Shameless had the opportunity to speak with Jill Andrew, the festival’s director, who explains what this festival is all about.
The festival’s conception:
At the time I was completing my Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto New College, and I had been consumed with readings about body image, media representation, eating “disorders” (which I, inspired by feminist theorist Becky Thomson, refer to as “eating problems”), and the importance of interrogating issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, dis/ability, and class when discussing eating problems and body dissatisfaction. I began to read qualitative data surrounding women’s experiences in and outside of their bodies. Women reported feeling “homeless” within their bodies and not being able to talk about body image because they didn’t feel like they had an image at all.
I’d also read about women who were redefining themselves and challenging labels: fat activism, challenging feminist consumerism, and creating zines in order to “talk back,” or, as I call it, “bite back” against those who try to keep us in stifling boxes.
I wondered if there were folks out there talking about their bodies and other people’s bodies, grappling with the way bodies are constructed. Were people taking this up through creative mediums? I came across many fat activism groups that used theatre: for instance, Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed challenges heteronormative assumptions about femininity and masculinity and, thus, the female body.
The festival’s aims:
I decided to attempt to share the telling of folks’ stories through film. I wanted to redefine what body “image” meant to my audience. I wanted women and men in attendance to walk away realizing that body politics include discussions around race, class, and sexual orientation. I want them to know that body “image” is also a public health issue. If we do not interrogate the images we see all too often on TV, we are continuing to validate a climate that validates and glorifies violence against women (check out Jean Kilbourne – she is my shero on this issue!). I want people to leave the festival with a newer understanding of how we move through our bodies when they are ill, how we must re-negotiate our identities and our limitations, how others view us, etc. I want this festival to encourage us to challenge how we define “beauty,” “femininity,” and “body image.” I want it to expand our minds into spaces of identity.
Collaborating with filmmakers:
I had followed Jean Kilbourne’s work and knew instantly that once Killing Us Softly 4 came out, it would be hot off the press in my festival!
Colleen Furlotte’s Question of Beauty has a great intergenerational approach to the issue.
Elizabeth St. Philip’s film Colour of Beauty discusses issues of colourism/racism in the fashion industry, which speaks to my goal of expanding our discussion on “body image.” All too often, we discuss the fashion indudstry from the perspective of the size of models, but very rarely have we had critical discussions about colour. Is colour only good when exoticized? For the most part, it’s still an industry with a very Eurocentric standard of beauty.
The majority of the films were programmed by Aisha Fairclough, my partner in both love and war! She was simply amazing. Members of our festival advisory board have also played key roles in pulling this together. Members include Tina Reid, Ai Rei Dooh-Tousignant, and Ashley Demartini, all of whom work or have worked with the National Film Board, where all our films are screening on July 17-18. So while the festival was my vision, and truly sprang from work I’ve been doing for years, you can see that it’s nothing short of a group effort!
Shameless readers, take note: there is a YouthZone component of the festival that will take plcae on Saturday, July 17, from 10am-4:30pm. Young women aged 12-18 will have the opportunity to see films, participate in workshops, get free feminist, and have a free lunch! For registration, please contact email@example.com with the subject line: BITE ME! YouthZone.