Violence against WomenNetali Braun
“I may be really wrong, but... I think we have already met. More than 20 years ago. I don't think I remembered that line-up until I saw you today... I go out of the line-up and there you are. Standing at the entrance to the police station. Alone... it doesn't show you on...”
Nira (Evgenia Dodina), a film editor, accidentally runs into Lilly (Ronit Elkabetz), a determined left activist. The random encounter floods them with difficult memories; they were both raped by the same serial rapist in Tel Aviv in 1978. More than 20 years later, they meet and go on a hard and liberating journey following the assault which brought them together involuntarily. From fragile Nira's point of view, the internal break, the rape, cannot be seen on decisive charismatic Lilly.
In the seven years the festival runs, filmmakers from Israel and the world sent us many films dealing with violence against women, and especially sexual abuse. We noted that this was a popular subject among filmmakers for two main reasons: because fearing rape is a feeling that escorts women from their early childhood, and many women carry with them the experience of some kind of sexual assault; and because cinema deals with representations, motifs and connotations of rape since its creation, mostly as a sensational visual event, or as a vessel for didactic messages. In the film The Ruse (1915) for example, a woman that goes to work is kidnapped by the boss, who tries to rape her, saved at the last minute by her fiancé, and at the end of the film marries him and never goes to work again. Feminine sexuality, which was also perceived as negative, was put to order by the danger of rape. In the film The Talk of the Town (1918), a husband pays a man to try and rape his wife and thus “cure” her flirting passion.
American film scholar Prof. Sarah Projansky, who will lecture at the conference titled “Sexual Violence in Cinema – Ethics and a New Language” in the festival, claims that in its very first year, in the beginning of the last century, there were multiple references and representations of rape in films, and that ever since cinema and television set our perception of sexual violence, and through it the relation to women in general. She determines that in fact, the history of representations of rape in film is the history of film in itself.
As the world film industry is almost purely masculine (94%) and the infiltration of women into it is slow, women filmmakers have a deep urge, which might be their greatest challenge, to try to reclaim and retell the story, find a new cinematic language for it, protest and create a true alternative for representing rape and its meaning in film.
On the festival's eigth year we are already experienced and courageous enough to dive into difficult contents. We chose to dedicate a vast special program to the theme of violence against women, with a spotlight on sexual abuse. We offer a profound, open and critical discussion of questions for which the answers exceed the screen: How do film and television define and design feminism in general, and violence against women in particular, in different periods of time? How do popular narratives of rape relate to ideas about gender, race, status, nationality and sexuality? What are the ethical boundaries of representation of violence against women, and how can exposure of vulnerability be combined with strength?
The festival will open with the film The Whistleblower, which tells the true shocking story of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American police officer who was sent to post-war Bosnia as part of the supervision of NATO, the UN and the American police on the local police. She notes details that lead her to discover activity of women trafficking. As her investigation continues, despite alienation, resistance and clear warnings of her colleagues, she uncovers something that destabilizes the foundations of her belief in humanity: it is an enormous branched industry that makes millions, and those responsible for it are not only the Bosnian patrons; the large sums of money reach the heads of the organization for which she works: the American police, NATO and the UN Peacekeepers. At the end of the film we learn that most Americans responsible were never punished due to diplomatic immunity, and some of them were later posted in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The Whistleblower is a nerve-racking suspense film à la James Bond, only this time the hero is played by a woman, the excellent Rachel Weisz (who rightfully earned an Oscar nomination), who fights all alone the powers of evil, which are not the fiction of the sick imagination of a screenwriter, but the gloomy reality of women.
Multiple incidents of honor killing in Germany led director Feo Aladag to create her delicate, painful first film When We Leave. The film follows Umay, a young German of Turkish origins, when she tries to flee her violent miserable marriage. Her family immigrated to Berlin, where she spent her childhood and youth, but after her marriage she moved in with her husband in Istanbul. Few battered woman find the courage to leave their husbands; Umay manages to do the first step – she goes to visit her family in Berlin with her five year old son and plans to never come back. When her parents discover her intentions, they urge her to go back to her husband, her decision greatly dishonors them. Umay refuses, and when her father and brother decide to send her child back to his father, she escapes with him to a women's shelter and tries to rebuild a life alone. However, the powerful need of acceptance, love and belonging to the family takes over her and leads her to a bitter and inevitable end.
Duma (Dolls) دمى is the first documentary film in the Middle East that deals with sexual abuse of women in Arab society. Abeer Haddad, a theater actress and director from Jaffa, created the children's play Duma in order to raise awareness and caution in regards to the subject. When she saw that the audience was not coming, she decided to go on a filmed journey from the north of Israel to the south, and document Arab women who suffered sexual abuse. She meets four heroines who dare to expose their tragic stories and tell what they have experienced in the familiar circle of their families and acquaintances. They courageously resist the silencing and call other women to join them and change their status in the family and in society.
The program will include several other films, discussions, lectures, panels and a unique conference with culture and film scholars from Israel and the world. In addition, we have curated a selection of short films of independent filmmakers and students of film departments, dealing with violence against girls. The films will be screened alongside open discussions and professional therapeutic guidance in local high schools during all days of the festival.
November 25 will be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women; we are glad for the opportunity to raise and broaden the public discussion on one of the most urgent and critical issues of society, and see the festival as an ideal platform to lead it, as film does not only reflect reality, it is also a major partner in its creation.