The 29th Créteil Films de Femmes, International Women's Film Festival (March 23 through April 1), threw its spotlight on films directed by women from Great Britain, featuring, for example, a retrospective of the work of Sally Potter. Among the highlights were Yes, with Joan Allen and Sam Neill, and the brilliant and luscious Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton based on the novel by Virginia Woolf.
The charismatic Scottish filmmaker's Mary Miles Thomas's One Life Stand, a remake of Pasolini's Mama Roma, tells the story of a single mother who works as a tarot card reader over the telephone and struggles to raise her 18-year-old son, John Paul, who is employed by an escort service for women. The outstanding digital feature has already won several awards at various festivals.
The first feature from festival veteran Pratibha Parmar, Nina's Heavenly Delights, was seven years in making and centers on an Indo-Scottish lesbian who returns to take up her father's restaurant business following his death - she falls for a woman who owns half of the establishment.
This year's guest of honor was Charlotte Rampling, who selected François Ozon's Under the Sand from her repertoire for screening. Rampling plays Marie, a university professor at the Sorbonne in Paris whose husband Jean suddenly disappears during their beach vacation. Marie refuses to accept that Jean is dead even when the coroner produces his body.
Xiaolu Guo from Beijing, now based in Great Britain, took home the jury prize for best feature film. In How Is Your Fish Today?, the interplay of voiceover with a rich tableau of iconographic documents creates a rich tapestry of investigation, making Guo one of the most exciting Chinese directors of today. Guo, who also produced the film, received partial funding from Channel Four in Great Britain. She says her work is representative of a new generation of Chinese filmmakers who are finding new ways to make films and steering clear of an industry stuck on recycling martial arts formulas.
The runner up chosen by the 29th Créteil jury was Shoot the Messenger by Ngozi Onwurah from Great Britain, also voted the best film by the public and the Créteil youth jury. The film is about a black teacher, Joe Pascale (David Oyelowo), who works in an urban school composed of predominantly black students and white teachers. He's hired to inspire black youth, according to the school administration, but is instead soon unfairly accused of assaulting a student and his entire world collapses. Joe is driven to insanity, incarcerated and later winds up homeless but is soon rescued by evangelicals and a job recruitment firm. The film is refreshingly told from Joe's, with strategic close-ups of him commenting directly into the camera about the story unfolding.
The audience runner-up was Finn's Girl, the story of a woman whose partner dies and who decides to raise her daughter and carry on her work at an abortion clinic which has been receiving death threats. The film was made by the Canadian couple Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert.
The documentaries at Créteil this year, many of them overtly political, addressed a wide array of topics. Receiving an honorable mention from the Créteil gymnasium jury was Melek Ulagay Taylan's Dialogues in the Dark from Turkey, a film which deals with legislation aimed at "honor killings" of Muslim women by male relatives. The filmmaker also touches on the Turkish diaspora by bringing in the infamous case of 26-year-old Fadime Sahindal, who was murdered by her brother and father because she had a Swedish boyfriend. Sahindal immigrated to Sweden from Kurdistan as a little girl.
Several new French documentaries were screened at the festival. Judith Butler, philosophe en tout genre by Paule Zajdermann explores a visit by the UC Berkeley gender studies professor Judith Butler to France in 2005. Les Tomates Voient Rouge, by Andréa Bergala, takes up the globalization of alimentation, noting, for example, that there are only seven varieties of tomatoes that remain in France today. Love and Words are Politics, by Sylvie Ballyot, is a poetic film essay in which a woman searches for her space in Yemen.
The Créteil festival is at present the largest annual pageant of films made by women in the world. It is generously supported by several government ministries, regional as well as municipal, and a host of corporate sponsors. Créteil has been able to successfully integrate the surrounding area with the festival through student juries from local gymnasiums (lycée) and universities. This jury of the 29th festival was comprised of Noëlle Châtelet, Daniel Vigne, Loïc Magneron, Philippe Grandrieux, Laura Benson, Marylin Alasset and Maryse Wolinski. Seven percent of the world's directors are women and this events presents a panorama of shorts, documentaries and feature films dedicated exclusively to this marginalization.
Photos of Charlotte Rampling, Mira Nair and Xiaolu Guo by Moira Sullivan.Posted by David Hudson, Greencine Daily