The “Créteil Films de Femmes” International Women’s Film Festival is an ongoing showcase of films made by women since 1978. This year the 40th anniversary event was held from March 9-18. Through the years guests such as Agnès Varda, Delphine Seyrig, Maria Schneider, Rachel Perkins, Bernadette LaFont, Chantal Akerman, Irene Papas, and Jeanne Moreau have met the public, showed their films and discussed their work. Although attendance has shrunk considerably since its inception, it is an important cultural event sponsored by the French government and municipality of Créteil. There is no struggle for inclusion as in Cannes: women’s films are selected to be honored 100%. Credit is due to Jackie Buet and her “equipe” (team), a phenomenal artistic director whose dynamic testimony is read up on opening night and summarized at the closure of the festival. Buet is an astute cultural critic and outstanding feminist whose work through 40 years of festivals is exceptional. The Créteil Festival celebrates inclusion whereas Cannes Film Festival is known for institutional exclusion. Continue reading…
German director Margarethe von Trotta was “Guest of Honor whose work has spanned most of the time of the festival. Von Trotta’s films have strong female characters and provocative political content set in postwar Germany such as The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) with co-director Volker Schlöndorff, The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1978), Marianne & Juliane (1981), Rosa Luxemburg (1986) nominated for a Palme d’Or and winner of the Best actress award that year for Barbara Sukowa and Trois soeurs (1988), also nominated for the Palme d’Or. More recent films include Rosenstrasse (2003) and Vision on the German nun Hildegard von Bingen (2009) and Hannah Arendt (2012). Both von Bingen and Hanna Arendt were played by Barbara Sukowa. Von Trotta is an example of a filmmaker that has won at Cannes and is dedicated to Créteil – we need more directors like her. In the Cannes Classics section, she presented Searching for Ingmar Bergman, a documentary on the Swedish director who she met in 1977 in Germany when he was in exile and who admired her film Marianne & Juliane – one of his top 10.
Another major highlight of the festival was an homage to the late Lebanese-French actress Delphine Seyrig. Together with Swiss filmmaker Carole Roussopoulos she made Sois belle et tais-toi (Be Pretty and Shut Up, 1976) that was screened in a gala event. Seyrig interviewed 26 actresses working in film including Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Maria Schneider and Andy Warhol actress Viva. Maria Schneider spoke about how when making Last Tango in Paris Bernardo Bertolucci was not interested in her other than her physical attire and planned her scenes in the film with Marlon Brando. The recent media frenzy last year about Bertolucci’s admission of sexual harassment of Schneider is his story after her death. Maria told her story all along and was misrepresented in the media who would prefer she be the caricature that Bertolucci created. Créteil always supported Maria who served on the official jury at a couple of festivals and was the guest of honor in 2001.
Roussopoulus and Seyrig also worked on the French version of the “SCUM Manifesto” by Valerie Solanas. Seyrig has been featured in many important art house films such as the famous Jeanne Dielman (1975) by the late Chantal Akerman, India Song by Marguerite Duras (1977), and Freak Orlando (1981) and Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia (1988) by Ulrike Ottinger, another superheroine of Créteil.
Forty films were screened at this quadragenerian festival. The opening night film was Marlina: the Murderer in Four Acts, directed by Mouly Surya (Indonesia) about a young woman (Marsha Timothy) who lives on an Indonesian island and raises cattle. One day she is visited by bandits who assault her, but she plans a brutal revenge. Also, of interest was the Polish film Birds Are Singing in KigalI by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze (2017). Krzysztof Krauze died in 2014 and Joanna finished this amazing film built around the Rwanda genocide of 1994. The Polish ornithologist Ann Keller (Jowita Budnik) who is in the country at the time rescues the Rwandan woman Claudine Mugambira (Elaine Umuhire) whose family has been massacred. Their reentry in Poland is wrought with turmoil and painful memories. The film received special mention from the Jury. Another film of special mention is the documentary Orione (Argentina) by Toia Bonino. This is a fragmented document about Alejandro “Ale” Robles. a young gang member shot to death by the police, whose life is retold in a mosaic of images.
The Public Prize went to Pin Cushion (UK) by Deborah Haywood, a story about a teenage girl and her mother Lyn. They both move to a new town for a fresh start, but Iona falls in with the wrong crowd, a group of snobbish teens that are cruel to her behind her back. Lyn is called the town freak because of her eccentric homespun clothing and pop-culture artifacts and is desperate to make new friends. The art direction of the film is brilliant, and the story is one that is endearing and tragic, based in part on the life experiences of the filmmaker.
The Jury Prize was awarded to Medea by Alexandra Latishev Salazar (Costa Rica) about 25-year Maria Josée who grows up with parents who don’t care about her. She takes a special interest in a young boy. And unbeknownst to all she is pregnant. Invoking the mythological character of Medea, she has a special relation to her unborn child.
French filmmakers Chris Lagg and Sophie Nogier debuted their two-part documentary that chronicles the history of the Créteil festival with interviews with director Jackie Buet and former co-director Elizabeth Trehard. The film shows that the festival originated in the Parisian suburb of Sceaux in 1978 and later moved to Créteil where the prefecture government took interest in the event and helped sponsor it. Excerpts from interviews with filmmakers and actresses who have guested the festival through the years are shown such as Mira Nair, Anna Karina, Catherine Deneuve, Julie Dash, and Kimberly Peirce. The film is a perfect testimony to this retrospective of 40 years of women behind the camera and on screen.