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Q & A: Directing the 2017 Davis Feminist Film Festival

In this interview, UC Davis graduate student Lindsay Baltus discusses her role as the director of the 12th annual Davis Feminist Film Festival (DFFF), sponsored by the UC Davis Women’s Resources and Research Center (WRRC) and Student Affairs. On May 12th, 2017, the event screened a range of international short films “with perspectives often missing from mainstream media” and cultivated “an inclusive public space for underrepresented artists” at the Veteran’s Memorial Theater in Davis.

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, Baltus reflects on the intersections between her work at the festival, her academic research, and her preparation for employment both within and beyond academia.

Q: As a doctoral candidate in literature, what motivated you to apply to direct the Davis Feminist Film Festival? How did it align with your existing interests?

LB: I’ve been interested in feminist media work for a long time; before I came to UCD I interned and blogged for the feminist nonprofit Bitch Media. As a graduate student I was looking for ways to align my research with the community work that was also important to me, so I developed a dissertation project that focuses on feminist media activism, including film and video. For the last few years I have also been trying gain different kinds of experience related to my interests, because I want to be able to find fulfilling work beyond the tenure track. . .The DFFF Director job is such a cool way to combine my skills and interests – it is basically what I want to be when I grow up.

Q: Can you describe the outcomes of your work: is it the festival itself or are there other end results?

LB: The festival itself was obviously a very important outcome, and I was proud of how the event turned out. Around 250 members of the campus and local communities showed up, including students, faculty, owners of local businesses, and other Davisites. Some of the [undergraduate] interns organized a showcase of feminist art that was displayed in the theater lobby. We had an eleven-year-old submit a piece of art, and we presented her with an Honorable Mention onstage in front of the audience at the end of the night. I think the festival achieved its goals: we brought community members together to see films made by underrepresented artists that focused on social justice themes, and we were able to create a space that celebrated feminism while acknowledging the reality that feminism may mean different things for different people in different contexts.

As far as other outcomes, I’ve built relationships with the staff and students at the WRRC, which has been professionally and personally valuable for me. And I’ve been invited back to direct the festival again next year, which I’m really excited about, and which gives me the opportunity to improve on this year’s festival. (For one thing, I can tell you now that next year there’ll be food and beer at the venue!)

Q: Are there skills or abilities that you’ve gained that could also be helpful for academic activities like teaching and research?

LB: People have asked me whether taking this job means I want to go into event planning, and the interns and I also reflected after the festival about how it felt a little strange to do so much work leading up to just one night. But I think my response to both of those comments is that there’s a lot more to DFFF as a program besides the one night of the festival, because the process has involved a lot of relationship- and skill-building for me and the 10 interns I supervised. I put together a syllabus for the interns to introduce them to some basic concepts about feminism, film, and media, and we spent the first half of Winter Quarter reading and discussing those texts. That was really valuable for building teaching experience related to my research, and because I’m a media studies scholar housed in the English department, it was a chance to teach in my specific field that I may not have had otherwise. Post-festival, I’m working on assessing the program and writing up an annual report, which is giving me the chance to use more quantitative research methods that, as a humanist, I haven’t had much practice with.

Q: Speaking of skills, in what ways did this experience prepare you for work outside academia? What kinds of projects do you feel like you have pertinent experience and skills for because of your work on the film festival?

LB: Putting together the festival lineup was a collaborative process: I worked closely with the interns and WRRC staff to narrow over 900 submissions to about 50, to watch, discuss, and choose the films, and to arrange them in the order they were shown in the festival. My sense is that being able to show how I’ve worked with a team to complete this project will make me a more competitive applicant for non-academic jobs. The process of putting together the lineup also helped me build knowledge about curation, which I could see using if I were to work with an arts nonprofit, for example. There are many more transferable skills I could name: leadership, marketing, community outreach, budget management. I learned how to write a press release. The list goes on.

Photo of the festival's art show

Two film festival attendees viewing the art showcase in the theater’s lobby. Photo Credit: Briana Ngo

Q: Did producing the Davis Feminist Film Festival influence your view of your own work in particular ways?

LB: Since feminisms and feminist communities are the subject of my research, I’ve appreciated being able to think critically about the work of the WRRC and the festival in the context of my dissertation at the same time as I’m invested in and contributing to that work. I had lots of conversations about feminism and media with the group of undergrad interns who co-organized the event, and I’m grateful to them for prompting difficult questions about putting intersectional feminism into practice.

For instance, we talked about whether and how to give trigger warnings and why we would or wouldn’t show films that represent sexual violence. I study the history of concepts like trigger warnings and safe spaces, among other things, so I had thought about questions like these, but it was new for me to make practical decisions about them in the context of an institutionally-sponsored community event. This job has reminded me to keep thinking carefully about the many ways my research, my everyday work, and my own positionality influence one another.

Q: Beyond its influence on your own thinking, can you describe your sense of the impact of this project on the undergraduates you worked with and on the larger public who attended the festival? Did you feel this work was political and had a political impact?

LB: This work was certainly political. Based on the feedback I received from the intern group, working on the film festival strengthened their ability to think critically about media using an intersectional feminist lens and to talk about feminism with others, including community members who might not understand or share their political positions. We chose films that were made by and featured queer and trans people, people of color, and people with disabilities, so for the larger public this was a chance to see films about experiences of folks whose stories are either not told in mainstream media or are told in tired and hurtful ways. We also chose films that took explicitly feminist perspectives, that told stories about feminism, and that asked questions about the relationship between visual representation and social justice. I think that is political, and I hope that for our audience the films we showed were encouraging or unsettling or both, because I think those kinds of responses to art and media can lead to political change.

–Jennifer Tinonga-Valle, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in the Department of English

This page was last updated: May 22, 2017



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