Sterling Women's Aid took over Macrobert Arts Centre to stimulate discussion about changing attitudes around gender and language over time.
Why this mattersMacrobert Arts Centre wanted to use film to help their audiences think about how, when and why changes take place, the need for future change and how we can learn from the past to move forward. They asked Stirling Women’s Aid to ‘takeover’ their film programme for one weekend in May 2019. The group were asked to programme films that spoke to them about their lives, experiences, fears, aspirations and understanding of the world. The takeover team were guided in considering films that stimulated conversations around the topic of 'gender and language' and that - introduced the audience to an overlooked female filmmaker, helped the audience explore stories of social transformation driven by women, explored the diverse histories of women across generations. Macrobert Arts Centre led four ‘Takeover’ workshops with Stirling Women’s Aid beneficiaries, volunteers and staff. In total 20 women took part in these workshops. Each workshop began with a simple exercise relating to language, which encouraged the women to start thinking about the sorts of words and expressions one often hears directed towards or about women. The exercise sparked many varying conversations and debates around this subject area, and all women within the groups were open to sharing their experiences and opinions. The project manager then worked through a powerpoint containing examples of gender stereotyping, gender discrimination and how nuances in language effect the way we see our world. The women attending the workshops were also introduced to digital archive material hosted on both the BFI Player and the NLS Moving Image Archive Online Catalogue. These films allowed the group to reflect on how the use of language has changed over time, as well as encouraging the attendees to make use of these free resources for their own entertainment and learning outside of the project. The Takeover event was advertised in our live guide, via social media and on our website. Direct marketing took place across the University of Stirling. In addition the event was marketed directly to our 30 charity partners across Forth Valley with the offer of complementary tickets being available. The event: Each screening was introduced by the Project Manager, who contextualised the process and purpose of selecting each film. A speaker attended each screening and chaired a post-film discussion. Topics were selected based on ideas from the Stirling Women’s Aid Takeover group, and the speaker’s particular field of interest and expertise. In total 28 audience members attended and 20 Stirling Women's Aid participants took part. Following the first screening - the post-film discussion was held in the screening space, with a traditional seated Q&A set-up. For each of the proceeding screenings, the post-film discussion took place in Macrobert Arts Centre’s Café, allowing for a far more informal and lengthier discussion.
- The Takeover Group felt ‘inspired’ and ‘mobilised’ by the project.
- The older audience members of the Me Without You screening educated the younger attendees on the socio-economic climate in the UK during the 80s-00s. This promoted an in-depth and valuable inter-generational conversation about the changing landscape of government benefit support, student fee support, difficulties and challenges of being a parent / working parent.
- None of the attendees to the Kim Longinotto screening had heard of her or seen her work before, but were eager to seek out more of her films going forward.
- Everyone who stayed for the post-film discussions contributed to the conversation.
- All speakers who led the post-film discussions have requested to be invited to collaborate on any future events.
- One attendee to the Kim Longinotto film commented that they had never truly seen themselves represented on screen until that screening.
The Company of Wolves (dir.Neil Jordan, 1984) Me Without You (dir.Sandra Goldbacher, 2001) Maeve (dir. Pat Murphy, 1981) Dream Girls (dir.Kim Longinotto, 1993) Shinjuku Boys (dir.Kim Longinotto, 1995)
Stirling Women’s Aid provided the space for the workshop meetings, as well as coordinating the Takeover group and disseminating information about screening dates/times. Stirling Women’s Aid staff members also attended the screenings and contributed to the post-film discussions. Individuals from the following University of Stirling departments led the post-show discussions: • Gothic Literature • Sociology • Student Union • Gender Equality Movement Society
Budget in brief
Income: BFI Film Audience Network - Changing Times: Women's Histories: £2788 Box Office income: £109 In-kind income: Macrobert Arts Centre Venue Hire: £900 Box Office Staff Costs: £552 TOTAL INCOME: £4349 Expenditure: Macrobert Arts Centre Venue Hire: £900 Box Office Staff Costs: £552 Film licenses: £417.30 Refreshments/travel: £270 (estimate / participants are yet to submit expenses) Project Management: £1376 Marketing: £350 MGMT fee: £472 TOTAL EXPENDITURE: £4337
- The engagement at the workshops was high, as was interest in discussing the films and the topic (gender and language).
- All workshop attendees contributed their unique perspective to the discussion and carried the conversation with only a small amount of guidance from the project manager.
- The films promoted engaged responses from the viewers. - The informal set-up of the post-film discussions encouraged all attendees to contribute to the conversation.
- The attendees felt like vital contributors to the discussions.
- The post-film discussion experts spoke to the audience in a style and language that was accessible to all.
What has been difficult
- Childcare and the other responsibilities of the Stirling Women’s Aid Takeover group made arranging the workshops very challenging.
- Most women could only attend one or two workshops. This placed restrictions on the ability of the group as a whole to programme the entire weekend together.
- The group were very interested in discussing the topic of ‘gender and language’ and were interested in talking about the themes presented by the archive material – but were less interested in selecting films for the Takeover weekend.
- The length of the project was restrictive. Ideally there would have been more time between the start of the project and the Takeover weekend.
- Driving audience attendance via both paid for and complementary tickets was the biggest challenge. Despite a marketing strategy and direct marketing with our target groups - audience attendance was very poor.
What you would do differently if you did it again
- Work with Stirling women’s Aid in advance of the workshops to see how we can support attendance. A possible solution could be a childcare club.
- Have more realistic expectations of the participant’s interest in film programming. Stirling Women’s Aid were very keen on the concept of programming initially, but the emotive discussions overtook this aspect of the project. A solution might be to ask the Takeover group if they would prefer the curator to select films based on the discussion themes during the workshops, and for the participants to approve the films before screenings.
- Allow a greater period of time between the start of the project and the Takeover weekend. This would have allowed: - Longer workshops - More workshops - More flexibility in when workshops took place - More time to market the event
Awareness / Attitudes
Kim Longinotto’s film Shinjuku Boys explored gender identity and sexual identity. The post-film discussion involved members of the Gender Equality Movement Society, two of whom no longer identify as the gender in which they were assigned at birth. The discussion had clear moments where attendees came to understand the importance of pronouns used by non-binary people, and began to understand why it is important not to assume an individual’s gender. We also discussed how different languages lean more heavily on gendered nouns, including but not exclusive to pronouns.
Speaker Kirstein Rummery talked about the political platforms of the Women’s Equality Party. The party’s objectives resonated with the attendees who saw the issues as relevant and present in their lives, differing from the more abstract political jargon they were used to hearing in the news.
The film Maeve promoted conversations about feminism, as well as nationalism. The issues felt particularly relevant right now with the political landscape of the UK and Ireland very much in a state of flux.
The women and service users of Stirling Women’s Aid were afforded the opportunity to have their voices and experiences echoed through the film programme. This group of women have experienced disadvantage as a consequence of a combination of factors including their gender, race, disability and socio-economic status. Twenty women in total took part in the workshops, and it was made known to every one of them that their thoughts on matters of gender inequality and gender discrimination were important and valid.
Kim Longinotto’s films promoted a positive perspective on gender and sexual identity, tolerance, and highlighted issues with past and contemporary attitudes towards women’s roles, rights and opportunities.
Knowledge & Experience
The post-film speakers delivered expertise on a number of topics; gothic literature, gender representation in literature and film, film criticism, British social and political history, feminism, gender and sexual identity. As a student and young member of the community our speaker from the Gender Equality Movement Society felt nervous and unsure as to why she had been invited to speak at a public event, she left the event with restored self-confidence that she had something of value to say, and a unique perspective on the world that could educate others when shared.
The post-film discussion promoted social inclusion. Multiple attendees commented upon the fact that their plan for the day would otherwise have been staying at home and watching TV and doing the washing, instead they choose to come out and contributed to discussions that averaged 60 mins for each event. One of our attendees was a staff member of another Scottish Women’s Aid group, who had a chance to meet, talk and connect with the Stirling Women’s Aid members in attendance at our screenings.
The 20 women who attended the initial workshops experienced “emotional catharsis” from the discussions. Time in their day was put aside to focus on themselves and their thoughts and feelings, without intrusion from external pressures or requirements.
The audience members had an opportunity to share their thoughts on a topic that rarely is rarely discussed publicly. This resulted in an increased understanding between attendees, peer support and the development of new partnerships across organisations – all contributing to the wellbeing of our community as a whole.
This project allowed Macrobert Arts Centre to demonstrate our commitment to independent cinema and archive material. This will help retain audiences who may otherwise travel to Glasgow of Edinburgh for a similar experience.
What audiences said
- “I’ve been wanting to see this film (Maeve) for years but was unable to get a hold of a DVD”
- “I wanted to go to the cinema today but had seen both films on at the Vue already, I looked further afield and took a risk coming to a new cinema, I would come back again”
- “I came here today to distract myself from the fact that my sister is in hospital and found the hours have flown by talking with everyone"
- “I hadn’t seen this film (The Company of Wolves) since it came out 30 odd years ago, watching it this time around I noticed so many things I hadn’t recognised when I was a teenager”
- “I’ve never seen so many representations of myself of screen”
- “Thanks again for the films…It was a really great selection, so different but all interesting and memorable in their own way. Think Maeve was my favourite”
- “I want to watch the film (Maeve) another 3 times now to see all the layers that I may have missed on this first viewing”
What professionals, press and partners said
- The takeover was a great opportunity for the women our charity work with to be heard. Many of the women they work with feel their voices are lost within the bigger picture. The group events gave them a chance to speak up and be heard regarding their personal stories and what matters to them about being female, the perceptions that others have of them and the way their lives are judged and spoken about. Stirling Womens Aid
- I think one of the most stark observations that came out of this project was how often women hear [negative] comments in everyday exchanges and very often these comments are overlooked or 'let slide' where really they should be challenged. I think that those who attended may feel additional strength going forward to challenge these comments and opinions. Stirling Womens Aid