Judy Richland Discusses the International Women's Film Forum

March 17, 2015

We talk about how film can spur real change, and what viewers can expect at this year's IWFF.

Tell us about the genesis of the International Women's Film Forum.

I had been screening films for the Simmons Community since 2011 with my PDIAC Grant, “Diversity in Film Genres: Empowering Young Women of Color,” and I started to notice what a profound effect these women filmmakers had on the students. The students didn’t want to leave after the Q&A…there was so much more the students wanted to know.

The thought occurred to me…why not create a day long event, celebrating this forgotten segment of the film industry? Women’s stories matter, and Simmons could be the place where these stories could be told. I could potentially create an event which could be unique to Simmons packed with international women’s stories our students would never hear about by just going to their neighborhood movie theater. The students would have the opportunity to ask questions of these women filmmakers who see the ills in their countries and courageously fight to get their films made.

What sort of adversity did the women filmmakers of last year’s festival have to overcome in order to get their films made?

Last year people in the audience were taken aback when they realized that filmmaker Xoliswe Sithole risked her life to make her film, “Child of the Revolution,” by visiting her homeland of Zimbabwe in 2012. Her cousin was a well-known activist and politician who was critical of the Mugabe regime. There was a scene in the film when she visits the well shaft where the corrupt Mugabe government dumped her cousin’s body after they murdered him. Xoliswe secretly took a video camera to the well shaft, and during the Q&A she described how dangerous it was and how they could have been arrested.

During filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal’s filming of “Josh,” she had to shoot a scene in a marketplace in Pakistan. During the discussion session, people were horrified to hear that while she was filming they were hounded by street gangs and police. She said that the only thing they could do was to bribe these groups in order to get her film shot.

For the film Wadjda, shot in Saudi Arabia, students were amazed to learn that the filmmaker Haiaa al-Mansour was not allowed to be in the street while the scenes were being shot, because women are arrested for such a crime. During the filming of her street shots, she had to stay in a van, and use men on the streets with walkie talkies to get her footage.

I don’t think that our students realized to what extent these women filmmakers risked their lives to make their films.

How does the International Women's Film Forum exemplify the leadership mission of Simmons College?

IWFF is all about leadership. These women filmmakers and/or protagonists are speaking out about injustices they have observed, and by example they are giving young women the courage to speak out as well.

Filmmakers are community activists. Their films bring about social change.

Let me give you one example. One of the documentaries I screened at Simmons was “The Invisible War” by producer Amy Ziering and Director Kirby Dick. The film is about the thousands of women that are subject to sexual abuse in the military, with no recourse for justice.

The filmmakers screened the film for members of Congress, and upon seeing the film, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the way in which rape would be investigated in the military would have to be changed. Panetta told one of the executive producers that seeing the film was partly responsible for his decision.

How have students demonstrated this sort of leadership through film?

Last year I had two students from Saudi Arabia, Shaden Almutlaq and Sara Balghoniam, who were clearly influenced by…some of the work they saw. I encouraged them to work on a film interviewing other Saudi women students at Simmons and at other schools about their hopes and dreams as future professionals. What they did is they made videos of 10 Saudi young women and asked them specific questions concerning their future career paths. They edited and produced the film “Takalamy” which means “Speak Up” in Arabic. Courageously, they posted their film in August of 2014 on YouTube and it now has 10,843 hits. In addition, the film was screened for a gender studies course at Boston College last fall. 

The International Women’s Film Forum will be held on Saturday, April 18th at Simmons College in the Main Campus Building from 12:00 – 6:00 pm, with a reception to follow.

Click on the calendar event to find the full listing of this year’s films.