A new beginning instead of the end?

This year’s festival was co-created by a different City of Women team that has left its own imprint. First: other than one main theme, the programme has been structured around several interlaced thematic sections. The first is in tribute to the filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who is one of the world’s most prominent figures in cinematography, as well as a creator of installations. The director of revolt, as she is called by many, persists at the fringe, never adhering to any established film categories. Along her way, she has filmed documentaries, filmed on all continents, moving on the margin of genres and themes, pursuing eclectic practices without becoming entrapped in any particular ‘authorial identity’. The City of Women’s retrospective classifying her as a feminist director includes her best-known feature film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, and her final film No Home Movie. Akerman’s films are often considered challenging, not only because of their durations, but more importantly the intensity of personal experience that inevitably affects our understanding of the world we live in. 

Her short film La Chambre is a bridge to the thematic section dedicated to Emily Dickinson, one of the most intriguing poets of the 19th century, who literally lived her life in a bedroom. Her poetry and life both established new frontiers, violating recognizable boundaries. She is recognized as a feminist author, in particular because of the views of gender roles and marriage reflected in her poems, as well as her private life during which she opposed the roles attributed to traditional femininity. The film and subsequent discussion will spark new interest in the work of this unusual woman poet. 

A third thematic section shifts the focus from past to present, addressing the creativity of younger women artists distinguished primarily by unconventional approaches and the ability to combine different art techniques and genres to amplify their creative potential. 

What is most evident is that they don’t hesitate to classify their works as feminist art, an original characteristic of the initial City of Women activities. Later, the artists often explicitly claimed that their works had nothing to do with feminism because they did not want to be marginalised and deprived of the possibility to practice their arts publicly. Clearly this fear has vanished or at least diminished. The documentary Flow is a straightforward testimony of women’s experiences, illustrating the importance of knowledge regarding gender inequalities in order to take charge of our lives and make sense of our experiences. The workshop Car Deconstruction invites girls aged 10 to 14 to disassemble a car as they deconstruct gender roles and stereotypes. The film The World of Us illustrates the ongoing problem of violence and isolation that intensifies a child’s vulnerability. 

The programme is a rich mosaic of film, performance, exhibitions and workshops that will address various interests. 

I would especially invite you to actively participate in discussions and lectures, which are this year dedicated to the issue of memory and oblivion, as well as the creation of a web archive and museum in order to prevent starting over again and again. This is the reason some projects are long-term and will take place across several years – a novelty for the City of Women Association. 

The archive digitalisation is a vast project that will enable access to material in order to reflect on it or critically assess it – or simply recollect memories. The interdisciplinary collaboration between science and art has been established, instigating the creativity of both women scientists and artists over the recent years. It is also important to continuously encourage and empower young women in their creativity, hence the association will establish collaboration with schools and other spaces. It is utterly necessary to create a community where there is room for different women, experiences, traditions, appearances, ages and all else that makes life more interesting and diverse.

Vesna Leskošek,

Honorary president of the Association