AWARD WINNING FILMS SCREEN AT THE MARKAZ
By Kelsey Cherland
June 6-7, 2015
How can you distinguish a group of films that are already considered “distinguished”? Heidi, Molly, and I considered the qualities among the winning films from our second film festival, Women Bought & Sold: Voices United Against Violence. To experience the films at a deeper level, we organized our films thematically.
Heidi and Molly, co-editors of The WVoice, aptly identified 4 themes among our 15 winning films: “States of Violence,” “Conditions of Culture,” “Body Talk,” and “Women without Men.” We then organized the screening of the films accordingly.
WVN screened its award-winning films at The Markaz: Arts Center of the Greater Middle East, formerly known as the Levantine Cultural Center, in Los Angeles, California, with Q&A sessions moderated by Eszter Zimanyi (Film Committee Chair). On Saturday, June 6 we began our evening with a light Moroccan dinner of delicious hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and more. I promptly spilt hummus on my shirt because I’m a burgeoning professional.After watching the films from the first theme “States of Violence,” Nausheen Hafiz Sheikh (a graduate student at UCLA in the Asian American Studies Department) discussed the culture and politics behind the films. She mentioned that “mohtarama” means proper lady. In context, it is subversively used to describe the feminists interviewed in Mohtarama, a portrait of several individual strong women in Afghanistan. Final Moments, the other documentary under this theme, explored the tragic use of rape against women in Iranian prisons since 1979. According to Islam, a girl who is a virgin is considered innocent and, if executed, will go to paradise. Therefore, many women and girls were “married” to prison guards—that is, raped—prior to execution so that the gates of heaven would be closed to them. One family, already experiencing the grief of losing a daughter and sister, grieved her fate when a guard approached them and said they had been married. The family grappled with hurt, anger, and shame when they discovered what had happened.Zeen Aljawad (Youth Coordinator for the Arab Youth Collective) and Sabreen Shalabi (activist and NGO volunteer at the Turkish-Syrian border), after the screening of the films from the theme “Conditions of Culture,” explored the topics of sexual harassment, forced marriage, and the intersection of politics with the women’s rights movement. In the film Swap, for instance, one sister is married off so that the rest of the family can escape Afghanistan. However, the family she marries into is abusive, so she runs away. In order to pay the debt that the family owes, the father must marry off her sister to the same family. It is a dramatic and beautiful short-film that shows the pressures of life in Afghanistan. Breaking the Silence, a film that explores the issue of sexual harassment, motivates a deeper discussion about how to truly create change. The discussion group at The Markaz valued the “safe space” of other women and open-minded men that night, but felt moved to try and include more men in future discussions about sexual harassment.Saturday’s screenings helped me recognize that every kind of patriarchal abuse, from gender norms to rape, is employed to maintain a sense of socio-political order in society. This sense of order is at least partially dependent on the disrespect and abuse of women. Both men and women are informed, explicitly or implicitly, that their worth partially hinges on the subjugation of women through verbal and sometimes physical harm. In the societies portrayed through film on Saturday, people apply an impossible and insulting double-standard of purity and servitude. These films show how fear is used to create a hierarchy of power that negatively affects the well-being of women. I think many hearts were heavy that night, including my own.On Sunday, more people were present than the night before (hurray!) and enjoyed
On Sunday, more people were present than the night before (hurray!) and enjoyed even more Moroccan food. This time, I spilled nothing on myself. We began our evening with the theme “Body Talk.” Transgenderism, shame, menstruation, and men’s discussion of sex were just a few of the issues explored. Shadee Malaklou (a PhD candidate in the Culture and Theory Department at UC Irvine) guided discussions on metaphors, diaspora identity in the global feminist movement, and the gender binary. She explored the films in great detail and the audience was very receptive to exploring the metaphors with Malaklou.
The closing theme, “Women without Men,” included Behind the Wheel, a story about Nigora, a single Uzbek mother who works fixing tires. The film was a huge hit in part because of the complexity explored in Nigora’s life. She is stubborn and positive, but also vulnerable—her life has been difficult and she wants a better life for her children. Several members of our audience were either raised by a single mother or were a single mother. They expressed a very genuine sense of gratitude for the nuanced way in which the film portrayed Nigora. Umayyah Cable, a doctoral candidate at USC, explored the responsibility and power of the media and the uniqueness of the characters in the films. Cable and the audience had fun discussing the blurring of gender roles in the life of Nigora, a woman with impeccable eyebrows and greased hands from physical labor, a woman who was abandoned by her husband and became both provider and caregiver.Sunday was a positive end to a very rewarding and special weekend. The audience felt inspired and invigorated after Sunday night. That evening, I reflected on all the films, how we organized them, and how the audience reacted. I realized that each film was a necessary part of our event. The weekend would have been entirely different had one been removed. Screening the films together made them more powerful than showing the films separately at different locations. The films displayed incredible range, from proving the depressing reality of violence against women to exploring the gains in expanding gender roles and individual identity. A variety of perspectives are necessary in the pursuit of human truth. I also recognized the value of the audience both nights. Every single audience contribution, whether emotional or analytical, became a source
Sunday was a positive end to a very rewarding and special weekend. The audience felt inspired and invigorated after Sunday night. That evening, I reflected on all the films, how we organized them, and how the audience reacted. I realized that each film was a necessary part of our event. The weekend would have been entirely different had one been removed. Screening the films together made them more powerful than showing the films separately at different locations. The films displayed incredible range, from proving the depressing reality of violence against women to exploring the gains in expanding gender roles and individual identity. A variety of perspectives are necessary in the pursuit of human truth. I also recognized the value of the audience both nights. Every single audience contribution, whether emotional or analytical, became a source for insight.
Film screenings with discussion are a powerful format for exploring some of the most complex issues of our day. In a world that is focused on pushing a singular narrative about any given culture, but especially in the Muslim world, Women’s Voices Now remains a necessary endeavor in the push for a plurality of voices.