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    Still from Absent Spaces (Laila Hotait Salas, 2008). Used with permission from Women's Voices Now.


  issue 3.2 |  

Journal Issue 3.2
Fall 2011
Edited by Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, Agatha Beins, Karen Alexander and Deanna Utroske
Editorial Assistants: A.J. Barks and Anna Zailik


Women's Voices from the Muslim World Festival: Filmmakers Share their Stories

Introduction by Julie Ann Salthouse

Whether one believes that the purpose of feminist filmmaking is to is to teach and raise consciousness of political and social issues; to advocate; to use the camera as a means of dialoguing, challenging, and exploring; to experiment, to play, and to give voice through the platform of film; or perhaps a combination of all these roles, then Women's Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival could be considered feminist filmmaking at its best. Launched by Women's Voices Now (WVN), a New York-based nonprofit organization itself just founded in 2010, the festival aims to challenge prevailing narratives on Muslim identity and to diversify and redirect larger conversations on what it means to be a woman living in the Muslim world.
         Hosted and run on WVN's open-access website (, the festival began in the summer of 2010, when a formal call for submissions was announced world-wide asking for short films from or about women of all faiths living in Muslim-majority countries and Muslim women living as minorities around the world. Despite the fact that the call for proposals came from an organization that was less than one year old, the response to WVN was overwhelming: the organization received over 200 submissions from 40 countries in dozens of languages and dialects. Ninety-eight films were selected for festival competition, categorized into four genres (documentary, experimental, fiction, or student), and posted on the WVN website for viewing, social media sharing, and commenting. And viewed they were: by the time the festival formally ended at its culminating Los Angeles WVN Festival in March 2011, the films had been seen by thousands of individuals from 176 countries.
     With the films available for screening online, and with additional screenings, workshops, and presentations by WVN staff and filmmakers happening around the world, the festival continues to grow in scope, scale, and impact. The festival problematizes otherwise simplified global dialogues on political and social issues related to Islam, and in doing so provides a platform for building a complex yet unified worldwide movement. Due to their online access, relatively short lengths, and array of languages, the films are available to a wide range of audience members who otherwise would not have access to such dialogues. Feminist scholars, teachers, and activists will find the festival's online collection foundational in continuing such dialogues in their classrooms, campuses, and communities.
       Films for the Feminist Classroom is thrilled to contribute to these conversations by sharing statements by three of the filmmakers selected by WVN in 2010 to participate in the festival. Ayten Amin, a native of Alexandria, Egypt, contributed two films to the festival: Her Man (fiction, 10 min.), and Spring '89 (fiction, 26 min.), both of which explore identity development, gender roles, family relations, and agency through original short stories. Mostafa Heravi, who lives and works in Amsterdam, also contributed two films, both experimental, to the festival: It Is Written (5 min.), which was awarded second place in its category, and Somaye (3 min.). As Heravi describes below, It Is Written and Somaye are part of a five-film series that examines women and freedom, particularly as it relates to self-expression, dance, and movement, within his birth country of Iran. Laila Hotait Salas, a Lebanese filmmaker based in Spain, also contributed two films. Absent Spaces (fiction, 8 min.) tells one woman's story of desiring to protect her home--which also serves as her artist's studio--after her husband has been lost during the attacks on Lebanon in the summer of 2008. Basita (2 min.), which was awarded first place in the experimental category, gives voice to a suicide victim whose family has attempted to keep her death secret.
     Amin, Heravi, and Hotait Salas shared their thoughts with me during the spring of 2011, after the close of the formal festival. Their and others' festival contributions may be viewed on the WVN festival website at and during a 2011-2012 global tour (see the WVN website for more details).


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