- Women and the Silent Screen VI Bologna, Italy, June 24-26, 2010
The Sixth International Women and the Silent Screen Conference held in Bologna this year was an important event that brought scholars, students, and archivists together from around the globe in order to examine the contribution of women to the early fi lm industry. As a scholar who was part of the initial Utrecht conference in 1999, I was made aware of how much our understanding of gender, feminism, and fi lm history has changed in little more than a decade. The conference also highlighted the need for generations to continue an ongoing dialogue, so that the work that has already been undertaken need not be repeated—even if repeated a little "differently"—all over again. I still remember clearly my own surprise at Utrecht; trained in queer theory, I believed that questions of performativity and difference had moved me far from Film Studies' feminist roots. I was therefore quite shocked when speakers explained the ongoing relevance of feminism to the interpretation of fi lm history. I might not have spoken German or Dutch, and I certainly did not know the journals and activities they were mentioning, but I fi nally understood that my own work in the archives made me part of an ongoing feminist movement.
We are now too large a group to hold intimate discussions such as these. Indeed, in Bologna three concurrent panels ran for roughly three days. Joined to this were the two evening screenings in the Lumière Cinema, opening and closing plenary sessions, and opening and closing keynote addresses. What struck me throughout the conference was not just the physical size and breadth of our undertaking, but the diversity of the scholarship presented: Clara Bow in It (Clarence G. Badger, 1927) was reexamined, for example, within the context of her reception in [End Page 102] Finnish culture; the 1911 performances of Asta Nielsen were charted so that we could see precisely how the changed aesthetics of Monopofilm advertising coincided with the localized spread of her fame; and additional topics such as women of Chinese cinema, Egyptian cinema of the 1920s, and the relationship between prisons and film were all addressed. On the archival front, fan scrapbooks were considered as a source for the reading and writing of women's film history, while amateur travel films were used as documents highlighting not only the voyages and skills of female travelers but also the shifting and changing ways that global gender could be imagined and seen.
In all of these forums, women's history was charted by men as well as by women, and graduate students joined lecturers, professors, and archivists in debate and discussion. There was therefore no sense of women's history being an exclusionary disciplinary intervention tied to a specific theory or methodology. Nor was there evidence of traditional academic hierarchies being held in place. What I liked about this was the genuine involvement it enabled: Sofia Bull spoke alongside Astrid Söderbergh Widding in the plenary session dedicated to the presentation of the book they had published from the 2008 conference proceedings in Stockholm, while MA student Aimee Dixon spoke in the "New Interrogations, New Archives" plenary session organized by her professor, Jane Gaines.1
What struck me the most about these more "youthful" interventions were the very different directions that women's film history seems to be taking today. Whereas the conference seems committed to expanding work on women outside Europe and America, it also seems that the push to acknowledge the international breadth of women's work in the nascent film industry has some students losing sight of gender altogether. Dixon, for example, actually removed gender as a category from her discussion, explaining that her interest was instead the career choices that African Americans made in the evolving US film industry. Other scholars—and this was particularly noticeable in a comment from the floor—considered gender a strategic alliance which helped in the development of an institutional career. Most contributors seemed to speak from somewhere between these two poles: they were individuals who wanted to properly contextualize and examine women's film history because they...