Créteil Celebrates 20 Years

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Every year in the beginning of spring the International Womens Film, Films de Femmes is held in a suburb of Paris. For seven years it was held in Sceaux and in later years at Creteil. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the pageant held at The House of Art where festival attendance has grown by thirty procent. This charming and innovative festival is a fantastic arena of women’s cinema with several exciting venues, hosted by a remarkable organizer and lady of ceremonies, Jackie Buet . To help commemorate this special birthday were the appearances of previous winners of the coveted public prize who were esteemed by the festival audience and awarded a prize of $5.000 dollars.

Lizzie Borden of the USA was one such winner in 1983 and director of Born in Flames --a futuristic fantasy 10 years after the establishment of the socialist party in the USA where a women’s army steps in to take over the media. Clashes between the women’s movement and the political left of the 1980’s were brilliantly crystallized in this film which has become a cult classic and is currently available in video outlets.

Margarethe von Trotta of Germany has made several coveted films during the last twenty years such as Marianne and Julie based on the true story of the Ensllin sisters. Gudrun who was arrested for terrorism supposedly hung herself in her prizon cell in 1977 and Christina a journalist investigated the circumstances to prove her sister’s death was political, the subject of von Trotta’s powerful award winning film in 1982.

In a 1982 hommage to the French filmmaker Agnes Varda a unique film was among her repertoire and was shown again this year. Lion’s Love was made in America in 1969 and featured Jim Rado, Jerry Ragni , filmmaker Shirley Clarke and Andy Warhol’s star and super model Viva. The fun loving inspirational script was made during the time of the assasinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and is among many things a nostalgic look at the 1960’s and a subtle critique of the televized violence characteristic of the time.

Several other classics were powerful testimonies to the genre of filmmaking called women’s cinema. While exact definitions of what constitutes a womans film are difficult to make what is clear in this body of work are films in which female protagonists are depicted usually with some either overt of covert reflection on the social and political conditions of women . Moreover there are new forms to experience such as styles of narratives, perhaps a special attention of the camera to detail for a particular emphasis not common to commercial film genres, the use of sound , touch , costume and makeup, or the use of editing . All of these elements may or not be present but what is common about the films chosen every year is whether strong or subtle they are imaginative and inspirational films made by women.

It was possible to have film lessons from the directors this year as well as debate the contents of the films , the terms of production the method of distribution the type of film education and the condtions of women working in film.

Another equally strong aspect of this years’s festival was a special hommage to the images of African women directors including a screening of Safi Faye’s of Senegal who debuted as an actress in the films of ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch . Her recently released film Mozanne made in 1996 about a young girl breaking through African traditions was also shown in Paris cinemas during the festival week. Feature film production in Africa is relatively low where it is said that it takes seven years to make a feature film. Some of these women acknowledged their countries’ support for their trip to the festival. The countries featured this year were Angola Benin, Burkino Faso, The Ivory Coast, Cameroun, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Tchad,the Republic of Central Africa, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Each year an important actress with an extraordinarily gifted body of work is honored at Film du Femmes and this year it was Hanna Schygulla who has been the star of six Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film and who has worked with diverse and notable directors such as Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff of Germany , Ettore Scola and Marco Ferreri of Italy, Carlos Saura of Spain and Andrzej Wajda of Poland. In a unique monologue Schygulla recreated the work of several of her favorite poets through song and interpretation accompanied by a pianist.

Winners of this years public prize and the film jury was In the Country a film by Lidia Bobrova , educated athe University of Leningrad in the 1970’s and produced by the Russian Studio of experimental film. Often humorous,the ironical changes in the life of a village of the new Russia are shown exposing contemporary problems with poignant compassion. Incidently the only other director to receive both the public and jury prize was Suzanne Osten from Sweden who won for Speak Up Its Dark a film about a meeting between a neo Nazi and a therapist made in the 1980’s.

Best Documentary chosen by the public went to the UK and Andrea Weiss for A Bit of Scarlet , a colorful presentation of lesbian and gay stereotypes in Great Britain and the subtleties of queer British cinema

The French Female Journalist Association awarded best documentary to Australia’s Anna Broinowski Sexing the Label, a provocative piece on new conceptions of queer culture , feminism and sexuality --with the backdrop of Syndey’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and guided by Quentin Crisp. Second prize went to The Second Man, a documentary on women famers in Bretagne by Annete Dutertre

The Rembrandt public heart award went to former Bay Area resident and avant garde filmmaker Barbara Hammer for her documentary The Female Closet on three women artists spanning one hundred years some of whose lives were closeted and best kept secrets in the dubious interest of historical preservation.

A jury of teenagers awarded best fiction film to Comedia Infantil (The Infantile Comedy ) by Solveig Nordlund of Sweden for her film of a young boy who loses his family in Mozambique. The jury was happy that the story took place in Africa in the year when women directors were honored at Creteil.

An interesting entry list from the United States was Hillary Brougher’s The Sticky Fingers of Time , a detective film set in both modern time and in the year of the first atomic test in Nevada. The film forces the viewer to think about the disordered presentation of time. An hommage to science fiction and magic realism, the director was inspired by classics such as the Twilight Zone.

It is not only the special array of awards at Creteil that makes it unlike other festivals but the accessibility of the pageant to the public. There is an atmosphere of interest and congeniality which makes the films and their makers visible to the spectator body who has room to discuss and question the subjects and forms of the images.
All of the films present strong portraits of women indicative of the changing times , affections and spirits of the years. All convey a feeling of pride and tribute to creative women, innovative directors, remarkable images and intricate stories. This is a week of enchantment which is notably different from the award shows in Hollywood or on television, and the concentration of conglomerates of the media empire which in their monopolies threaten to limit the living diversity of imagery.

This festival proves there are more ways to make images than through the image business and invites intropection and self reflection. All these films found funding for distribution and exhibition and are new releases. They receive an early vital response from an audience in Paris who welcomes their journey into the world they will soon visit through television, theatres and other screening forums around the world.

Next year from March 12 - 23 of 1999 the festival will be launched again with the renewed support of the city of Creteil and a festival audience which is growing significantly each year. The festival language is French and all public speeches are translated in English but it is not difficult to understand the universal language of women and film. International filmmaking is not only the meager entry of five films as Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. -the festival at Creteil shows the amazing achievements of women all over the world who are working with stories and images.