As I know somebody who works in there, I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Granada Film Festival Cines del Sur with a general pass for the second year in a row, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it makes you treat the festival programme like an all you can eat buffet, on the other hand, you occasionally find yourself stumbling out of a cinema at 1am, dazed and confused because you’ve just seen three films in a row. Either way, it’s a great experience.
Cines del Sur (‘Cinemas of the South’) has been running in Granada for nine years now and focuses on films “made in the countries of what is known as the geopolitical south“. (I would be interested in reading the organiser’s definition of the geopolitical south, a complicated concept at best. The festival regulations stipulate that any film produced or co-produced in Africa, Asia or Latin America can be entered, equating the south with non-Western.) As such the festival by definition excludes anything we would consider mainstream. Whether this makes the festival inaccessible and industry focused, a criticism levelled against the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I am not so sure. I think there is a danger in underestimating your audience and the poor attendance of festival screenings could often simply be due to the fact that the films are inaccessible in other ways: too expensive, too early in the day or in an environment that almost actively excludes lay audiences. At Cines del Sur, all films except those of the official section were shown for free, after 7pm, often in public spaces like the church square, and were always well attended. The selection of films managed to strike a good balance between the typical films you would expect to see at a European film festival and films that you can appreciate and enjoy without a PhD in Film Studies.
I did have to learn how to deal with this festival. Last year I simply watched one film after the other without much of a filter, mostly going to the films my friends had picked. By the time we had made it to the closing session I was exhausted and raging: all the films I had seen had featured significant female characters and every single one of them was suffering, screwed over or killed in one way or another. Mothers, wives and daughters, peasants and prostitutes, all oppressed, exploited, hopeless. Not a single film had offered a positive perspective or a hint of empowerment. This year I was more careful in my selection and intentionally avoided films that I knew would make me miserable, such as Red Wedding, a film about forced marriage under the Khmer Rouge. Probably very interesting; would definitely give me nightmares.
Having said all this, from a feminist point of view Cines del Sur is definitely to be recommended. 16 out of the 38 directors whose works were shown in the festival were women; 19 out of the 35 films that were shown had at least one female protagonist (judging by the synopsis, I didn’t actually see all the films); 7 out of the 10 films I watched passed the Bechdel test. The jury (two men and one woman) awarded the Golden Alhambra to The Light Shines Only There, a Japanese film by Mipo O, a female director, and Today by Reza Mirkarimi, a beautiful, quiet film that explores the role of women in contemporary Iran, won both the Bronze Alhambra and the audience award, while Point Blank, a hard-hitting Brazilian documentary about police corruption and brutality by Theresa Jessouroun, received a special mention.
There are two films that deserve a special mention. By far the worst film I saw at the festival was Frontieras by Farida Benlyazid (I can’t find a trailer for it, but if you want to convince yourself that it’s definitely an awful film you can watch it on youtube). It fails on so many levels: it’s a docufiction film, badly written and directed by a woman, about a woman who wants to make a documentary about the Western Sahara. The (badly performed) woman is a complete moron with the temper of a 5-year-old and obviously has to fall in love with the noble desert nomad (I won’t even bother with spoiler alerts). It’s astonishing how a female Moroccan filmmaker can make a film that’s both sexist and massively exoticises Moroccans and Saharawis. And don’t get me started on her political stance.
On the opposite end of the scale was Ecotherapy Getaway Holiday, a glorious film about seven Japanese women over 40 who go on a hiking trip together and get lost in the woods after their idiot guide deserts them. It’s a format you probably know already, a bit like 8 Women without the singing and murdering, but you feel quite giddy and yes, even empowered, after having seen this film.
Overall, Cines del Sur is definitely a festival I highly recommend. If you happen to find yourself in Granada in June next year and the festival still exists (which is not guaranteed, the political and financial situation in Spain being what it is) then make sure you catch a film or two. But, if you’re of a similar disposition to me, also make sure you read the synopsis first.
Cines del Sur Granada Film Festival ran from the 8-14 June 2015