'One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy in this world, and what their place should be,' Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex.
What has become of the woman?
She is imprisoned in her own sex, striving to negotiate her identity in the society that she lives in. Her individual development and relations have been deformed by the pervasive patriarchal ideologies that link her femininity to submission.
Feminism is an often debated issue, yet it is not yet exhausted. One of the latest additions to this field is US-based non-profit organisation Women’s Voices Now.
The project developed as Catinca Tabacaru, Miriam Wakim and Cassandra Schaffa thought of ways to materialise women's lived realities. Whatever that may be, they insisted that it should be done through women's own voices.
As its first project, the organisation hosts Women’s Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival, that 'marries artists with activism, and focuses on the extension of women’s rights.'
It took six months of extensive research to crystallise the idea that was originally proposed by Leslie Sacks, the organisation's Founder, foremost supporter and seed funder.
'By empowering women in the Muslim countries, you will be getting to the crux of where the women's movement is happening now,' says Tabacaru. 'Within Muslim majority countries, there are challenges against the limitations and abuses of women's rights. There is also pro-women work being done, and resourceful educated women working for one another.'
Being a non-profit organisation in the US entails having a plan. The plan of Women’s Voices Now is an educational one – filling the void in the available information about the Muslim world, and looking for alternative ways to look into the lives of women.
'Mainstream media sources tell one side of the story,' Wakim points out. 'We do not want to rely on CNN, or the New York Times for our information; we want to have an unfiltered voice that comes straight from the women in plight.'
The impressive women directors are courageous enough to admit that their philosophy and work are a kind of feminist activism, exposing the struggle of women as well as the filmmakers themselves.
Given the educational and didactic agenda of the organisation, clichéd and stereotypical representations of women are absent from the festival. The woman is the subject; she is the heroine bearing a long history of victimisation.
This image was taken in consideration when determining the scope of the films. The directors had a standard for the films to be accepted; they put aside anything that looks like propaganda, anything hateful to a certain people or place, and anything overly political.
The result is a selection of films that conform to the purpose of the organisation, while still preserving an artistic value.
Over 200 films were submitted; 98 were accepted, of which six are Egyptian: Her Man and Spring ’89 by Ayten Amin, Nour by Mona Makram, The Nonsense by Noha Reshwan, Male and Female by Ahmed Adel, and Girls’ Talk by Mayye Zayed.
'The Egyptian filmmakers that we have in the competition are able to address their issues from an artistic, peaceful place,' says Tabacaru. 'The films are lighter in comparison to others; yet they still convey the message without being overtly heavy.'
Depending on the word of fifteen judges, including film directors, art professors, critics, artists and journalists, the top three films will be chosen from each category (Fiction, Documentary, Student and Experimental), followed by eight honourable mentions, and three prizes for the audience choice awards via online voting.
The organisation depends on fundraising and donations for its funding, and is hoping to bring winning filmmakers to Hollywood for the festival’s ceremony on March 17, 2011s through donations via kickstarter.com. You can visit the site to make your own donation or see how much they’ve collected so far.
Women Voices Now is animated by the desire to demand for women’s rights. Equally important, it clarifies their position in the world, presenting talented women directors as well as stories of resilience and independence.
The film festival comes in the form of an online platform. Herein lies its brilliance; all the films are available as long as there is internet access. Check out the site here.
Watch our impressive Egyptian films and vote for their talented artists. Then, have a cinematic cruise across the Muslim world and enjoy some fantastic filmmaking.
Reviews for all the Egyptian films in the competition will be published here on Cairo 360.