As a director of a women’s film festival here in Melbourne, the opportunity to attend the world’s oldest, still running women’s film festival – the Festival International de Films de Femmes (FIFF) – in Cretéil was an exhilarating proposition. This has been a festival I’ve looked at with keen interest for many years from a scholarly and professional perspective, but also with a sense of awe that a women’s film festival founded in 1979 is still running annually today. I mean, aren’t women’s film festivals supposed to work towards their own redundancy? Advocating for both gender equity in the screen industries and gender equality socially and culturally, once these things are achieved, then we’re all good, right? Of course, I write these words my tongue firmly and somewhat painfully planted in my cheek. 

This is FIFF’s 45th edition with the festival’s founder, Jackie Buet, still at the helm as its director. The program is extensive running for ten days with numerous screenings, panels, and masterclasses mostly run out of the festival’s home at the Maison des Arts, with some screenings also taking place at La Lucarne, a small and noisy cinema a short walk away. This is a film festival with a rich history of women’s filmmaking with a program that embraces key cinematic moments reflective of its founding during the women’s movement of the ‘70s. For example, the retrospective section spoke to the days of second wave feminism, agitation, and sexual provocation with a focus on the films of iconic American filmmaker, Lizzie Borden. Immediately, my attention was drawn to revisiting Born in Flames (1983) and Working Girls (1986). Having never seen these films on a big screen, I was compelled to see them in the context of 2023, as well as by Borden’s appearance as a guest of the festival in conversation with Buet. Perhaps unfortunately, as was also pointed out in the post-film discussion with Borden, the themes of Born in Flames still strongly resonate today for many women around the world – control over women’s bodies and the pervasiveness of systemic inequities, especially from an intersectional perspective, even if the term itself wasn’t part of feminist discourse in the same way it is now. It’s easy to visualise Borden’s work screening in the early days of a festival like FIFF, which it of course did in 1984, winning the audience award for that year. 

Other starstruck moments included the appearance and book signing of 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Annie Ernaux, who also featured as a guest programmer with screenings of her adapted book, L’événement (Happening, Audrey Diwan, 2021) and her home movie documentary, Les années Super-8 (The Super 8 Years, Annie Ernaux and David Ernaux-Briot, 2022). Other guests this year included filmmakers Agnès Jaoui, Coline Serreau, Rebecca Zlatowski, and Miryam Charles, all with dedicated days focusing on their work and careers with selected films and masterclasses. Be still my feminist heart!

I arrived in France with a feeling of unease due to the latest fiery manifestation and strikes abound across the city. Parisians were protesting President Macron’s raising the age of retirement by two years. However, I made my way to Cretéil, a suburb located a little outside of the Paris ‘snail’, where the protests seemed like they were not much more than a brief interruption of the Métro 8 line. Unlike the quiet outside, I was greeted with an excited buzz and delicious champagne on entry to the Maison for opening night. Knowing I was about to watch a documentary on the enigmatic filmmaker Jane Campion, French filmmaker Julie Bertuccelli’s Jane Campion, la femme cinéma (Jane Campion, The Cinema Woman, 2022), filled me with a sense of comfort and a way to ease myself into my new French surroundings. The anticipation that I would soon be hearing a glorious New Zealand accent and the contagious Campion laugh was almost too much. 

Jane Campion, The Cinema Woman

Originally premiering at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, Bertuccelli’s portrait of Campion draws heavily from an archive of interviews, festival and screening appearances, and behind-the-scenes footage from Campion’s film sets at various points over her career. The interviews that Bertuccelli includes are taken from times where Campion is either making a film or just after she has completed it, rather than filming new interviews where her subject’s reflections may come from a retrospective and potentially nostalgic perspective. This creates a sense of authenticity and a candidness to how Campion viewed her work at a specific moment in time and, arguably, makes for a more engaging viewing having not seen a lot of the older footage before. 

Campion’s sense of humour and straightforwardness shines through her anecdotes, such as the time her Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) lecturer reacted extraordinarily badly to her student film, An Exercise in Discipline: Peel (1982), suggesting that it should be destroyed. Ouch. We know how that ended up, though, with the film winning the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. Campion’s Palme d’Or win for The Piano in 1993 is also referenced in a particularly poignant and ultimately frustrating moment in the film when Bertuccelli includes footage from the 1997 Palme d’Or ceremony. This was the festival’s 50th anniversary and the ceremony included Campion featured among twenty-eight past winners brought out onto the stage. We see her smiling away, standing next to male director after male director – the stark contrast of the festival’s gender disparity on full display. Bertuccelli adeptly connects this moment with an earlier one in the documentary where we see Campion at a Cannes press conference sitting amongst a multitude of male filmmakers, including Roman Polanski right behind her. Responding to a question about being the only woman there, she frankly points out that it’s “a reflection of how things really are right now”. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the intense awkwardness of the men in that room. Yeah, go Jane!

Besides presenting a strong argument for Campion’s intervention and success in a male-dominated industry, what is most striking about this documentary is how it privileges her voice throughout. The interweaving of interviews from Campion’s early days right up until her latest award-winning film, The Power of the Dog (2021), ensures that she is both narrator and hero of her own story. Campion’s candidness extends to discussions of her personal life too, which is refreshing to hear from someone of her calibre. This provides the documentary with its more moving moments, where Campion speaks of losing a child and her choice to focus on raising her daughter, Alice, over her work. This is a relatable story for many women wanting to have both a career and a family, and the reality that it is damn difficult. Jane Campion, The Cinema Woman is a revealing and celebratory homage to an incredible filmmaker and woman.

Regla 34

The centring of women’s experiences and their complexity is also at the heart of Brazilian film and winner of the Golden Leopard at the 2022 Locarno Film Festival, Regla 34 (Rule 34, Júlia Murat, 2022). The title is an apt reference to an internet meme, ‘Rule 34’, designating that “if it exists, there is porn of it. If there isn’t, there will be”1. Set in Rio de Janeiro, the film follows 23-year-old Simone (Sol Miranda), a law student and feminist advocate for domestic violence survivors by day and online erotic performer by night. One evening, while surfing the internet for porn, Simone comes across a BDSM video and is transfixed by the female performer’s displays of ecstasy and desire that she exhibits through the pain she is experiencing. Simone starts to experiment with BDSM in her own live sex performances online, starting relatively mildly, using belts and scarves around her neck, to which her audience enthusiastically responds with increasingly larger and larger amounts of ‘tokens’ sent to her account as payment. This is the beginning of Simone going down the rabbit hole, exploring more dangerous sex acts, partly due to popular demand from her virtual audience and partly due to her own curiosity in seeing how far she can go. 

This sets up an internal conflict for Simone, though, as the film juxtaposes scenes of her law class debating statutes and laws that don’t go far enough to help domestic violence survivors with those where we see the evolution of her interest in BDSM. The competition and tension between these two sides to her identity is clear, as she tries to reconcile her advocacy for the survivors of violence versus the violence inflicted on her own body, either by herself and or by her two lovers, as a means of deriving pleasure. 

The film is firmly a character driven piece that aims to challenge its audience intellectually rather than viscerally. Considering the thematic centrality of violence, sexuality and desire, it would be easy to frame Simone and her body in a such a way as to evoke stereotypical feminine sensuality and eroticism, and risk becoming ‘gazey’. However, the scenes that show Simone exploring her sexuality are presented conventionally with little stylisation to differentiate them from the rest of the film. But Simone’s performances for her cam audience aren’t supposed to titillate us too. We’re supposed to make the connection between these seemingly disparate worlds and understand the difficulties that Simone faces in trying to reconcile these parts of her identity and ideology, which on the surface seem incongruous. Again, I feel like this idea would resonate with women as they watch this, especially those that identify as feminist but may sometimes feel more like, to use Roxanne Gay’s term, a bad feminist. As Simone at one point says to her friend and lover, Lucia, “I’m really sorry if my sexual desires aren’t political enough for you”. This is a provocation that I’m still thinking about. 

Noémie dit oui

Where Regla 34 challenges on intellectual and political levels, the next film I saw certainly affected me on a much more emotional one. Noémie dit oui (Noémie Says Yes, Geneviève Albert, 2022) is a traumatic watch. Noémie (Kelly Depeault) is a 15-year-old living in a youth centre and hoping to be reunited with her mother. However, after her mother rejects her at a scheduled hearing, Noémie opts to run away, calling her old friend Léa (Emi Chicoine) to come and pick her up from a nearby bowling alley. From here, Noémie is drawn into a world of sex work at the hands of Léa’s boyfriend and friends, falling for one of them in the process. 

Through a series of micromanipulations inflicted on her by her new boyfriend, Zach (James Edward Metayer), Noémie is persuaded to join Léa as an escort for the Montréal Grand Prix, supposedly one of the best times to earn the big bucks. A section of the film shows us the horrors of what Noémie goes through over the three days of the event. While most of the sexual activity is implied through sound offscreen or cropped framing, these moments are disturbing – what she goes through is brutal. Depeault’s face is usually the focus within the frame during these scenes, some in close up where we must witness her expressions of disgust, pain or, by the end, vacancy. One act of violation in particular stands out, shot from above looking down on Noémie positioned on the right side of the frame with only her client’s disembodied hand taking up space next to her. She lies expressionless on her back, her arms covering her breasts protectively, as we see the jolting of her body back and forth at the mercy of the client. He forces her arms apart and holds them down next to her. Noémie does nothing and her resignation is devasting. This was only day two, client number 13, as an intertitle tells us beforehand. This counter eventually reaches 37 by the end of day three, as the news of Lewis Hamilton’s win is relayed by a television commentator, reinforcing the celebratory spectacle of sports events against the invisible exploitation that happens behind the scenes. 

This is Québécois filmmaker Albert’s first feature film and it’s a strong one, although if I was watching this at home, I would have needed a break to pause the relentlessness of Noémie’s three days in that hotel as it felt like it went on forever. While the film could be criticised as an indictment of sex work generally, it really comments on coercion, consent and the collective silence around the sexual violence of women. Albert has spoken of the real-world inspiration for this film, noting that in Montréal during the Grand Prix, “the province’s youth centres struggle to keep the young girls in their care from running away to fill the demand for sexual services.2 

This makes the film all the more important and all the more heartbreaking. Noémie finally escapes her situation, but only after Zach spends the money she earned on tacky Grand Prix jackets. He then suggests she could earn it back by taking on more clients, and it is here where Noémie has had enough and snaps. It’s the realisation that unless she gets out now, this will be her life forever. And while it becomes clear that Noémie is heading back to the youth centre, referring to her ‘big home’ with ‘lots of sisters’ to the woman she’s caught a ride from, the fact that she is out of that situation is enough to feel some sense of relief and a minutia of hope. Perhaps the screening of this film acts as a prelude for next year’s FIFF program considering that Paris is hosting the 2024 Olympics Games. 

La Belle Verte

Also worth mentioning is a roundtable I was invited to participate in, examining the topic of eco-feminism, which I acknowledge is considered a loaded term in feminist circles these days.3 The panel also included filmmaker Coline Serreau, whose film La Belle Verte (The Green Planet, 1996) screened earlier in the festival, Nicole Giguère and Anik Salas from Québec’s Réalisatrices Équitables organisation, and other women’s film festival directors Wenting Zhang (The One International Women’s Film Festival, China), Marie Vermeiren (Elles Tournent/They Shoot, Belgium) and Martine Ndiaye (Festival Films Femmes Afrique, Sénégal). Although the panel was touted as focusing on eco-feminism, the discussion began in much broader terms with each of us detailing the aims and objectives of our organisations, me with the help of my much-appreciated translator, Amandine Dall’Omo. Hearing from and about like-minded festivals and institutions from around the globe created a shared sense of community and will hopefully continue beyond FIFF 2023. This might seem obvious as we are all trying to achieve the same outcomes of women’s visibility and equality, but the ways in which each of our festivals are trying to do this within our unique national contexts was what I found interesting in this part of the discussion. This included how our festivals balance a focus on advocating for women’s equity in the screen industry, including pathways for future development and distribution, with the focus on generating visibility for women’s rights in other areas of society.

We eventually got onto the topic of eco-feminism and how women filmmakers are engaging with contemporary environmental issues and impacts. Unfortunately, this part of the discussion was cut short and all I could offer were some Australian examples of recent documentaries like The Weather Diaries (Kathy Drayton, 2020), Wild Things (Sally Ingleton, 2020) and The Leadership (Ili Bare, 2020) that engaged with the threat of climate change and other impending environmental crises as seen through the eyes of women. 

The second event of note was the half day colloquium centring on the history and inroads of women across film, art, dance, and culture. Under the program section titled ‘La Fabrique de L’Émancipation’, this session featured historian and writer Michelle Perrot, academic and film historian Geneviève Sellier, and choreographer and photographer, Karine Saporta. Each gave a keynote presentation relating to their area of expertise, productively set up with Perrot’s initial provocation – where does women’s history begin? – a reference to the importance of documenting women’s social, cultural and artistic participation over time. 

However, it was the panel discussion after these presentations that lead to a more interesting debate on contemporary feminism and that reflected the panellists generational difference. Perrot seemed to argue from the perspective of universal feminism, the aim being to put aside difference born from the rifts felt within second-wave feminism between white women, Indigenous women, women of colour, and queer women, and come together to advocate for all women’s rights, while Saporta and some in the audience recognised more recent intersectional shifts in feminist discourse and the need to examine and acknowledge these differences as it is impacted by patriarchal power structures. While I understand my framing of this discussion is going to be reductive within the bounds of a film festival report, I think it is crucial to highlight that festivals like FIFF are important hosts for conversations like these to bring people together across generations and ensure that these issues and histories are made and remain visible. I also want to note though that, problematically for this discussion, there was no person of colour on this panel. 

With contemporary, retrospective, industry, and activist agendas, FIFF encompasses what women’s film festivals are all about. They celebrate and generate visibility for women’s stories and perspectives on the world, old and new. While feminism has changed, evolved, multiplied, been rejected and embraced, women’s film festivals continue to be spaces for feminist intervention in national and global screen industries, society and culture. 

Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil
24 March – 2 April 2023
Festival website: https://filmsdefemmes.com/


I was able to attend this festival in person thanks to receiving the 2022 Natalie Miller Fellowship. This fellowship supports women in the screen industry to develop leadership skills for the benefit of the broader Australian screen industry.


  1. nsrtnmhr, “Rule 34”, Urban Dictionary, 7 September 2011.
  2. Geneviève Albert, “Director’s Statement”, Festival Scope, accessed 25 April 2023.
  3. The field and use of the term “eco-feminism” has been criticised by other feminist discourses as essentialist, equating women with nature, the natural, and spiritualism. While there is no consensus on terminology for feminism’s interest in the environment, terms and phrases such as “feminist environmentalism”, “ecological feminism” or “gender and the environment” have been used instead, in Greta Gaard, “Ecofeminism Revisited: Rejecting Essentialism and Re-Placing Species in Material Feminist Environmentalism”, Feminist Formations, Vol. 23, No. 2, (Summer 2011).

About The Author

Dr Sian Mitchell is a lecturer specialising in screen culture, film studies and media with 15 years experience in higher education.

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