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  • Festival Mamas Building the Women’s Club: A Case Study
  • Ann Breidenbach (bio)

since the 2016 us presidential election, particular watershed moments in the film industry have illuminated long-standing practices of gender inequality and the brazen abuse and marginalization of women within the filmmaking world. In response, accomplished, celebrated filmmakers such as Agnes Varda and Ava DuVernay have turned conventional film industry spaces, such as the stairs of the Palais des Festivals at Cannes, into sites of protest, calling for industry changes in the name of parity, transparency, and safety for women. Are there some such spaces that already exist within the world of filmmaking? Consider the women’s film festival. Though sometimes criticized as inadvertently ghettoizing female filmmakers, women’s film festivals stand as an act of resistance to the long-standing discriminatory conditions in the film industry. These recent events call for a renewed examination of the women’s film festival.

In 2012, at the Dormand | Cologne International Women’s Film Festival, scholar activist Skadi Loist, in a keynote presentation on the state of women’s film festivals, asked, “Why do we need a women’s film festival and what are the functions it should serve?” In the fall of 2018, a group of students, staff, and faculty at Stephens College, the second-oldest women’s college in the United States and home to the Citizen Jane Film Festival (CJFF), founded a decade earlier, were mulling over these questions. The programming for the eleventh edition was coalescing, but still, as we gathered around the planning table, making final decisions about screening times and travel plans, the cascading events within the film industry and the political landscape of the country brought us again to discuss and question the purpose of a women’s film festival.

As a professor of women’s studies at Stephens College and a faculty participant in the festival, I enter this research from a feminist theoretical perspective that examines gender inequities (Leavy and Harris 41), recognizes the creation of knowledge from a particular standpoint (DeVault; Sprague 47), and heeds the imperative of matching theory with praxis. I examine the festival through the lens of feminist activism. I assert that at its heart, the Citizen Jane Film Festival has been an activist undertaking, working toward social change for women in the film industry. The story of the Citizen Jane Film Festival has been embedded in the stories of the people responsible for the vision, creation, and existence of the festival. Their words are the privileged text (Reissman 696).

What Functions Should a Women’s Film Festival Serve?

I suggest that the answer to Loist’s second question—what functions should a women’s film festival serve?—is embedded [End Page 73] in her description of the activism inherent in women’s film festivals: the creation of a “counterpublic sphere, a place where women can meet, defy sexist (and heteronormative) social conventions, form a group or network and mobilize around issues of feminism” (Loist). The Citizen Jane Film Festival was established to be such a space, literally and figuratively, that countered the dominant patriarchal, heteronormative, sexist practices in the film industry, a space that supported parity, practiced transparency, and offered safety. Within this space female filmmakers would come together, share stories, create initiatives, and fashion an alternative paradigm for collaboration, mentorship, and opportunity. Its founders, professors at Stephens College, envisioned a weekend during which their students—young women studying to be filmmakers—could come together with women within the industry from around the world, in various stages of their careers, and learn, grow, connect, become the next generation of professionals, and change the world. Hollywood, meet Columbia, Missouri.

The Context: An All-Women’s College in the Midwest

Stephens College, located in Columbia, Missouri, was established in 1833. It has a long, illustrious history of education in the creative and performing arts. Famous alumni include actress Patricia Barry, class of 1942, a charter member of Women in Film. The college’s current curriculum emphasizes experiential learning and innovation.

Students in the digital filmmaking (DFM) program earn a BFA while immersed in filmmaking, from scriptwriting to shooting to editing, from their first semester onward. Every other year...


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pp. 73-79
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