To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, The Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival will screen a retrospective of films from black female filmmakers. 

The Black Women Filmmakers’ Retrospective will build on last year’s screening of Mark Cousins’ epic documentary about female filmmakers, Women Make Film. Screened over a weekend, and featuring contributions from actors including Jane Fonda and Thandie Newton, the 14-hour-long documentary proved to be a big hit with festival filmgoers. 

Black Women Filmmakers: A Student Seminar

On the afternoon following the retrospective (March 9th), The Festival will host an afternoon of discussions and presentations focused on diversity and representation in film. Over the course of these discussions there will be a particular focus on the films featured in the Black Women Filmmakers’ Festival Retrospective. As part of these events, the festival will host an in-conversation interview with top British writer and filmmaker Amma Asante, whose features include Belle and Where Hands Touch

Belle

Asante’s Belle will screen at The Festival as part of the retrospective on International Women’s Day. 

The 2013 British period drama tells of a remarkable time in the country’s history, and a kinship that would have an important impact on slavery in 18th-century England. The gently subversive film is based on the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, born to a British admiral and a black woman, and raised by members of his aristocratic family in 18th-century England. Through a close and trusting relationship with her uncle’s family, she would play an important role in the ending of slavery in her home country. Featuring a powerful central performance Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the film was described by critic Mark Kermode as: “A finely wrought tale of a woman out of time, a film that plays eloquently upon the heartstrings as it interweaves familiar personal intrigue with stirring social history.”

Welcome II the Terrordome

The retrospective also celebrates the work of Ngozi Onwurah, who blazed a trail when her work became the first feature directed by a black woman to get a wide theatrical release in the UK. Her 1995 thriller Welcome II the Terrordome will screen at the Festival. It centres on a dystopia called the Terrordome, where black people live, amid racial tensions which are running high following the dramatic death of a young boy. Over a quarter of a century later the feature about a mother seeking retribution remains angry and uncompromising. Onwurah’s film examines the legacy of slavery through the events of her film. Described by the British Film Institute as “criminally neglected since its release”, the screening gives viewers a rare opportunity to see a film that is as controversial as it is groundbreaking. 

The retrospective also features a two-film package including French short film Maman(s) and 1991’s Daughters of the Dust

Daughters of the Dust

When Beyoncé released her visual album Lemonade, Julie Dash’s groundbreaking feature Daughters of the Dust was widely cited as a major influence and inspiration. The visual style and tone referenced in Beyoncé’s own work generated so much interest that the film was restored and re-released in the US. 

The film is a cutting-edge and beautifully shot piece of work. Set on an island off South Carolina at the turn of the 20th century, it focuses on a family from the Gullah community who live in the tradition of their West-African ancestors. Like the slaves brought there before them, they honour their heritage by adopting many of the traditions and ways of life of their Yoruba ancestors. But younger generations yearn to move to the mainland in a tale that is an ode to a way of life. It was described by the New Yorker as: “One of the best of all American independent films; she (Dash) turns one family's experience of the Great Migration into a vast mythopoetic adventure.” 

Maman(s)

Daughters of the Dust will be preceded by a short from French writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré (Cuties). Maman(s), which won France’s César Award for Best Short Film in 2017, tells the story of an eight-year-old girl, Aida, who lives in a Paris suburb with her mother. They’re awaiting  the return of her father from abroad - but their lives are turned upside down when he arrives home with a second wife. Conscious of her mother’s upset, Aida comes up with a plan to get rid of the new arrival. The film is inspired by Doucouré’s own personal experiences. 

Esther Mccarthy

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