Why Is the Feminist Film Festival in Stockholm Such a Big Deal?
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival on behalf of The Opal Club and must say that the experience was beyond my expectations. The opening of the festival took place in the beautiful spaces of Skandia cinema in central Stockholm. Even though this festival is the biggest one of its kind in Scandinavia, I didn’t expect to see so many people on a cold Thursday night queuing outside the cinema. Everyone seemed excited about the festival, having high expectations and hopes on the selected movies, some of them having their premiere in the Nordics. At that point, I realized what a big deal this whole festival was, not only for women, but for the whole society.
The festival started with a speech from the director Stephanie Thögersen, who stressed the importance of festivals like this, making it clear how women are represented in the film industry. Even though, I knew about the gender inequality in the culture industry, I was still shocked to hear that number out loud – about 80% of the movies screened last year in the cinemas in Sweden were directed by men! This doesn’t indicate how good men are at doing their job. It only points out the still existing inequality between men and women in the professional life. In order to increase the gender equality in cinema, this festival aims to present movies directed by women and let them tell stories from their perspective. As the Swedish Minister for Culture continued: the time is up for this kind of limited representation. After the speeches, you could feel the good vibes in the air. Most importantly, you suddenly felt like anything is possible and that you as a woman have the same value and importance as a man does! Simply a strong opening with a dose of empowerment. Something that is needed every now and then.
The opening movie Capernaum was better than I expected. It is is a 2018 Lebanese drama film written and directed by Nadine Labaki. The film stars Zain Al Rafeea as Zain El Hajj, a 12-year-old boy living in the slums of Beirut, struggling to get through his days. The film is told in flashback format and focuses on Zain's life leading to his attempt to sue his parents for child neglect. The story about a 12-year-old boy living in Beirut, struggling to get through his days. The emotion present in the narration of the film overwhelmed the audience. The movie was very poignant and made me think about a lot of things: the people in my life, the people whose stories are hidden from our media’s narrative, the privileges we have in our societies that we take for granted, but others strive their whole lives to enjoy. It also made me reflect on the structure of film creation in general; to have a strong script is one thing, but to direct a whole movie is another. And to create a move filled with a tsunami of gut-wrenching emotion that left the audience blubbering? That’s a whole feat of its own. Nadine Labaki, the director of this movie, is such a superstar for making this powerful piece! No wonder that Capernaum was nominated for more than 30 awards, among others for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. Not to mention the fact that the actors haven’t been professionally trained, but did a ridiculously incredible job! Labaki described the conception of the film:
At the end of the day, those children are really paying a very high price for our conflicts, and our wars, and our systems, and our stupid decisions, and governments. I felt the need to talk about the problem, and I was thinking, if those children could talk, or could express themselves, what would they say? What would they tell us, this society that ignores them?
When I learned that the producer Khaled Mouzanar took out a mortgage on his house to raise a budget, I understood his reasoning: the value of the movie was so important, it absolutely had to get made. In addition to that, the lead actor Zain Al Rafeea is a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon for eight years and he was 12 during production. No wonder his performance was is strong as it was…he truly felt all that pain.
The next day, I watched a movie called The Little Woods directed by Nia DaCosta that had its premiere in the Nordics. The story of two sisters in North Dakota, who are struggling economically to provide for themselves their families. It teaches the audience about the socio-economic difficulties they are facing including the illegal path that they choose in order to survive and the repercussions that come with those choices. A story worth sharing and a movie worth watching. It’s a tender, traumatic film and the performances Tessa Thompson and Lily James are glowing, strong, and raw. They are not stereotypes, they are not neatly-wrapped, easily digestible characters. They’re real, messy, fucked-up. That is what drives this beautiful film forward.
On Saturday, it was time for movie number three! I couldn’t think of a better way to start my day than at a cinema. When I arrived, it was already packed with people excited to watch Notorious RBG, a movie directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen. To quote Gloria Steinem (and to summarize the film):
“[Ruth Bader Ginsburg] is the closest thing to a superhero I know.”
This documentary aims to tell more about the life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is a true icon and one of the strongest, most badass women in a leadership position throughout the globe. The audience has the unique possibility to follow Ruth’s life journey and see the path she had to take in order to succeed in her personal and professional life at the same time. Hearing about the story of a woman who became the second female Supreme Court justice was engulfed me in a torrent of indescribable, strong emotions. I think that even in this day and age us girls can connect to not being taken seriously because of our gender. We still have to prove something, we have to be better and better just to be seen on a somewhat equal playing field as men who don’t even have a quarter of our abilities and knowledge. RBG was one of the few girls studying law at Harvard, which was hard by itself, and after that, she had difficulties finding a job after the studies (not because she was unqualified but simply because of the fact that she was a woman). And that is just a tiny fraction of what she had to face on her path to being such a powerful woman. By being disciplined, hardworking and kind, she was able to overcome and learn from those difficult situations and reach her dreams, ending up doing what she does best – shaping society through fighting for equality.
The experience of the Stockholm Film Festival was beautiful. It added a lot to my perception of film, women artists, and the importance of giving women the power to create films and deliver important narratives. Having the possibility to watch so many good films directed by talented women in a room filled with love was a feeling I want to experience everyday! It’s amazing to let the world know about all the hardworking women whose work is underestimated and not appreciated only because of the fact that they are female. Let’s talk about all those women who have stories to tell and ideas to share. Let them speak and listen! Thank you again, Stockholm Feminist Film Festival, for opening my eyes and giving me the motivation and power to continue reaching my dreams.
By: Sonja Condé