Tuesday 20 March 2012

Springtime of the women: a season of amazing talent in spoken word, literature, art, film, theatre and more.

For Books' Sake publish their first fiction anthology; Eve Ensler brings Thandie Newton, Neneh Cherry, Meera Syal and Rosario Dawson to the Lyric Theatre on 26th March; the Human Rights Watch film festival launches with a stunning programme of topical international films 21st-30th March; and a look ahead to Electra Productions hitting Tate Modern with Her Noise, their 3 day celebration of avant-garde women artists' genius at the beginning of May.

1.     For Books’ Sake celebrate smart fiction by smart women with their first anthology, Short Stack, Wednesday 28th March 2012

In moments of deep despair at the cultural femicide all around, occasionally an amazing heroine shines a light. And sometimes a load of heroines shine a load of lights and throw a party for all their friends. For Books’ Sake is the legendary online magazine dedicated to promoting and celebrating writing by women, in the face of the widespread ignoring and dismissal of women’s work by literary editors, jury panels, TV and radio editors and commissioners and literary event producers of both sexes. The site is brilliantly written, insightful, influential and powerful. Book-lovers and lady likers will emerge from a plunge into For Books’ Sake with a handful of new reading and writing recommendations, a head full of new ideas and a refreshed sense of women’s genius. Get behind this amazing group of women: For Books’ Sake should be a paper magazine, a cultural festival, a TV and radio network, a prize scheme and a full-on touring roadshow with  a free big-bonus raffle and tombola.

If you don’t want to spend your solidarity-time glued to a screen, For Books’ Sake have gone one further and released Short Stack, their first fiction anthology, which is being published by Pulp Press at the end of the month, with a party at 7.30pm at the Tamesis Dock on Wednesday 28th March. You can already get the Kindle e-book edition here. If you want your timbers shivered, For Books’ Sake promise that Short Stack will offer “ten twisted tales of heroines hell-bent on vengeance, reanimated corpses, post-apocalyptic sex and much, much more.” I hope that in the future, the “much more” includes science fiction and fantasy anthologies, because I want in.

2. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Wednesday 21st March – Friday 30th March 2012.

Just when you were despairing at the gung-ho 3D big studio Cineplex drek on show as spring and summer approach, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes to London as part of its global tour, with a series of nineteen intelligent, topical, global, confrontational and eye-opening work, screening at the Curzon Soho, Curzon Mayfair, the ICA and the Ritzy. Visit the main festival site for a full list of screenings and a look at the brilliant line-up of talks and debates happening alongside the films. Most of the screenings are followed by extremely well-programmed panel debates discussing the issues with the director/s, critics, academics, activists and politically and socially engaged artists. If you’re interested in work looking specifically at women’s place in society then take a look at three standout works amidst a generally stunning programme:

Love Crimes of Kabul, Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary, which follows three young Afghani female prisoners as they go on trial for “moral crimes” which include running away from home to escape abuse and  allegations of adultery. In refusing to fit into society’s norms by their defiant actions, these women come to be seen as threats to the very fabric of society, and their acts of self-determination as illegal.

A still from The Price of Sex
The Price of Sex, directed by Mimi Chakarova, is about young Eastern European women, sex trafficking and abuse. Chakarova’s film is told by the young women who managed to escape and refused to be silenced by shame, fear, and violence. Director Chakarova is an Emmy-nominated photojournalist Mimi Chakarova filmed undercover and gained extraordinary access for this documentary, which won the 2011 Nestor Almendros Award, announced at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York in June last year. The screening on Saturday 24 March will be followed by a panel discussion with Mimi Chakarova and Abigail Stepnitz, national coordinator of the Poppy Project, which provides support to women who have been trafficked. It will be moderated by Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

Family Portrait in Black and White tells the story of Olga Nenya, who is single-handedly raising 23 foster children in rural Ukraine. Sixteen are the biracial offspring of visiting African students and Ukrainian women, who often see no choice but to abandon their babies. Olga reveals herself to be loving and protective but also narrow-minded and controlling. A product of communist ideology, she favours collective duty over individual freedom, and this paradox gives the children the sense of belonging they ache for, as well as cause for rebellion and distrust.

I support this festival wholeheartedly. All the films aim to “address economic inequality and consequences worldwide” and are organised around four themes: development, environment and the global economy; migrants’ rights and racism; personal testimony and witnessing; and women’s rights. The roster is impressively international, with 15 documentaries and 4 dramas from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Canary Islands, Ethiopia, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, the Maldives, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the USA. Many of the films will be followed by Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and some by panel discussions with experts and film subjects.

The festival will launch tomorrow, Wednesday, 21 March, at the Curzon Mayfair with a fundraising benefit and reception for Human Rights Watch, featuring Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s  film 5 Broken Cameras. 5 Broken Cameras documents a Palestinian village's struggle against violence and oppression. The wall consumes much of the village’s arable land and allows nearby settlements to extend onto villagers’ fields. A cycle of resistance and retaliation develops between the village and the settlements.  

On Thursday 22 March, the Curzon Soho will host the opening night film, Jon Shenk’s The Island President, which follows former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives (who was forced to resign the presidency this February) as he fights to convince the world’s policymakers to do something concrete about climate change. The Maldives is in danger of disappearing below rising sea levels, creating the world’s first cohort of environmental refugees.

The closing night film and reception will be on Friday 30 March at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. It will feature Nadine Labaki’s drama Where Do We Go Now?,  the story  of a group of women determined to protect their isolated, mine-encircled community. With the women united by a common cause, their friendship transcends the religious fault lines that constrict their society. The film will be followed by a discussion with Nadine Labaki.

Other films to look out for include the following. Further details can be found on the London festival's main site:
  • Bettina Borgfeld and David Bernet’s documentary Raising Resistance follows the life-and-death struggle of farmers in Paraguay confronted with the ever-expanding production of genetically modified soy, which requires herbicides and decimates nearby crops.
  • Documentary Special Flight, in which director Fermand Melgar has gained  extensive access to rejected asylum seekers and illegal migrants in Switzerland’s Frambois detention centre.
  • Maggie Peren’s drama Colour of the Ocean tells the story of a father and son, African refugees whose paths collide with those of an altruistic tourist and a Canary Island police officer.
  • Carlo Augusto Bachschmidt’s Black Block documents the police violence and arbitrary detention experienced by seven activists who demonstrated at the 2001 Genoa G8 summit. Each person describes brutal treatment by the Italian police that night, and in the days that followed.
  • Annie Goldson’s documentary Brother Number One tells New Zealander Rob Hamill’s story about the deaths in 1978 of his brother Kerry Hamill, and his two friends − John Dewhirst of England, and Stuart Glass of Canada - at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. As Rob retraces his brother’s final days, takes the stand as a witness at the Cambodia War Crimes Tribunal, faces the former prison warden Comrade Duch, who gave the final orders for Kerry and thousands of others to be tortured and killed and meets survivors who tell the story of the notorious S-21 prison. 
  • Werner Herzog’s  exploration of life on death row, Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, follows the story of Michael Perry, who was executed eight days after filming began,  and Jason Burkett, who were found guilty of three capital murders in Texas, and unravels the crime and trial from separate viewpoints, including the victim’s families and prison staff.
  • Lise Birk Pedersen’s documentary Putin’s Kiss focuses on 19-year-old Masha and her journey through the Kremlin-created Nashi youth movement. Masha supports Putin’s policies of seeking to rid Russia of what Nashi believes are Russia’s “enemies”: political opposition, investigative journalists, and human rights defenders. But as a journalist herself she starts socialising with colleagues in this circle, and  begins to question Nashi and its leaders.
  • In Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge’s Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Jawad travels to Pakistan to treat women who have suffered acid attacks. Among them is Zakia, who goes to court to prosecute her husband for her attack. She becomes the first case tried under a new law in Pakistan that punishes the  attackers with life imprisonment.
  • Susan Youssef’s drama Habibi tells the story of young lovers Qays (Kais Nashef) and Layla (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who are university students in the West Bank. Both are forced home to Khan Yunis before they have completed their studies and in this more religious and traditional environment their love story can continue only if they marry. Yet Qays is too poor to convince Layla’s father that he can provide for his beloved daughter. In an act of rebellion Qays paints verses from the classical poem Majnun Layla all over Khan Yunis, which angers Layla’s father and the local self-appointed moral police.

And now for......

3.  A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer: Eve Ensler comes to the  Lyric Theatre on Monday March 26th 2012.

You will know Eve Ensler as the originator of The Vagina Monologues, V-day founder, tireless international campaigner for women’s human rights, an advocate, a writer, a personality, a heroine and a wit who has used her seemingly infinite energy and success to enable girls and women all over the world in speaking up, shouting out and even taking the stage. A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer is a new performance piece showcased as a collection of one-night performances featuring some of the coolest women performers working today: Rosario Dawson, Eve Ensler herself, Neheh Cherry, Meera Syal, Thandie Newton and more. Memory... is an adaptation of Ensler’s book of the same name. The producers have selected ten monologues to produce a varied and entertaining show expressing how violence against women affects everyone. All proceeds will go to charities dedicated to stopping violence against women and girls including Women for Women International and the Domestic Violence Intervention Project.

In addition to the sharp, shocking, deeply affecting script the Memory... series boasts some incredible art- and acting-world talents as directors: Tate Modern director Chris Dercon; Iwona Blazwick, OBE, director of the Whitechapel Gallery; RADA's Sue Dunderdale and Marcus Warren and Anna Ledwich.

Goldman Sachs Gives altruistic arm (don’t say anything) will be matching all ticket sales with donations, and The Millby Charitable Trust will be tripling this. There are also VIP seats which include the aftershow party with the cast and main players, on sale for £225.

4. Her Noise: Feminisms and the Sonic performance, talks, symposium and screening at the Tate Modern, 3rd – 5th  May 2012. Book tickets here.

Image by artist Jan Herman
 After the high profile mainstream success of Eve Ensler’s global empowerment project, I’ll end with something really intriguing, new (to me), avant-garde and promising to look forward to in May. I’ve been contacted by Electra Productions about Her Noise, a three day event which looks critically at political questions in sound, moving image, performance and cross-disciplinary art. It celebrates women in these fields – in particular, longstanding and veteran talents whose practice or influence is still going strong – given context, analysis and discussion by a thrilling range of additional speakers. I hope very much to see much more of this from Electra: putting women artists right back into the heart of cultural dialogue, acknowledging our creativity and importance, treating us to respectful appraisal and positioning us within a broader critical and art-historical framework. Check out the Facebook page here.

Her Noise includes performances and a talk by Pauline Oliveros, an evening considering the legacy of director Meredith Monk and a day of talks and discussions with contributions by Ute Meta Bauer, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Nina Power, Tara Rodgers and more. This programme marks the donation of the Her Noise Archive to the University of the Arts London Archives and Special Collections housed at London College of Communication, and is realised as a collaboration between CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice), Electra and Tate.

Full details below:

Artist Talk and Performance by Pauline Oliveros
Thursday 3 May 19.00-21.30, £12 / £9
Pioneering composer, performer and humanitarian Pauline Oliveros celebrates her 80th birthday this year. She gives a solo performance and a talk entitled 'Archiving the Future: The Embodiment Music of Women', followed by a performance of her 1970 score To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation in the Turbine Hall.

Film and performance: The Voice is a Language
Friday 4 May 19.00, £5
This performance and screening celebrates the legacy of avant-garde pioneer Meredith Monk, featuring work by artists Sophie Macpherson, James Richards, Cara Tolmie and Sue Tompkins and rarely seen films by Monk. The evening is curated by Isla Leaver-Yap.

Symposium: Feminisms and the Sonic
5 May 11.00-17.50, £20 / £14
Exploring and developing emergent feminist discourses in sound and music, this symposium brings together contributions by musicians, artists, academics and writers, including Ute Meta Bauer, Sonia Boyce, Georgina Born, Viv Corringham, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Lina Dzuverovic, Catherine Grant, Emma Hedditch, Anne Karpf, Cathy Lane, Anne Hilde Neset, Maggie Nichols, Nina Power, Tara Rodgers, Salomé Voegelin.

I hope this round-up fills your diary, freshens your heart and restores your faith. Enjoy!