Open City Documentary Festival 2018 – Focus: Women’s Stories


Catriona Mahmoud previews several films within the 2018 programme that offer a platform for women to share their pasts, presents, as well as their hopes for the future.

Patriarchal systems can seem ubiquitous, and a woman’s voice can struggle to be heard in the male-dominated society she lives in. This year’s festival strives to challenge this, by being a place not only for equality— this year’s programme featuring an equal number of male and female identified directors—but also a platform where women have the opportunity to share their own personal experiences on their own terms.  

Our opening night feature, Baronesa, follows two women, Leid and Andreia, who are living in Brazil’s Belo Horizonte favela. Notorious for violence, gang warfare and poverty, the place they call home is quickly growing tiresome for Andreia. She dreams of moving to Baronesa, a safer nearby township. They spend their time discussing their carefree youth and the loved ones of their past, many of whom are now dead or imprisoned, as well as their determination to find a safer future for their children. Baronesa is a story of the lifelong struggle for survival and the (at times violent) lengths a woman will go to, to protect herself and the ones she loves.

Another piece that sees women take charge is Håvard Bustness rare glimpse into the leaders of Greece’s foremost nationalist party, Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn Girls was filmed during a period of the party’s history when it’s male leaders were momentarily imprisoned, and their wives, daughters and mothers continued their fight for far-right supremacy. These women—who had previously lived peripherally as the loyal supporters of their male leaders, had been thrust into positions of power—creating a temporarily matriarchal political party. We see the striking ways these women put their lives on hold in order to take the reigns and continue their male counterparts work.

Documentary cinema also gives women the chance to explore their lives reflectively. Aminatou Echard’s Jamilia allows the women of Kyrgyzstan to tell their stories contextually, in relation to the eponymous protagonist of Chingiz Aitmatov’s 1958 novella, a text with themes of rebellion that are uncharacteristically revered in the former Soviet state. The women appearing in the film contemplate what it would be like to have lived the life of Jamilia, a woman who decided to marry for love rather than adhere to her impending arranged marriage. They each define what freedom means to them, some dream of breaking from tradition, whilst others fear and disapprove of Jamilia’s lack of respect for convention. Shot on Super 8 film,  Jamilia has a dreamlike quality that comes across as a non-invasive navigation of the choices and sacrifices women make for the happiness of their loved ones and themselves.

A similarly reflexive film is Gustavo Vinagre’s I Remember the Crows, a captivating monologue-esque feature where trans actress/filmmaker Julia Katharine divulges her past experiences, trauma, mistakes and fond memories over a few glasses of wine. She explores the ways she has tried to find her personal identity, through her multicultural heritage, relationship with her mother and encounters with men, and with cinema. The subject matter at times can be hard-hitting, and she even admits to feeling unable to continue some stories for her embarrassment in recalling them. Julia goes on to make critical observations about her life and choices, while excitedly looking to the future as her dreams are finally beginning to be realised.

These women come from very different worlds, but they all choose to share their pasts, presents and hopes for the future, something which we as an audience must value in the privileged moment where we are present to hear.