenstahl’s Das blaue Licht (1932) and Leontine Sagan’s Mädchen in Uniform (1931) as well as newer works such as Nelly Kaplan’s La fiancée du pirate (1969) and Jane Arden’s The Other Side of the Underneath (1972).
However, given that the event lies over 40 years in the past, there were naturally details about the festival that neither Mulvey nor Myles could remember. And so, I went into the archives to try to fill in the gaps. Tracking down the festival catalogue was easy, and gave me access to an introductory text penned by the organisers and film synopses for all screenings. I even managed to find some of the films from the list, access DVDs and screeners, and read contemporary reviews in feminist film magazines such as Frauen und Film (Germany) or Women & Film (US). This helped me to understand that the 1970s British feminist film movement seemed to be predominantly interested in fictional cinema forms, experimenting with narratives as well as aesthetics.
In the course of my investigations, one artefact has proved to be very intriguing but, up to now, very elusive. A film about The Women’s Event was commissioned by BBC2 for a late night cultural television programme, and produced by some of the women attending the festival. Since it was funded with public money, I was convinced I would be able to find this film and followed leads to the BBC Written Archives in London, the BFI Archive, the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive and of course the archive of the film festival itself – and found nothing. The film, potentially capturing images from the event’s lively discussions and networking events, seems to be lost forever. I would be delighted if anyone, though, could suggest new places to look.
This applies to information about the event more generally. I know which films were screened and that they were accompanied by discussions; however, there are many areas where information is missing. In reconstituting this event, as part of our wider women’s film history, I am still searching for details of who attended and what topics the debates evolved around. If this has stirred up a personal memory, however insignificant it might appear, I would be very pleased to hear from you.
To celebrate this event and to recover and reassert its importance now– not least as part of our more conscious future preservation of similar – I am co-organising a screening of films from The Women’s Event.
Together with Lauren Clarke I run Femspectives, a feminist film festival in Glasgow. Our launch event Femspectives presents: 46 Years in the Future – Women’s Film Festivals, then and now will take place on 5 May 2018 at Glasgow Women’s Library from 12.30 to 5pm as part of the Radical Film Network Festival 18-68-18. We will re-visit two feature films from the original programme and contextualise them anew in our discussion sessions after each screening. The event will be open to the public and free to attend (booking required).
Katharina Kamleitner is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow and co-organises Femspectives, a new feminist film series in Glasgow. Her research project examines women’s film festivals from historical, economical and feminist/political points of view and addresses the purpose of these events and their historical significance for film history.
[i] The event was also referred to as The Women’s Film Festival within the EIFF 1972 brochure; however, The Women’s Event is the more consistently employed and, therefore, the term adopted here.
[ii] For example, Peter Stanfield has discussed this trend at EIFF in: Stanfield, Peter: ‘Notes Toward a History of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, 1969-77.’ Film International 34 (2008), pp. 63-71.
The call for papers is now available for:
Doing Women’s Film and Television History IV: Calling the Shots – Then, Now, and Next
May 23 – 25, 2018
University of Southampton, UK
Organising team: Shelley Cobb, Linda Ruth Williams, and Natalie Wreyford
As researchers of the AHRC-funded project Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary UK Film Culture 2000-2015, we are proud to host the fourth International Doing Women’s Film and Television History conference in association with the Women’s Film and Television History Network – UK/Ireland.
Papers are invited on any aspect of women’s work in, consumption of, and relationship with film and television.
Proposals should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org before the 3 November 2017. Participants will receive a response from the selection committee before 20 December 2017.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers
The conference will also include screenings with practitioners and other industry professionals.
Love Across the Atlantic: An Interdisciplinary Conference on US-UK Romance
University of Roehampton, June 16 2017. In conjunction with New College, University of Alabama
Alexis Weedon writes:
Creating a keynote between us for a conference linking institutions as far away from each other as Roehampton and Alabama brings into focus the benefits and pleasures of cross-disciplinary conferences.
Deborah Jermyn, author of a recently published book Nancy Meyers, was the convener in the UK and her colleagues Catherine Roach, Ted Trost and Barbara Brickman from USA provided a forum for studying transatlantic romance through the frame of the political, economic and military undertones of such a special relationship.
She kindly invited Karen Randell and myself to present a keynote on Elinor Glyn, an author, filmmaker, business woman and glamour icon of the 1920s who crossed the Atlantic many times in her life. Glyn’s love affair with America was publicised in the magazines, in the cinema and on radio. As the novelist Arnold Bennett wryly observed in Books and Persons it was a historical watershed, referring to ‘the distant past … before America and Elinor Glyn had discovered each other’ (1917, p.289). She was not alone in this affair, traveling in 1908 on Mauritania after the success of her romantic novel Three Weeks, she was one of millions crossing the Atlantic recreating themselves in the New World. We used the link between Glyn’s book and popular silent film Six Days (1923) and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic (1997) to demonstrate the differences in wealth and fortune of those who travelled as well as the likelihood of realizing their dreams. In Hollywood Glyn made personal and romantic friendships, and became deeply invested in the movie adaptations of her books offering her own insights to the stars and directors on what constituted the accurate psychological portrayal of love on screen.
Glyn, I soon found, was not the only novelist featured in the conference who had a transatlantic passion. A session on literary authorship across the ocean featured novelists as diverse as P.G Wodehouse, Lisa Kleypas, Maya Rodale. Presenters Finn Pollard, Immaculada Pérez-Casel and Veera Mäkelä made the point that in their fictions America is only defined in contrast to England and therefore the countries’ identities are interdependent. Pérez-Casal saw in Kleypas’s romance a nostalgia for a mythical Englishness. The lure of this was so strong it alone could unite American couples. While in Wodehouse, argued Pollard, both nations have to be involved before a romance can be fulfilled.
Alice Guilluy’s study of the British reception of Sweet Home Alabama also revealed national differences in audience’s readings of film. William Brown’s amusingly entitled: ‘Bridget’s Jones’s Special Relationship: No Filth, Please, We’re Brexiteers’ looked at Bridget Jones’ Baby. He critiqued the marketing of love through the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the fictional ‘Quantum Leap’ dating site Jones uses.
As Deborah Jermyn said in her round up, there were also many absences, and in each lacunae lies a story of underprivilege. For academics interdisciplinary work requires a breadth of ambition. Like the creators of the films, TV shows and novels, as academics we must journey beyond the shores of our comfortable home disciplines and transition.
Fjoralba Miraka writes:
In view of the turmoil created after two of the most significant political events in recent years – Brexit and the Trump Election – the conference came as a breath of fresh air, attracting interested scholars from both sides of the Atlantic, who wished to reflect on the much-discussed and multifarious special relationship between the US and the UK.
The range of themes presented and discussed was wide, covering disciplines as broad as literature, film, and politics, among other. Similarly, the idea of transatlantic love was examined by Manuela Ruiz, who argued that film representations of love across the Atlantic can be best examined and understood under the prism of cosmopolitanism, whereas Jay Bamber’s presentation focused on the Working Title comedies – closely related to the Heritage Film genre – and explored how the genre’s space is a setting in which Americanness and Englishness can become contested identities. In the same vein, Anna Martonfi utilised The Ghost Goes West (1935), starring Robert Donat and Jean Parker, to interrogate how this transatlantic romance designated Americanness as a kind of ‘Ignorant Other’, reflecting the social and political context and Anglo-American relations of the time.
In a panel to explore very contemporary political concerns, Shelley Cobb took a historical perspective to explore political special relationships between Thatcher and Reagan and proposed these two be seen as a powerful ‘celebrity political couple’, cementing a pattern for the two countries’ future relations. Hannah Hamad explored representations of Tony Blair and George W. Bush as a now infamous political ‘bromance’, resonating with this popular film genre and its representation of male intimacy. Neil Ewen focused on the current putative bromance between Trump and Nigel Farage, and highlighted its place within the general context of a populist turn on both sides of the Atlantic as well as the role of the media in elaborating this special relationship.
The final session included discussion of the cultural nuances and sensitivities revealed through forms of transatlantic adaptation and the functioning of time in narrative media. Overall, the thematic of love generated a breadth of historical and cultural material which led to illuminating exchanges on very contemporary theoretical concerns.
Alexis Weedon is Research Professor of Publishing at the University of Bedfordshire and co-author with Vincent L Barnett of Glyn as Novelist, Moviemaker, Glamour Icon and Businesswoman (Ashgate 2014). With Karen Randell, she co-authored ‘Reconfiguring Elinor Glyn: Ageing female experience and the origins of the ‘It Girl’ in Deborah Jermyn and Su Holmes (eds) Women, Celebrity and Cultures and Aging: Freeze Frame (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Fjoralba Miraka is a Ph.D student at Roehampton University and teaching associate, with a research focus on the postclassical melodramatic imagination in the Hollywood Renaissance period. She is currently working on a chapter for publication on male melodrama and Scorsese’s early films. She is also writing an entry on the history of Feminist Film Theory for the first Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication, scheduled for publication in 2019, as part of the ICA series of the Sub-disciplinary Encyclopaedias of Communication.
Research Institute for Media Arts and Performance University of Bedfordshire, Luton Symposium on the life and legacy of Elinor Glyn and her contemporaries for studies in adaptation, film and authorship Friday 12 June
Recent work has re-evaluated Glyn’s significance to book and film history, celebrity studies, feminist studies and popular culture. This symposium seeks to draw together these multidisciplinary perspectives on authors/filmmakers/screenwriters and ask whether a holistic view of their contribution can emerge. It seeks papers on Glyn or her contemporaries in the film and publishing worlds, the context of the 1920s and 1930s and claims to her legacy.
Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) was a British author of romantic fiction who went to Hollywood in the 1920s and became famous for her movies. She was a celebrity figure of the 1920s, and wrote constantly in the Hearst’s Press. She wrote racy stories, most famously Three Weeks (1924) and ‘It’ (1927). Glyn has become a peripheral figure in histories of this period, marginalised in accounts of the youth-centred ‘flapper era’. Decades on, the idea of the ‘It Girl’ continues to have great pertinence in the post-feminist discourses of the 21st Century.
REGISTRATION Attendance is £30 The conference opens at 10.00am, and formal panels end at 5.00pm. Prior registration is essential as numbers are limited. To register please email email@example.com or write to her at Department of Journalism and Communications, University of Bedfordshire, Luton Campus, University Square, Luton LU1 3JU, giving the following details: name; title; affiliation (if any); postal address; telephone number; email contact.