Banned films, protest and the struggle for progress: ‘Bodies in Trouble’ comes to the Gulbenkian

This Saturday the 19th May, the Bodies in Trouble charity film festival held at The Gulbenkian will showcase three films directed by female filmmakers, including BAFTA award-winner and human rights activist Leslee Udwin, director of India’s Daughter. The documentary film is based on the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh. 

This film festival raises awareness of different forms of violence committed against the female body; in the last week alone, three girls in India have been raped and burned alive in some of the most high profile incidences since the murder of Jyoti in 2012. 

As part of the event, we will also hear about the work that they do at Rising Sun Domestic Violence and Abuse Service. 

We met with the organisers of the event, PhD students Dominique Carlini Versini and Mylène Branco, to find out more.

How did you both meet, and what made you want to decide to organise the Bodies in Trouble film festival?

Dominique: We were both studying at the University of Kent and we met through the School of European Culture and Languages. We are both feminists and we wanted to do something in relation to this, and that is how we came to creating the day festival.

Rising Sun Domestic Violence and Abuse Service had been doing events at our university, so that’s how we found out about them – through conferences and symposiums where they were invited to talk. They are a shelter for women and children based in Canterbury.

Mylène: When you do a PhD, you get so many opportunities to set something up and to apply for funding, so we sat one day and said we want to do something; we want to raise awareness for something, and then we started talking. We are both feminists, we started from there. What can we do? How can we go about this?

Dominque: Conferences and symposiums tackling feminist issues can be very dry. So we were thinking about something to attract a broader public – something that is open to the entire community of Canterbury. All of the funds will be given to the shelter, apart from the Gulbenkian will take a fee for running costs.

Mylène: It’s good to have some representatives from the shelter speaking because they can raise awareness about the difficult work that they’re doing. When the government is cutting funding for the shelter and funding is scarce, it’s more important than ever to raise awareness of Rising Sun Domestic Service and Abuse Shelter within the community and make them visible.

How is Think Equal Charity involved, and what do they do?

Mylène: Leslee Udwin is the director of India’s Daughters, one of the documentaries that we are going to screen. She is also the founder and president of Think Equal and agreed to come in for a Q&A. If people have questions about the film, they can approach her. She is very politically involved in raising awareness of gender inequalities and I think that her theory is based on the fact that gender differences start at a very early age.

Dominique: She believes that education is the way to change how we understand gender and she does a lot of work in India. It’s based on events after the horrible gang rape that took place a few years ago where the student was killed and left to die on the side of the road. After working with this and making this documentary where she interrogated the rapists instead of the victim, it really sparked a debate. That’s when she decided to start the charity.

It really was a phenomenon when it came out – India’s Daughter was banned when it was first screened in India.

It was perceived as not giving the right picture of India – then it became massive internationally. Women started speaking up and attending protests.

Do you feel as if that film was a catalyst for a period of change in India?

Dominique: For India, yes it opened a debate. But, also a gang rape just happened again this weekend* – they burned alive the victim. So obviously the debate is here, and women are more vocal, but I am not sure that the situation has improved.

In the documentary, the director went to talk to these people who are in prison and who have been sentenced to death – which is very rare in India – and they show no remorse. They say ‘well, [the woman who was raped] was out at night’, you know?

Mylène: They also interviewed the lawyers. You would think educated men would think differently – but they were also convinced of the women who were raped being bad. One described women as ‘diamonds’ and said ‘Well, if you put a diamond at the side of the road….’

The parents of the girl who was raped worked really hard to get her into medical school, but then something devastating like this happened, and it broke them. They had built everything up for her. But they also have founded their own charity in India.

Do you feel as if the global feminist movement is making progress – or are we just talking about feminism more?

Dominique: I think we are making progress because things that would previously be considered acceptable are no longer acceptable. A few years ago you would think ‘oh, that’s just what happens’, but now we are talking about it. Starting groups, starting internet forums, meeting together. We are making progress, but of course its so disheartening to see that things are still happening in the workplace, in the streets, in schools here in the UK and across the world…

Mylène: There was a documentary made in Belgium about street harassment. A woman walked around in Brussels, in a popular neighbourhood, and got catcalled every minute. Then she interviews a man who does it, and he says ‘yeah, I’ve done it’ [shrugs]. Women are not always perceived at the same level of humanity.

Schedule of events:

2pm Pollution: A short film made by School of Arts student Annie Pilnik followed by a discussion with the director.

3pm Take My Eyes will feature an introduction by Prof. Núria Triana Toribio (SECL, Centre for Film and Media Research) + Screening of Take My Eyes (2003) by Icíar Bollaín followed by a panel discussion with Rising Sun officers. Part of Bodies in Trouble: A Charity Film Festival.

6pm India’s Daughter , with an introduction by Mylène Branco and Dominique Carlini Versini, followed by a Q&A with director Leslee Udwin. 

To find out more about the Bodies in Trouble film festival, please click here

Visit The Gulbenkian website to find out more about their latest films, events and performances. 

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