The latest installment of TIFF’s Packaged Goods series, titled Girls of Film, offers us one reminder over and over again: women are making commercials, short films and music videos — and you needn’t dwell on their gender. Rae Ann Fera, Packaged Goods’ curator, has selected a totally diverse and entertaining bunch of films, from a Grimes music video to a men’s shaving commercial. Despite the theme, with “girls” as the one unifier, you’d be hard pressed to guess confidently whether any of these films have been directed by a woman or a man.
First off, a quick overview: the films are short, colourful and consistently enjoyable. You may recognize some big name music videos, but some less iconic musicians introduce themselves as well. One of my favourite films here, Missing Friend, came from satirical newspaper The Onion. Shot like a serious/sensational news hour show, we see two faux-sympathetic hosts interview two teenage girls, who make a plea to the viewer to help them find their missing friend. In between sincerity, though, the girls talk trash about other high-school girls and make shallow remarks aimed at the hosts. It’s perfect, nasty satire. Also notable, Belly by Julia Pott displays a remarkable animation style. In its phantasmagoric story of weird animals, friendship and loss, Belly builds a profound feeling of sadness. On the music video side of the spectrum, I wouldn’t have thought there’s much point in going to a theatre to watch giant YouTube, but it’s kind of crazy. Having to pack enough stimulus to keep a teenager’s attention on a four-inch frame, music videos are almost blinding on the big screen.
Is this series progressive or random? Both: its theme means progress, but the viewer experience is all over the place. Let’s look from both viewpoints:
Progressive: Feminism today has a popular definition which only vaguely resembles its 20th century big sister. Today, men are generally less reviled and high heels – in the minds of some women – have transformed from a symbol of oppressive objectification to one of sexy self-empowerment. Being a feminist (to some) no longer requires an activist attitude, but one which ignores dated boundaries. While challenging gender segregation once involved entering male-dominated prestige fields like medicine or law, there are fewer sectors of power left predominantly to men.
One of these sectors, however, comes in the nerdy, bombastic world of film. Men like to be directors. Some have aligned the camera’s eye with the male gaze, a gaze which objectifies the female actress. But while that theory holds up in some eras and films, you’re definitely allowed to call it nonsense. Everyone has a gaze. And now that we’re in the 21st century, instead of critiquing male hegemony you can just make commercials. Or music videos. Or short films. Or features, for that matter. It’s not a big deal anymore, just as it shouldn’t be. Girls of Film proves that women are working in the film industry and you shouldn’t be surprised.
Yet: random. Rae Ann Fera demonstrates, by curating surfing-themed and bro-humoured shaving commercials, that women can do anything in film. And yet I can’t help but think that the “anything” in this programme also reveals its limits. Hypothetically, after further Girls installments, one would eventually just feel like they’re watching an unfocused mix of music videos, short films and commercials – a big-screen shuffle mix of YouTube and Vimeo. I support female filmmaking wholeheartedly, but lumping diverse creative works under such a massive header as “girls” always risks becoming too general, but as a single event, the point is made.
Either way, the content of Girls of Film is loud, fast and spectacular. Go and enjoy some enormous music videos. Contemplate the fact that there are still not enough female directors around. But be prepared for the shuffle.
Packaged Goods: Girls of Film screens on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
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