Festival of short and girlies to pique interest in feminism

ALL Victoria Duckett's students say they are not feminist. "I try to introduce the idea that you don't have to be angry, you don't have to be gay," the film historian says. "I try to get them excited about what feminism was historically." To no avail. They still consider it "pretty awful".

So now she and artist and curator Caroline Phillips have hit on another way to pique their interest: a series of events, forums and all-round "inter-generational dialogue" about artworks associated with the term that is proving such a sticking point.

In the interests of being accessible to all audiences, it's at the artist-run West Space in Bourke Street. First up is a bring-your-own-needles-and-wool knitting circle with artist Kate Just - knitting being just one of the domestic practices repositioned in galleries by feminist artists since the 1970s. But film - again going back to the '70s and sometimes earlier - is a central component of this project.

Five short films made between 1972 and 1987 screen on Friday night. None of them follow the classic Hollywood trajectory: there is no narrative, no final resolution, and all of them are made by women.

This program (the first of two devoted to film) is co-curated by a man, though, Jon Dale, who discovered experimental feminist film in his late teens and is still a diehard devotee. Following this interview he sends two emails' worth of film descriptions, online links to key films and the names of important feminist experimental filmmakers.

Not surprisingly he found one of the hardest parts of putting together the program, Imaging Her World: Feminist Visions was keeping it to a total running time of 90 minutes.

"We spent a lot of time grinding our teeth and removing names. We had a big list and we had to make choices," says Dale, who curated the program with Brisbane-based Danni Zuvela.

They settled on 16 millimetre films that were not readily accessible on DVD or other digital formats. These are not films that are frequently seen elsewhere; indeed Dale himself has not seen one - Merilee Benett's A Song of Air.

But the others were films they had both seen, such as the wonderfully named Dyketactics by Americans Barbara Hammer and Christine Saxton, and which the Brooklyn Museum website describes as "the first lesbian lovemaking film made by a lesbian".

Also included is the 1971 Dresden Dynamo by UK artist Lis Rhodes who applied Letraset and Letratone onto clear film instead of shooting footage.

From 1972 is Take off/The Stripper by Swedish artist Gunvor Nelson who explores the true meaning of stripping. And finally there is the 1983 Adynata by American Leslie Thornton that takes us to 19th century China in its examination of Western fantasies.

Dale says all of the works are "visually fascinating" and break down our expectations of what film should be.

There's another film program on September 15.

Taking its name from Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, in which 39 places were set for famous women, Duckett and Phillips aim to have 39 participants in their A Dinner Party: Setting the Table project. It is to be the first step towards a larger feminist exhibition, The F Word, which will tour Victoria in 2014-15. All Duckett's students say they are going.

westspace.org.au

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