2015 Girls on Film Festival preview and interview with festival director Karen Pickering.

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The ‘Girls on Film Festival’ is back again in 2015 after the incredible success of its debut last year. This year’s program features an eclectic mix of universal classics, home-grown gems, foreign language films and unique documentaries that will surely delight even the most casual of film fanatics.

Highlights of this year’s line-up include an invite-only opening night screening of Desperately Seeking Susan, featuring a very 80’s Madonna. Saturday kicks off with a screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Princess Mononoke, followed by documentaries In the Turn and Black Panther Woman.

No doubt the hot ticket item of the festival is the Saturday afternoon Girl Germs session featuring a zine fair and workshop, sweet tunes from The Girl Fridas, a nail bar and motivational speakers, followed by a screening of the roller-derby comedy, Whip It. Saturday closes with a Scream Queens double bill of the Iranian Vampire Western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and the camp Aussie horror comedy The Loved Ones.

Sunday features a trifecta of Girl Gang flicks set to inspire the younger GOFF go-ers with Matilda, Bend it Like Beckham and Romy + Michelle’s High School Reunion. Finally, the incredible closing night film Thelma and Louise will be followed by an epic after-party kicking on until the early hours.

I had a chat to co-founder and director of the festival, Karen Pickering, about the festival, feminism and kickass women.

Karen Pickering, Headshot, 2014

GOFF co-founder and director Karen Pickering


How did the idea of GOFF come about?

It came about because of people like me who love movies and love going to film festivals still felt as though everytime we did that the movies were overwhelmingly about men and made by men and just like total dudefests. So I talked to some of my friends about imagining what it would be like if there was a feminist film festival that only showed films that had women and girls as the main characters and the festival just evolved from there.

The team that came together to put on the festival last year were all in agreement that it should be a fun time, a big party and a bit of a break. So we have carried on that tradition this year showing really enjoyable, entertaining popcorn movies.

What do you think the importance of GOFF is?

I think for women and girls who love pop culture it can be really disheartening to find that the stories that are available are not about you, and not even about other women or girls. There are plenty of amazing movies out there, it’s just putting them all together in the one place and inviting feminists of every persuasion to come together in a really fun and happy space.

For girls especially, seeing girls and women on the big screen doing lots of different things and doing things that are exciting and inspiring is important. Even for adults, the feminist struggle can sometimes be really tiring an really negative, and we spend a lot of time thinking about it, talking about it and protesting about it, so I think to have a big party together is also really important self-care.

A lot of female-focused films – especially those by female directors – are often indie films and not shown in the mainstream so it’s great to see a festival that is showing these types of movies.

Yeah, because we’re a festival that shows films from all different eras as well, our opening night movie is 30 years old and our closing night movie is 20 years old. We go back through the archives and find movies that because they’re made by women or about women are probably underrated and have maybe been forgotten or pushed aside, so we try to shine a light on them as well. We also ask, “why was this movie overlooked? Why was it reviewed really harshly?”

Most female focused films are being pushed into these really small, niche spaces. What is your take on the inequality in mainstream Hollywood movies?

GOFF is showing that really great films are being made about women and girls who are kickass characters and who do extraordinary things, but the gender split of representation in film is shocking, it’s only marginally better than the gender split of the people who make films. It’s really clear from the numbers that we have got a big problem with the way women are represented in film, they’re often satellite characters or they play mothers or wives or sisters or daughters or victims. So we wanted to show films where women are front and centre and are the protagonists who drive all the action.

It seems to me that women and men really crave those stories and are really sick of seeing the same stories over and over again. It’s so boring. That’s why I think people find GOFF so refreshing because no other film festivals shows films that all pass the Bechdel test and privilege women’s voices, stories, concerns and loves over those of men. So although I do think the gender split is concerning, it’s also good to just show the stuff that subverts that.

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Thelma and Louise (1991)

What film on the 2015 GOFF program are you most excited for?

I am pretty excited that we’re showing Matilda, it’s such a terrific movie. Our closing night film is Thelma and Louise, that’s an all-time favourite of mine. It’s a movie that’s amazing to think even got made, but I think it would be even harder to make now. It works so well due to its casting and the female characters at the centre of it. The character trajectory does involve their complex relationships with men, but it doesn’t centre on that, it’s actually a movie about female relationships.

As fantastical a story that it is, I think it’s really affirming for people to see any kind of story that says what happens between women is just as important – if not more important – than what happens between men, and what happens between people platonically is just as important as what happens between people sexually. That’s something the movie’s feminism was way ahead in. It’s just an incredible movie, it’s impossible not to be empowered and transported by it.

How do you choose the films on the program?

Truthfully, some of the choices come down to availability and distribution rights, so there are definitely movies that we have tried to get but we cannot secure. So that’s tough that some of our program is decided by fate and default and some titles are beyond our reach due to cost. That said, the good thing about a festival program is that you investigate so many different avenues and as each of them becomes available you start to see how they will fit together. You have to make sure that the titles are going to balance each other out.

We wanted to make sure that the program was representative, inclusive and diverse and had films that were from different parts of the world and showed female protagonists who were from various races, sexualities and religions, as well as different abilities and different cultural settings. It’s not enough to say that all of these films are about women, you have to try as much as possible to make sure that they’re about all women. If we were getting it wrong, every film would be about white, middle class, able bodied, cis-gendered women, which our program decidedly is not. We are doing the best we can as far as being attentive to a kind of intersectional feminism that realises that it’s not enough to highlight women, you have to show women how diverse our cultures are.

If money and distribution rights weren’t a problem, what would be your dream movie to screen at GOFF?

A film I adore that I have tried to get up on the program and have met disagreements over is Dirty Dancing, which is not a film made by a woman but was written by a woman, which I think really foregrounds the female desire. The women’s stories in the film are so powerful and so much more important than the men’s. Everytime a film comes out that is made by a woman or features amazing storylines revolving women, we’re always like “we should get it for GOFF!” but it’s just not possible.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Why do you think Melbourne needs a feminist film festival as something completely different from traditional film festivals like MIFF?

I go to other film festivals and have always been really frustrated by how women are sidelined within them. I want to see movies about women and girls, and I want to see movies made by women because then it’s a woman telling the story. But they’re not always chosen or selected by other festivals. The success of the GOFF last year suggests that a lot of other people feel the same way and feel frustrated that if they go to the big multi-plex movies are really sexist, and then if they go to the really cool indie festival, the movies are really sexist! Melbourne has such an incredibly strong, energetic and engaged feminist community that we probably couldn’t have started GOFF anywhere else.

Why do we need it? Well we built and people came so that was our confirmation that we weren’t the only ones who were craving this content. Melbourne is an incredible place with a special type of feminist energy, but hopefully the festival will have a life outside of Melbourne. It would be great to tour it and take it to other places, but I think right now we’re experiencing a kind of critical mass of feminist events and women realising that if the culture doesn’t have what you want you just go out and find it yourself and make it happen.

A lot of the well-known and critically acclaimed Australian filmmakers are female, like Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion for instance, it’s strange that their popularity doesn’t reflect what people go to see at the cinema.

I think when a film is by a woman or starring women, it’s seen at the box office as a risk. It’s kind of like a special interest, which is crazy because for a start I think it says that what happens in women’s lives is irrelevant and is a special interest. But it also says that men don’t want to see great stories about women, which I think is rubbish.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986)

Do you have a favourite feminist film character?

I do love [Ellen] Ripley, like as far as head-bitches in-charge go, she’s one of my favourites. I am also a huge Buffy tragic. Last year we got to show 9 to 5 which is one of my favourite feminist movies and the three main characters would have to be up there with my other feminist film heroes. But feminist heroes are everywhere, even in movies that are essentially not about women. Female characters in films like Pulp Fiction or particular movies that are really masculine and have these huge impacts in our popular culture, you just can’t imagine them without the female characters.

A lot of the discussions around the Bechdel test have talked about how sometimes the test isn’t the greatest instrument to figure out if a film has feminist potential. I mean the test was an amazing punch line and has had this cultural effect that shows the bar was set so low and many films can’t even pass it. But even Alision Bechdel has said, “yeah that bar is set way too low but I never meant for the test to become definitive”.

I personally don’t care that much if films are made by women or by men who have feminist sensibilities. While I recognise how important it is for women to be able to tell their own stories, be in the driver seat and run these huge budgets, a lot of my favourite feminist films are made by men. We’re showing a Miyazaki film again this year [Princess Mononoke] who is someone I think of having impeccable feminist credentials. Also Ridley Scott who made Thelma and Louise, created The Good Wife and the Alien franchise and many other movies that absolutely privilege women’s stories. So I think it’s a little bit more complex than who is behind the lens and at GOFF we are really interested in who’s in front of it and how audiences relate to those stories.

Jane Campion's The Piano (1993)

Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993)

What is the feminist film that changed your life?

One of the movies I saw around the time that I was discovering feminism was The Piano, and that was really effecting and life changing for me. It’s such a complex and powerful film, and I remember being totally floored by it. Honestly, the thing that has pushed me to seek out feminist films is that I have seen so many films that are deeply misogynist. Those films were probably more formative to me than stuff that really stood as super feminist. Thelma and Louise was a movie I saw 20 years ago in a time of my life when I probably didn’t identify as feminist and I couldn’t have loved that movie more. It’s up there with one of the greatest feminist movies of all time.

Melbourne’s first and only feminist film festival will be held at Cretan House in Brunswick East from October 23 – 25. For program information, booking details, and anything else you need to know about the Festival, visit their website.

An edited version of this piece was published on Lip Mag.


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