According to an article recently published in the New York Times, 2015 is the “year we obsessed over identity”—the year we delved deeper into the flexibility of racial, sexual and gender categories in a very public way—so it is fitting that the 26th annual Stockholm International Film Festival’s lineup offers a direct challenge to traditional gender roles in the movie industry.
“It is a known fact that we’re dealing with a (film) industry that is extremely male compared to theater and the other fine arts,” says the Stockholm Film Festival’s director Git Scheynius, and she’s made it a part of her mission to change the status quo and it all comes down to selection.
“Big festivals like Cannes often say that there are no female directors, but I would say there are plenty of female directors, they just aren’t chosen.” Scheynius maintains that the responsibility of increasing female representation in the film industry lies with the film industry itself: it needs to make space for filmmakers of all backgrounds, and this can only happen when film festival committees consciously choose to create diverse programs.
The Stockholm Film Festival has done just that and Scheynius is proud. “This year is quite historical because there are more female directors than male, which means attendees can see a lot more films that are made from the female perspective.” Scheynius believes that female directors such as Fia Sandlund (She’s Wild Again Tonight), Laura Bispuri (Sworn Virgin), and Ida Panahandeh (Nahid) will enrich the experiences of viewers who, in Western-oriented cinema, are exposed to the male perspective 90% of the time (female directors only make up 10% of the current Western film canon).
While giving a platform to female filmmakers is crucial to the vitality of the film industry’s future, it is also important to continue to highlight the human element in cinema—that which connects us all. Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei’s attendance and involvement in this year’s Stockholm Film Festival will help bring attention to human rights issues that are portrayed in many of the films, such as Caroline Kernen and Tova Kurkiala Medbo’s I jakt på ett batter liv, which centers on the experience of migrants—one of the most pressing issues of the day.
“It’s a great honor and privilege for the Stockholm Film Festival to have Ai Weiwei,” Scheynius says, “he is one of the most influential artists of our time and a defender of human rights.”
Ai Weiwei first got involved with the Stockholm Film Festival three years ago when he sent his sculpture “The Chair of Non-Attendance” to Stockholm to symbolize his inability to leave China to be a part of the festival’s jury. Then last year he collaborated with the festival in a very interesting way: in conversations via Skype he was able to give instructions for the creation of the ice sculptures of lions guarding the gate to the Forbidden City in Beijing.
This year Ai Weiwei will finally be able to attend the festival in the flesh as a member of the jury for the new Stockholm Impact Award. In addition to a prize of 1 million SEK, the winner will receive an artwork Ai Weiwei has created specially for the award to Scheynius’ “extreme amusement, happiness, whatever you call it!” Scheynius has already seen the artwork and says it is nothing short of amazing.
Needless to say the Stockholm Film Festival 2015 is a big deal for women and a big deal for human rights. If you are looking for a way to escape the dark days of November, check out the program and see what you can fit into your schedule.