Sunday, March 02, 2008

Birds Eye View Festival preview

March 6th – 14th 2008 at the ICA and BFI Southbank, London
Then on tour through the UK

Bird's Eye View (I still struggle with the cheesiness of the name) exists to offer some remedy for the low, low, low representation of female directors in the film industry. Following on from last year's festival, which featured Sarah Polley's Oscar-nominated Away from Her, this year's selection offers similarly acclaimed features by first-time directors: Persepolis (dir Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud), the Oscar-nominated animation about a girl growing up in post-revolution Iran; and the Argentine Oscar entry, XXY, from writer /director Lucía Puenzo, about a teenager of indeterminate gender.

Other features on show are The Unpolished (dir Pia Marais) and Caramel (dir Nadine Labaki), both previously reviewed here and both highly recommended.

New to me:
Ecology (dir Sarah Turner) is an experimental feature in three interchangeable parts exploring a dysfunctional family dynamic while on a holiday. Using split screen, voiceovers and stylised cinematography, it proves to be hard-going and confusing but wildly inventive.

View from a Grain of Sand (dir Meena Nanji) is a fine piece of work documenting the chaos that has enveloped Afghanistan over three decades and how women have fared as a result. Three women tell their stories and a theme emerges of power passing from armed groups of men to armed groups of men, funded by foreign governments, including the USA and UK. In particular, the former used Afghanistan as its Cold War testing ground, funding war lords and the Taliban in order to keep the Soviets at bay. There is, in fact, the intriguing suggestion that the CIA was responsible for the "rebranding" of jihad to mean an external religious war. That certainly came back to bite them. The women's rights group RAWA emerges as a point of resistance to this deadly shell game but as they hold no power in the country, there is little they can do, save recording the abuses suffered by women and pressing for change.

The Fighting Cholitas (dir Mariam Jobrani) is a short doc in which Cholitas (indigenous women who wear layered skirts) claim their identity by wrestling each other in order to distinguish themselves from senoritas (who "wear pants like men", according to one cholita). So not only do we have polarisation between women in society, but in the ring the cholitas are divided into "good" tecnicas and "bad" rudas, punching and kicking each other to the point of drawing blood, in front of an appreciative audience. The spectre of women fighting each other so that men can make money from it is surely a metaphor for capitalism and patriarchy in perfect harmony.

Migration (dir Mira Nair) is a short dramatised public service announcement, in which a farm labourer in the big city has an unprotected sexual encounter with an upper class woman and then infects his partner back home.

Special programmes include two comic seasons at the BFI: Clowning Glories: Women in Film Comedy, a retrospective celebrating early women pioneers in silent comedy; and Screwball Women: the Golden Age of Hollywood Comediennes. Other programmes include a panel on Women in Video Games, a screening of Women in Music Videos and a strand on Fashion on Film. Confirmed guests include: Maureen Lipman, Imogen Heap, Zoe Rahman, Arabella Weir, Jo Brand and Victoria Wood, who appears In Conversation.

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