- Film Festivals of the 1970s and the Subject of Feminist Film Studies: Collaborations and Regimes of Knowledge Production
in her 1998 history of feminist film criticism, Chick Flicks, B. Ruby Rich notes the role played by friendships and collaborations in academic knowledge production. Adopting the retrospective gaze of the autobiography, Rich documents her own encounters with key scholars, filmmakers, and curators—historicizing feminist film criticism through the people she met on the conference/festival circuit. Instead of providing a linear account of key paradigms in feminist film theory and criticism, Rich mobilizes the register of the personal as political. Her history ultimately archives affective, embodied attachments to festivals (and the women who frequented them), refracting the role played by friendships and collaborations in both community building and academic endeavors.1 As she eloquently argues, “[k]nowledge can be acquired and exhibited in a variety of ways. To read and then to write: that’s the standard intellectual route. In the years of my own formation, though, there were many other options. Journals and journeys, conferences and conversations, partying and politicking, going to movies and going to bed” (Chick Flicks 3).
In taking us behind the scenes of feminist criticism/festival organizing, Rich’s opus opens up a new methodology for festival scholars. Instead of defining festivals through the circuits they correspond to or as both relying on and being realized through the competing performances of various stakeholders (the most common methods in festivals studies), Rich’s memoir hints at the role played by friendships and affective encounters forged at festivals in the symbolic economy of knowledge production.
This article seeks to explore what could be gained from taking seriously affective encounters as a method for historicizing the interplay between festival organizing and academic scholarship. Building on Rich’s opus, conference reports, and canonical texts in feminist film theory, I explore the role played by various festivals in shaping 1970s feminist film criticism/theory. I focus on three case studies—the 1972 “Women’s Event” at the Edinburgh Film Festival (EFF), the 1979 Alternative Cinema conference at Bard College (New York), and the 1979 EFF “Feminism and Cinema” program/conference. Although these case studies clearly point to major differences in geographically situated economies of knowledge, I do not aim to make an argument about the national specificity of various strands of feminist theory and/or regimes of knowledge production, nor do I seek to draw a comprehensive history of the evolution of feminist film criticism. Instead, I am interested in the various forms of articulation between scholarship, festival organizing, and community building that these three events reveal. [End Page 21]
This article crucially departs from Rich’s methodology—in particular from her use of the autobiographical. As a cisgender gay white man in his late twenties, I have not experienced the events to which this article hopes to pay homage. In reconstituting some of the encounters described by Rich, my aim is twofold: (1) to further Rich’s insights on the role played by friendships constituted at and through festivals in shaping 1970s feminist film criticism/theory and (2) to propose a reconceptualization of festival studies’ theoretical apparatus tuned into the relationship between academic knowledge production and community engagement.
Scholars traditionally argue that festivals are realized through the competing performances of various stakeholders (Rhyne; Dayan; de Valck). In analyzing the relationships between various professional groups (policy-makers, scholars, attendees, curators, filmmakers), this framework establishes festivals’ role in the political economy of film. This anthropological approach to the competing performances of various groups of people attending a festival presupposes, however, that one is a festival-goer or a critic or an organizer or a policy-maker or a scholar. In arguing that festivals come to be realized through competing performances and that one’s investment in or use of a festival is predicated upon his or her credentials, the stakeholder model largely reifies the boundaries between cinephilia, film criticism, scholarship, and curating.
In contrast, this analysis focuses on a time prior to the institutionalization of both the festival format and the discipline of film studies. While the stakeholder model might be sound, the reality is—as always—messy. As...