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International Women’s Day at Tyneside Cinema

Posted in Events, Cinema News, Film on Feb 20, 2019

The representation of women in film, particularly women working behind the camera, has long been a hot topic. While there has been a gradual swell in recent years in the number of female-directed films making it to our screens, progress has been far from steady. This year we’re looking, once again, at a Best Director and a Best Picture race empty of female directors, and only one woman (Nadine Labaki for Capernaum) has managed to make it the Best Foreign Language Film race. Yes, that means no room for Lynne Ramsay, Debra Granik, Marielle Heller, Chloe Zhao or any of the other brilliant, bold women that have fought to get their projects made in the still overwhelmingly white, male industry.

While at Tyneside, like all cinemas, our programme is inevitably shaped by the films that are released, we try as much as we can to give a platform to female-led work wherever we can. In that spirit, we’re marking International Woman’s Day 2019 with a slew of fantastic one-off screenings of work by female filmmakers. Between February and March, there are lots of opportunities to catch unusual retrospective work on the big screen, as well as brilliant new releases, introductions and Q&As.

In the era of Ava DuVernay and Dee Rees, it’s both exciting and humbling to look back to the roots of this current wave of black female filmmakers. Over the next few weeks, we are presenting screenings of two remarkable features which have the joint of the accolade of being the first feature-length films directed by African American women to be released theatrically in the US. Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (21 February), which celebrated its 25th-anniversary last year, is a dreamlike portrait of a family of women descended from slaves in turn of the century South Carolina. Aside from its unusual subject matter and focus, Dash’s pioneering of a distinctly black feminine cinematic aesthetic has been highly influential (it’s referenced perhaps most famously in Beyoncé’s Lemonade). 

Less well known, but just as fascinating is Losing Ground (1982), a real lost gem from writer, activist and academic Kathleen Collins. This sensuous and smart relationship drama focuses on the awakening of a philosophy professor Sara (played wonderfully by Seret Scott) whose marriage to an impulsive painter begins to unravel over the course of a long hot summer. Sexy and cerebral, the film’s unapologetic focus on the desires and thoughts of a black middle-class woman and setting amongst the African American intelligentsia of the 1980s still feel refreshing today. Largely ignored on its initial festival release, Losing Ground slipped into obscurity after Kathleen Collins’ tragically premature death, but was thankfully rediscovered a few years ago and has since been commended as pivotal to both the black and feminist cinematic canon. I’m very much looking forward to introducing our screening on 13 March, in what we hope will be the first in a new monthly Feminist Film Club– keep your eye on our social media for further announcements soon.

On International Women’s Day itself (8 March) we’re screening another important landmark film. Waru is a powerful anthology from New Zealand, which pieces together the story of the impact of a young boy’s death on a community through the prism of eight shorts, directed exclusively by Maori women. Given how few indigenous directors there are leading projects in the film industry at all (and vanishingly few women), to see eight Maori women assembled at the helm of a feature in this way is a dazzling statement of intent. Waru covers a span of issues facing women and girls while touching upon the unique cultural and spiritual weight of a Maori heritage in contemporary New Zealand. The result is a beguiling and powerful jigsaw which tugs unapologetically on the heart and the soul.

That same weekend we’ll be welcoming back our friends at Birds Eye View for a Reclaim the Frame screening of The Kindergarten Teacher followed by a panel discussion and poetry workshop, on Sunday 10 March. This unsettling psychological drama is directed by Sara Colangelo and stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a frustrated teacher who becomes unhealthily fixated on one of her pupils when she discovers he is a poetry prodigy. Darkly funny, with a compelling, complex female lead, this is an unusual take on obsession and thwarted creativity that is sure to divide audiences and fuel a lot of post-screening chat, so be sure to come along and join the conversation.

Finally, if genre is more your cup of slime, we’re very excited to present We Are the Weirdos II, the second programme of female-authored horror shorts from fantastic feminist curators the Final Girls, which screens here on 27 February. 

So, while men might still dominate most directors’ chairs, we hope that this selection of exciting one-offs, alongside a slew of female-helmed features coming up in our regular first-run season, gives you some hope for the future. The best way to show your support for under-represented voices is to take your seat at the cinema and soak in some brilliant films. We look forward to seeing you there!

- By Rachel Pronger, Programmer at Tyneside Cinema