The Minikino Film Week 4’s Program Women’s Stories presents six short films from Indonesia, the United States, Slovenia, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. A selection of fiction, documentary and experimental films presented in a well curated package that allows us to emerge into a variety of women’s experiences. Some of the films expose the harsh reality of being a woman while others construct different worlds in playful and artistic ways. All of these stories are about women dealing with societal pressures and expectations.
Unbalanced Corner, Unfinished Book (Ryan Sebastian/ Indonesia/ 2018/ Fiction) is the story of a man and a woman who want to read a book on a rooftop in urban Jakarta. It invites us on a journey into the dual experience of gender in Indonesia. The film is beautifully shot in black and white allowing the characters to become the center of this cinematic experience. A simple story becomes a metaphor for the imbalance of idealized gender roles and ultimately invites us to question them.
The second film stands as an aesthetic contrast to the first. Gull (D.K. Odessa/ United States/ 2017 Experimental) is vibrant, colorful poetry in motion. We follow a woman dancing in a landscape of trees and water surrounded by birds. Scenic music aligns with her movements as she becomes one with nature. In this space societal expectations and boundaries seem no longer relevant. The film invites us to dissolve into this magical and beautiful world – but only for a little while. The short duration of the film becomes a statement. It reminds us that situations like this –filled with pure beauty and joy – are rare in the world we live in where women can hardly ever escape from societal expectations violently crushed upon them.
The next film, Edge of Alchemy (Stacey Steers/ United States/ 2017 / Animation) is an artistic trope into femininity, nature and technology. In a handmade filmic collage, women playfully enter into a sensual connection with nature and technological devices, the cornerstones of modernity. The sound is an element of the storytelling as much as the visuals. This film allows women to play the leading role in the male dominated field of science. The playful, artistic and experimental nature of the film constructs an unreal experience. It reminds us that things are different in the reality we live in, here science is still dominated by men.
Day Passes, Morning Begins (Mine Dan, Zacne se Jutro) Lina Erzen/ Slovenia/ 2017/ Fiction) is a young mothers story of becoming, set in suburban Slovenia. We meet two strong women, mother and daughter, tackling life without male support. As the story evolves, the unfulfilled longing for her father triggers a decision to break free from her family’s past. She embarks into an unknown future with a hopeful smile on her face.
First Feature Film (Bentley Brown/ Saudi Arabia/ 2018 Documentary) is a sensitive insight into an epic milestone in film history. Women at work in a male dominated industry: the production of the first feature film in Saudi Arabia made by a mostly female team. As we listen to these women, we learn that insecurities and worries related to societal pressures feature prominently in their experience. Still, they opt to go for their dream of making this film, despite everything. The film is a strong statement because it conveys that women do not always have to become victims in disadvantageous situations.
The program Woman Stories closes with Bacha Posh (K.Scarton-Kim/ Switzerland/ 2018/ Fiction). Set in a refugee camp, this is the story of Nadim, who is forced by society to act as a boy. Otherwise she would not be able to support her family. The inflexibility of tradition becomes a tough burden for the young girl. Tradition and future, cultures, love and societal expectations clash on her shoulders. Within the realm of the family, the messiness is being resolved through the unconditional love of the parents for their daughter. However, what is possible inside is an impossible endeavor outside. The omnipresence of societal demands and pressure turns into a vicious circle. Nadim runs away, breaking out of all the pressures that violently crush on her body. The last shot of her looking towards the ocean into her future is an astoundingly strong image that will last and raise questions.
The ability to raise questions and open avenues for important discussions is what unites the films in this program. They invite us to experience a different kind of cinematic experience. Women’s Stories are approached from different angles and watching the films gives food for thought: What are societal expectations towards women in different countries? How do women deal with these pressures in different times and places? Why are we holding on to surface ideals when it makes relationships between human beings complicated, sometimes even violent?
Rosalia Namsai Engchuan is a PhD Candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany. Her project “The Stories before Film” looks at the vibrant production of short films in contemporary Indonesia. Rosalia’s earlier research focused on representations of femininity and teenage sexuality in Thai television.
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