Heathers, just one of the movies on show at Melbourne's Girls On Film Festival.
What would a world look like if, instead of providing an even balance between the sexes, women formed just under a third of its population? What would it feel like to live in a society in which men didn’t just perform the majority of that society’s most respected positions (as they do in this one), they were also taught a richer and more complex means of communicating with each other than women were? How would it feel to know that, in the scant times women were allowed to interact with each other, those interactions would go largely unnoticed if not disappear entirely from the optic range of the people watching, because women were considered peripheral to the general goings-on of society? That to deliver these interactions into the reach of human understanding and importance - to make it real - it would be necessary for a man to be present?
Ladies and gentlemen, this world does exist. It’s called ‘Hollywood’. And the disparity between who gets to speak and who doesn’t extends far beyond the surface.
Many people would argue that cinema is fantasy, and fantasy doesn’t need to reflect real life. The problem is that many of these movies aren’t pitched or written as fantasies, but as slices of life. And if women are an afterthought, what does that say about how we collectively view their contribution to the world?
In 2011, producers behind Disney Pixar’s retelling of Rapunzel made the spurious decision to re-title it Tangled and increase the role of Rapunzel’s male love interest. Their reasoning was that Disney makes movies ‘for everyone’, and they didn’t want viewers (and potential purchasers of lucrative tie-in merchandise) to think that this was a movie ‘just for girls’.
Of course, that rule was somewhat broken with Disney Pixar’s Frozen, which has since grown to be the fifth-highest grossing film and the highest grossing animated film of all time. Frozen (which, for all its finale brilliance, remains a slightly undercooked story) tells the tale of two sisters, one ‘cursed’ with the wintry ability to turn things into ice and snow and the other desirous to rescue her from isolation. It’s ending is pretty subversive and has been cited as a feminist success for children’s movies.
And yet, aside from two members of a suspiciously racial reading of ooga booga forest dwelling witch doctors and a silent mother who (predictably) dies, Elsa and Anna are the ONLY women in the movie. The rest are all male, from the love interest to the quirky sidekick to the anthropomorphised animal companion, plotting baddie, advisors and even mountain shopkeeper. A movie praised as a win for feminist storytelling with two female leads and a female-driven storyline STILL has to be mostly dominated by men in order to make it approachable and box office friendly.
So think of that disparity when I tell you about the excellent Girls On Film Festival (GOFF) making its inaugural debut in Melbourne on September 12.
The brainchild of Slutwalk coordinator and Cherchez La Femme host Karen Pickering (disclosure: Karen is a friend of mine, because we’re blood members of the same feminist witch coven), GOFF aims to meld ‘movies, parties and feminism’. Pickering explains, “Most film festivals are very dude-heavy, both in terms of who makes the movies and who they’re about. And often feminist films can make for depressing viewing. So the idea came out of these three questions: Could we find ten movies that were feminist and didn’t bring you down? Could we make sure the same ten movies all passed the Bechdel Test? Could we show them over one weekend with a bunch of intros, chats and parties holding them together? The answer was yes and the result was GOFF.”
With a strong focus on music (the team are heavily influenced by the Riot Grrrl movement), Pickering describes the festival overall as “a mixtape of feminist movies, made with love, from us to you.” There are themed screenings, like the 'Murder and Mayhem' double showing of Heavenly Creatures and Heathers, not to mention a four-hour ‘teen dreamers’ session called 'Girl Germs' featuring live bands, workshops, nail bars, zines and an all-ages screening of The Punk Singer (a documentary about Riot Grrrl legend Kathleen Hanna). To top it all off, the Closing Night will celebrate with a screening of Nine To Five, the Lily Tomlin/Dolly Parton/Jane Fonda vehicle about a trio of office girls who conspire to get rid of their ‘sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot’ of a boss and become besties along the way. (And in case you’re wondering, the festival is open to everyone, not just boner-killing movie buffs.)
Basically, this is the best festival you’ve been waiting for. A bestival, if you will.
But there will still be people who insist that GOFF is a misandrist feminist nightmare, the kind of exclusionary sexism condoned by the secret matriarchy men labour under and women frolic in. "Where are the men’s film festivals?!", they’ll undoubtedly scream, the froth spewing from their mouths obscuring their ability to see that pretty much every film festival ever is a men’s film festival.
To those people outraged at the thought that a group of feminists would work hard on producing something they see as missing in the market, I would say the following three things:
1. No one is forcing you to go. Like, literally no one is demanding that you or anyone else give money to this festival and endure its endless entertainment, indulgent wit and good humour. No really, you don’t have to go.
2. No one is stopping you from hosting your own men’s film festival. I mean, you could probably just go down to Hoyts on a weekend as well and see what’s playing there, but whatever Heather.
As for the rest of you, I’ll see you at GOFF in a couple of weeks. Party on, Jane!