Back at the Movies

It’s that time of year again. And yesterday I spent the afternoon at Cinequest seeing several films and found – I’m less excited about it than last year.

To be fair – I’m comparing the net effect of last year’s festival with only the beginning of this years – so ask me next week and I may be more favorable.

But we got off to a poor start. Cinequest makes a little festival promo piece that shows prior to every film and showcases their moto, “create, innovate, empower”

In this year’s clip we see a young boy in park being told by an older woman, no creativity allowed. He looks at the 4 kids in the park (3 boys, 1 girl) get’s a gleam in his eye, pulls out a magic wand, and turns the black and white scene into a colorful place, rendering the 2D cartoonish characters into 3D characters, turning the old lady into a colorful birds, a vulture becomes a dragon and they live happily ever after as the film festival flashes it’s moto before the film.

Bad start. Of our two women you have a choice between the villain or a token passive character, and for our men we of course have the hero or the normal kids. Obviously this is a short clip – with little time for development but it instantly irked me. If we’re actually creating something new, if you’re actually trying to innovate and empower, then why are the gender norms in your own promotional clip falling back on such tired stereotypes? Is there no room for women in creative, innovative and empowering places? (How ironic given the last word.)

Now this is by no means a trend limited to Cinequest. Look in most classics and you’ll see even in stories with animals – almost always the ratio boils down to protagonist man, token female, crowd of “normal” characters (aka male) and women are much more likely to appear as villains. But this is how the festival kicked off for me. So what naturally occurred to  me was maybe Cinquest was being suggestive and asking us to notice the representations of women this festival…. or maybe not. But regardless I wanted to apply the Bechdel Rule to all the films I saw. (For those of you not familiar – 3 part rule… 1. Movie has to have more than 2 female characters, 2. They must talk to each other, 3. – about something that isn’t men.)

So what films did I see yesterday?

To start with I saw Family Meals which was proceeded by Urban Outlaw.


Urban Outlaw was a fascinating story about a porche loving designer without a formal educational and his life in LA. Very interesting. But does not pass the Bechdel rule because the only female character was his wife, and she was shown only talking about her husband. Oh well… I still enjoyed this one as I feel like when doing a biography of one person, you can be excused for a lack of external diversity.

Family Meals is the story of one woman’s coming out to her family, as told though conversations set over family meals as they reflect upon what it meant to the family. This one almost passes the Bechdel rule because the lesbian daughter talks to her mom about their own lives, cooking and coming out. However I say almost because this often includes men indirectly as well as directly as the source of conflict. The lack of men is continually mentioned in the conversations between these two women, or discussing her brother or father. It seemed as if her being a lesbian was more defined by NOT liking men than it was by loving women. I was less impressed with this piece as the story felt forced to me, and while the underlying story was much more interesting – the form it was presented in felt both slow and also abrupt when they did reach the more meaty topics.

Moving on – the next film I saw was Welcome Home.

Welcome Home is about a woman returning to Brussels after a 3 month journey. She meets a man on the bus who is visiting for the first time in 40 years and explores the city with him before returning to her own complicated relationship. For a film with a female protagonist it’s rather sad that this could not pass the Bechdel rule. But she only speaks with men. And despite a very rich performance, at the end of the film I still had little clue into her own identity independent of the men around her. The film itself was interesting but not my cup of tea. The stories felt disjointed, and the segments didn’t mesh together well enough to maintain flow.

Next was Twenty Million People which was proceeded by the short No Rest for the Wicked.

No Rest for the Wicked was fun but lost any shot of passing the Bechdel rule at step 1, have more than one female character. This was an action short with a street wise smart ass and smooth talking cat burglar as they rob plans for a time machine from a party. Entertaining, worth watching, but no women.

And the last feature for the night, Twenty Million People. I really liked this movie, a cynical smart ass take on the romantic comedy which begins with a movie night and boy meets girl, boy says he doesn’t believe in love and girl agrees, they happily trot off for a one night stand, and boy falls in love. Oops. The side kick friend is getting over a long term relationship that just ended, and the stars of the romantic comedy act as comedic relief as they advise our protagonists on how to actually give themselves a shot at romance. However – it also can’t pass the Bechdel rule. To be fair, even the guys conversations didn’t usually stray too far from girls, but the women in the film never talk to each other outside of talking about men – so alas. Enjoyable film, but not gonna pass. That being said, I really enjoyed the writing, the pacing, the acting and am very much looking forward to the next film to come from this talented group (and crossed fingers if it’s not romance we’ll see something that can actually pass the Bechdel rule.)

So all in all – I started the festival thinking about gender norms and promptly proceeded to see nothing that undid that bias as the lack of well developed women living without their lives being defined by men, well it was rather hard to overlook. That being said – the Festival goes on and tomorrow I’ll see what else Cinequest has to offer.

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