Women X is a film festival dedicated to showcasing the work of women and non-binary filmmakers from around the world. Operated and organised by Rianne Pictures – an independent film and media company dedicated to uplifting women in film, Women X returns for a second year. This time taking place organically and digitally (allowing access beyond the realms of its IRL location at the ARC in Stockton-on-Tees). The festival featured 77 short films encompassing a range of topics, all organised under different strands, titled as follows: Conversation Starters, Thicker Than Water, Working 9 to 5, Selfhood Stories, Love is a Losing Game, You and I, Desperate Measures, A Mother’s Love and Turn The Big Light On. The festival took place between the 2nd and 4th of September, featuring more than just short films, with writing workshops and director Q&As breaking up the strands throughout each day, ending with an awards ceremony on the final evening. Each strand showcased an array of talent stretching across all genres and mediums. With so much content to consume and cover during my time at Women X, it is sadly impossible to mention every film I loved (as there were so many!).
Here are the highlights and standout shorts featured over the festival:
Ordo X:I is entirely cut throat and dramatic in its statement. Directed and written by Cilla Lafayette, this short uses every moment to convey its message – let there be no divisions among men, will we ever escape the illusion of freedom and the plague of propaganda. Every aspect of this film is executed with such care and style it only furthers the words of each person featured. Certainly not a short easily forgotten.
Quick Fix, screened as part of the same strand, opts for a camp and cuter approach to its own commentary on the never ending hell-scape of capitalism. Written and directed by Annie Harmeston, this short is also available as an online interactive film in which we follow a user’s quest to self-optimisation via the swift click of a button – or rather, tap of a screen. A short slice of social commentary dipped in pink gloss and glitter, Quick Fix makes for an enjoyable dose of cinema.
Gay as in Happy: A Queer Anti-Tragedy is one of those short films that pack such a punch it stays with you. Featured as part of the ‘Selfhood Stories’ strand, Gay as in Happy is a gigantic ‘FUCK YOU’ to everyone and everything homophobic, anti-trans and anti-queer. Directed and written by Jordanna Valeria Allen-Shim, this short is a sweet and simple reminder from one queer to another that we should be unapologetically proud of who we are, whichever letter of our beloved acronym that maybe.
It is also absolutely impossible to mention the ‘Selfhood Stories’ strand without discussing Glutened. Directed and written by Hayley Repton, this is a short with rhythm and realness as it centres on a young woman dealing with her new found coeliac diagnosis. A strong tempo carries us through her daily life as we see her adjust to this new constant change.
THICKER THAN WATER
Screened as part of the ‘Thicker Than Water’ strand, Bambirak follows 8 year old Kati as she sneaks on board her father Faruk’s delivery van during his shift. Directed and written by Zamarin Wahdat, this short embodies something real and wholesome as Faruk goes about his day, delivering packages with his daughter. We witness displays of genuine father daughter connection, their position in the rest of the world and the difficulties of navigating it.
Featured in the same strand, observational documentary short One Piece of the Puzzle, directed by René Lorraine, follows 7 year old Malaika in his adorable and eye opening growth with autism. Not only does this documentary present an all-round perspective of Malaika, it observes his vulnerability and reality with uplifting execution.
A MOTHERS LOVE
‘A Mothers Love’ was a strand that tugged on all the heart strings, with films such as Scrum and Let’s Talk About Joe stealing the show. Directed and written by Kate Graham, Scrum follows a single (northern) mam and her struggles coming to terms with her daughters love for the rough game of rugby. Exploring a topic so close to home, this short had me weeping long after it finished.
Directed by Guy Hassell and Dorothy Krakowska, Let’s Talk About Joe is a documentary short exploring the loss of a first born child and the repercussions of grief on a family over two decades later. This film is beyond personal and intimate, as Guy confronts their family on their shared trauma and history.
Arguably the funniest entry in the whole festival, The Gospel According to Gail was screened as part of the ‘Desperate Measures’ strand. Directed by Florence Winter Hill and written by Celia Legard and Amaya Owen Rowlands, this short follows 17 year old Mia on her driving lesson with the almighty, all-knowing Gail. The adventures of Gail and Mia are nothing short of hilarious as instructor Gail educates her student on far more than just driving.
Screened as part of the same strand, Mothboy is a coming of age animation about a sweet little moth and his uncontrollable urges. Directed by Lyanne Rodriguez, Mothboy is a perfect and hilarious presentation of the absurdness of puberty.
TURN THE BIG LIGHT ON
The horror strand, also known as ‘Turn The Big Light On’ featured various great films, with I Should Have Run and Yellow Bird doing the absolute most in terms of atmosphere, spooks and tension.
Directed and written by Gabriela Staniszewska, I Should Have Run is devoid of colour, as this black and white horrific short follows a young woman on her walk home. An all too familiar scenario, the woman spots something lurking in the shadows under a bridge in front of her. Rather than trust her gut and run past, the woman decides to go and look. What unfolds from there is a classic style of scare, as she’s dragged kicking and screaming into the unknown.
Winning multiple awards from the festival, Yellowbird presents itself as one of the strongest horror shorts in a long time. Directed, written and staring Lucy Chappell, this psychological short follows Daisy and her father as they attempt to upkeep their remote and desolate sheep farm. All is not as it seems as Daisy is forced to harbour more than just a dark secret. The tension, aesthetic and writing blend together in marvellous, horrific fashion as this short reaches its gritty ambiguous climax.
Overall, as an event Women X is about far more than simply watching films; it’s about creating and nurturing a community of people in a safe and comfortable space. I cannot recommend the overall festival enough as it was everything you hope a feminist film festival to be.
by Kelsie Dickinson