WOMEN X ’20: Saturday Round-up

A still from short film 'Love Spell'. Two girls are shown centre frame, head to their knees. They are in school uniforms with messy ties and untucked shirts, their hair, makeup and bags show the film is set in the 90s: srucnhies, butterfly clips, bamboo hoops, excessive eyeshadow and tattoo chokers. The girls are eating fish and chips, standing against a wall and a small tree, staring directly at the camera.
Love Spell

Note from the Editor: Women X is an independent short film festival created by Rianne Pictures that aims to highlight the work of women and non-binary filmmakers. This was its first ever year and was created on a low budget and run by volunteers to bring the festival to life. The two-day event was scheduled to take place at both a physical venue in the North East of England and digitally, but unfortunately last minute changes meant that the physical venue could not go ahead, meaning the team had to adapt to the confines of a fully digital festival. For more information about the work of Rianne Pictures and Women X, you can visit their website here.

Disclaimer from the writer: I have known the festival director of Women X, Caris Rianne, for about five or six years now. We bonded over our love of film and even collaborated together on her short film Foxhole (2018), for which I was the DoP. I mention our friendship because it is important to have full transparency when reviewing the work of someone you know. However, I have approached this festival with as much objectivity as possible: I will always be honest in my reviews, even if it may be awkward or inconvenient on a personal level.

With the recent disaster of the BFI’s digital London Film Festival in mind, a virtual festival now seems like a risky option for festival directors. Thankfully, the independent production company Rianne Pictures have been successful in bringing their first ever short film festival to life.

Women X was born out of the desire to celebrate female and non-binary filmmakers, and to inspire the next generation of them. With the most expensive ticket being only £8, Rianne Pictures and partners have created an exciting and accessible new festival with a strong sense of community behind it.

As an entirely digital festival, Women X was incredibly well equipped: the user interface was easy to navigate and there were no technical issues throughout the weekend. Breaks were not an issue as all the shorts were already uploaded to the Women X site, ensuring that attendees never missed a screening. Any films that were locked helpfully had their passwords provided beneath the embedded video. With all the films available at once, attendees were given the option to follow the festival schedule, or go at their own pace. Having this option to “self-pace” created a relaxed atmosphere and made it easier for the audience to enjoy the events of the day.

Each group of films were curated together by a theme rather than genre and Saturday’s schedule included the following:

Redefining Belonging

A still from short film 'Dispel'. A Black woman in her 40s stands in close-up, centre frame. She is standing in a park or forest setting. She is wearing a blue blazer with puffed sleeves and a standing collar, her whole look is futuristic with a huge silver necklace with glittering blue stone around her neck and silver metal attachment stuck on the side of her face framing her eyes.

This selection of films explored the different ways in which we find and form kinships.

Dispel was the stand-out film from this category, a touching tale that uses magical realism to address a difficult subject. Lizzie (Eris Baker) takes lessons from her favourite TV show Celeste Skygoode in order to transform her possessed mother back to the loving parent she once knew. Director Kylie Eaton shows the power of the fantasy genre here, illustrating its ability to empower young girls into facing their demons.

Malinchista is a beautifully animated short that reclaims a Mexican slur while A Midwife’s Oath is a touching documentary that sees three women united over a birth in a Syrian refugee camp.

The quiet and intimate Ilana Dances follows a single mother of three who keeps her passion for pole dancing alive by normalising it within her family life. The weakest entry in this section was Turkish short Ukde, in which a dressmaker takes in an orphan girl — it’s an interesting concept which never feels executed as well as it could be.

Unconventional Connections

A still from short film 'Antonio'. A young boy is shot through a doorway into a living room, he is sat on a sofa tying his shoelaces, looking vacantly across the room. The film is 1970s set and in Scotland, the decor absolutely reflects an outdated and grim way of living. Antonio himself wears brown corduroy trousers and a red jumper with polo neck jumper underneath. His Adidas trainers are brand new, and this newness is in direct contrast with the peeling wallpaper in his home.

In the second screening of the day, this category illustrated the extraordinary ways we create connections.

Kicking off this selection was 50 Shades, a very brief and bizarre depiction of the way hairdressers can force us into drastic hairstyles. The short would have benefitted from being a little longer and toning down the aggressive colour grading, but it still entertained in its two minute runtime. Next was Antonio, a wonderful story about how a young Italian boy uses the beautiful game to befriend the local Scottish kids in his new neighbourhood. Director Alison Still emulates the humanist approach of filmmakers like Ken Loach and is complimented by Conor McMahon’s lovely, 1970s inspired cinematography.

Tragicomedy Fred Forever balances its genres well and has a particularly funny ending. Love Spell promises a lot with its sweet and 90s nostalgic premise of a Geordie teenager in love with her best friend but it sadly never reaches its full potential. Roundheads and Cavaliers is a geeky and likeable portrayal of historical re-enactors, followed by the nice but ultimately forgettable comedy romance The Turtles.

Striking Perspectives

A still from short film 'Full English'. A women in her late 50s is shown in close-up, just off centre. She is a well dressed lady with curled and styled blonde hair, heavy makeup and a smart red dress that matches her lipstick. She is grimacing and looking down almost towards the floor.
Full English

These short films were all about seeing the world through new, personal perspectives.

Based on lyrics by Noël Coward, the poetic short Alice features a magnetic Sarah Snook in the titular role. Falafel Sundays follows, featuring overly bleak animation for a story about food rituals.

The best film in Striking Perspectives, Full English, is a damning monologue about English identity that invokes both Bennett and Beckett, delivered with venom by the excellent Caroline Wildi. Not for Money, Not for love, Not for nothing gives an honest, first-hand account of sex work in Britain as told through affecting animation.

In a change of pace, the delightfully bonkers The Plant Collector follows an eccentric woman who collects plants formerly owned by serial killers (no, really). The Story of All of Us Women is a sobering look at how three Salvadorian women were punished for having miscarriages and stillbirths. The category ends on a simple but sweet note with the adventurous animation The Train to Qinling, which could easily be a Pixar short.

Selfhood Stories

A still from short film 'Asphyxiate'. The image is doused in black and a woman is shown centre frame, horizontally, it is as if she is floating in a sea of black. The woman is young white and very pale, wearing a black nightdress, her eyes are closed.

In this category, the films explore the resilience of individuals when faced with hardships.

Asphyxiate, a depiction of an abusive relationship, was a hard-hitting start to this screening. The strong performances and editing elegantly craft a heartbreaking story of trauma as the main character Katie (Michaela Longden) looks back on her past.

Coming Out for Christmas alleviates the mood with its relatable and whimsical story of Charlotte (Madeleine Webb) planning to come out to her family during the holidays. The dialogue-free For the Woman on the Floor employs impressive sound design and animation to convey the effects of PTSD. Zoë Hunter Gordon explores ableism effectively with ill, actually, her enlightening documentary on internet personalities with chronic illness.

Gorgeous cinematography and production design are the best assets of the peculiar obscure origins and Pink and Blue unfortunately fails to evoke much emotion with its exploration of a trans man’s journey. Improvements come in the form of Scare and Stitch (2018), the former being the best comedy of the festival and the latter proving to be the best animated short. Stitch (2020) ends the category on a duller note, feeling more like an Instagram video than an actual short.

Panels and Workshops

Festival Success Strategies was the first workshop of the weekend, presented by the festival director and founder of Rianne Pictures, Caris Rianne. This was best suited to those looking to break into the industry, offering practical and clear advice on the festival submission process.

Work Well, Feel Well was a particularly great panel that demystified the topic of mental health for those in creative industries. Wellbeing is rarely prioritised in film and television and it was refreshing to see industry professionals discuss this often stigmatised subject so openly. Panelists Rianna Walcott and Jess Daley were especially articulate about the much-needed acknowledgment of intersectionality in therapy, often ignored by mental health professionals.

Overall, Women X made a strong first impression with its diverse curation of shorts and supportive atmosphere. Saturday managed to pack a great deal in without being overwhelming, and the selection of films were insightful and impressive. This all bodes well for the future of this empowering festival. If you are interested in my ranking of the weekend’s films you can find them on my letterboxd here.

Women X Festival took place virtually on the 24th and 25th of October

by Eleanor Ring

Eleanor Ring (they/them) is a freelance film and culture writer whose work has been featured in Little White Lies and Frame Rated. Born and bred in London, they love dissecting films through a queer and feminist lens.  When in doubt, they ask them self “what would Agent Cooper do?” — which usually leads to lots of pie and coffee. Twitter: @eleanoraring Medium: https://medium.com/@eleanoralicering 

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