The Woman’s World: A Report

10th IWHM, 21-25 September 05

Boisterous, exciting, made us sit up and join hands with them: such were the drumbeats by 13 women drummers that marked the opening ceremony of the 10th IWHM. This international conference this year focused on health rights, women’s lives, challenges and strategies for movement building. But then the women drummers, a group of thirteen Dalit women performers from Madurai, Southern India, in their pink dhotis, blue head bands and bells on their anklets, made the 1000 representatives from 70 countries around the world join in their vigorous world of drum beats and created a magical ambience. This was followed by a short introductory film by Magic Lantern Foundation that contextualised the conference, traced the historical journey of the IWHMs, and introduced the concepts behind the five focal themes of this year’s conference.

While the opening ceremony was under way, we were putting the final touches to the film festival. Called The Woman’s World the festival presented 22 documentaries and 3 feature films on the themes of the conference. The festival venue was at the Kautilya auditorium, in the Samrat Hotel, that is adjacent to the conference venue: Ashoka Hotel.

The festival, curated by Gargi Sen and Ranita Chatterjee, attempted to present a global picture of women and health with very serious restrictions and constraints. First, we were seriously constrained by time, the total screening time available to us was a mere 16 hours. Second, the lead time to the festival was also rather short that made the curation process frantically frenzied. And third, we had limited budgets that seriously impacted the issue of language. We could not provide language translations/ version in the four main languages of the conference; Spanish, French, Hindi and English but were restricted to English. Nevertheless, we took up the challenge and put together a selection of some of the best of the films available from around the world for the 10th IWHM.

The film festival ran parallel to the workshops and seminars. However, by mutual consent, we showed nothing during the plenary. Hence each day, the festival had somewhat different timings and plans.

While the films resonate with the five focal themes of this meeting they also traverse several areas all at once. We found the metaphor of space, and its varied connotations, useful in thinking through the documentaries. And so we have clustered these 25 films into four thematics that we think best reflect the many facets of women and their lives: work, women in conflict zones, women on the margins, and the contentious global policies and practices that affect women’s everyday lives.

The Festival

Day 1

The film festival was inaugurated with “Tales of the Night Fairies”, directed by Sohini Ghosh. This 74minute film exploring the power of collective organizing and resistance through 5 sex workers, four women and one man, showed us what was in store for us for the next five days. An overflowing, full house, where people were sitting on the floor, no free chairs, standing through hours on end to watch these films. When “Tales of the Night Fairies” finished our visibly touched 150 and more attendees, gave the director a standing ovation. Sohini took over the session and had a Q&A with her audience. Post lunch we screened “Leila”, our inaugural feature film from Iran.

Day 2

Came with a change where in we had to drop “Women and War (Narir Katha)” at the last minute as we were unable to get the tape from its director, who was out of the country. We started with “Love, Women & Flowers” directed by Marta Rodriguez & Jorge Silva, though this film is more than a decade or two old, shoot in 1988. But we felt its relevance was present and current, very much connected with our theme, proved our instincts right as all those who had come in to watch this film, sat through 56 minutes and wanted its copy. “Live containers” followed in quick succession, with brief introduction to the film, which in any case we were circulating everyday for each of our films. Director Orzu Sharipov kept her viewers glued by her narration of Tajik women, who because of the ongoing political chaos, out of sheer economic necessity are becoming, “live containers”, smuggling heroin inside themselves. Other than “Hack Workers” & “Live containers” the third film from Sorros followed “Wishing for seven sons and one daughter” directed by Ali-Isa Djabbarov from the same neighbourhood, Azerbaijan. Next came “Adha Asman”, directed by Samina Mishra, who unfortunately missed on out on the Q&A session, and a huge response to her film, as she had to rush out of Delhi at the last minute. Fortunately Sherna Dastur director of “Manjuben Truckdriver” could take out time from her busy schedule, and felt the pulse of her audience, as she was sitting amongst them. People thanked her profusely for taking the initiative and making a film like “Manjuben”. Our next offering was “Say I do” directed by Arlene Ami, taking viewers as far as Canada & Philippines. With Munizae Jahangir’s “Search for freedom”, we started our section on war zones, where in our second day proved just as successful as our first, as Karin Jurschicks film “The Peacekeepers and the Women”, kept and maintained our full house like its predecessors.

Day 3

By then we had started recognizing our regulars, who were sometimes missing out on international forums at main plenary or sometimes start of our films, but they still came in saying “even if I get to watch half I will…”. “Autum’s Final Country” came with a surprise visitor Sonia Jabbar, its director. We immediately made space, as she took over a Q&A session with her audience immediately after the film screening. Much appreciated, sending our schedule here and there, for a simple reason, her spectators would just not let her go. The day continued with “In the Spider’s Web” by Hannah Musleh, and “Austin Women in Black: The war is over why are you still there?” by Austin Women in Black. This film from USA, ended our section of War Zones, made most of our viewers miss on their lunch, which in any case had become a norm since the first day of our festival. Post lunch we started with a commercial Bollywood hit “Munnabhai MBBS”. Setting the humour quotient high this feature film looked into very necessary points on medical ethics.

Day 4

On the fourth day our section on No (Wo)man’s Land: Voices from the Margins started with “Planeta Alemania: Observations from Invisibility”, by Dogfilm & Campaneras. Formed the perfect group with another three offerings “Gender trouble” Directed by Roz Mortimer, “A Womb of One’s own” by Gun Holstrom, “Born at Home” directed by Sameera Jain. This section highlighted experiences of people living on the margins, without recognition, who despite their difficult lives, exude a spirit that’s far from despair. The pre lunch session ended with a Q&A where Sameera Jain & Janet Chawla (producer of “Born at Home”), had an involved close knit group discussion, which successfully concluded this section.

On the same day, post lunch we started with our final section Contesting Terrains. Our first offering in this section was with a film by Joost De Haas “Patents or Patients”. Followed immediately after by “Yellow Haze”, by Suniti Singh, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Gayathri Prabhu. After this film Sajida Khan told us her story in “Green gold”. This South African woman with a hazardous dumpsite on her doorstep, with her neighbours dying one by one. The World Bank calling the dump a “world class example of an environmental project” is a film by Heidi Bachram, Julie Chadwick and Ell Southern. Fresh off the edit table we held the world premier of “A Human Question” by T. Jayashree, which looked into the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, how individuals, groups and countries are struggling to preserve access to medicines. This film explored the personal, national and global dimensions of this struggle and responses to the new patent laws mandated by the WTO in name of protecting intellectual property. Meanwhile the chain continued with “Something Like A War” by Deepa Dhanraj, a 52 minute film from India, looking into its Family Planning (FP) programme, launched in 1952, tracing the history of FP programme, exposing its cynicism, corruption and brutality, which so characterised its implementation.

Day 5

On Sunday 25th Sep, final day of our screening, we ended with a feature film “Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)” by Pedro Almodóvar.

Conclusion

While running the show was certainly physically exhausting — we were a tiny team managing the audience, seating, screening, the projection, invites, Q&A, announcements — everything, the response to the festival was extremely gratifying and made it worth while. As Kamla Bhasin said “Gargi, thanks, thanks, thanks again to you and the whole team for showing us these films. (And now, we want/need copies)”, reflected in two lines the enormous, colossal and huge response we kept on getting everyday for each of our film. To make it brief, it moved our viewers from across the globe to take notice, empathize and understand these real stories and issues, which they conveyed sometimes in few or many words.

To note down a few ” The movies selected were very powerful and poignant, more so the ambience of the IWHM…” from a Mumbai filmmaker. “It improved my understanding of issues affecting women and learned to keep my eyes open and observe my surroundings…” from Pakistan. “It shows a way of organizing and taking stock of your situation all the while making ways to take action…” from Porto Algre. This went on and on as comments kept pouring in from literally every corner of the world.

These five days of International Women and Health Meeting (IWHM), was rounded off with a fiery moving speech by Kamala Bhasin at the main plenary, encompassing a core idea that though abuse is everywhere… so is resistance… So keep fighting… you are bound to win. And a scintillating performance by “Bangla”, and their lead singer Anushee, who had her audience swaying to her powerful voice, just like her bands music, and proved an apt finale to all those sessions of listening, discussing, strategizing, documenting, cheering, dancing, singing and primarily marking an end to a fruitful and eventful five day gathering.

A report by Priyanka Mukherjee

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