Glasgow is a fantastic city if you love to watch a bunch of films in one weekend or week. From Glasgow Film Festivals and Africa in Motion to the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, Document Film Festival and Havana Glasgow Film festival, there seems to be some kind of film festival on every month. From 2019, there will be a new name on the scene. Femspectives is about providing a platform for films by women and safe spaces for conversations about feminism, social issues and politics. They are already having regular events at the moment, and are hosting the first Femspectives Film Festival in March 2019. I am talking to co-founders Lauren Clarke and Kathi Kamleitner about the Glasgow festival scene, safe spaces, diversity in practice and low- or unpaid jobs in the cultural sector.
Both Lauren and Kathi have worked for film festivals in Glasgow and abroad, and Femspectives was born from the idea that they were missing something. “There was no festival dedicated to providing a platform for women filmmakers,” says Lauren. “Even though within each festival there have been interesting focuses on women filmmakers, it wasn’t a priority. So we wanted to make that our priority – showing films made by women.” During their recent launch at the Glasgow Women’s Library, Femspectives showed two films from the UK’s first women’s film festival, hosted by the 1972 Edinburgh International Film Festival. While the films were then screened with the hope to change the canon and film history, there are now, once again, forgotten or lost. “Our festival will be a mix of contemporary and repertory films,” says Lauren. Kathi adds: “Since we have such a conversation based approach, the film needs to be about something that we can consider a feminist issue to some extent.” In addition to being directed by a woman, there are no real requirements for films to be screened by Femspectives. Lauren: “There are certain films that we would show that aren’t necessarily dealing with feminist issues, but that look at a particular topic through a female perspective, which would be interesting to discuss.”
Originally from Toronto and Vienna, Lauren and Kathi both came to Scotland to pursue a masters degree, with Kathi currently doing a PhD on women’s film festivals at the University of Glasgow. In contrast to their hometowns, Glasgow feels more connected, with more collaboration between different festivals and a sense of community. “I think Glasgow as a location for our festival is great,” says Kathi, “because there are so many other festivals. The local population is quite interested in it, and quite engaged with film culture, including alternative film culture. There is enough interest for a variety of different festivals, so it’s not about being in competition with the others but offering one more aspect to film culture.” That is already clear in the offers from other festivals to share knowledge, collaborate or promote each other, to ensure “everybody gest a piece of the cake”, as Kathi describes it. In our conversation, the women express being inspired by certain aspects of other Glasgow film festivals, such as Document Human Rights film festival’s hour-long forum discussions, the prioritization of accessibility by SQIFF (Scottish Queer International Film Festival) or Africa in Motion’s work with communities.
Femspectives has an impressive and inspiring mission statement, emphasising the importance of these elements – discussion and conversation in safe spaces, accessibility, democracy and acknowledging privilege and barriers. “Putting together our mission statement was a way to express what we want to be,” says Lauren. “We are not necessarily there yet. Between our launch and our actual festival in March 2019, we have to collect a lot of feedback and make it a collaborative process as much as possible.” “We are open to change things if people feel we are not creating the environment we are saying we want to create,” Kathi adds. “We are not experts. It’s import to create something that is not just good for us, but good for everybody.” In terms of conversation, Femspectives tries to break away from the standard format of having a screening followed by a discussion or Q&A with a few people who know a lot about the film. Lauren: “It’s about having a non-hierarchical conversation where everybody has a space to contribute, with value in everyone’s opinion, regardless of whether you’ve studied feminisms or film studies.”
‘Safe space’ is a word that has been critiqued in recent years, understood by some to mean a space in which no one will be challenged. Kathi: “I think it’s exactly the opposite. A safe space is about very different opinions coming together, being able to share these without being judged for them. I wouldn’t say it’s a space where everybody has the same experience or the same feelings. We are, for example, not a woman-only screening.”
Lauren: ”The idea is that it is a safe space for everybody to be there, no matter how you identify.”
Kathi: “We want people with different opinions! We want people to be challenged, but in a non-aggressive way.”
Perhaps this is more easily said than done, but the women hope to turn their motivation into reality through different measures, for example reading out a ‘Diversity Welcome’ at the start of events, or creating a set of rules together with the audience for longer discussion sessions. Kathi: “The text welcomes people from different colours, races, faiths, sexual identities, gender identities, ethnic backgrounds and other things. Vocalizing this already creates an inclusive environment, we saw that in our feedback as well.” She adds: “I hope that the way we talk about events and how we describe it online shows that we aren’t going into this with a pre-formulated idea of what feminism is or who should be included or not. Challenging all these different conceptions about feminism is part of why we do this.”
At the recent Glasgow International, one of the pieces of work exhibited was the In Kind project, which focussed on the many hours of unpaid work professional artists had to do in the run-up to the festival, and the implications this has for GI, and the arts sector in general. It means artists have to juggle multiple jobs at once and results in a lack of diversity, as people from working-class or low-income backgrounds are excluded. This again leads to parts of the public being unable to relate to the arts, as their experience is not represented. Both Kathi and Lauren emphasise awareness of their own privileged position and the need to reflect on that.
Kathi: “As a programmer, it is important to think about your own position within the field, reflect on your own background, how your taste has been created. If you personally think a film isn’t good, does that mean it is necessarily not worth being screened?”
Lauren: “Yes, and it’s also about recognizing the space you are taking up, and trying to question all the decisions you are making. We recognize that we come from a very privileged position, to be able to start a festival.” One of Femspectives values is thus to properly pay people for their work. While they are working towards having more people involved in collaborations, they know they can’t taken on any volunteers at the moment to help them. Kathi: “We don’t want to perpetuate the idea that’s present in all cultural industries that you just have to volunteer. We want to start from a principle point where we will pay everybody who’s involved in Femspectives.” While this isn’t easy, as a certain amount of funding is required, it is something the women are working towards.
Kathi: “This also makes it more accessible. Offering a job with a normal salary ensures that you are not excluding people not financially stable enough to afford getting a job with a low-paid salary. Everyone is benefitting from cultural events, and obviously a lot of public money is going into it, but what’s the point if people who put it on can’t life off of it? I do think things are changing in general, and it’s great getting involved in conversations now, as there seems to be a momentum.”
Lauren: “It’s about individual actions too. If you keep taking on lots of work for free, you are perpetuating the problem. We don’t pretend to say that we’ve got it all figured out. We know what we want to do, but we are still in the process of figuring out how we to do it.”
Femspectives has a partnership screening with guerrilla film collective Cinemaattic coming up on the 15th of June entitled Madres, which focuses on Motherhood. There will be collaborative screenings with other organisations and festivals until the first edition of Femspectives film festival, in March 2018. It will probably be opened on International Women’s Day, Friday the 8th of March, and running screenings, talks and conversations over the weekend too. You can follow Femspectives on instagram, facebook, twitter or their website.
Photography by Ingrid Muir.
While I applaud this initiative, as native Glaswegian working-class female filmmaker with a significant body of work to my name it’s dispiriting to feel excluded. My city is engaged and interested in cinema so it seems remiss of the organisers to be quite so unaware of the work being made on their own doorstep.