A Rebirth of Femininity

Posted on Fri 11 Nov by AlexK / Lesbian, gender, Family, Artists Moving Image

 

by Serden Salih

This years Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest brings you a programme of experimental shorts discussing gender, sexuality and familial anxiety. The first part of the programme goes on a harrowing and revelatory trip around femininity and family politics.  

In Deborah Kelly’s Lying Women (2016), a montage of reclining nude females cut out of magazines are brought together into a collective mass. The 15th century Renaissance saw an artistic innovation in the way the female was presented in Western European art. The Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) by Giorgione is believed to be the first painting to depict the female as the principal figure and only subject of the painting. Often facing the viewer, the nude female is poised in an elegant position across a couch and the body is brought to the forefront of the viewer’s gaze. Lying Women presents an escape from heteropatriarchy and the confines of the medium itself. Cut-outs swarm in waves and join in a celebratory orgy of their newly found freedom.  

The remediation of the female body has shifted over time; it can be said that femininity has largely been, a male construct. The female continues to be constructed and deconstructed within a particular cultural framework. Social theorist, Simone de Beauvoir described this construct as “eternal feminine”, a psychological archetype that idealizes an immutable concept of “woman” and is one component of gender essentialism. She states that,

“The “feminine world” is sometimes contrasted with the masculine universe, but it must be reiterated that women have never formed an autonomous and closed society; they are integrated into the group governed by males, where they occupy a subordinate position; they are united by a mechanical solidarity” (Beauvoir, pg. 724).  

We see something similar in Stan Vanderbeek’s 1959 short film ‘A La Mode’ (not part of the programme). The film is a satirical montage of collaged women (taken from glamour magazine cut outs) commenting on the ways in which female beauty was idolized in pop culture during this period and a foretelling of contemporary mass media. The female is locked in position as male cut-out figures move across her body in playful action. Penetrated on all fronts, her movements become restricted, the choice of escape is not possible.  

These six experimental shorts question the position of femininity in a sociocultural context; the female directors are re-representing female identity through the use of collage and digital mechanisms in a way that is challenging the notion of fixed femininity. Kelly states that the females in her short are an “escape from centuries of servitude to a worldview in which decorative passivity is their whole purpose”. Each film illustrates a kind of escapist approach from “the other”, displaying a physical rebirthing of femininity.  

In the Iranian film, Painkiller (2016) directed by Mashid Mahboubifar, we see a female paint her face with the blood from a used tampon. She then applies a coat of red varnish onto her nails, pushing away at an angle, the nails remain unstained. In this moment, “the feminine” collapses and we are faced with a manifestation of female angst. During this process, the poem Reborn by Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad is being recited, 

“There is an alleyway where the boys that adored me with their tousled hair and slender necks, and skinny legs, still think of a young girl’s innocent smile. That smile which the wind one night, bore away.”  

This verse speaks of a moment in which the female is made equal to her counterpart through the admiration of her innocence and the transgressive shift away from woman as the “object of desire”. However, reality sinks in and her smile, the last ounce of feminine is taken away one night. Farrokhzad also writes, “Life is perhaps that enclosed moment when my gaze destroys itself in the pupil of your eyes”. She describes the female gaze here as merely a reversal of what the male gaze is seeing and as a result, her gaze is subject to being destroyed in comparison. John Berger describes this as,  

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (Berger, pg.47).   

Farrokhzad’s Another Birth series of poems speaks of a rebirth of the Iranian woman, herself being reborn as a new poet and female voice against the harsh criticisms of the position of women in Iranian society. In Painkiller we get a social commentary on the shame and pain put on women living in Iran. The rawness of the performance and application of the colour red is exhibited in full assertion of her own selfhood.  

When I’m a Woman (2016) directed by Andreea Sticlea, uses archival footage (early cinema) and animation to explore the psychological and social aspects of being transgender in today’s society. The first shot opens with a black and white clip of a female applying makeup in a mirror. There is a quick cut to a shot of glamour magazines on how to apply makeup and we then switch back to the female. In the next shot, an animated mask of a clown is layered over the female’s face, obscuring her “femininity” through a masquerade. The voice of a transgender individual speaks during this process: “When I’m a woman, I get changed and I get ready, and I make myself look like a woman, and then I look in the mirror and I see now what I want…there is a sense of dysphoria”. The voiceover in conjunction with the image illustrates a visual representation of how a transgendered person is positioned against societal expectations. The individual looks in the mirror for affirmation of “the other” yet is being questioned through the transgender gaze, the cisgender gaze and the male gaze, all permitting fixed codes of what it means to be “female”. Mary Ann Doane explains that,  

“With the specifically feminine masquerade, the “victim” takes on with a vengeance all of the myriad surfaces of femininity, which the gaze wants to corral into “woman.” She reiterates femininity with a twist, opening the formerly sutured gap between its conventional codes and the bodies those codes are designed to fix as “female” (Doane, pg.38).  

Women can wear superficial attributes of femininity as a mask, as a disguise to be taken-on or rejected. The feminine masquerade can also be seen in Petra Brnardic’s Fever (2015), a digital collage of psychedelic images of nude females and glamour stars transforming in a symmetrical collision of overtness. The female psyche is put on display as overlays of reds break away from the delicacy of the nude female. Her body is being masked by images of death, as skulls morph their features and serpents protrude from their genitalia. It is “the collision of eros and thanatos” as Brnardic states. Various female archetypes are present throughout, the sex symbol, the glamour star, the performer and so on.  

Past traditions of femininity are being destroyed by that of macabre imagery and the females begin to blur into one, fading in an out as if existing for a moment in time and then vanishing the next. Brnardic states that “It is a visual stream of consciousness which depicts dreams, visions and fantasies of a female person”. Fever is similar to that of Kelly’s work, we get a montage of women joining in a ritualistic mass, breaking away from their former femininity and entering a new world.  

What these shorts display is a brave approach at re-defining contemporary social structures of femininity and dismantling the attributes of gender essentialism. Giving voice to females that have been subjected to the confines of the gaze and trapped in an endless remediation of female angst. We are taken on a historical and digital journey through time to witness a new rebirthing of femininity.  

You can catch the full programme for free, including the shorts Spermwhore by Anna Linder and Technicolour Angst by Ketchup Freeland at Hackney Showroom on November 19th at 3:00pm. 

 

Reference: 

Beauvoir, de Simone, The Second Sex (Vintage Classics, 1997). 
Berger, John, Ways of Seeing (Penguin Classics, 2008).
Doane, Ann, Mary, Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 1991).
Vanderbeek, Stan, A La Mode, (Video, 6 mins, USA, 1959). 

Trans* Stories at Fringe!

Posted on Mon 07 Nov by AlexK / Documentary, Film, Family, Trans, transgender, QTIPOC, gender

by Anna Wates

The representation of trans people on the big screen has changed markedly in recent years, increasingly moving away from outdated, exploitative and negative portrayals towards more nuanced, more authentic stories about trans experience. Every year Fringe! brings films that reflect the growing diversity of trans experiences represented in film around the globe, and this year is no exception, with a stellar lineup of documentaries, features and shorts ranging from the inspiring to the thoughtful, and the hilarious! This year, our weekend screenings fall on TDoR (Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20th November), a day to honour and remember trans people who have lost their lives during the year.

Here are some highlights from the trans films screening at Fringe! next week

A Womb of Their Own
Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

A group of queer transmasculine people speak openly about bodies, birth, hair and other things in this heartwarming documentary shedding light on their varied experiences of pregnancy.

Guru, a Hijra Family
Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

The compelling Lakshmi Ma serves as guru and mother to her seven daughters, providing them with a strong moral compass and spiritual guidance to navigate a society that simultaneously venerates and renounces them. This beautiful and atmospheric documentary offers a unique glimpse into the everyday life of this family of hijras - or third gendered persons - in India. The film is a delicate exploration of the history, mythology, rituals and contemporary experience of the hijra community.

Self-Define Your Gender Paradigm
Sunday 20 November, 5.30pm, Hackney Showroom

Questioning and redefining expectations around gender and representation, this collection of short films bring together thoughts on the body as a landscape of imaginative expanse.

Her Story
Saturday 19th November, Hackney showroom

A web series with a difference, we'll be screening the 6-part first season as a one-hour session of funny, poignant, fresh and authentic revelation on the big screen. Addressing institutionalised transphobia (especially within the lesbian/queer community) through the hopeful first stirrings of love and new friendship, Her Story delivers an important message with a light-touch.

And finally, our closing night film: Suited
20th November 2016, 8.30pm, Genesis Cinema

This empowering documentary follows Brooklyn garment maker Bindle & Keep, who tailor suits are created for all kinds of bodies. The film ends with a heroic, celebratory fashion show, and we hope you’ll join Fringe! on our closing night kitted out in your most dapper attire. With an interpretive introduction by The Drakes, this is one not to miss!

 

 

We Are Family

Posted on Wed 02 Nov by AlexK / transgender, Brazil, QTIPOC, Trans, Film, Event, Gay, Lesbian, Family, Academy Awards, Documentary

Whether it is the struggles and triumphs with our biological families or those that we chose and make ourselves, the family has emerged as a dominant theme in this year’s programme. Opening film Viva - Ireland’s entry for the Foreign Language Oscar (in Spanish!) - brings us into the life of a young Cuban hairdresser, initiated into Havana’s drag scene while trying to reinvigorate a relationship with his estranged father. Chosen families also shine through in stories of a Hijra family in India, vogueing houses in the US, and an inseparable band of Brazilian misfit punk queers. We invite you to join us for a Queer Family Sunday Brunch and short film programme all about the ties that bind.

Opening Film: Viva - Tuesday 15 November, Rio Cinema
Dir Paddy Breathnach / Ireland 2015 / 100min

Jesus, a young hairdresser, works at a Havana drag cabaret club to make ends meet. He dreams of one day becoming a perfomer himself. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama, Jesus finally gets his chance to take the stage. But when his estranged father Angel abruptly reenters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down. As father and son clash over their opposing expectations of each other, VIVA develops into a love story as they struggle to understand one another and reconcile as a family. 

VIVA is a moving drama that packs an emotional punch with its portrayal of families, from those we adopt to those we are born into while illustrating the every day struggles of ordinary Cubans and the transformative power of drag.

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A Little Lust - Wednesday 16 November - Genesis Cinema
Dir. Veronica Pivetti / Italy / 2015 / 104min 

16 year old Rocco's two aims in life are to get laid and to see his favourite pop star in concert with his best friends, sassy and tomboyish Maria and nerdy and quiet Mauri. When a  bullying incident at school forces Rocco to come out to his divorced middle-class parents their liberal leanings are severely tested. Luckily his two friends stand by him and join him in running away from home (in his parents stolen car) to see their favourite singer in concert, followed hot on their heels by his neurotic mother and eccentric gran to hilarious effect.

Presented in partnership with CinemaItaliaUK

Check It - Thursday 17 November - The Institute of Light
Dir-Prod Dana Flor & Toby Oppenheimer / USA 2016 / 91min

In this spirited and raw documentary, Washington D.C street gang Check It (claimed as the only documented queer gang in the world) are thrown onto the world stage as they struggle to survive and claw their way out of gang life through an unlikely avenue: fashion.

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The Nest - Friday 18 November - Hackney Showroom
Dir Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon / Brazil 2016 / 115min

Handsome young soldier Bruno deserts from the Brazilian army to go on a search for his long-lost brother in Porto Alegre. While his brother remains elusive Bruno quickly falls in with a gang of genderqueer bohemians and befriends Stella, one of his brother’s acquaintances. Through these unconventional new friendships Bruno begins to discover himself and explore his sexuality.

Guru: A Hijra Story - Saturday 19 November - Hackney Showroom
Dir Laurie Colson & Axelle Le Dauphin / Belgium/India 2016 / 75min

This moving portrait gives an insightful glance into the daily life of a family of transgender women in India - the hijras, more commonly referred to as ‘the third gender’. The film paints a fascinating portrait of their history, mythology, rituals and place in contemporary indian society, where they are revered in the country’s religious history yet ostracised by society and commonly rejected by their families.

Presented in partnership with Open City Documentary Festival

A Womb of their Own - Saturday 19 November - Hackney Showroom
Dir Cyn Lubow / USA 2016 / 85min

What can a diverse group of masculine-identified, pregnant people teach the world about gender? This touching and optimistic documentary follows queer transmasculine people experiencing pregnancy in the space between gender binaries, with identities in flux. This speaks to the experience of many genderqueer and trans people whose lives are omitted from the societally proposed binary. Fundamental, resistant and evocative, A Womb of Their Own explores the obstacles to self definition that are transcribed both within the body and onto the family by the state.

You’ll Never Be Alone - Sunday 20 November - Rio Cinema
Dir Alex Anwandter / Chile 2016 / 82min

Dance student Pablo lives with his father Juan, a manager at a mannequin factory, in their drab, homophobic suburb of Santiago. He has a secret affair with a member of the neighbourhood's street gang and dreams of starring in his favourite reality TV show with his best friend Mari, while his father struggles to become partner in the company he worked at for the last 25 years. One night, Juan and Pablo's lives change forever, and for the first time, Juan faces the harsh reality his son experiences on a daily basis.

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Shorts: A Queer Family Portrait + Family Brunch - Sunday 20 November - The Institute of Light

Joyful, emotional, hilarious and provocative, these films explore the bonds we share with the ones we love. Come join Fringe! for a big queer family brunch from 13:00 at Helio’s Cantina at The Institute of Light (a la carte), have your own queer family portrait taken, and stay for a cracking programme of short films redefining ways of thinking about family.

Brunch reservations recommended, screening tickets free but separate.
 
 

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