Greenhorn Short Film Festival, backed by everyone’s favourite indie filmmaking royalty Mike Leigh for its daring programming, is doing a total Cindy Sherman and dedicating the last evening of the festival (11th-14th Nov) to films about identity and dress-up. The theme of this 8 film line-up is essentially “fabulousness”, with stories about empowerment and self-expression taking a variety of forms, from rebellious punk great-grandmothers inspired by the subversiveness of Vivienne Westwood clothes back in the day (VIVA) to what it feels like wearing one of the most famous red and yellow clown suits in the world (RONALD). Who would have thought a MacDonald’s spokesperson would be so concerned with the child obesity epidemic in the US?
The gem of the evening is POWDER ROOMS OF THE FEMALE KIND: a series of interviews with 12 females discussing their feelings about make-up, body image and gender expectations. Made for 30 pounds, Tash Horton’s film has already won a bunch of awards for its resourceful editing and use of evocative make-up powders as a visual staple, which explode like fireworks against the simple black background. The storylines are organic mediations from 12 young women all suffering, in one way or another, from the expectations put on them by a society with very concrete ideas about what beautiful should look like.
What Horton’s film illuminates so well in such a simplistic and spontaneous-feeling way is the everyday nature of personal oppression that women are made to feel in their normal lives. Female judgement is so embedded in social experiences, so part of advertising and the media en masse, that to even highlight it directly bears this sense of grim reality and sadness, and so is spoken by the girls with a depressive tone that is painful to bear. There is no overt emotional expression (save one ambiguous moment that still plays on my mind) because the emotion has been absorbed and taken into their stride for their whole lives. Giving the film its sense of multi-dimensional awareness and gesturing to the marginalised in general, the exploration of female oppression crosses over into racial oppression as one black girl describes her lack of representation on TV and in books growing up that led her to believe she could never be the blonde white beautiful that everyone seemed to glorify.
Sitting next to and complimenting POWDER ROOMS is PINK BOY, a film which explores the subversion of gender norms with a look at the relationship between a lesbian foster mother and her trans son, who wants to be a girl when he grows up. Living in conservative Florida, this predictably puts both of them in danger, and yet their dedication to their true identity soars with the support they offer to one another. See more portraits of strong mothers in LUCHADORA, which follows a successful female Lucha Libre wrestling star determined to both realise her goals as a fighter and be a good mother to her daughter and son, the latter of whom was taken away from her by his father on the grounds of her immoral career choice.
I AM WHAT I AM deals with tough testimonials about identity, and yet the resounding voice is an inspirational one. These people have largely been the victims of a judgemental society, skeptical of difference and grounded in a fierce conservatism that is still being shaken off, one step at a time, and yet they are winning because they stay true to themselves. These kind of stories break myths and inspire other to do the same – do not miss the closing eve of Greenhorn!