International Conference Cinéfemmes. Women’s Cinema of the 21st Century. From Film d’Autrice to Genre Cinema.

FernUniversität in Hagen (Germany), February 9–11, 2023.

Sebastian Cwiklinski
Women’s cinema; female filmmakers; genre cinema; auteur film; film d’autrice; Eastern and Central European cinema; gender studies; feminism; queer studies; film industry.

The organisers of the conference Cinéfemmes. Women’s Cinema of the 21st Century. From Film d’Autrice to Genre Cinema / Das Frauenkino des 21. Jahrhunderts – Vom Autorinnenfilm zum Genrekino, Irina Gradinari and Irina Schulzki from the Interdisciplinary Research Group “Gender Politics” based at FernUniversität in Hagen (Germany), share two research interests: both are involved in cinema studies (with a special focus an Eastern European cinema) as well as in gender studies, and these research interests were well reflected in the focus of the conference they organised – scholars from various European countries presented the results of their research on women’s cinema. Even though the conference included talks on US-American, British and French cinema as well, Eastern and Central European cinemas happened to be the primary focus of the conference.

The question of genre and how female directors relate to it was one of the main topics. In her keynote address “Rethinking Agency in the Move from Authorship to Genre”, Christine Gledhill (University of Leeds) pointed out that the transition of women’s cinema from auteurism to genre has been gradual and by no means binary; unlike what is often assumed, female directors might subscribe to certain genre conventions while fully retaining their agency, and the play with genre conventions has become an integral part of their work.

Christine Gledhill’s keynote “Rethinking Agency in the Move from Authorship to Genre”. 9 February 2023, FernUniversität in Hagen, conference Cinéfemmes. Photo: Irina Schulzki.

Gledhill’s findings were corroborated in the second keynote address, delivered by Elisabeth Bronfen (University of Zürich), focusing on Jane Campion’s and Chloé Zhao’s creative appropriations of the Western genre. While some critics interpret Zhao’s Nomadland (2020, USA) as a contribution to the road movie genre, Bronfen convincingly argued that the film should instead be viewed as a critical examination of the Western. In her adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel The Power of the Dog (2021, USA), Jane Campion relies on the Western genre, too, but combines it with elements of both melodrama and Psycho Gothic. Usually, a Western is built on a contradiction between heroism, which takes place on the prairie and is associated with masculinity, and domestication associated with the town and femininity. As Bronfen showed, both Zhao and Campion have found a way to subvert this dichotomy without completely abandoning the rules of the genre.

Elisabeth Bronfen’s keynote address “‘A Prairie of One’s Own’: Jane Campion and Chloé Zhao Conquer the Western”. 9 February 2023, FernUniversität in Hagen, conference Cinéfemmes. Photo: Irina Schulzki.

In her talk “Rendering the Father’s Gaze: Jennifer Lynch”, Irina Gradinari showed that Jennifer Chambers Lynch’s films might be understood as a dialogue with her father David Lynch’s work. For instance, Surveillance (2008, USA) which depicts a murder in an American province, can be seen as the daughter’s commentary on David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997, USA) and The Straight Story (1999, USA). However, Chambers Lynch did not just confine herself to commenting on her father’s work in Surveillance but combined elements of different genres, thus using genre conventions creatively for her own ends.

Genre played an important role in several talks focusing on Eastern and Central European cinema. Although Dagmara Rode’s (University of Łódź) talk (“‘Not a Feminist Manifesto’: On the Conflicting Meanings of ‘Feminist Film’ in Polish Film Criticism. A Case Study of the Reception of Maria Sadowska’s Films”), one of three talks dedicated to Polish cinema, dealt primarily with the critical reception of Sadowska’s films, the question of genre came up when Rode quoted Sadowska’s own characterisation of her film Dzień Kobiet / Women’s Day (2013, Poland) as a “feminist Western”. Interestingly, the Polish public tends to classify Sadowska’s films as feminist, while both the director herself and the German public (which Rode contrasts to the Polish audience) view them instead as socially engaged works. The two other talks dealing with Polish women’s cinema, Grażyna Świętochowska’s (University of Gdańsk) contribution on Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s “cinema of excess” and Mathieu Lericq’s (Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis) talk on Aleksandra Terpińska’s teen movies, addressed very recent phenomena: the latest film they discussed was made in 2022.

Mathieu Lericq and Ekaterina Odé. 10 February 2023, FernUniversität in Hagen, conference Cinéfemmes. Photo: Natascha Drubek.

Two talks were dedicated to Central European women’s cinema: Jasmina Šepetavc (University of Ljubljana) spoke about the feminist wave of Slovenian female directors after 2002 and Tereza Czesany Dvořáková (Academy of Performing Art Prague/Charles University Prague) reported on the share of women in the Czech film industry from 1992 to 2022. Women’s cinema in both countries shows considerable differences: while in Slovenia the first film directed by a woman was made as recently as 2002 (Maja Weiss’s Varuh meje / The Guardian of the Frontier) and women’s share of Slovenian film production does not exceed 10 percent, the situation in the Czech Republic is quite different as Czesany Dvořáková showed, pointing to the results of research she conducted among Czech female directors: even if women’s cinema might to some extent be regarded as established in the country, most of the female directors complained of “professional loneliness” and lack of networking. In the quantitative results of her study of women’s participation, stagnation was noticeable for the years examined.