women in film

DOXA Festival Ticket Giveaway: Casablanca Calling

Still from Casablanca Calling, showing a Morchidat teaching a class of students

by Jarrah Hodge

Rosa Rogers’ new documentary Casablanca Calling takes viewers to mosques, schools and prisons across Morocco, where a “quiet revolution” is occurring as approximately 400 women have started to work as Muslim leaders or Morchidats for the first time. Their goal is “to liberate women by sharing the true teaching of Islam, freed from misogynist interpretations.”

The film follows three Morchidats as they travel around Morocco, actively campaigning against arranged marriage, domestic abuse, financial exploitation, and female suicide.

Casablanca Calling is just one of many awesome movies that will be screening at Vancouver’s DOXA Festival, coming up from May 2-11, 2014. If you’re in town I highly recommend checking out their full program, especially the films related to women’s rights.

Gender Focus is very pleased to be the community partner for the screening of Casablanca Calling.

To enter to win a set of two tickets to the screening of Casablanca Calling at Sunday, May 11 at 6 p.m. at the Vancity Theatre (up to two entries per person):

  • Comment below or on the Gender Focus Facebook page and tell us your favourite movie of all time.
  • Tweet “I entered to win tickets to Casablanca Calling from @jarrahpenguin and @doxafestival http://goo.gl/vR07tl” 

I will randomly select a winner next Wednesday, April 23. Good luck and hope to see you at a DOXA screening in a few weeks!

For more information on DOXA, check out the interview I did last year with Director of Programming Dorothy Woodend.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 5 Comments

Filmmakers Shed Light on Gertrude Bell’s Hidden Historical Legacy

Title picture for Letters from Baghdad documentary

by Sabine Krayenbühl & Zeva Oelbaum

Images courtesy of the Gertrude Bell Archives, Newcastle University 

Letters from Baghad is our film about British-born Gertrude Bell, also referred to as “the female Lawrence of Arabia.” She was an adventurer, spy, archaeologist and powerful political force who travelled into the uncharted Arabian desert and was recruited by British Military Intelligence to help reshape the Middle East after World War I. She drew the borders of Iraq, helped install its first king and established the Iraq Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad that was infamously looted during the 2003 American invasion.

As female filmmakers, we’ve always been interested in telling the stories of women, and we are fascinated by the choices that trail-blazing women almost always have to make. How do circumstances and personality come together to create a woman like Gertrude Bell, who turns her back on comfort and privilege in exchange for power and the potential to make a difference? Bell was a hugely successful woman in an all-male arena, but her contradictions make her a complex, intriguing and compelling subject for our film.

We first met while working on Ahead of Time, a film about another remarkable woman named Ruth Gruber. During a conversation one day, Gertrude Bell’s name came up and we realized we had shared the same feelings after having read Janet Wallach’s engrossing biography ‘Desert Queen’: amazement and fascination for Bell’s extraordinary story, and shock that we had not heard of her before. How is it that a woman of such extraordinary accomplishment and significant influence on the shaping of the modern Middle East could be practically missing from history? Read more

Posted on by Sabine Krayenbühl & Zeva Olebaum in Feminism Leave a comment

Sister: An Unflinching Look at Maternal Health Worldwide

Title still for Sister, showing the word "Sister" over a world mapby Roxanna Bennett

“Pregnancy is a normal physiological event,” states Goitom Berhane, a health officer in residency at a rural hospital in Ethiopia. “This is not a disease. It is only that society is not organized enough to handle it, to appreciate its risks. It has risks whether it’s in Europe or Africa. Wherever you are, pregnancy is always a challenge.”

An unflinching look at the stark and bloody reality of infant and maternal mortality, the new documentary Sister follows maternal health care workers in Ethiopia, Haiti and Cambodia. Beautifully shot, Sister captures both agonizing and ecstatic moments in birth and delivery. from a woman whose fetus is dead inside of her, to a successful emergency Caesarian operation.

In the U.S., one in 4,800 women die from childbirth-related causes. The statistics in other parts of the world are staggering. In Haiti, one in 48 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Cambodia, one in 44 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Ethiopia, one in 27 women will die of childbirth related causes – that’s 55 every day. Sister is the story behind the statistics, putting a human face on the very real suffering and death of women and infants across the planet.

Photo of Madam Bwa, maternal health worker in Haiti

Madam Bwa, photo by Alexandra Swati Guild

Madam Bwa, a 65 year old TBA (Traditional Birth Attendant), living in Haiti, started delivering babies when she was 12 years old.

“I have delivered about 12, 000 babies,” she boasts. While she has no formal medical training, she provides the the majority of primary maternal and prenatal health care and education in her community.

“God blessed me to serve the people in this community,” she says, “Mostly to prevent them from dying during delivery.”

“Shada is the most miserable part of the city,” Madam Bwa says as she navigates the narrow alleyways between rickety shelters, “It’s badly built. If you have to transport a sick or pregnant person there are no roads in Shada.” Read more

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism Leave a comment


Still from movie H&G, showing Gemma holding Harley's hand

by Jarrah Hodge

(Spoiler alert. Trigger Warning: discussions of depictions of child abuse, violence against women)

It’s been another great summer of film fests here in Vancouver and I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks seeing some fantastic movies at the Vancouver International Film Festival. My first pick was H&G, a film by Canadian director Danishka Esterhazy and a majority female creative team.

H&G is a “modern, neorealist twist” on the classic fairy tale Hansel & Gretel. In this modern version 8-year-old Gemma and 6-year-old Harley are children growing up in poverty in Winnipeg. Their mother, Krysstal, clearly loves them but is unable to get things together enough to properly feed or take care of them, leaving a ton of responsibility on Gemma. One night Krysstal takes the kids along on a car trip with her new, clearly manipulative boyfriend and a fight leads to him pulling her out of the car, and later abandoning the kids in the forest far from home.

The added complexity given to the mother is the first major twist on the tale. In her statement on the film website, director Danishka Esterhazy writes:

“I have always been struck by this fable’s portrayal of adult women. The stepmother and the witch are portrayed as heartless villains. Whereas the father, although also complicit in the abandonment of the children, is portrayed as caring and loveable. In reading about the history of the tale, I discovered that Wilhelm Grimm revised the traditional tale several times. He changed the mother character into a stepmother and he also made her less sympathetic. According to folklorist Jack Zipes, Wilhelm Grimm “deepened the characterization of the father and stepmother so that he becomes much more caring and concerned about the children and she becomes more coldhearted and cruel.” This sharp gender dichotomy, this demonization of the adult female characters, was an element of the story that I wanted to explore and challenge. 

This was my starting place for writing H&G.”

The house they eventually come across is owned by a pig farmer, Brendan, who at first starts by being kind and feeding them delicious food. He lets Gemma try to call home several times but her mother doesn’t answer. Time is given to show a range of Gemma and Harley’s activities and emotions as they settle into life with Brendan. But things change when Brendan’s brother shows up, drunk, and starts insinuating the kids should be scared of Brendan. The filmmakers do a great job creating audience uncertainty here so it takes quite a while before we know whether Brendan or his brother is the real danger (or both).

That the danger is very real becomes apparent near the end when Gemma finds Brendan’s scrapbook of pictures of young boys cut out of catalogues. Not long after, Brendan’s brother brings over some male friends and a “date”, Martini, (I read this as her being a sex worker but it’s not explicitly stated). After being teased by his friends that he can’t control the children, Brendan drags them out and locks them in a shed in the yard. There they find a bucket of bones and something horrifying (we’re never shown what) in a freezer. A bit later in the evening, Martini comes running out of the house, screaming that she’s leaving and that the men are “a bunch of psychos”. Gemma and Harley watch as she climbs into her car and Brendan drags her out and back into the house, with her screaming.

Even though the children escape the ending is uncertain and not necessarily optimistic. Like pretty much everything else in the movie, it’s complex.  Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

The Women in The Wolverine

The 4 women of The Wolverine: Yukio, Viper, Mariko, and Jean Gra

The 4 women of The Wolverine: Yukio, Viper, Mariko, and Jean Gray

by A. Lynn. This piece was originally posted at her blog, Nerdy Feminist. Cross-posted with permission.

Somehow the new X-Men movie, The Wolverine, totally slipped under the radar for me. I didn’t even know it was coming out this summer until Ronald got passes to a free screening last Tuesday (and we were turned away because it was too popular.) So we waited for it to come out this weekend and I was pleasantly surprised, especially after crapfest that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As Ronald wrote on his Facebook, “The Wolverine is the kind of movie the character deserves. Apology accepted, 20th Century Fox.”

Aside from being a generally enjoyable X-Men film, the movie actually contained interesting, important women! Who interacted with each other! And had a friendship not related to any of the men involved!

Of course, the main story line and plot center around Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). That isn’t surprising; it’s his movie. But the interesting fact is that he is surrounded by women who fight along side him, threaten him as a villain, or plague his mind. Let’s take a closer look at each of them. As always, this may get a little spoiler-y. I’m only going to focus on the female characters but some of the plot may be revealed in doing that.

1. Jean Gray: If you’ve been keeping up with these films, you know that at the end of X3, Wolverine has to kill Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) because she went all evil and was destroying everything. I often write about how I see this moment as the prototypical example of a powerful women who can’t handle their power in action movies. In The Wolverine, Jean Gray is back, but only as a figment of Wolverine’s nightmares/dreams (or at least it seems that way…) While she plays an important role in helping us, as the audience, see what’s going on with Wolverine now, she’s the weakest female character in the film, which makes sense since she only exists inside Wolverine’s mind. Oh well, you can’t win them all… Read more

Posted on by A Lynn in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Not Enough Women Behind Canadian TV Cameras


Graphs from the WIV report on women in Canadian TV

by Jarrah Hodge

The shows we see on TV are created by a team of people. In terms of influence on a show’s finances and creative direction, the most important roles are usually directors, writers and cinematographers.

Unfortunately, a new report from the non-profit Women in View has found huge gaps in women’s representation in these key roles on Canadian TV shows. There is also a significant lack of representation of people of colour and First Nations people behind the camera. That means that even when the stories we see are about women or people of colour, chances are they were written, filmed and directed by white men (see a telling picture here). Women in media industries tend to work disproportionately in what the report calls “taking care” roles (line producers, production managers, etc.) or stereotypically feminine jobs like hair and makeup.

“I would like to believe that talent and hard work will pay off in terms of opportunities for people to earn a living in this industry; yet, it is well known that the screenwriting profession poorly reflects the diversity of society and is much more hospitable to white middle-aged males than to women, racialized minorities and seniors,” said Ryerson professor Dr. Charles Davis. “Despite the emphasis of Canadian cultural policy on the development and telling of screen stories that reflect all Canadians, the directing, cinematography and screenwriting occupations in this country are dominated by middle-aged white men.”

Some key stats coming out of the report:

  • Of the 272 episodes these 21 series represent, 84 per cent of directors were men, 16 per cent were women.
  • 11 of the 21 series did not employ a single woman director on any of their episodes.
  • No series employed a woman cinematographer.
  • No racialized minority women were employed as directors in any of the 21 series.
  • 36 per cent of the screenwriters were women; 64 per cent were men.
  • 13 of the 21 series employed no racialized minorities or First Nations writers or directors of either sex.


Putting together this research, WIV studied the 21 Canadian live action TV series with the highest levels of investment (between $1M and $9.1M per series) from the Canada Media Fund in their 2010-2011 year. Some of the shows they looked at were Being Erica, The Borgias, Call Me Fitz, Heartland, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Murdoch Mysteries, Republic of Doyle and Rookie Blue.

These gaps show that women, First Nations people and people of colour are missing out on significant economic opportunities. Just under $100 million went into the series studied in the WIV report, and the Canadian media industry on the whole contributed $5.49 billion to our GDP in 2011. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment

My Boobs and I are Outraged

oscarby Jessica Critcher

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go a whole day without feeling angry about misogyny. That day is not today.

Of all the ridiculous things said at the Oscars, I find myself most upset at Seth MacFarlane’s “Boobs” song. It’s like a splinter in my heel: it hurts and I can’t stop picking at it. The fact that I’ve already been told, in the nicest way possible, to calm down about it ties the whole thing up in a nice, sexist bow.

Where do I even start?

MacFarlane sang about having seen several actresses’ breasts in films. That was the entire joke: “We saw your boobs. In that movie that we saw, we saw your boobs.” He then lists specific films in which actresses, most of them present, appeared topless, except for Jennifer Lawrence, of whom he says, “We haven’t seen Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs at all.”

Apparently those are the only two relevant categories for women at the academy awards: those whose breasts we have seen and enjoyed and those whose breasts we haven’t. Maybe that has something to do with why only one woman has ever won Best Director.

The cheeky, adolescent, boys-will-be-boys tone of the song is played off as if it’s supposed to be a compliment. Angelina Jolie’s breasts, MacFarlane says, “made us feel excited and alive.” But whether it’s a famous man with a microphone on television or a stranger yelling at us from a street corner, women are constantly reminded that our bodies are public property – not our own, but belonging to and existing for men.

Even grammatically, the phrase “We saw your boobs” is problematic. It makes viewers the subject of the sentence and ignores the fact that these women have any sort of agency, phrasing it instead as if viewers were peeping without these women’s consent.

But exposing one’s breasts on film isn’t unequivocally good, either. The double standard would never allow that. It is apparently possible to do this in too many films, as he reminded Kate Winslet, listing off several films in which she appears topless, adding “and whatever you’re shooting right now.”

There was also a cheap dig at Scarlett Johansson, saying we saw her boobs not on the big screen, but on our mobile phones. I couldn’t help but make the connection to women being blackmailed with naked photos on the internet, or the recent trend of revenge porn. He has seen their breasts, he can see them anytime he wants, and he doesn’t let us forget.

Another disturbing thing about this song is that the films listed are serious dramas for which many of the actresses were critically praised. Several of the breasts MacFarlane delights in having seen were exposed in the context of rape or assault in the films. Boys Don’t Cry in particular is about a trans man who is beaten, raped and murdered. I fail to find anything hilarious about that, whether or not we saw Hilary Swank topless.
Read more

Posted on by Jessica Critcher in Feminism, Pop Culture 8 Comments