All about her

ByProma Chakraborty

Feb 28, 2019

In the run-up to International Women’s Day, you can watch sensitive portrayals of the Female Gaze at the Asian Women’s Film Festival

A chain-smoker, Falaknaaz soils her hands dirty toiling out on the fields and doubling as the local electrician whenever the power is out in a small Iranian village.

60-year-old Oum Karim goes to a local bakery to prepare Lahm Bi Ajin (Lebanese ham pie) everyday, but hopes that this long-time ritual will come to an end.

Muslim theatre actress Roya is not interested in motherhood and is reconstructing a play to reclaim her identity and freedom.

Apart from challenging the preconceived perceptions of women’s roles in the society, Falaknaaz, Karim and Roya are also protagonists of their respective films.

Their stories along with several others are to be screened at the 15th edition of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Asian Women’s Film Festival. It is organised on the occasion of International Women’s Day every year.

Launched in 2005, the IAWRT film festival has made a conscious effort to showcase narratives woven by Asian female filmmakers. Over the years, it has grown in strength with participation from around the world. This edition will see over 50 films from 20 countries directed by Asian women from Armenia, Bangladesh, Estonia, India, Iran, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey and other countries.

Curated into different categories, the films include segments of Female Gaze, Childhood, Seven Sisters (films from North East India) apart from the general categories.

While the term male gaze refers to the objectification of women for the pleasure of male viewers, the female gaze is about the subjectivity of women expressing through cinematic means personal and political narratives.

“This edition is being held at a time when women in cinema are central to world discourse in many ways. Discussions about women’s participation in cinema and the MeToo campaigns in the film industry — from Hollywood to the 900-film-a year Indian film industry — has put women in cinema at the heart of several critical discussions. It is not surprising therefore that Female Gaze organically became the theme of our festival’s 15th edition” observes Nupur Basu, Managing Trustee, IAWRT’s  India chapter.

Featured in the Female Gaze category, Under Construction, directed by Rubaiyat Hossain, follows the story of theatre actress Roya. Struggling to find herself in the sprawl of urban Bangladesh, Roya suffers as her husband desires children and a traditional life. Not interested in motherhood, she decides to reconstruct a famous and politically minded play for modern times, reclaiming her identity, her freedom and her sexuality in the process.

Unlike the urban setting of Roya’s story, Falaknaz is based in a small rural village in western Iran. Titled after the name of the protagonist herself, this documentary captures the life of Falaknaz, an Iranian farmer who lives with her two daughters. Not an ordinary village woman, she quite unconventionally, became the main breadwinner of the household after getting married at 15. She gets her hands dirty repairing machinery for friends, irrigates the fields, and when the power goes out, it’s Falaknaz who plays the electrician. Occasionally mistaken for a man when they hear her raspy voice from afar in her ragged jacket toiling out in the fields, chain smoking, she rebels against traditional villagers’ perceptions of what a woman’s role in an Iranian village should be.

Capturing the stories of the‘female’ from all age groups, another category – Childhood – curates films that look at the world through the eyes of children put together by woman filmmakers. For instance, Her First Time, a short fiction story from India is about a young girl’s first period while her mother, who is a doctor, is at work.

“Making Her First Time was the single most satisfying thing I’ve done as an artist. Knowing nothing about filmmaking, I delved into this purely for the strength of an idea I got, after a conversation with a co-actor, who is a mother as well. Listening to her story, of how she couldn’t be with her daughter during her first period, got me thinking how important that moment is for every mother-daughter. I wanted to express that sentiment through screen, and in turn wanted to reiterate how important it is to normalise a girl’s period, and not treat it as taboo,” says filmmaker Divya Unny, also an actress.

The segment on childhood is complemented with a workshop on storytelling and filmmaking with underprivileged adolescent girls.

Besides the film screenings, the festival also includes a roundtable on MeToo in the Indian media and film industry. One of the festival highlights is a special country focus on Georgia and Soundphile –  stories that animate the world of recording, fragmenting, copying, archiving and listening to sound.

A pedagogical tool for teaching history of cinema, ‘Indie Gaze’ along with an art installation ‘Bioscopewalli’ are also part of the festival. “Mounted by design students, it is to show how art interprets gender,” explains festival director Gauri D Chakraborty.

Screening a wide variety of films selected from the 700 entries received this year, the festival has a line-up of fiction, nonfiction, animation, experimental as well as student films.

“Film festivals increase the diaspora of my audience and opens my mind up as a filmmaker on how to keep my stories universal, and that’s a big learning. Which is why when festivals in India are thriving and getting bigger in their vision, it makes me very happy as a filmmaker, as it creates opportunities that the mainstream may not be able to provide,” concludes Unny.

The festival will be held at the India International Centre from March 5 – 7