Confronting Uncomfortable Pasts: Towards An Intersectional Approach to Women and Film

Katie Mackinnon
Editing by Daisy Silver

Screenshot from film: Elle-Maija Tailfeathers’

In my third year studying at McGill University, I took a course on French feminist filmmakers that changed the way I thought about the role of women in art. Once a week, in a darkened room of an old house on Peel Street, we would sit together and watch the films of Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, and Catherine Breillat in awe. These were films I had never heard of before, like Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), or Claire Denis’ Beau Travail (1999), and it was during these moments of stunned silence, when all my senses were attuned to the projected screen, that I developed a deeper understanding of the history of female writers and directors. We talk a lot about “gaze” in film and media studies, and it was through studying these films that I was first naïvely introduced to the fight to achieve the female gaze in cinema. Cléo de 5 à 7 is a masterpiece for many reasons, but what struck me most was watching a female protagonist engage with her own reflection, and to have the film acknowledge her own gaze as a important means of autonomy and communication.

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