Research Interests-Women filmmakers, feminism, female film collectives past and present

My research focus: Investigating contemporary women’s film groups, festivals and related activism, comparing them to the politicised female filmmakers of the 1970’s and 80’s. How collectives, digital production and distribution can encourage filmmaking and provide routes into contemporary UK film cultures.

This section will be used to reflect on any ideas, events,issues that I feel have a connection to the research. I would like it to be fairly immediate and spontaneous as a record of things I see, so necessarily this might be about ideas that are not completely thought through and are sometimes a bit unformed.

To kick start this project into being, I went to From Reel to Real (23rd September), an exploration into the contribution of women filmmakers’ to the London Film- Makers’ Co-operative some films shown for the first time on the big screen at the Tate Modern’s Starr Cinema.reel-to-real

Curated by Maud Jacquin for the Tate Modern’s counter histories series, the event comprised of 3 days of screenings of 40 films from 25 filmakers.The Filmmakers’ Co-operative was an artist led organisation running from the mid 1960’s to 1980’s, supplying its members with space, equipment and technical advice. It became one of the major non profit distribution, production and exhibition centre for avant garde cinema, surviving up until the 2002,and then reincarnated into Lux. The Tate’s screenings demonstrated the impact that women made to the co-operative which led to a more political impetus to filmmaking. Their influence contributed to a feminist counter cinema and lead to the formation of supportive networks outside the co-operative, with discussion groups, screenings, links with US feminist film collectives and the first women film and video distribution collectives Circles and Cinema of Women now known as Cine Nova.

The films shown  most for the first time, were predominantly all made by women with art school training. The opening night, entitled Collapsing the Frame, grouped together films that dismantled the conventional cinematic space, using structuralist ideas to inform a « radical attack on patriarchal authority. » The films all shot on 16mm, the mode most favoured by artists of the time, are examples of feminist avant-garde/counter cinema, influenced by Laura Mulvey’s article on the Male Gaze Narrative and visual pleasure. , her intention being to destroy pleasure.  “to make way for a total negation of the ease and plenitude of the narrative fiction film.”

The first film, made in the period before Mulvey’s article, was Sally Potter’s experimental 3 minute film Jerk (1969) https://vimeo.com/ondemand/jerk. a beautifully simple idea, a stop motion overlay of 3 faces, which makes us think not only about the technology of film as it rushes past , but merges  male and female together and therefore encourages a radical idea in the manner of revolutionary Soviet cinema. Potter joined the LFMC in the 1960’s,before becoming the internationally acclaimed director she is today.


Sally Potter Jerk 1969 Film Still

Other films such as I Dish 1982 by Jayne Parker portrayed the male naked body as vulnerable, along side juxtapositions of a fish being gutted and consumed. All the films it seemed, reversed women as object of the camera’s gaze. Aliya Syed’s Unfolding (1988) was a commentary on women’s repetitive work at the laundrette, yet also celebrated the communal space such places provide. The film layers images of the washing machines turning and audio of women gossiping, shot in a southeast london launderette.


Aliya Syed Unfolding 1988, film still. Courtesy the Artist and Lux

As the decades move on and video technology arrives, the levels of complexity and experimentation with form increase. We see women caught up, literally in the film, Tina Keane’s Faded Wallpaper depicts a woman with « hysterical tendency » who hallucinates the presence of other women in the wall paper. Shot with film and video, the screen becomes the wallpaper with female bodies emerging from within it. Neon Queen by Jean Matthee reworks a famous sequence from Written on the Wind by Douglas Sirk. In the film Matthee loops Dorothy Malone’s frenzied sexual dance next to the repeated fall of her father in the stairs. The extracting of these moments alongside a saturation of red, highlight the way female glamour and sexuality are used in film and make strange Malone’s character, creating an unconventional viewing of the film.


Jean Matthee Neon Queen 1986, Frame stills courtesy of the artist

On the whole the themes, moods of all the films can be summed up as an attempt to portray what was seen then as the radical idea of the entrapment of women in cinematic culture. Themes of memory, loss, aspects of revenge, madness, sexuality and communality are all key themes in what is now regarded as female subjectivity . This is achieved through experimentation with the technology of the time and through reworking the cinematic codes in which filmmakers then were actively seeking to rework a new revolutionary language.

This is my first ‘real’ encounter with films by the film co-operative filmmakers, am on the hunt for more…