Les Filministes Spur Feminist Discussion Through Film

Student-Run Film Screenings Promote Feminist Ideas

Les Filministes organizers from left to right: Coppélia LaRoche-Francoeur, Soline Asselin, Anne-Julie Beaudin and Gabrielle Doré. Photo courtesy Julia Gagnon

Three students, one bright idea.

Eighty-five guest speakers, 49 films screened, 32 themes discussed. These numbers embody Les Filministes, an independent student-run association that screens documentaries and films on themes related to feminism.

Les Filministes was created in 2015 by Gabrielle Doré and Soline Asselin, two Université du Québec à Montréal students. It all started after Doré’s Masters degree supervisor asked her to help organize an event where a film would be presented to raise awareness about sexual assault.

However, as Doré became more and more involved, the event became something completely separate from her work as a research assistant.

That’s when Les Filministes was born.

Les Filministes’ first movie screening was The Hunting Ground, a documentary film directed by Kirby Dick about sexual assault on college campuses in the United States, and what its creators say is a failure on college administrations’ part to deal with it adequately. Dick is one of the only male directors in the repertoire of movies.

Their first event was such a success that more screenings followed in the months afterward, and then significantly more in the following years as this feminist film movement gained traction.

With time, the events became so popular that the original duo running Les Filministes needed additional help. Now, three UQAM students are running the show: Gabrielle Doré, Coppélia La Roche- Francoeur and Anne-Julie Beaudin.

Feminism and film are no strangers. Many renowned feminist scholars and critics have discussed gender in film.

In her essay “City of Women,” outspoken feminist author and essayist Rebecca Solnit writes “I’ve come to wonder what it would feel like if… I had the option, at any moment, of seeing several new releases lionizing my gender’s superpowers, if lady Bonds and Spiderwomen became the ordinary fare of my entertainment and imagination.”

This past February, Les Filministes explored that topic and presented Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines, directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. The theme of the screening was representation of women in popular cinema.

There were three guest speakers at the event. Fanie Demeule and Sandrine Galand, both literary studies PhD students at UQAM, were present. High school teacher Sophie Delmas, who is also a lecturer on queer comics and the founder of the LGBTQ+ Subconvention at Montreal’s Othakuthon in 2009, was also present. Delmas has implemented queer-themed conferences at Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec’s Comic Cons.

Of course, an important aspect of Les Filministes’ screenings are the guest speakers. The goal of these events is ultimately to open the discussion about important issues in feminism.

“[We want to] create a space to discuss feminism other than in universities or in more closed environments,” said Doré.

“Feminism is a reading that can be applied to many domains. It can be applied to mechanics just as much as it can be applied to the theatre world or the music world.” —Anne-Julie Beaudin

One of their guest speakers of particular relevance to Concordia students interested in feminism was Maïr Verthuy— the founder of Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute. She attended Les Filministes’ event where they screened Autour de Maïr directed by Hejer Charf. The event was about teaching literature to women in university and Verthuy was in fact the star of the movie screened.

Questions surrounding the representation of gender in film go hand in hand with questions about gender on the other side of the camera, in cinema production. Les Filministes try their best to curate movies directed by women. The movie production world is male-dominated, hence the importance of promoting women directors who portray the world and its women in a very different light.

Feminist philosopher Laura Mulvey, who coined the term “male gaze,” argued that the camera in movies assumes the point of view of the heterosexual male.

In September, Les Filministes adopt it from a feminist point of view.

“There were a lot of important questions,” said Doré. “But an anti-speciesist association came to the showing.”

Doré added that though Les Filministes received criticism from the anti-speciesist association, it was all done with respect. After all, the goal of these showings is to generate discussion.

Les Filministes used to host their events at the National Film Board of Canada’s (NFB) old theatre right next to UQAM’s downtown campus. However, when the theatre was bought by the university, they decided they needed to move their events somewhere else.

“[Our audience] remained a student niche already aware of the cause,” said Doré.

In hopes of diversifying their audience and separating themselves from the academic world, Les Filministes decided to host their screening at ArtGang near Beaubien Metro. ArtGang is a clothing boutique and art gallery that also hosts events.

ArtGang also has the advantage of being able to accommodate a lot more people. The theatre rooms next to the university have around 150 seats, and as Les Filministes became more popular, the rooms reached capacity very quickly. So far, the switch has been a success.

“The ambiance is different, so it attracts another crowd, both male and female,” said Beaudin. “ArtGang also brings in their own public.”

In late October, Les Filministes held an event about women and mental health that brought in 300 audience members. They had to turn people away at the door.

Les Filministes plan on expanding the scope of their organizing even more next year with a feminist film festival. This four-day festival will run March 7 through 10 and will feature a wide array of projections. Of course, guest speakers and discussion sessions will remain an important aspect.

Ultimately, Les Filministes hope to introduce feminist ideas to the widest range of people possible through films.

“It would be great to democratize feminism, to make it really accessible,” said Doré.