Quand les lesbiennes se font du cinéma

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The What and Why of Cineffable

(text taken from the catalog of the 8th Festival, 1996)

Cineffable, the association responsible for the Paris Lesbian film festival, "Quand les lesbiennes se font du cinéma", comprises 1300 members which makes it one of the most important lesbian associations in France. The festival itself represents a major annual event in the world of cinema. It is an event made by lesbians, for lesbians. Already eight years old, the festival is an important annual meeting place for the lesbian community. And the festival is still growing.

With a fundamental objective of promoting lesbian cinema to a well defined public the festival also aims to encourage a wide range of lesbian creativity, in cinema and elsewhere. This is why more and more projects are associated with the festival: an art exhibition, a script competition, a poster competition, concerts, a video project to establish a lesbian television (Très Grande Télévision Lesbienne)...

Lacking realistic lesbian images and faced with stereotypes all too prevalent in mainstream cinema, our mission is clear: we have to assume responsibility, to take control of our images, to become actresses in our own productions in order to break definitively with the oppressive system of representation that shuts us in, that shuts us up.

The women's version, and even more so, the lesbians' version, is completely overshadowed in the mainstream. With its determination to support the women in producing images of ourselves, the festival actively contributes to creating and telling our story. This is one of the reasons why we are trying to increase our visibility: we want to show the distributors that there is a lesbian public; we want the films we select to come to the attention of the media and of other festivals who look through our catalog; we want to set up a database as part of a lesbian cinema archive.

Getting known, affirming our existence, is pretty basic feminism. "We don't ask for the right to exist, we just go in there and take it!" The festival, a women only event, is an opportunity to get together, to exchange ideas and to share our experiences and our works. This space for us alone for four days, Woolf's "room of our own" is vital for getting to know each other and working through our ideas.

The festival apart, Cineffable is a militant act. In the face of all those passive images of women pushed on us by patriarchal culture, Cineffable IS ACTION. And it is action that leads to developing our ideas, not inaction. Precisely because Cineffable acts, it creates a space for collective initiative and innovation. It is a space for the spawning of ideas, for combining strengths and skills, and for defining ourselves. In all these ways, Cineffable acts to valorize women's know-how and to help set us free us.

The association is financially autonomous. Public sponsorship is notoriously difficult to get and even harder to keep, so we prefer to remain financially independent. We hardly need to mention women's limited financial means, the difficulties we have getting access to positions of power, so many constrains that leave us, time and again, in the position of victim. Cineffable has chosen to transform these constraints into elements of power. It's simple: we have multiple competencies and considerable means: our own energy. If we put all this energy together it is ten times more powerful. In sharing her energy, each woman adds to the fundamental power of the association.

Cineffable represents a way of working based on a strict non-hierarchical organization which takes the form of commissions (or teams) in which all members of the association are welcome to play an active role. The women who come to the festival and who join the association in order to watch the films are not viewed as consumers, but rather as members of a much bigger whole. They receive regular news, in the form of the "Clap-info", they are encouraged to support the team of organizers during the festival (collecting tickets, helping in the kitchen, clearing up...) and are also encourage to vote for the people's prizes, to design a poster, to write a film script, to join in the debates, to show their films... In opposition to centralized and bureaucratic structures, Cineffable relies on female solidarity and a dynamic network of shared endeavors.

A product of its time, but not fixed in time, Cineffable continues to evolve and look for modern methods and tools. We came up with an in-house system of sub-titles (under-titles) to improve enjoyment of foreign films (...) The lesbian television project (TGTL) and the associated video project are all part of this general move to own and master production techniques.

All this, Cineffable brings to feminism. Women's genius, lesbian's genius in action!

Women Only

(text from the catalog of the 6th festival, 1994)

We are one of the few women only film festivals in existence today. We are often asked why we are remain women only. To reply that there are lots of festivals where they only show men's films is avoiding the question. And yet it is a fact that women film makers have far fewer opportunities to show their work.

Being a women only festival remains a privilege. It's good to show ourselves and why shouldn't we? We want to create a quality event where we are at home straight away. The word "ghetto" comes all too often to our ears. So let's deal with this ugly accusation right now: a ghetto is a place of enforced segregation. Anti-Semitism, racism and sexism create these ghettos, not jews, not blacks, not women. Lesbians don't create ghettos either.

All the critics are in agreement over the cult lesbian film of the 1990s, Go Fish. The film starts where other lesbian films finish: lesbianism just is; it is a given; nobody defends it or tries to justify it; nobody comes painfully out of their closet. The heroines are lesbians. Period. They live. They love. They fight.

Does anyone accuse the heterosexual population of living in a ghetto because they exclude homosexuals. Clearly not. Does anyone accuse an African film festival of positioning itself in a ghetto? No, it is seen as an expression of a culture. Does anyone accuse a cardiology convention of cutting itself off from the rest of the world?

And so we arrive at the idea of a festival of gay films, and that's OK. But why a lesbian women only festival? That as lesbians we want to be active in the struggle for homosexual rights is one thing but there is no reason to mix everything up together. United we may rule, but one big gay "melting pot" seriously threatens to weaken our individual ideas and our struggles. We prefer the term "homosocial" because being "homosexual" involves more than sex, it touches on how we live, how we think, how we see politics, how we see the world, a complete new take on the social fabric. And we have neither the same desires nor the same priorities as gay men. Yet it seems the idea of being mixed is comforting. It is as if we somehow legitimize our choice of "abnormal" sexuality by recreating for ourselves and the rest of the world a nice hetero-society. But is this really our goal? To recreate a nice little hetero-society into which we welcome cute gay guys and sweet lesbians who promise to stay together for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in all their public ventures?

Feminism apparently has been around a long time and is a serious business. Sexism, homophobia and racism are even older and still less amusing. If the existence of a strong lesbian community that comes together regularly and has creative impulses is so very unsettling, all the better! Challenging set ideas and disturbing the smug power keepers is surely all part of why we chose to act (up)?

Getting together for five days to watch films and debate amongst ourselves does not preclude participating in the world. It is a special moment that offers us a safe and privileged access to lesbian creativity. But is this creativity lesbian-specific? Hard to deny but hard to prove: clearly it is subject to, and enriched by, many varied cultural currents. But lesbian creativity does have its own particular history, so the big question is: What is specific about lesbian creation? Questions that we can't answer, or rather questions to which we have no single unique answer, are surely the richest questions.

With the festival, we aim to create space for a multiplicity of views and opinions: as many points of view as there are lesbian creators. This does not prevent major artistic movements emerging far from it: Queer, Camp, SM, lesbian fiction, short films approaching poetry and experimental cinema. Many lesbian productions today are moving away from straight forward story-telling and engaging with more personal and artistic languages. Video is starting to be taken seriously, and is used just like film, preparing the way for some remarkable esthetic works. And while some lesbian creators participate in the more main stream cultural concerns of our day, they also invent new images and new styles which add to the richness of universal culture.

So much for the film makes, the film goers are also here, living in this special privileged space and expressing their creativity within it. Creativity in thoughts, deeds and desires which are all the more free and able to develop because they are, for once, not subject to struggle or censure. This freedom is not possible in a mixed environment, as we've seen for example with screenings of films on female ejaculation. In a women only environment the questions came thick and fast, and the atmosphere in the room was electric. In a mixed environment, no questions were voiced.

Our festival is a space to talk, to share ideas, to broach new subjects. Presenting images of lesbians or strong women the films allow us to identify with certain images, to recognize those we love in others and to construct positive images of and for ourselves. With all this, we are creating a page of our own history. The films leave their mark. The festival is more transient, but its existence helps inscribe us into history, like other lesbian archives. Visible in time and space.


(extracts from text taken from the catalog of the 11th festival, 1999)

The festival, is a good way for us, the public, to encourage women film makers to make more films. We all know that the cinema industry is reluctant to offer financial support for a first long or short lesbian production. And then we need to consider the many difficulties some film makers face when they try, after a first lesbian film, to make a second lesbian film. Some are obliged to make straight films in order to get funding, others start to make gay films showing mostly men; because the gay production industry is stronger and more prolific.

Another sign of blatant lesbophobia: would you believe it, there are some women film makers and distributors of lesbian films who refuse to participate in a lesbian film festival because they have to protect the reputation of the film? Or the film maker ? ... Apparently certain production companies, distributors and film makers still think that the lesbian public is limited, or perhaps limiting, and doubtless not profitable enough. In this context, we are all the more proud to organize a festival that brings together thousands of lesbians every year and shows beyond any doubt that the lesbian public is vast, committed, demanding and passionate.