Struggle for liberation highlights J’lem Women’s Film Festival

In addition to the Jerusalem Cinematheque, screenings and events will be held at other venues around the city.

BARBARA MILLER, director of ‘#Female Pleasure.’  (photo credit: Courtesy)
BARBARA MILLER, director of ‘#Female Pleasure.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Barbara Miller’s moving and provocative feature documentary #Female Pleasure will be shown at the Jerusalem Women’s Film Festival, which begins on December 16 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. The movie focuses on five courageous, smart and outspoken women from all over the world who are fighting for self-determination and sexual liberation for women.
This film is very much in keeping with the spirit behind the entire festival, which celebrates the lives and challenges of women across all cultures, and which will run through December 19. The Perfect Candidate, a movie by Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour (who made the delightful film Wadjda), will be the opening-night film and will open afterward throughout Israel.
In addition to the Jerusalem Cinematheque, screenings and events will be will be held at other venues around the city, including in auditoriums in east Jerusalem as well as at Lev Smadar and Yes Planet.
The festival is produced by the Jerusalem Filmmakers Guild, with support from the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jerusalem Film & Television Fund and Mifal Hapayis.
Miller, a distinguished documentary director from Zurich, spoke about her film in a telephone interview.
“I was wondering where we stand in the 21rst century regarding how women experience their sexuality. I was struck by how when women talk about their bodies, it’s more about pain than pleasure,” she said.
“And I thought about how we are taught about our bodies and pleasure in five holy books of five different religions,” she said, referring to holy books from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
In order to explore the teachings of these books and how they affect the lives of women around the world, she found five women “who are full of incredible strength and positive energy,” and told their stories.
“All of these women had already gone public with their experiences. They had chosen to get publicity, which in a certain way protected them,” she said.
The women in the film are Deborah Feldman, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn and is the author of the book, Unorthodox; Leyla Hussein, a Somalian therapist who suffered female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child; Rokudenashiko, a Japanese woman who questioned that lack of positive imagery of the female body and who was actually arrested because of her comics, dolls and artwork; Doris Wagner, a former nun who was raped by a priest; and Vithika Yadav, who speaks about the nearly constant sexual harassment women are subjected to in public spaces in India.
Each story is fascinating on its own, but taken together, the film weaves a powerful tapestry of the ways in which religious culture still tries to control women.
“All of them have been threatened, criticized, condemned,” said Miller, adding that some of them have received death threats.
Each story is compelling in its own way and each complements the others. “What is inspiring is how each of them has worked to take back control of their lives and to share their experiences to help others,” said Miller.
Feldman, now a professional writer who lives in Berlin with her son, risked losing custody of her child when she left her husband. She describes getting married to a man she did not know at a time when she was completely ignorant about sex, a negative and upsetting experience.
Hussein, who works as a therapist today in London and has opened the first clinic for women who have been subjected to FGM in Europe. Through her work there, she helps them regain control of their bodies and reverse the effects of the procedure – which, according to statistics quoted in the film, has been carried out on more than 200 million women around the world.
In the film, she speaks not only to women but also to young men who have said that they only want to marry women who have had FGM, but when she explains the details of the procedure to them and shows them photos of it, their eyes are open to how horrific it is. It is clear that she derives enormous satisfaction from being able to influence them and the many others she touches through her work. She has spoken before the UN and the English Parliament to try to help at-risk girls, not only in Africa but also in Europe.
Rokudenashiko, who grew up in a Japanese Shinto-Buddhist family, is a manga artist who now faces two years imprisonment if she is convicted on charges of obscenity because of the depictions of vaginas she has created in her art. In one telling scene, she goes into a Japanese sex shop filled with sex toys that are somehow considered socially acceptable, compared to her much gentler, female-oriented art.
Wagner, who has left the Church and started a family, is a graduate student who fights for the rights of victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy and to raise awareness of the fact that as many as 30% of nuns have been sexually assaulted.
Yadav broke a taboo by marrying a fellow university student from a different caste. She has founded Love Matters India, the first Indian digital sex education project.
As you watch them change their lives, what might have been a dark and depressing film becomes exhilarating.
The film has been screened in many European countries and will be shown in America in February and there will also be a series of screenings around the world in 2020, including in Senegal, India and Japan.
“I spent a year in the editing room, trying to get this film right. I want the audience to have empathy for them and to feel close to them. It’s so important that these women are telling their stories in their own voices.”
For more information and to order tickets, go here.