by Irfan Ahmed
The magic of film is in its ability to absorb the audience into a world unfamiliar to them, taking them on a journey with the characters; making them feel their joy, sorrow, excitement, and fear. Like a silent observer – or in some people’s cases not so silent – we follow as they navigate their world, and the people they encounter. We feel their travails, we watch them in their defining moments, we gasp when they stumble and fall. We see the arc of their transformation. And perhaps, just maybe, we form an empathetic connection with them, based not on conversation but on experiencing their life.
That is the power of storytelling. To be able to experience aspects of the world through the lens of another. We might not entirely be able to relate with their experience. We might not entirely understand it either. Yet even a semblance of it can change the way we relate to others in real life.
Women International Film Festival (WIFF), through its curated programming, hopes to achieve and instill such an experience for its audience. By showcasing films made by female filmmakers, where the narrative is driven primarily by female protagonists, the intent is to show life and the world through the perspective of women. Such narratives have either been underrepresented in the media, or misrepresented, being channeled instead through a male perspective. Therefore, by gathering together such films under one roof, WIFF hopes to provide them a platform for their talent to be made visible and be appreciated, and mainstream these narratives.
Over the years WIFF has touched upon thought-provoking themes, like women and child rights, and gender equality, which challenge the dominant norms of society. This year WIFF19, with the generous support of the European Union, is expanding its programming to become a multi-day festival, delivering more content than ever before.
From March 4th to 8th a Sidebar of European Films will be presented, screening feature films by female filmmakers from the EU. The stories are rich and diverse – a deceased father communicating with his daughter from beyond the grave (Italy), a poor family’s life upended upon the arrival of visitors (Bulgaria), familial ties being strained by a girl’s experience of racism (Sweden), an orphaned girl making a new life with her relatives in the countryside (Spain), and a peculiar and tantalizing distant relationship that ensues between a man and a home invader (Austria) – resonating with stories of hope, sorrow, pain, and joy, told through the lens of women.
To commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8th, WIFF wanted to allow local artists and citizens to partake and be involved. To encourage such expression, the floor will be opened for artists of any talent and medium to perform on stage and share their ideas, views, and stories about women and the struggle for the equal rights and representation of women. We look forward to performances involving spoken word, music, dance, poetry recitals, and other forms of storytelling.
On March 9th WIFF’s headliner event, the short film competition, will be held. Continuing its tradition, as in the previous years, 14 short films selected from thousands of applicants from around the world will be screened. This year the themes for the film entries touch upon sensitive issues usually not discussed openly in our society, but extremely pertinent to our times: child abuse and sexual harassment. A third category, Helping Hands, will depict stories of people working towards the cause of gender equality.
What makes attending a film festival unique from watching a movie at the cinema is that a festival offers an experience that goes beyond just the act of viewing. For instance, the European feature films being screened during the first 5 days will be followed by an engaging Q&A session, for the audience to partake in. At WIFF you can rest assured you will be engaged with thought provoking art and conversation, entertainment, interesting people, and of course, filmmakers.
After the short films screenings on March 9th, the WIFF team has included a few extra segments into the programming to make the evening more interesting and entertaining.
To have a dialogue on the medium of film itself, WIFF will be organizing a panel titled Fostering Cultural Diplomacy through Cinema. Focusing on films within the South Asian context, the panel will explore how cultural diplomacy has been effective, in Pakistan and in other countries of the region, in depicting the culture and shifting perspectives within society.
And for the musically inclined, we also have a brief musical performance from a local band lined up in order to lighten the senses after a marathon of short films, to uplift your spirits, and give you a reason to swing to the beat.
Whereas film festivals around the world are usually ticketed events, we at WIFF wanted to extend the typical Pakistani hospitality so that you may have the opportunity to come and experience the films for free. The festival is open to the public and we are looking forward to a diverse crowd of men and women from all walks of life. So come on down to PNCA from March 4th to 9th to attend WIFF19*.
Support women. Support your local film festival. It is an experience you do not want to miss this year.