Kate Kaminski conceived the biannual Bluestocking Film Series — Films By Women — a screening event for women filmmakers. She co-owns the DIY production company, Gitgo Productions, with partner Betsy Carson, and collaborates with the St. Lawrence Arts Center to bring women’s films to audiences in Portland, Maine.
Her Film: Your biannual film series is the only one in the world (as far as I know) to require films submitted for consideration to pass the now-famous Bechdel Test. Can you talk about the importance of the Bechdel Test to you as a festival runner and what impact you see it having within filmmaking?
Kate Kaminski: The Bechdel Test is a crucial piece of the Bluestocking Film Series because as you point out, after the main requirement that the director of a film be a woman, we’re using it as the most basic criteria for entries.
When we set out on this journey a year ago, our motivation was that we really just wanted to see more films that explored women’s lives, our experiences, and our relationships with each other – separate from men. I’m not a big fan of commercial filmmaking in general because I’ve grown utterly bored by the male-centered POV that carries most films you would see at your local multiplex. Of course the Bechdel Test is deceptively simple and doesn’t guarantee a particularly female-positive slant nor does it make a film necessarily feminist.
In some ways, it’s proving to be way harder than I ever imagined it would be. I keep getting submissions from very worthy women directors and the films don’t pass. I can’t figure out if these submitters aren’t reading the “fine print” – though we try to put the Bechdel Test front and center wherever we advertise the BFS – or if they’re just hoping we’ll ignore it. It’s almost disheartening.
I suppose I was a bit naïve to think a) that it would be cinch to get loads of woman-directed films that b) passed the Bechdel. That being said, I’m now digging in for the long haul and standing by my commitment to the test as a basic criteria – and, believe me, I’ve met with some pressure to jettison it. I’ve also had some very positive responses from women filmmakers about our using it as a basis for entry.
As far as the Bechdel Test having an impact within filmmaking, I would have to say, from what I see, the answer is…not so much. At least, not yet. Frankly, it’s not enough to make a film that passes the test unless the impetus is to express a deeper understanding of what the test implies about women’s stories and their importance to all of us. It’s my hope that the BFS will generate discussion – and production! – among women filmmakers – and maybe even spark a revolution. I’m all about a cinematic revolt in this country – for all genders, races, and beliefs.
HF: Is the BFS for you part of a larger feminist engagement with the community and with women filmmakers? How does the series specifically fit within your mission as an artist and/or as a female artist?
KK: It’s definitely about engaging with other women filmmakers. Living in Maine, my filmmaking partner (Betsy Carson) and I sometimes feel lonely and marginalized.
I don’t necessarily see the BFS as a vehicle for showing our own films, though I’m tempted to try to convince Betsy to make one with me specifically for the series. For me, the BFS is much more about going outside our little corner of the world and bringing back to our community woman-directed films that would otherwise never be seen and that also express the rich diversity of our experience as women. It’s not about excluding men – it’s about introducing women’s voices into the mix. Back in the 90’s we had a women’s film festival here and it didn’t last. There was also a Maine Women and Girls Film Festival but I don’t think they’re doing that anymore either. We’ll see how this goes. I choose to believe that we have an audience – that people of all genders are hungry for what we want to show them.
As far as feminism is concerned, I’m increasingly dismayed by the cultural shift away from that as a positive value, so, yes, it’s also about a feminist agenda. I would definitely like to see more women making films that express feminist ideas.
HF: As you hold the biannual Bluestocking Film Series, what are you finding audiences’ reactions to the films to be? And what types of audiences are you seeing? (i.e. are they diverse in race, gender, class, age, etc.?)
KK: Well, we’ve only had one screening – last October – so our track record is short. But the audience last October was amazing. Very enthusiastic – very supportive – and we were only half a dozen seats away from completely sold out, so I’d say it was a rousing success, especially when you consider that we didn’t have a budget for advertising, etc.
The make up of the audience was young and old, women and men. But as far as racial diversity, you may not know that Maine is one of the “whitest” states in the nation. We are also a very poor state, economically, and not everybody has even the $5 we charged for that premiere screening. Unfortunately, we do have to raise the ticket price going forward, so it comes down to (literally) who can afford to shell out $10-15 for a “special event” like this – not everybody can do that.
As we move forward with the series, we’re discussing taking it on the road and traveling around the East coast with it. We’d also like to expand it ultimately to the internet, as an online festival – it kind of goes without saying that the online world offers incredible diversity both in the filmmakers and audience.
HF: I’ve read perspectives on women’s film festivals that are both positive and negative, positive meaning that women’s film festivals provide a forum for women-made films, and negative because these festivals could be considered a type of “ghettoization” of women-made films. As a filmmaker and festival runner, do you find yourself torn between these perspectives, or do you give credence to the negative perspective at all?
KK: To me, this idea of the ghetto is a patriarchal construct – let’s face it, one person’s ghetto is another person’s community so I’m actually fine with it regardless. And women’s film festivals level the playing field…at least theoretically.
HF: The recent documentary film Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom on media representations and political involvement of women and girls has helped bring the phrase “You can’t be what you can’t see” to the fore. Filmmakers whose films are selected for the BFS see their work shown to other women, so how do you see this interaction and engagement between and among women and women artists affecting what they consider to be possible? In other words, do you see a broader consciousness shift happening to which the BFS may be contributing?
KK: I think it’s absolutely critical to feel like you’re part of the “guild” of filmmakers, part of the craft and history of the art when you’re making films. And, by its nature, art is inclusive – but if you’re a woman making films about the experience of being female, it can seem like your work is “out of sync” with “what you see” [being made by mostly male filmmakers]. To be a small part of a bigger wave of “possibility” for women in the arts is exciting. I would dearly love to see a consciousness shift and if the BFS can contribute to that, it would be a beautiful thing.
The film entry deadline for the Spring 2012 Bluestocking Film Series is April 15. The screening will be held on May 20, 2012.
To learn more about the BFS and to connect with this filmmaker, check out these links:
Website: Bluestocking Film Series
Website: St. Lawrence Arts Center’s BFS page
Facebook: Gitgo Productions
Webseries: Willard Beach (by Kate Kaminski and Betsy Carson)