Get Your GOFF On!

21 / 08 / 2014

Karen Pickering has been a busy woman of late. As well as being the host of Cherchez la Femme, contributing to various women’s organisation ‘great debates‘, running Self Esteem Education and Development (SEED) workshops for young people, lodging freelance writing contributions, she’s also the Director of the upcoming first ever Girls on Film Festival (GOFF, bless).

GOFF kicks off mid-September, so what better way to celebrate Culture Club this month by having the Festival’s Director provide Sheilas readers with an armchair ride through the Festival program. Make sure you book your seat to the Festival, and I dare say we’ll see you there 🙂

By Karen Pickering

Many of our not-so-gentle Sheilas readers will have heard of the Bechdel Test. If you love film and care about womens representation therein, its a useful little tool to get us thinking and talking about the characterisation of women and girls on screen and how their stories are told. It is named after Alison Bechdel, who depicted some female characters in a comic strip called Dykes To Watch Out For from 1985 – 2008, which included a sketch in which two characters are having a conversation about why they will and wont watch movies:


The Bechdel Test was born and has endured because it spoke to that feeling many of us have experienced – why are women excluded from so many of our shared stories? If youre not familiar with the test, its very simple – consider a film and, as outlined above, ask yourself the three following questions:

  • Does the film have more than one female character (named)?
  • Do these female characters have a conversation with each other?
  • Do they talk about something other than a man (or men)?

Its an amazingly low bar to set, isnt it? And yet so many films fail. This is not to say that those films are necessarily bad or unworthy or even especially sexist. Just as many films that do pass ‘The Bechdel Test’ are not what youd necessarily call feminist. Its really just an exercise in examining our pop culture consumption and the messages it conveys about womens agency, importance and autonomy.

Some films might only just pass, by one incidental conversation, and this kind of ‘victoryreminds us how little were offered as feminist consumers of film. It might surprise you to know that Guardians of the Galaxy (barely) passes the Bechdel Test, but most of the Harry Potter movies fail (despite having amazingly strong female characters like Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagall, and Bellatrix Lestrange). The hilariously pornographic Boogie Nights passes, as does Sin City, a terrifically sexist film with overt misogyny on display throughout. Other films that sensitively, powerfully and honestly depict women still fail, like Frida, Gravity or Twelve Years a Slave 

But while its not perfect, it drives home another important point – as long as men continue to be the makers of our films, television shows, music, plays, and other cultural touchstones, theyll continue to put men at the centre, and tell stories from the perspective of men, and include female characters as tangential, unimportant and largely irrelevant, or merely vehicles to further the audience understanding of the male characters. When women are only included as wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters and mothers of the protagonist, it reinforces the idea that we are accessories and supporting players, rather than individuals with worth and agency separate from men.

We know that only one woman has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow, and that only three others have ever been nominated. Last year, 6% of the top 250 movies at the American box office were directed by women. And on screen, the fictional stories mirror the reality – only 11% of clearly identifiable protagonists are female. This begins with the stories we show children and continues from there.

The message we get as a society is that women dont matter as much as men; the message we get as girls is that if someone is going to save the day and live an interesting and noteworthy life, its as a man, and as women were being told that despite comprising half the movie-going public and paying for half the tickets, we are simply less important than the men whose stories we are served. (For more stats on women and film, click here).

I recently pulled together a team to work on a project that began as an experiment in feminist film appreciation. We asked ourselves, ‘What if we could stage a festival celebrating girls and womens stories on screen, where we would preferentially choose works by women, and include male makers only if the film was clearly feminist in sensibility?’

The challenge we set ourselves was to find ten feminist movies that showed women and girls as powerful, complex figures at the centre of their own lives; ten movies that all passed Bechdel; ten movies that would focus on a range of women and girls from different backgrounds, sexualities, abilities, classes, languages, and realities; but most importantly, ten movies that made the audience feel good about being feminists. And, we did it!

The very first Girls On Film Festival will be held 12-14 September at Northcote Town Hall and alongside those ten movies is a bunch of special introductions, in conversations, performances and  importantly, parties. We have a special session aimed at teenagers, called ‘Girl Germs‘, which includes an all-ages screening of The Punk Singer, a brilliant documentary about Riot Grrrl hero, Kathleen Hanna [Sheilas Ed Sarah Capper: It really is brilliant! As well as being for suitable for teens, women in their 30s & 40s (ahem) who were (and possibly are still, ahem) avid live music goers in the mid-late 90s [coughing fit ensues], you will love this doco].

The rest of the program includes The Runaways, Ponyo, Heavenly Creatures, Heathers, Whale Rider, T is For Teacher, Radiance, Exposed and Nine to Five.

We can hardly wait to share it with you and it all came from one central idea – that women and girlsstories matter and they deserve to be seen, heard and lauded.

Feminist movies have a big role to play here, and we thought it was possible to pull together a program that was the opposite of depressing, so here we are. Obviously, this is also a great excuse for a three-day party, so check out, get your gang together and book your tickets for the inaugural GOFF! Well save you a choc top.

For more info:

Girls on Film Festival Page

Girls on Film Facebook Page

Girls on Film Youtube Clip

Women and Film Stats

Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

Alison Bechdel