Every year, I attend Glasgow Film Festival and look out for films that are creative, inspiring and empowering. This year was a particularly strong year for women directors, as festivals around the world are finally catching onto the fact that there are thousands of women out there, fighting for the opportunity to tell their stories. As a female traveler I hope to inspire other women to travel the world through my own stories. I love watching films by and about women, who have the exact same intention or aspiration.

Film, to me, is its own way of traveling the world – more stationary, than boarding a plane and flying across the world, but nevertheless opening my eyes to different cultures, teaching me new facts about the past, present and future at the same time.

With International Women’s Day at our doorstep, I thought I’d tell you about some of my new favorite films and hope that they make you feel inspired and empowered to be a woman!

 

The Divine Order by Petra Volpa

The Divine Order is Petra Volpa’s fictional take on the days leading up to the famous referendum about women’s suffrage in Switzerland in 1971. While many women around the world had been able to vote and participate in the public life for decades, it took Switzerland until the 1970s to allow women the right to vote. The film’s protagonist is Nora, a wife and mother of two who lives in a small Alpine village in Switzerland. Despite being in a loving relationship, she feels trapped in her situation as woman, not being allowed to work without her husband’s permission. She witnesses the inequalities challenging her friends and family – her sister-in-law not being able to stand up to her depressed husband, her under-age niece being put into women’s prison for not complying with the conservative social rules; her good friend Vroni loosing the business after her husband’s death, because women aren’t allowed to own property. Enough is enough – and Nora takes action.

The film is a crucial reminder that women around the world – and particularly women of color – are still struggling with inequalities and injustices today. The majority of us might have gained the right to vote, but legal equality for some is only a small achievement in the fight against the patriarchy. Watch the film and be inspired to join!

Watch the trailer here.

 

Incense, Sweaters & Ice by Martine Syms

Every once in a while, it’s great to see films that are not sensational. I want to see characters on screen who are just normal people; they don’t have to be heroes, or struggle with impossible situations, or be incredibly funny or anything like that at all. They are like you and me, leading their lives every day, and all we get to see is a small glimpse of what they experience on a normal day.

Incense, Sweaters & Ice by Martine Syms is such a film. Nothing unique or extraordinary happens to the main character of the film, yet it is entirely unique and extraordinary in its presentation. The film revolves around Girl, a young black woman from Altadena, California, who works as a traveling nurse. In a non-chronological sequence of scenes, we watch her at work, driving to work, getting dressed, doing her hair, meeting up with family and friends, going on a date and texting and video-messaging with her partner. In between these fairly unremarkable scenes of every day life, the docu-style fiction is interrupted by the stylized recital of monologues by Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White. With a nod to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and renowned Motown figure Maxine Powell, she describes how to behave appropriately in public.

The film thus juxtaposes the old-fashioned rules of etiquette of how black people should behave in the public eye, and Girl’s millennial approach towards moving through public spaces as a young black person. As the film continues, the two move further and further apart, and opens up a generational dialogue of black representation in our society.

Watch a teaser here.

 

A Letter to the President by Roya Sadat

This film is super interesting, because it was banned in its country of origin, Afghanistan, and from its official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars, at the same time. A Letter to the President by Roya Sadat dissects the country’s challenging political and social situation, and reflects on the role of women in society as well as before the law.

The fictional story follows Soraya, the head of Kabul’s Crime Division, who get trapped between her abusive husband and her gangster father-in-law, and her strong will to stand up for justice and integrity. When she refuses to release a teenage girl who has been charged with adultery and is supposed to be executed by the village elders, her husband and father-in-law begin terrorizing her. It does not help that her assistant is infatuated with her, and captures every step she takes in his photographs and paintings. It is his embellishments of the truth that conclude Soraya’s tragic fate.

While the film is by far not a technical masterpiece, and the music is at times as melodramatic as in a Bollywood movie, I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking piece, which was my first ever experience with Afghan film. Soraya’s story seems incredibly far, but so close at the same time, and made me think about how women around the world are still struggling for basic human rights and equality in from of the law. However, it was also a crucial reminder that laws of gender equality are not worth a thing if the change is not deeply rooted in society as well. And so, the struggle is continues.

Watch the trailer here.

 

Another News Story by Orban Wallace

This film stands out from the rest, because it is not strictly speaking about women or even by a female director. In Another News Story, director Orban Wallace shows a side of the current refugee crisis in Europe that is not often talked about: how the media portrays it. Setting out to make a film about the humanitarian crisis evolving around the mass migration of refugees from the East and South, Wallace quickly realised that there was a more pressing issue at hand and pointed his camera not at the people making their way to Europe, but at the journalists from around the world capturing their stories.

The result is a powerful film that provokes you to think about how you consume media, how to question what you see or read in the news, and what agenda is behind the portrayal of refugees. Shot between September and November 2015, it catches up with reporters and migrants on several pit stops of their journey together; from Lesbos and Athens to the Serbian-Hungarian border, onto the trains to Croatia, Austria and Germany. However, with the mass shooting at the Bataclan in Paris, the journalists leave the direct route of migration and travel to Paris; and Wallace follows them.

I had a two major takeaways from the film:

  • There is such a double standard with how the media represents European misery and non-European suffering. While the grievers in Paris were left alone to allow them the space to cry and pay their respects; refugees could barely get off a boat or train without 40 cameras in their face, hoping for the best shot of a person in desperation or relief.
  • Rarely does the media tell us more about the people they show us. The films shows how many refugees are interviewed for international news outlets, often giving one interview after the other. While reporters seemed to be considerate in terms of not showing these refugees faces to protect their family back home, they rarely asked the questions that went beyond, ‘where are you from?’ or ‘when have you last eaten?’. People become props and reporters the storytellers, who render the words and images of the refugees according to their own take on the situation.

Maybe more than empowering you as a woman, Another News Story empowered me as a human being who thinks critically and is interested in hearing all sides of a story. I hope you get to watch the film and come to a similar conclusion!

Watch the trailer here.

 

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story by Alexandra Dean

Beautiful women can also be intelligent women – duh! While this is of course true (and you just have to look in the mirror to see the living proof of it), it is not something that Hollywood has always been eager to highlight and celebrate. Bombshell tells the story of Hedy Lamarr, an actress and Jewish refugee who fled from Austria to London and on to the US, to escape persecution during World War II. She has often been called the most beautiful woman in the world, and starred in many Hollywood movies throughout the 1940s. But she was also a fiercely intelligent person, who came up with an idea for technology that is now the basis of modern amenities like Bluetooth and WiFi, and has been used by the military for decades: frequency hopping. Together with her friend, composer and pianist George Antheil, she registered a patent for her idea in 1942 – hoping that if the US and UK navy used her idea, they might outsmart the far superior submarines of the German navy.

Only the army rejected her idea, and frequency hopping was never used to contribute to the victory of the Allies. When the US navy decided over a decade later to use Lamarr’s patented idea after all, she was not notified, and by the time she and her children looked into what had happened to her patent, the time to sue due compensation had long passed.

But that is not the only story this documentary tells. It also talks about the exploitation of female actresses in the Hollywood studio era, the pressure to remain young and “beautiful” (whatever that means) instead of being allowed to age under the eyes of the public and press, the mental health issues that come with such constant pressure and oppression. While this all sounds depressing rather than empowering, the film is also full of positive and uplifting stories about a woman who we should all know more about.

Watch the trailer here.

 

The Eternal Feminine by Natalia Beristain

This award-winning biopic tells the story of Rosario Castellanos, one of the most significant figures of Mexican literature and trailblazer for women’s rights in Mexican society. The film mostly focuses on Castellanos’ passionate but troubled relationship with Ricardo Guerra. The two meet at University in Mexico City and re-connect many years later, getting married and having a son. And so, the film jumps back and forth between these times, showing not only the parallels in the relationship then and now, but also the difference a few years can make.

Behind every strong woman, there is a man who can’t stand her success.

What begins as a love story of two souls that were meant for each other, quickly turns into a tragedy of fragile masculinity, a struggle with traditional gender roles and unhealthy power dynamics. I won’t tell you much more than this, but to me this film reminded me that even when you’re facing a harsh environment, it is necessary to stand up for yourself and fight for your rights. I hadn’t read any work by Castellanos before, but I’ve already ordered one of her novels to add to my reading list.

Watch the trailer here.

 

Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig

image via A24

I didn’t actually see this film at the Glasgow Film Festival, but at the festival’s main theatre one day after the festival was over. Greta Gerwig’s entry to this year’s Oscars (I can’t believe she didn’t win an Oscar for this!?!) follows a teenage girl – Christine ‘Lady Bird’ – during her final year in high school.

She navigates issues at home and faces challenges with her friendships and relationships. It is a brutally honest portrayal of what it is like to grow up with a love-hate relationship to literally everything – your family, your home, your best friends, your favorite subjects at school, your career aspirations.

I loved how I could see myself in both the main teenage character and her mother, her best friend as well as her rich new friend. In a time when rounded female characters are still so sparse, it is amazing to see so many of them together in one film. Making use of certain coming-of-age tropes, the film never gets carried away by cheesy stereotypes. It’s funny and entertaining, but serious and reflective at the same time.

If you want to see a similar coming of age film about a young girl, check out Patricia Cardoso’s Real Women Have Curves.

Watch the trailer here.

 

High Fantasy by Jenna Cato Bass

We’ve had a bit of snow chaos in Glasgow during the festival, so sadly the screening of this film was canceled, but until I can tell you more, check out this synopsis:

A group of young friends on a camping trip deep in the South African countryside wake up to discover they have all swapped bodies. Their individual cultural heritage and experience of these strange happenings couldn’t be more different; and stranded in the wilderness, they will have to navigate a personal-political labyrinth of their friendship if their lives are ever to be the same again. 

Sounds great right? It’s a Freaky Friday-kind of story, but digging deep into the South African history of apartheid and racial inequality; South Africa’s dream of the “Rainbow Nation” revisited.

Watch the trailer here.

 

The Breadwinner by Nora Twomey

Another one I missed during the festival is The Breadwinner, the Oscar-nominated animation film by Nora Twomey. It is based on a book by Canadian author Deborah Ellis and tells the story of a young girl in Afghanistan who dresses up as a boy in order to support her family.

So far I’ve only seen the trailer, but the line ‘When you’re a boy, you can go anywhere you want’ resonates so much with me that I can’t wait to see the whole picture soon!

Watch the trailer here.

 

Una Mujer Fantastica by Sebastián Lelio

After winning an Oscar at this year’s Academy Award ceremony (Best Foreign Language Film), I’m sure this film will find its way to a cinema near you.

Una Mujer Fantastica (A Fantastic Woman) tells the story of Maria, a transgender woman who bemoans the death of her boyfriend and fights for his family to accept their relationship and her grief. It is still rare that transgender people are cast to play transgender roles in mainstream cinema – most transgender women in film I can think of where actually portrayed by cis-male actors (think Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club), so I hope that the outstanding performance of Chilean actress Daniela Vega and the huge critical acclaim of the film will change a few minds in Hollywood.

The film is an important step towards more inclusive casting, but also a more inclusive society. If you’re a feminist, but don’t know much about transgender issues, it is a great starting point to learn more!

Watch the trailer here.

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Have you seen an inspiring movie lately, that made you feel empowered as a woman? I’d love to hear your recommendations!