Image: For Ahkeem
There’s something about documentaries that resonates with me. Maybe it’s the fact that, unlike most Hollywood blockbusters, a documentary is supposed to be about real people and real places, sort of like a nonfiction book compared to a sci-fi novel. Or maybe it’s the ways in which documentaries can affect us, and inspire us to action.
The Documentary Edge International Film Festival features several award-winning feature length and short films, covering a wide variety of different experiences, situations and realities for people around the world – including those of some awesomely fearsome women and girls.
Here are our picks for the top films about women and women’s issues from the festival.
What were you doing when you were nine years old? No matter what it was, chances are you weren’t a world record-breaking weightlifter. But that’s exactly what Naomi Kutin is. She’s also Jewish, and deals with vicious cyber-bullying and health challenges as she shatters records and proves time and time again that girls, of course, can do anything.
Beauties of the Night
About “variety” shows in Mexico in the 1970s and 1980s, filming alone for this documentary took eight years. It’s beautifully shot, with every scene beautifully framed by director Jose Cuevas. The story is also an emotional one, following the journeys of the performers as they deal with things like ageing and trying to make the best life possible for themselves amid incredibly difficult circumstances.
The 2014 shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shook America, and made headlines around the world. A legacy of deeply engrained racism and disenfranchisement in US culture boiled to the surface, as thousands of people took to the streets to demand they be treated equally and that institutional racism in police departments be stamped out. It’s amid these challenges that 17-year-old Daje Shelton lives. She also deals with falling in love, getting pregnant, raising a child, school struggles, friends dying, and more. And through it all, she never gives up. Seeing her continuing to fight day after day is bloody inspiring.
Bride of the Nile
A lot of us know that young women in Egypt are sometimes forced to marry men against their will. But there’s a big difference, of course, between knowing about something and seeing it. Bride of the Nile follows the story of Heba, a young woman who is being forced to marry a man whom she has not chosen. Taking place in 2013, when Egypt was ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the documentary is nothing short of heartbreaking – and not the least because it’s something that millions of young women around the world are subjected to every year.
Fallen Flowers, Thick Leaves
You may not realise it, but modern China is undergoing a major revolution in terms of how people, especially women, view sex. At least, that’s one of the big takeaways of this 80-minute film. Viewers are introduced to Xiao, a 50-year-old woman who was widowed several years ago and is restarting her life. We also meet 32-year-old writer Wen Wen, a “leftover” because she’s over 27 and single, and Hongli Zhen, a sex psychologist who helps lead sex workshops that encourage women to see their sexuality as something that can make them happy. The documentary is fascinating because of its contrasts; for example, while China is a changing country that’s modernising incredibly rapidly, it is also a place where misogyny remains strong. Seeing the women gain confidence in themselves and push back against the patriarchy is pretty badass.
From young weightlifters to single mothers, child brides and women fighting to have the best life they can, there’s no shortage of kickass documentaries to check out at the festival. And if these women can overcome the challenges they face and still do some pretty awesome things, then maybe we can be inspired to fight for change, too – or, at the very least, be moved by the incredible things that women can do.
The Documentary Edge International Film Festival runs in Wellington until May 21, and in Auckland from May 24 until June 5. More info is available here.Support Villainesse