Tuesday, March 1, 2005

1st IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival 2005

IAWRT 1st Asian Women's Film Festival 2005
Expressions in Freedom

‘Expressions in Freedom’ is a festival celebrating documentary films by Asian women.

Launching on the International Women's Day, 8th March, the festival seeks to open up a space for debate on creative processes enriched by women's quest for freedoms of expression. The films in the festival cover a range of themes related to questions of gender and their interface with issues of sexuality, violence and conflict, family, identity, human rights and cultural transformation. Powerful tales are told in as little as 3 minutes or spun across 2 hours. Genres vary and expressive styles swing wildly from film to film. The canvas has been broadened to include some animation films.

The films are followed by interactive sessions between the viewers and the director (if present). Further, the festival features talks by academics engaged in gender studies and the media. There are special presentations by activists working in community media for empowering women; by young girls who have made a film for the first time in their lives; and by directors visiting from other countries.


A film by Anjali Panjabi
[30 min / 2002 / India]
Mirabai, a sixteenth century poetess is a cultural icon in India. Her images and stories swamp our popular culture. She was a princess who rebelled. Her poems versed in a religious idiom speak of personal choices and questioned the social hierarchies of her time. The conflicts expressed in her poetry however, do not tally with popular notions that choose to see her only as a pious saint. The film explores some of these contradictions. It travels through the towns and villages and vast deserts of Rajasthan in search of Mira. On the journey, it discovers the many ways in which Mirabai still sings to us.

A film by Shikha Jhingan
[44 min / 2002 / India]
Born to Sing is a musical journey with four Mirasans, who sing life-cycle songs for their patrons in Punjab. The film explores a rich musical and oral tradition kept alive by these women across religious boundaries. What is the nature of their relationship with their land-owning patrons? What happens when Punjabi pop music takes the entertainment industry by storm? The films grapples with these concerns faced by women who find themselves shunted out of their expressive traditions. At another level, the film also evokes memories of partition and the resilience of the composite culture of the Malwa region of Punjab.

A film by Ramyata Limbu & Sapana Sakya
[56min / 2004 / Nepal, USA]
In 2000, the first ever expedition of Nepalese women to climb the Everest was organised. Although the Sherpa people of Nepal are legendary for their unmatched skills in mountaineering, Sherpa women are discouraged from climbing, relegated instead to the support roles in the climbing industry. Told from a women’s perspective, rarely seen on Everest or off it, this film gives a close-up account of the expedition and its impact on the lives of the women – not just the climbers but the women of Nepal.

A film by Vasudha Joshi
[29 min / -- / India]
This film enters the life of Anjum Katyal, blues singer, poet and mother, capturing her voice as she performs the blues in her home city of Kolkata, as she reads from her journal to her daughter, as she converses with her mother and her daughter about the multi-religious, multi-cultural heritage that she so proudly owns to, and as she talks of confronting the climate of hostility and distrust towards minorities spreading through the country. In her interactions with her mother and her daughter, we see how a cultural identity proudly woven from many strands is increasingly under threat from narrow and exclusionist definitions of identity.

A film by Kirtana Kumar
[55 min / 2000 / India]
Today in India, we live in an aggressively patriarchal time. Modernity is equated with homogeneity and the complex nature of female sexuality is offered up at the altar of Nationhood. But thanks to the co-existence of diverse sexual and socio religious practices, there still exist residual memories of a past where the Goddess is worshipped, and communities where the female principle is considered life-affirming. This film asserts that our attempts to eradicate such practices in the name of development are born of our essentially patriarchal mores.

A film by Beena Sarwar
[8 min / 2004 / Pakistan]
Hina is the first girl in her family to attend college and contemplate a career rather than marriage. But this apparent freedom has come at a terrible cost: it was the death of Hina’s father (the family’s sole breadwinner) that forced her mother to take charge of her own life and family in a society which frowns upon women stepping outside the home even for education. The conflicts that 17 year-old Hina faces as her horizons expand lend poignancy to her aspirations. She is determined to not only to become self reliant but also to care for her ailing mother once her 4 older sisters marry and leave.

Directed by Tejal Shah
[10 min / 2003 / India]
After the Godhra incident in February 2002, India witnessed the killing of over 3000 Muslims in Gujarat. A year after the genocide, this film takes place at a popular public recreation space – a balloon-target shooting stall. Dark and bitterly funny, it uses the opinion poll format to satirise our generalised understanding of social and political injustices; and critiques the practice of electoral democracy in India by employing the metaphor of random target practice.

A film by Bishakha Datta
[53 min / 2002 / India]
An intimate account of what it is like to be in prostitution, this film revolves around 3 people: Shabana, a street-smart woman working the dark highways outside Bombay; Uma, an aging theatre actress who lives in a brothel in Calcutta where she earlier worked; and Bhaskar, a trans-gendered person who sells sex to men. We see their lives unfold – their workplaces, their stories, their daughters, mothers, lovers, passions... We see them as they pick up customers, fight AIDS in their communities, battle violence through collective action. We see them as they are – human beings struggling for a space in society.

A film by Mira Nair
[60 min / -- / India]
By focusing on a group of female strippers who work in a nightclub in the suburbs of Bombay, ‘India Cabaret’ explores the “respectable” and “corrupt” stereotypes that typify women in contemporary Indian society. The film tells their story, relating their hopes and fears while respecting their pride and resilience. In the process, it reveals the rules and double standards of a deeply patriarchal society.

A film by Nidhi Tuli
[29 mins / -- / India]
‘Ladies Special’ travels on a Mumbai train reserved wholly for women. For a brief while, the camera, crew and viewers become part of the spontaneous community of women that this train has engendered. With women boarding the same bogey daily, lives are shared, vegetables are chopped, birth ceremonies are celebrated, and clothes bought, as the 50 km journey becomes a space suspended unto itself. Many women speak of the commute as a cherished time when they can be themselves, instead of wives and mothers and workers and housewives. Ladies Special is a celebration of their lives.

a film by Surekha
[3 min / 2003 / India]
An ant moves within a boundary. It is a mere pen mark. And yet the ant hesitates to cross the line of control and come out of the boundary. Will it, finally? Or wont it? This spontaneous work examines how one behaves when confronted with imaginary boundaries.

A film by Sherna Dastur
[52 min / 2002 / India]
Manjuben has broken the gender stereotypes that are part of the social landscape she inhabits. She has created an identity for herself against social, cultural and economic odds, commanding respect from the community. This identity is deliberately 'male' – that of a macho trucker, drawn from several popular notions of maleness. Yet Manjuben defies simple categorization. Though she lives a free life compared to the other women in her society, she is just as patriarchal as the next person. In other words, Manjuben is no crusader.

A film by Safina Uberoi
[52 min / 2002 / Australia]
This film tells the story of a mixed marriage set against the tumultuous backdrop of modern Indian history. It focuses on the filmmaker’s own quirky family: an Indian Sikh father who collects kitsch calendars; an Australian mother who hangs her knickers out to dry in front of the horrified neighbours in Delhi; a grandfather who was a self-styled Guru’ and a seething grandmother who grows to despise him. What begins as a quirky and humorous documentary about an eccentric, multicultural upbringing unfolds into a complex commentary on the social, political and religious events of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 that changed the destinies of the family.

A film by Samina Mishra
[24 min / 2001 / India]
Randhir Singh and Darshan Kaur’s grandchildren grow up together in a prosperous home in a village near Amritsar. The children – 3 girls, 3 boys – go to the same school, eat together and often even play together. Yet there are borders that demarcate their lives. Set against the backdrop of an alarming and continuously declining sex ratio in the region, ‘Of Love and Land’ examines the boundaries that limit the lives of little girls.

a film by Geetanjali Rao
[4 mins / 2003 / India]
‘Orange’ is a conversation between two women about love and relationships, over a drink on a rain drenched evening. A visual delight, the film uses animation in vivid shades of orange to express moods and feelings.

[25 min / 2003 / Sri Lanka]
directed by Sharmini Boyle with Siyangka Nawaz
This documentary is part of a television series that explore situations of conflict and their impact on the lives of the Sri Lankan people. The series, as the name suggests, promotes reconciliation and peace. ‘Rajeshwari’ is a personal story of the experiences of a woman who was directly affected by the conflict in Sri Lanka.

The film will be accompanied by an informal presentation that will include screenings of short reports (5 – 10 mins each) from other episodes of the series. These include:
- Women Waging Peace (mothers and war)
- Defiant Art (women and language)

A film by Deepa Dhanraj
[53 min/ -- / India]
Launched in 1952, India’s family planning programme was formulated in collaboration with Western population control experts. It is based on the assumption that irresponsible, anti-national breeding by the poor is the main cause of the nation’s backwardness and that population control is the magic key to success. Despite brutal coercion, the programme has failed in its objective of drastically reducing the birth rate. The film traces the history of the programme, exposing the cynicism, corruption and brutality that characterise its implementation. It questions the programme from the perspective of women, who are its primary victims.

Made by the women of the Deccan Development Society Community Media Trust
[9 mins / 2003 / India]
The Deccan Development Society’s Community Media Trust has been training rural women to use video to articulate their concerns. Making a film thus becomes a process of learning to speak up, to be heard, be counted. Made by the women themselves, this film looks at some women of the Trust who have been making films for over six years and the way they think this process of filmmaking has impacted on them and their lives.

The screening will be part of a presentation by the women of DDS who are also the makers of this film. Idpapally Mollamma and Edakupalli Sooremma will present a case for autonomous community media. The programme will include clips from their other works, including:
- Sangam Shot
- BT Cotton, and other excerpts

A film by Ein Lall
[30 min / 2001 / India]
Nalini Malani is one of India’s leading painters and installation artist. Her work is political and gendered, even as it is subtle and layered. This film portrays the conflicting yet complementary tones in her work. We see life in the Lohar Chawl where Malani has her studio; we see the people that power her work; we see what moves her. The film travels from work to work, from painting to installation to beachside where Malani draws on the shifting sands. Formally, the film creates juxtapositions that draw the viewer into the inner world of the artist.

A film by Sabeena Gadihoke
[56 min / 1998 / India]
Homai Vyarawalla is India's first professional woman photographer, whose career spanned three decades from the 1930s; Sheba Chhachhi and Dayanita Singh are contemporary photographers who started work in the 1980s. Vyarawalla's work underscores the euphoria of the birth of a nation, while Chhachhi and Singh grapple with the complexities and undelivered promises of the post independence era. This film debates the major shifts in their concerns regarding representation and subject-camera relationships. It seeks to contextualise their work through their photographs and explores how their identity as women shapes this work in turn.

A film by Paromita Vohra
[94 min / 2002 / India]
Reflective in tone and playful in its form, ‘UnLimited Girls’ asks questions about feminism in our lives: why must women lead double lives, being feminist but not saying they are? How do we make sense of love and anger, doubt and confusion, the personal and the political in this enterprise of pushing the boundaries, of being un-limited? The tale is told through the conversations of a narrator called Fearless who encounters diverse characters – feminists, yuppies, college kids, a woman cab driver, a priest, academics – all talking of their engagements with feminism.

A film by Dahna Abourahme
[76 min / 2004 / Palestine, USA]
Set during the current Intifada, this documentary follows four Palestinian families living in Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. Fadi, just 13, cares for his 4 younger brothers; the Hammash family believe in living life with humour and passion; Sana, a single woman endures long commutes to do community work; and Emad and Hanan are a young couple trying to shield their daughter from the harsh realities of the occupation. Through their joys and sorrows, ‘Until When…’ paints an intimate portrait of Palestinian lives today.

A film by Nilita Vachani
[109 min / 1995 / India, Greece, Germany]
Josephine Perera is a migrant worker from Sri Lanka who has spent the last ten years taking care of the families of others. She currently works in Greece, lavishing care on 2 year-old Isadora whose own mother works in Paris. Josephine’s children meanwhile have been left to relatives and orphanages – she hasn’t seen them in ten years. Finally she has a work visa and can travel back to them for Christmas. Through her story, we witness the restructuring of an entire society where women have become the breadwinners in a foreign land. Ironically it is their gender functions that lead them to ‘economic freedom’, though never in the context of their own families and culture.

Plan India + a team of 12 year olds – Hemlata and Savita
10 min / -- / India
During adolescence, young girls are denied the information they need to understand the changes in their bodies. When she is experiencing acute confusion, the teenage girl is fed a steady diet of mumbo jumbo. Instead of information, all she gets is stony silence from her teachers. Instead of counsel, all she gets from her mother is yet more restrictions on her scarce freedoms. This film shows how such attitudes wreak havoc in the lives of teenage girls, especially those living in conservative communities. An animation film, it has been directed by 12 year old girls as part of a workshop.

The film will be accompanied by an informal presentation where the young filmmakers and representatives from PLAN India will share their experiences on making and screening this film.

A film by Fareeda Mehta
[30 min / 2003 / India]
The film looks at communities that live ‘behind walls’, and the possible cultural, political and economic reasons for doing so. Within ‘mixed societies’ people may be united by economic necessity but prejudices often run deeper than the words uttered in interviews. The film works with images from a small town magic show and from ‘video’ to build a narrative of longing and a socially constructed amnesia that feeds on jingoistic patriotism.



Uma Chakravarti:
Shohini Ghosh: Documentaries of Self and Sexuality
Patricia Uberoi: The Family in Media: Shaping our views