Glasgow is a city for film-lovers and film-makers. There are too many film festivals to count, film-enthusiasts around every corner, and film is used in community-orientated ways too.
An organisation focused specifically on this social aspect of film is She’s En Scene, a Glasgow women’s community cinema screening films either directed or written by women. Their mission is to encourage discussion and creation while also tackling social isolation, for example by travelling to communities to screen films, rather than expect people to come to a cinema or arts venue, most of which are located in the city centre. An example of this is She’s En Scene’s screening of Inappropriate Behaviour in Pride House last August, as it brought a film directly to a specific community. Their long-term aim is to address gender inequality in the film industry by setting up a permanent community cinema venue for women. These are fantastic and important goals, and I’m going along to She’s En Scene’s screening of Girlhood (2014) to see how ideals of accessible locations, safe-space policies and discussion work out in practice.
The first obvious concern is the fact that the venue for the screening, ISO Design in Merchant City, doesn’t exactly fit the brief of being a community-space. Rather, it is quite a nameless building on a quiet street, unfortunately also not wheelchair accessible. This is, however, a consequence of the closure of the CCA, the Centre for Contemporary Arts, after the Glasgow School of Art fire, where the event was to take place originally. The CCA is one of Glasgow’s few venues that can properly facilitate access needs, and this closure has forced many community arts organizers to find alternative spaces. Despite this, the space has been set up really welcoming, with colourful cushions and bowls of popcorn and drinks to take.
Before the film starts, the organisers introduce us to She’s En Scene and the safe space agreement they have put in place for the discussion afterwards. This is done with a nod to the poster on the wall, which the audience were invited to read to ‘see what She’s En Scene is all about’. Not many attendants do this, which makes the whole thing quite meaningless. Understandably, it is impractical to establish a set of rules to ensure everyone feels comfortable during a discussion together with the attendants each time you have an event, especially as the main focus of this event is the film screening. However, a quick run-through of the most important aspect of a safe space agreement, such as the importance of respecting each other’s opinions and decisions to say no, and avoiding using intimidating or racist language, ensures that this is actually a meaningful contribution to any event including a discussion.
Directed by Céline Sciamma, Girlhood is an extraordinary film about 16-year old African-French teenager Marieme (Karidja Touré) living in a poor Paris suburb who joins a gang of girls. It is certainly very well-suited to She’s En Scene’s aim of facilitating discussions, as the film challenges conceptions of race, gender and class, and is both a celebration of black femininity, a coming of age drama and a reflection of the ways in which women support each other. Making a statement about the lack of opportunities for women of colour in film and TV, the girls and women in Girlhood are complex characters shunning stereotypical portrayals. Lady (Assa Sylla), the leader of the girl gang, is mainly fierce and authoritative at the start of the film, yet as it progresses we are shown a very vulnerable side of her character after she has lost a fight with a girl from a rival gang, as well as a person who cares deeply about Marieme and the other girls. Marieme herself is both intelligent and independent, powerful yet gentle. The cinematography is incredible, with recurring purple or neon light that comes most to the fore in the memorable scene in the hotel room, where the girls dance and sing to Rihanna’s ‘Diamond’. The cool, intoxicating blue light ensures the scene is simultaneously happening in the now and playing like a memory.
However, with what appears to be an all-white audience, I initially feel quite awkward about discussing the film afterwards. I wonder what I have to contribute, or how my opinion matters, especially as white people too often take up space talking about issues that aren’t theirs. The theme of race certainly stands out in Girlhood, and is interlinked too with issues of class, gender roles and male violence. However, it is mostly these other aspects, as well as the depiction of women coming of age, that are discussed afterwards. This seems most appropriate considering the makeup of the audience, yet does feel lacking after the film. Perhaps the organisers should have aimed to screen this film at an event that would have attracted a more diverse audience, even if this night provided a valuable, if distanced, discussion of important events of the film.
While going to see a film with friends allows you to discuss it with them afterwards, setting time apart after a screening for an informal discussion enables you to get to know new perspectives on a film you might have never thought about otherwise. She’s En Scene ensure this element of the night is really casual, with the audience members staying after the film split in small groups that allows one to actually get to know the experience of those you are talking to fully. Similarly, there are some questions on a screen to guide a discussion, but they prove to be unnecessary for the most part. Because this was a event open to female-identifying and non-binary people only, I certainly felt comfortable talking about my experiences in an open and honest way. It felt powerful to discuss a film together with other women as this is not a regular occurance. However, a clear act of expression of a safe-space policy or an acknowledgement of the fact that different people have different lived experiences ensures that a constructive discussion can actually take place and the event is genuinely welcoming and inclusive.
She’s En Scene regularly hold women’s community cinema events across the city. Their next event is a Halloween screening of Anna Biller’s ‘The Love Witch’ on the 25th of October. Tickets can be found here.