Filmmakers, scholars focus on women's view

Members of the filmmaking community and academics from 15 countries met at UBC recently to view films made by women and look at issues facing women filmmakers and critics at a conference called Women Filmmakers: Refocusing.

Co-sponsored with Simon Fraser University's School for the Contemporary Arts and Women's Studies Dept., the conference attracted more than 300 attendees.

"This was a unique event," says Valerie Raoul, director of UBC's Centre for Research in Women's Studies and Gender Relations, co-organizers of the event. "It brought together filmmakers and academics for the first time in a combined conference and film festival and proved to be a successful collaboration between the two universities and the community."

Academics from universities in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America presented papers on topics such as representations of femininity, gender and race and multicultural issues.

The conference took place over two weekends. The first weekend looked at Europe and the history of filmmaking. The second focused on post-colonial contexts and documentary filmmaking.

A theme running throughout the conference was the difficulty women filmmakers face in getting their work distributed to a wide audience, says Raoul.

Funding is hard to get and distribution through movie theatres is costly, she says. Many women abandon feature projects or documentary films of their choice to produce films for television.

Many films discussed at the conference portray issues facing individuals who come from two cultures.

Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta gave a master class for film students and local filmmakers.

Mehta's recent film, "Fire," met with riots when screened in India. It deals with a lesbian relationship between two Indian women and their struggle with oppressive social values.

"It was exciting to view acclaimed and provocative work -- some of which was not previously available here," says Asst. Prof. Sharon McGowan of the Theatre, Film and Creative Writing Dept., who moderated the class.

"Pursuing an artistic vision in the extremely harsh and competitive realm of filmmaking can be discouraging," says McGowan, who is a filmmaker herself. "It was inspiring for our students to hear and see the success of these filmmakers."

Although financial and political challenges make it difficult for young filmmakers to distinguish themselves, Canadian films are respected everywhere, she adds.

Thirty undergraduates and nine graduate students are enrolled in the film program at UBC.

Women in Film and Video (Vancouver), Alliance Francaise Vancouver and the Goethe Institut Vancouver helped to support the event. UBC's Continuing Studies, English Dept. and Women's Studies Programme were also involved in organizing the conference.