We all too often forget what an important educational role films can have, how much we can learn from them, how they can shape our opinions and how they can sometimes even shatter the existing social, national and religious barriers, giving us a better and more emphatic understanding of the world outside of the cultural bubble we were born into. Of course films can also do the opposite: reinforce the Eurocentric world-views, stereotypes about marginalized groups, problematic ideologies and socially constructed gender roles. It is precisely because of that that it is so wrong to view films as a simple form of entertainment; something that helps us to shut down our brain while watching meaningless action-infused CGI. Films always, even when we do not necessarily realize it, carry important social, cultural and/or political subtexts that often have an influence on our perception of the world. This why it is crucial to expose children and teenagers to good, informative, thought-provoking, although maybe not always easy to process cinematic experiences. And not only that: to also teach them of how to watch films, how to read cinematic codes, how to interpret the story and how to reflectively and critically discuss about the film medium. There is undoubtedly still a long and challenging journey ahead of us before we will succeed at making film studies a respected part of a school curriculum, but Eye On Film is indeed one of the first and very much important steps into the right direction.
This year’s, although even second edition of the festival has screened an impressive number of 43 films from 28 different countries; 15 feature length, 4 medium length and 24 short films, most of which also made their way to elementary and high school screenings, accompanied by short and educational film lectures.
The opening night began on a quite lighter note than the rest of the festival’s programme, with a somewhat romanticized portrayal of the Jasmine revolution and French immigrant youth in Ma révolution. More light-hearted coming-of-age films followed, such as the portrayal of difficult and emotionally charged high school years in contemporary Russia in 14+, a charming Norwegian documentary about three boys overcoming social stigma by relentlessly following their dreams in Ballet Boys and Venezuelan absurdist dark comedy 3 Beauties that in a funny and effective way addressed and criticized country’s obsession with beauty pageants, their constant objectification of women and ever-present patriarchal culture in which men shamelessly dictate how women should look and where women are only worth something as long as they are considered beautiful. But the film digs even deeper as it also shows a devastating effect that such a deep-rooted patriarchy has on women who, instead of joining powers in an attempt to overturn the system, ruthlessly compete among each other. It also quite playfully approaches the binary oppositions in which women are typically portrayed in literature and films, where they are seen as either innocent virgins or sinister whores; righteous, quiet and uptight or selfish, shameless and easy. The film is far from being perfect, but it is admiringly daring and not at all afraid of going to the most bizarre extremes, which ultimately makes up for all the film’s shortcomings.
Whereas every minute spent at this year’s festival was thoroughly enjoyable, I did have some reservations about 14+, a film that quite realistically captures the life of male teenagers in post-communist Russia, but fails to produce a good or at least somewhat interesting female character. Most of the film is indeed filmed from a boy’s perspective and there are some elements of the girl’s mostly non-speaking role that could potentially work, as it is quite clear from the film’s narrative that Russia is, to this day, a very traditional and patriarchal country. Her non-speaking could therefore easily be interpreted as her not having a voice to express anything, for it is the men in her life (either her patriarch of a father or thugs from the neighbourhood, relentlessly harassing and terrorizing her), but that still cannot serve as an excuse for the voyeuristic way in which the camera moves around her throughout the film. The voyeuristic way in which she and her girlfriends are filmed and the fact that they barely pass as having speaking parts make it quite clear that they were never intended to be much more than objects to look at, for there is absolutely no subversive meaning in their passive and quiet presence. Ultimately this film fails at offering any critique of the patriarchal and misogynistic Russian society where a woman is constantly and mercilessly objectified and prayed upon – but even though these films fell somewhat short at times, they provided a much welcomed balance to the darker and heavier half of the festival’s programme that dealt with some of the most important social issues currently taking place around the world.
A more in-depth review of the second half of the festival, covering Latvian Mellow Mud, Canadian-Afghan Walking Mina and Kurdish documentary Life on the Border, is coming soon. Stay tuned.