DOXA Film Festival Preview| W.A.R. Women Art Revolution

The poster for W.A.R. Women Art Revolution takes its inspiration from
the famous Delacroix history painting-- a testament to the power of documentary film
I love documentary film. In fact, if I could choose another career path besides the one I already enjoy, it would be as a globe-trotting documentary filmmaker. To be sure, I am privileged to work with and teach a number of budding documentary filmmakers, and it never ceases to impress me how powerfully the message of this genre translates around the world. If you pause to think about how our contemporary society comes to debate the key issues that were in the past represented in large-scale history paintings—think here Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa (1818) tackling issues of race and slavery or Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830) sparking questions about social class and political access—today’s equivalent arguably emerges in non-fiction films that create the context for broadly engaged reflection and discussion.

The DOXA Film Festival opens in Vancouver today!
Today marks the opening of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, organized by the city’s non-profit Documentary Media Society, and over the next week and a half, I will profile a number of great documentary films on the screening schedule. As with the Vancouver International Film Festival, many of these titles will eventually make their way to other film festivals around the world and/or become available on cable channels or as DVD rentals.

Roberta Breitmore was performed by Leeson for nine years
as a simulated person. 
The first film that immediately caught my attention, W.A.R. Women Art Revolution , is connected to the digital media artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, whom we had discussed in my New Media seminar this past term. Leeson became a focus of interest in the class when discussing issues around identity vis-à-vis the virtual and technologically mediated platforms of the gaming and Internet worlds. In early landmark performances such as Roberta Breitmore (1970-79) and LORNA (1983-86), Leeson moved audiences out of the traditional role of passive art observer position to one of increasing intensity and interactivity, often with the added charge of emotional investment. At the same time in pieces such as Deep Contact (1984-89) and Agent Ruby (2002-present), Leeson has consistently raised questions about artificial intelligence and our perception of cyborg bodies as they relate to notions of gender and power. Just a cursory look at her highly interactive and rich website shows a remarkable contribution to the field of digital media arts as a wider whole.

It is therefore quite compelling that Leeson would turn towards filmmaking—a far more traditional media form— at this latter stage of her career. When I first heard of Women Art Revolution, I sought out interviews to get a better sense of why a film about how the women’s movement transformed the visual arts was needed at this moment of what many call an era of “post-feminism.” In an interview done with the Toronto International Film Festival where the film first premiered last year (see YouTube clip below), Leeson describes how the silences of the histories associated with the feminist art movement are critical for keeping the conversation going about the inequalities that continue to plague the contemporary art world. With forty years to reflect on her own experience and that of her female colleagues, Leeson sees the project as the culmination of a long-standing desire to tell a collective story of struggle and perseverance.

Reviewers of the film have universally praised Leeson for creating a “true artist film,” appealing to those who understand and value the challenges of the craft. At the Sundance Film Festival, where the film was recently screened, a reviewer for the Hollywood Reporter stated the following:   In this comprehensive and vibrant historical fabric, we view the evolution of the movement, from its earnest/angry genesis in the 1970s to its embrace of humor as a weapon against the male-dominated arts establishment during the 1980s. It has always been a richly conflicted progression, indeed, a key ingredient of its power and metamorphosis.” That it took Leeson 42 years to find the courage to make the film is reason enough to check it out. 

W.A.R. Women Art Revolution will be screening at DOXA on Monday, May 9th at 9:00pm at the Vancity Theatre.

Further Reading:

Dougherty, Ariel. "The Intersections of Women Centered Media: Funding and Struggle for Our Human Rights." Global Media Journal 7.13 (2008)

Hershman, Lynn. "The Raw Data Diet, All Consuming Bodies and the Shape of Things to Come." Leonardo 38.3 (2005): 208-212.