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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Interview: Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre • Director, scholar, founder of MJSTP Films

"It is our turn to re-envision the world"

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- We interviewed the acclaimed Canadian feminist director, producer and scholar who presented her PhD research on feminist discourse in the 1970s Quebec animation at Animafest's Scanner Symposium

GoCritic! Interview: Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre  • Director, scholar, founder of MJSTP Films

With co-productions signed by the National Film Board of Canada, her very own film studio (MJSTP Films) and an upcoming dissertation, Montreal-based Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre is a well-established feminist director-producer-scholar in the international animation community. She presented her PhD research (Université du Québec à Montréal) at the Animafest Zagreb Scanner VI Symposium during a panel intitled "Feminism and Animation: Feminist Discourse Analysis of Québec Animation from the National Film Board of Canada (1970-1979)." After her talk, we sat down with Marie-Josée to pick her brain about the future of feminism in the animation industry.

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Why did you decide to move from the industry to academia?
I didn't go into the PhD with any particular subject in mind; the subject kind of found me. The female filmmakers [in my dissertation] were doing the same thing as I was, but they weren’t documented in the history of art and animation. What's especially important is that they’re from the 70s, so in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time, people are going to forget about them. We tend to forget that even forty to fifty years ago, women weren’t considered to be equal citizens politically speaking. It's important to remind future generations of all the things these women have done for us to live as we do now. I’m moving into academia while keeping - and in order to keep - my practice alive.

And how do you suppose we do that? Through funding more films directed by women?
I know that people are divided over this question, and some say, "I don't want to be given funding for my film just because I’m a woman." But I think we have to recognise that the structure of funding - and of society as a whole - is very androcentric. It's super problematic. We have a tendency to think that all these things are natural (or not natural!), but actually they’re constructed for and by the male gaze. Even [funding] decision committees need to show greater awareness. Positive discriminative measures, such as the production of the series En tant que femmes and the creation of Studio D at the NFB, have proven effective at promoting women directors.

What makes a film - well - a "female" film?
There are films that are made by women; then there are feminine films, and then there are feminist films. These are all very different things. A feminist film can be directed by either a man or a woman; gender doesn't really matter. Anybody can make a feminist film that advocates gender equality or defends women’s rights.

“Feminine” film plays into traditional gender roles and is sometimes seen as “light.” This begs the question: what then is “masculine film?” To me, there is no homogenous group named “women.” Women face a variety of problems and consequently they have many demands; within a society shaped by gender differences, we need to take into account forms of oppression which are shaped by class and race. From that point of view, “feminine cinema” does not exist in my opinion - there are only films made by women based upon their own individual point of view. So then you have films made by women; they can be feminist but they can also be sexist. We have to be really careful about how we label and classify films directed by women. Some demonstrate some level of feminist awareness, others don't.

So, if we're talking about female-directed films which should be added to the canon - what kind of films would these be?
Well, definitely the ones from my thesis! (laughs)

We can't be super essentialist and say "all female filmmakers" because in any one group of women, everyone will have different ideas and experiences. But I do think they should be films which relay stories of repression and oppression. The marginalised can offer a unique perspective. What they know - which is neither historicised nor canonised - has incredible value. So instead of rewriting history, it's more like adding to history: where are the missing pieces, the stories which haven't been told? How can we re-remember animation history? How can we give credit where credit is due?

Are we in a better position to do this now?
They say that the Fourth Wave of feminism is happening online, because women have access to blogging, to writing narratives on their smartphones, etc. Is the Fourth Wave actually happening on the web? I don't know, but I think that the accessibility the internet brings could prove a powerful tool for women looking to project their voice in the world. I believe in the distribution of films online, especially once films have finished their festival runs.

And, to wrap up, what are your thoughts on the future of female-directed animation?
Well, I think there are more and more women going to school to learn about animation. I hope that once they graduate, the market can absorb those filmmakers and put them in positions of power. I think it's important that people in the industry understand just how huge a problem disparity in filmmaking really is. Women have things to say that are different from what men have been saying for years and years and years.

It’s our turn to have funding, to make films and to re-envision the world. We don't want to take anything; we just want to add to what already exists and present it in a different light. It's a win-win situation, offering more perspectives on our own existence. So, I think the future of feminist filmmaking and animations made by women is really bright, and we need to demand equality in production. And in distribution. And in programming (smiles).

The list of feminist Quebecois films Saint-Pierre references in her thesis:

The Spring and Fall of Nina Polanski (Joan Hutton and Louise Roy, 1974)

Token Gesture (Micheline Lanctôt, 1975)

Cogne-Dur (Mitsu Daudelin and Estelle Lebel, 1979)

Petit Bonheur (Clorinda Warny, 1972)

The Housewife (Cathy Bennett, 1975)

Interview (Caroline Leaf and Veronika Soul, 1979)

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