It’s been one hell of a year! I mean, this seems to be the general consensus among most people I know. It’s probably quite late to be writing this post, we’re well into January but I spent so much of the latter part of 2016 wishing it’d end (thanks to the fantastic political decisions made this year feeling rather overwhelming) that it’s taken me until now to really collect my thoughts.
For me on a personal level, 2016 has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Full of incredible highs and lows, it has possibly been the most drastically changing year of my life so far.
In the first few months of the year, I went to Edinburgh (January) and Berlin (February). I celebrated my 21st birthday which coincided with the Chinese New Year celebrations in Manchester making it extra special. I went to my first Reclaim The Night March which I loved and hope I can do again at some point.
I graduated from Manchester School of Art with a degree in Filmmaking, after spending the first 5 months of the year working on two short film projects The Witch of Wilmslow Roadwhich I directed and Soulwhich I produced. I managed my course’s side of the degree show at my university, working with the Edinburgh Shorts Film Festival to programme and carry out the show. Although, it definitely brought me its fair share of challenges and stress (and that’s putting it lightly). I was also a photographer for the Bang Said The Gun: Stand Up Poetry nights in Manchester for my final few months living there.
Over the summer, I was trained by programmers from the BFI Flare Film Festival and was a young film programmer for the Queer Media Festival in Manchester. My film WOWR was also screened in Manchester by Film Vault MCR as part of a night of films directed by women.
After graduating, (and after many, many rejection emails) I got a temp job in an office for 2 months before I moved to Devon to live with my long-distance boyfriend of almost 3 years. Since moving here, I have begun writing for Film Inquiry and I was commissioned by The Time Is Now to write an article for the film Sonita. I have also been a Research and Cataloging Volunteer at the South West Film and Television Archive.
For the first time in my life, I don’t have a solid plan. I’m not in education and I’m still figuring out what I really want to do with my life. In the meantime, I am doing my best to ensure I get the most out of 2017.
It’s that time of year again, here are my favourite films that I have seen which came out in UK cinemas in 2016!
1. Kubo and the Two Strings
As a huge fan of LAIKA and of stop-motion animation in general, I was so excited when I discovered the poster for Kubo and The Two Strings. Even the screaming baby in the cinema when I finally went to see this amazing film couldn’t ruin it. The animation is incredibly detailed and yet again the studio pushes the boundaries of the medium. You can read my full review here.
2. Kate Plays Christine
I was lucky enough to see this at Berlinale in February and it has stuck with me ever since. Directed by Robert Greene, the film is a blend of fact and fiction. Taking on a documentary style the film follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil, who prepares to play Christine Chubbuck in a fake fictional film. Chubbuck is a newscaster who in 1974, became the first person to commit suicide live on air. The film explores the mirky waters of morality in acting and filmmaking but ultimately gives more questions than answers.
3. When Marnie Was There
The final Studio Ghibli film When Marnie Was There arrived in UK cinemas this year, anyone who knows me or has read my blog will know that I adore the films of Studio Ghibli so it is bittersweet to be writing about this at all. Bittersweet however, is the feeling of their final film. Based on a british book of the same name by Joan G. Robinson the film is whimsical and sad with stunning animation. A fitting end to my favourite animation company.
4. A United Kingdom
I was able to see this film during my first visit to the BFI London Film Festival. Directed by Amma Asante, A United Kingdom tells the story of the real-life marriage between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), Prince of Bechuanaland and British office clerk Ruth Williams (Roasamund Pike) and the international conflicts their union caused. You can read my full review of it here.
Set in a remote Turkish village Mustang depicts the lives and struggles of five young orphaned sisters who are pulled out of school and locked away in their home to be trained to be wives after concerns are raised about their relationships with boys and the growing problem of their blossoming sexuality. Told through the eyes of the youngest sister it is an exploration of girlhood and of a conservative patriarchal society that fears it.
6. Your Name
This film was a surprise to me, I went in expecting a slightly silly but charming romance and got a beautifully crafted surreal tale of love and friendship that surpasses the odds. The characters are likeable and believable and the plot twist was unexpected. You were rooting for the leads in this film right up until the credits rolled.
This empowering and interesting documentary by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami explores the life of Afghan refugee and aspiring rapper Sonita who when she is 15, is told that she is being sold as a bride for $9,000 in order for her brother to pay for a bride of his own. It blurs the line of what a documentary filmmaker is and documents a struggle for female identity. You can read an essay I wrote about the film and its links to female empowerment through music here and here.
This is another surprising and late addition to the list. Hindi film Pink is a courtroom drama starring Amitabh Bachchan as a lawyer fighting for 3 women who have been sexually assaulted by a highly connected young man and his friends. The film criticises the Indian criminal justice system as well as teaches a powerful message about consent and the demonisation of female sexuality. It’s an incredibly important film and I think it’s a shame it didn’t have a wider UK release.
9. The Red Turtle
I also saw this during my visit to the BFI London Film Festival, The Red Turtle is the first Non-Japanese collaboration from Studio Ghibli and it comes in the form of a wordless feature directed by Michael Dubok de Wit. You can read my full review of it here.
Finally, we finish with Victoria. As you probably know, (which I actually didn’t going in to the film) the whole film is one shot, one take and the plot pans out over the course of the length of the film. It’s thrilling to watch and takes so many unexpected twists and turns. You can read my full review of it here.
Honourable mentions: Moana, Everything Before Us and Room.
I remember walking into the living room one day around Christmas time, my sister was sat on the sofa playing video games. One character, in particular, caught my eye. She stood out because she was wearing a bikini top and ripped trousers next to several men dressed for heavy combat. My sister told me that her name was Quiet, she couldn’t speak. Probably guessing that I was going to question the costume design for this character she told me that the reason was “she breathes through her skin.” Now, although this is a video game which is a whole other ball game in terms of discussing sexism in character design, this is something prevalent in the films we watch at the cinema, mostly action/adventure films.
What is a “Strong Female Character”?
A term that is tossed around a lot in terms of the women in these films is that they are a “strong female character” But what does this mean? What is not my definition of a strong female character is throwing together an overly sexualised outfit for a female actress and giving her a gun and some one-liners and then declaring that “sexism is over”. It’s such a broad term, in fact, that it’s thrown around constantly in film reviews when a female character appears to have her own mind
Sexual Empowerment vs Sex Appeal
But this is where it gets confusing. There has been a surge in female superheroes on our screens in the past few years from Halle Berry’s portrayal of Catwoman, to more recently, Scarlett Johansen’s portrayal of Black Widow across the Marvel cinematic universe, such as in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers , and while that’s great, it wrongly suggests that the representation of women on screen in these genres is no longer an issue.
Often, women appear to be empowered: they are the protagonist or antagonist, carry great strength and dialogue. However, although the actress appears to be acting on her own terms, i.e. owning her sexuality, in reality, her movements, particularly while fighting, are sexualised, and the camera will pan up and down her body, focusing on aspects of her tight fitting or revealing costume that are pleasing to the heterosexual male viewer. It caters to the male gaze; a term coined by Laura Mulvey in her 1973 essay titled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, in which she explains that in film, women are typically the objects, of gaze rather than the possessors of it. This is due to both the choice of the typically male filmmaker and the assumption of heterosexual men as the default target audience for most film genres.
This concept, when applied to these action/adventure characters was summed up by Caroline Heldman in the documentary Miss Representation, in which she explains “When you peel back a layer or two you discover it’s not really about their agency, I call this archetype the fighting fuck toy because although she is doing things supposedly on her own terms she very much is objectified and exists for the male viewer”. This takes away much of the appeal of these characters because when you build a character on the basis of appearance and sex appeal there is little left for the audience to empathise, creating a dynamic in which the audience objectifies rather than sees this character as a human.
Looking to the Future
The most recent example of ridiculous costume for a woman in an action/adventure film, a promotional image released from the upcoming Jumanji, in which actress Karen Gillian stands in tight, skimpy clothes inappropriate for her surroundings with three fully clothed men (much like Wonder Woman with the rest of the Justice League at the top of this article). After backlash to the image, she took to Twitter to say “Yes I’m wearing child-sized clothes and YES there is a reason! The payoff is worth it, I promise!”
However, I’m not so convinced, it’s likely another “She Breathes Through Her Skin” or “She Owns Her Sexuality” style excuse but time will tell on this occasion. The main problem with these costumes on these women in these films is that it sells an idea of what a strong female character is whilst also selling her short. Giving less to character development and less to showcasing an actresses performance in order to focus on looks and sexual appeal.
Because at the end of the day, when I see a film, I don’t want to see a strong female character. I want to see a human character. Someone who is multifaceted and relatable whilst also able to hold her own in an action/adventure story and due to costume choices and choices made by the directors of these characters are being sold short and I believe they can do better.
What do you think about the promotional image released for Jumanji?
I have been busy. I know everyone is busy but I mean REALLY busy. In the last few months I have finished and graduated University. I now own a car and work a full time 9-5 job.
So I suppose I’m a proper adult now right?
I’ve been trying to stay creative and active, I’ve been a young programmer for the Queer Media Festival Pride Weekend screening and I am going to continue working with them over the coming months.
It’s funny how without university you are both more free and restricted in your creativity. There’s no-one telling me to make anything so I have more ideas yet I am completely restricted in resources and time.
So, right now I am 21 years old and entering the “real world”. What does the future hold? I don’t know. But I will try and post more often on this blog as I go along.
I recently saw the 1928 film Underground with a live musical score by HarmonieBand at HOME. The film explores a love triangle that forms on the London Underground when two men are attracted to the same woman. I really enjoyed this film with its live musical accompaniment, it was pretty impressive to see the band as 2 of the members were constantly switching instruments. The film itself was directed by Anthony Asquith and whilst telling a love story it documented the London Underground system in the late 1920s.
I absolutely loved Underground, It did the usual love triangle plot device of the rejected man framing the chosen man and making him look unfaithful but rather than doing what I expected and the chosen man trying to seek redemption and win back the protagonist she believed him, trusted him and took it upon herself to seek out what really happened. The cinematography of the escalators and underground trains was brilliant and very familiar despite being shot in 1929.
Earlier in the year there was a special screening of The Son of The Sheik (1926), as part of the season of films exploring sex and sexuality. Valentino, one of the first cinematic sex symbols stars in this film sequel about the son of a sheik and a dancing girl falling in love, he then seeks revenge due to believing she has betrayed him.
Now, The Son of The Sheik was a film I didn’t quite like as much as Underground. It was a massive cliche of the silent film era, dashing hero, helpless love interest, lots of riding around on horses, that kind of thing. I did enjoy it simply because it was such a cliche film meaning it was hilarious in places and was exactly what you would expect a film like this to be.
I think it’s brilliant that I have been able to see silent films at the cinema, especially with live musical accompaniment, it really brings the films to life and showcases work that isn’t always accessible. I know I for one would love to see more films from that era so I hope cinemas continue to do events like this!
This is a subject I’ve been wanted to discuss for a while now. Recently the Geena Davis study into women in film had it’s results published. The study showed that only 21% of filmmakers are female. There have been several studies into women in the film industry, the documentary Miss Representation stated in 2011 that only 16% of all Directors, Producers, Cinematographers and Editors are women. Furthermore, Stephen Follows investigated the percentage of women in film crews in July 2014, discovering that the number of women in a film crew has actually DECLINED in the last 20 years.
Now as an aspiring female filmmaker these statistics are incredibly disheartening, especially noting that just under half of the people on my filmmaking course are female so, it’s not as if the vast majority of people studying the subject are men. However, this has made me reflect on the work that I’ve done and been a part of, very few people I’ve worked with in a filmmaking environment are women. So these statistics makes a lot of sense.
It is quite frustrating knowing that women, who make up half the world’s population are not represented in this industry which is only of the most widely accessible and widely consumed art form and media outlet along with Photography and Graphic Design. It is incredibly important that women break into this industry because currently mainstream film is full of very male dominated stories, and the stories that do feature a prominent female character are still often controlled by male filmmakers.
So there is still a lot of progress to be made and I think it’s important that these issues are discussed.
Last night I attended “The Naked Debate” which discussed the issues surrounding Page 3 in The Sun newspaper. The debate was about whether this page consisting of topless women should be allowed to still be printed in this day and age. The founder of the “No More Page Three” campaign; Lucy Holmes was present to give her argument against the use of Page 3.
The night consisted of four people; Phil Ives, a writer for “The Knowledge” and Charlie Green, the Vice President of the SU for Plymouth University giving their argument in favour of Page 3 followed by the Women’s Rep for Plymouth University (Jessica Horner) and Lucy Holmes giving the opposite view. Lucy Holmes’ speech was a particular highlight as she was particularly articulate and passionate on the subject (as you would expect from the founder!). Upon entering the debate you had the opportunity to mark whether you were for or against page 3, this was repeated at the end to see if the debate had changed anyone’s minds. I, however am 100% against Page 3 and my mind did not change throughout the process. The results will be posted online within the week, it will be interesting to see the results. All in all, “The Naked Debate” was incredibly interesting and though provoking whilst being a great platform to see both sides of the argument.
Interestingly, the same night the documentary “Blurred Lines” was aired on BBC Two. (It’s still on iplayer if you’re interested!) The documentary hosted by Kirsty Wark explores our culture showing how acceptable it is to show women in a sexually explicit and often abusive way in the media and whether the internet has made this behaviour more socially acceptable by blurring the lines of what is “casual banter” and what is serious sexism and misogyny posing as a joke. Throughout the hour Kirsty Wark covered a lot of issues surround this topic, often not having an in depth discussion about each of the areas but I feel that the point of this was to show a much broader view of how wide spread this issue is in our culture. The angle of the documentary was very much about how our culture says “anything goes” and if you’re offended you simply don’t have a sense of humour. The documentary raised a lot of interesting points on both sides of the argument in relation to online and offline misogyny and it worth a watch if you can.
I recently went to an exhibition at Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery called “Women in Art”. This exhibition has work from the Renaissance to the modern day. It features models, portraits and 20th century ceramics surrounding women.
Artists on display include John Waterhouse, Beryl Cook, Prunella Clough, Rose Hilton, Elizabeth Forbes, Anya Gallacio and Kate Nicholson. Ceramics by Clarice Clift, Dorothy Doughty and Lucie Rie.
Next door to this exhibition was a collection of portrait paintings by Laura Knight which I particularly enjoyed.
However, it got me thinking about sexism in the arts and how hard it is for female artists to be taken seriously and be remembered by history.
For example, how many female artists featured in the top 100 auction sales, ranked by price, last year? Gemma Rolls-Bentley, an independent curator, looked at the 2012 list “and spent a couple of hours writing M next to the artists. I got to the end and there wasn’t a single F.” The list was a mixture of living and dead artists, all were highly valued both critically and economically and all were men.
Campaigning group UK Feminista in 2010 showed that 83% of the artists in Tate Modern were men, along with 70% of those in the Saatchi Gallery.
These numbers further reflect women’s marginalisation in art history. It is estimated that only around 5% of the work featured in major permanent collections worldwide is by women. The National Gallery in London, for example, contains more than 2,300 works however only 11 of the artists in their collection are women.
This is a poster from the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist activist group who started highlighting sexual and racial inequality in the arts in 1985 – while dressed in gorilla masks due to being ignored. Perhaps their most famous poster came in 1989, and featured the female nude from Ingres’s “Grande Odalisque”.
Obviously, this is not just an issue in painting and sculpture but across all artistic mediums.
Agbogbloshie is a wetland close to Ghana which is surrounded by rivers that stream into the Atlantic Ocean.
As a result of illegal exports and fake development aid this area has become one of the biggest e-waste dumps in the world. It is filled with Computers, Monitors, Fridges, Stereos, Video players etc. Kevin Mcelvaney spent 4 days in this area and met hundred of people who told him that due to countless bad harvests they’d been forced to move to this area to earn money. Often children without their parents. They collect metal with magnets from the E-Waste. The devices are full of toxic chemicals that are damading when inhaled or touched. This can make the children very ill with lung problems, eye and back damages with insomnia. Photographer Mcelvaney began to feel the effects of this after just a few hours. The devices mostly end up here because it is ‘too expensive’ to dispose of them properly or recycle them.
Mcelvaney describes this as “a social-economic and environmental disaster”.
This is extremely harmful to the planet and begs the question are we really a progressive society if our consumer culture causes other people to live amongst our waste? This E- Waste is also an irritant on our geopolitics through our exploitation of other countries. I was drawn to this project due to the Media Archaeology essay I recently completed for University in which I explored Zombie Media and E-Waste in relation to the definition of progress. This Photography project definitely reflects this and is incredibly thought provoking.
It’s hard to remember what started the fad of 3D films again. It was probably James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ that started the trend “Must See in 3D” which you can now see at the bottom of many film posters.
3D was a huge novelty in the 1950s; films such as Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” were released in 3D even though Hitchcock himself was dismissive of 3D, calling it “a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day”. 3D films quickly subsided when the novelty wore off just like it is starting to now. However, most films released now still have the option of seeing it in 3D unnecessarily such as Disney’s “Frozen” and “The Lego Movie”. Furthermore, some old films are re-released in 3D such as “Beauty in the Beast”, “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and “Titanic”. My question is most of the time, why bother?
Even flicking through Empire Magazine’s “20 Best 3D films” I agree with very few that it was worth seeing them in 3D at all.
Although it may have died down a bit in cinemas the 3D trend has spread to our TVs and I just can’t see the fascination with it.
I feel like it very rarely adds a new layer of depth to the film (With exceptions such as “Gravity”) and can often make special effects look less realistic.
Also, when Filmmakers use the cliche trick of having objects ‘fly off the screen into the audience’ I think it can actually take you out of your engagement with a film rather than engrossing you further.
Obviously there are good aspects of 3D technology such as stated by a study done by Mindlab who found that people are 7% more attentive watching films in 3D than they would in 2D.
“3D is a fully immsersive format, increasing engagement in viewers. The fact that subjects were witnessed as having increased eye movement and head movement is testament to this. The 3D technology draws attention to peripheral images on the screen and, coupled with Blu-ray quality definition, it is able to deliver footage that increases engagement and emotional response over all the formats”. – Mindlab’s Duncan Smith