‘The idea of Another Gaze is about making something that could be deemed a limitation into something that opens up an infinite reservoir of possibilities,’ says the feminist film journal’s founder and editor Daniella Shreir: a philosophy that is now guiding the curation of an adjacent streaming platform, Another Screen. It is not the only site to have emerged in response to the struggles of film exhibition during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has created a space to view the work of women filmmakers alongside written essays and interviews that help to frame their ideas and subjects. In keeping with the output of the print publication, which offers nuanced thinking about film and alternative voices to mainstream discourse, the platform hosts an open and varied collection.
Another Screen’s week-long curations of films by women have so far included a retrospective of the work of Italian documentary filmmaker Cecilia Mangini, and a double bill of thematic programmes: Hands Tied, which brought together two films about hands in relation to topics from fate to surveillance, and Eating / The Other, a selection of films that use food to explore ideas around ritual, censorship and national mythologies.
Caitlin Quinlan: What was the context of Another Screen’s creation? What were you thinking about in the early stages of the platform?
Daniella Shreir: The beginning of an idea came about when we hosted the ‘Legacies of Sarah Maldoror (1929-2020)’ roundtable last spring. Maldoror had died of COVID last April and it seemed especially tragic that someone who had been such a connecting force for Afro-Francophone communities around the world couldn’t be mourned in a public way. After we tweeted a translation of a dedication written by her daughters, I was struck by how beautiful, personal and intimate the tributes were: filmmakers of colour who hadn’t necessarily had the chance to see many of her films but still stated Maldoror as a profound influence on their work; others who knew of her through her work with other Pan-African intellectuals like Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Leon Damas, Léopold Sédar Senghor; devotees to the terrible copy of her brilliant feature Sambizanga on YouTube. I put a roundtable together with Yasmina Price but the question was whether we’d be able to share some of her largely unseen films. Her daughter Annoushka de Andrade agreed on the condition the videos were only available to those attending the roundtable.
Despite the fact she was 92, her death felt untimely. Lots of her work had only recently been restored and she was receiving more attention online, perhaps because conversations around race were very belatedly entering the mainstream in France. She was sort of—and I say this extremely critically—on the brick of rediscovery. But I hate this idea.
CQ: Can you expand on that?
DS: Well, when it comes to Maldoror, she was always known to the communities her films were in dialogue with. The idea of ‘rediscovery’ in her case basically signifies her long overdue discovery by white curators and programmers—this has slightly terra incognita, colonialist undertones. But, thinking about women and queer artists (white and of colour), I would say that the vocabulary around this sort of curation evokes the idea of an archaeological dig. It’s a kind of fetishism of the unfindable, of the ‘forgotten’. But forgotten by whom? The idea of a forgotten film or a forgotten filmmaker suggests that the creator or their work is the agent of the forgetting, abdicating responsibility from institutions, distributors and programmers who either have their own sexist/racist/homophobic biases or are too scared to take a risk on something that might not make money.
I feel very ambivalent about a lot of programming that involves highlighting forgotten women filmmakers and filmmakers of colour: both in commercial and non-commercial environments and as part of ‘feminist’ programmes and collectives. We’ve seen a lot of the ‘grab what you can’ approach over the past few years, as conversations about representation on-screen and behind the camera have come to the fore. And we’ve seen a lot of programming which feels like a kind of ownership, where a programmer goes on a cynical hunt for ‘female firsts’, ‘pioneers’ etc. and it becomes good branding for them and the institution they work for. How much research has been done? Have scholars, archives and collaborators been contacted to enrich the conversation and context around the film? Probably not. It reminds me of Mark Cousins boasting that he had done all the research for Women Make Film on Google.
This is especially concerning when the filmmaker is dead and can’t answer back. That’s not to say a filmmaker should necessarily be involved with the framing of their films—programming is a job of reading and interpretation and this shouldn’t necessitate putting authorial intent at the centre of framing—but I do worry that dead women filmmakers are either being marketed extremely cynically, in a way that flattens the work, or being dug up and reframed in a way that exemplifies current feminist discourse, whether that be a sort of branding exercise, as with the girl boss-esque Alice Guy-Blaché doc from a couple of years ago, or something much more specific and nuanced, such as using experimental films that centre queer sexual pleasure to talk about current debates around consent.
CQ: Exactly like the group who tried to claim dead women authors as voices who would oppose a trans woman’s inclusion in the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist.
DS: Yeah, exactly. It seems as though, through their films, women filmmakers are often asked to have created something more than a space of inquiry—something which those looking from the margins are especially adept at doing. It’s as if their films are expected to have a didactic ‘message’; to retrospectively answer a multitude of feminist questions.
CQ: In the creation of Another Screen, how were you responding to those problems and other elements of film culture you were experiencing?
DS: 2020 was obviously a really depressing year in many respects and I felt dispirited about film culture in general. I wouldn’t say I missed going to the cinema—I find programming in London so disappointing. I moved to Paris just before the pandemic: there people go to the cinema like they go to the supermarket—it’s very affordable and there are more than 100 different films showing at any one time. In the UK, distributors and cinemas seem to think their audience is really passive and stupid and the few cinemas that aren’t owned by the same person struggle so hard that they have to programme the same films as everywhere else. The price of a cinema ticket is so prohibitively expensive. I definitely didn’t miss the social pressures and cliquey-ness of it, either. I found the Maldoror event was such a tonic to that. It was more plural than any film screening I’ve ever been to and for once I appreciated the contributions that were ‘more of a comment than a question’. I felt like this was my first taste of something like I’d imagined film culture to be as an outsider: in its openness, sharing, excitement, and the plurality of conversations that should take place after you see a film.
I think that was basically the impetus behind Another Screen, that there were so many things I wanted to show but there are limits in terms of what I could share in the cinema because we wouldn’t get ticket prices back and I’d have to pay for the print myself. Very few London cinemas would be willing to take a risk on a short or experimental programme like this. And then you have to market in quite a cynical way. Another Screen is about trusting that viewers are active and will find a way into any film. The fact the service is free and that there’s detailed framing gives people a way in but it’s not at all about imposing a way of seeing.
CQ: With the first programme on Cecilia Mangini and the previous Sarah Maldoror event, it’s a shame that the starting point was both of their deaths.
DS: Yeah, the dead women thing is something I’m extremely ambivalent about. I do wonder what would have happened if we’d manage to programme the Mangini retrospective before her death. This may sound superficial, but I really wish she could have seen how much people were touched by her work, and the connections they make between their own national political and economic contexts and her documents of the North/South divide as experienced in post-war Italy. It feels cynical to rush to show Mangini a couple of months after her death; same with the Maldoror discussion. But of course the deadliness of COVID and the cinema space as a possible vector of disease has made so many exhibition and distribution contexts possible that would have seemed unthinkable before. And it meant that the various rights holders of Mangini’s works were happy to take a risk on the ‘free’ screening model.
The way I get round the self-critical voice that leads me to worry I’m doing exactly what I’ve spent this interview criticizing, is by framing the films in as complex and historical a way as possible. With the Mangini, for example, I was so happy to find an in-depth interview with her from an out-of-print book. Livia Franchini did a beautiful translation of it and it was amazing to be able to read her humorous, strident, challenging, critical voice halfway through her films. Framing is basically the most important thing for Another Screen. With other streaming services you really have to actively seek out the framing yourself and that’s not to say that the framing should constrict interpretation, but rather provide support for further thinking and independent research.
CQ: What were your ideas behind the platform’s website design and the visual curation on the site?
DS: I wanted the website to be an attractive experience, unlike many streaming platforms where you are drowning in options and then presented with an austere black box. I hate the word interactive, but I wanted people to be able to move through it, explore one or two things, and then come back to other things later in the week. As I was scrolling down the latest programme the other day, Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll  came to mind.
The order of the films is obviously important in programmes presented at the cinema, so why shouldn’t that be true for online exhibition? I want people to jump around, of course, but I also want to provide a possible thread through the films. For each programme there are usually one or two works that people might be aware of, and subtitling is obviously incredibly important too. My paid work is as a translator from French and I’m always fascinated by the unexpected places writers and filmmakers strike particular chords, in countries that have no overt geopolitical connection with Francophone culture. It was fascinating to see where the Mangini resonated, to watch viewers making connections between, for example, the griko mourners in Stendalí and Jamaican mourners; between industrialisation in Italy and Spain.
CQ: What is guiding the choice of programme subject?
DS: While more than half of our audience is based outside the UK and the US, I want Another Screen to be a counterpoint to the ‘women-in-film’ scene in the Anglophone world which I find disappointingly industry-based and capitalist: this representational, quota model seems to suggest that if you just switch the gender of the director, it will be a feminist film. There’s great work being done in terms of supporting contemporary women filmmakers and I’m not denying the necessity of financial equality in the industry but I think focusing on it can lead to conversations that flatten the film as film. I’m not interested in asking ‘what it’s like to be a woman filmmaker’ or providing a litmus test for whether a film is or isn’t feminist. I’m aware that my programming interests are mostly in the second part of the 20th century at the moment and that this might be a little fetishistic, but this also allows for the necessary critical distance to explore intellectual and historical constellations around a work. I hope people will go to Another Screen to watch films by women that aren’t necessarily associated with more commodified forms of feminism. I think it’s about trying to provide a counter to the sort of programming where a woman is lauded as a first, or a pioneer: something which bothers me about, for example, recent programming on MUBI. That sort of framing is not at all interesting to me because it delimits further, nuanced readings. For example, I deliberately didn’t mention the fact that Mangini was the first documentary filmmaker in Italy tout court because I knew that would be what people would run with.
CQ: Are you thinking about the programmes as a collective or as individual entities? It struck me that the Mangini films and both the Hands Tied and Eating / The Other programmes felt thematically similar, especially with this idea of rituals and a sense of mysticism.
DS: I think that’s true. What you’ve pointed out perhaps has more to do with my personal fascination with repetition which I first got excited by in the work of Chantal Akerman and while translating her compulsively repetitive My Mother Laughs. The compulsion to repeat from a psychoanalytical perspective is maybe particularly pertinent to those who experience trauma early on, like women and minorities, and then repetition has often been used a lot in experimental film which has always been a mode more available to women, due to a lack of financial constraints and gatekeeping. Filmmakers would repeat footage to save money on celluloid. Then there’s the repetition involved in performance, and we’ve ended up showing VALIE EXPORT and Patty Chang, both of whom are associated with a more performance-based, feminist art background.
I saw points of intersection between Mangini’s Stendalí and Gloria Camiruaga’s Popsicles [featured in Eating / The Other]: with the obsessive, desperate repetition, the former being about a ritual on the brink of extinction and the latter being a lot more didactic, maybe even too on the nose, but also simultaneously dark and playful. I also thought the real food factories in Mangini’s Essere Donne  would pair really nicely with Chick Strand’s Fake Fruit Factory  [featured in Eating / The Other]: I’d love to commission an essay about ‘women’s talk’ in both. It would be lovely to be able to keep these programmes online concurrently so these links could be made.
CQ: What will be your programming approach moving forward?
DS: The idea that qualifying our approach as feminist—despite my current problems with this label—sounds reductive but actually I think it is way more plural because it necessitates a sort of research that takes you way beyond the feminist film canon and further and further into diverse production modes and geographies. It’s kind of overwhelming how exciting it is to do it. It’s like finally being able to do something with all the links with other works I make in my head whenever I watch a film.
I’m excited about taking more of a backseat and facilitating collaborations with ‘guest’ writers and programmers. It’s hard enough to convince an institution in London to collaborate with us, but then having to try and convince them that they should invite and pay people who I know are important in their own geographical and linguistic cultural circles. I don’t want to say that Another Screen will be ‘giving people a platform’ because that makes it sound like a performative gesture and quite patronising. Instead, it’s about giving free rein to people that I think are extremely interesting and whose cinephilic contexts go beyond the Anglophone world.
I’m trying to alternate one-filmmaker retrospectives with thematic strands, and obviously explore plural geographic contexts. I’m currently fascinated by the TV movie, the TV documentary, the short films commissioned by Channel 4 in its heyday. Imagine being shown a Chantal Akerman short before watching a soap opera these days. There’s also the question of feature films—do we bother to show a feature film when there are so many platforms out there that do this and I think people’s attention spans on the internet are pretty short and the short films have worked so well. But the next programme will have a feature film and then three or four films that go with it which will be called [Silence] […] [Laughter]. The feature is A Question of Silence by Marleen Gorris, a Dutch second-wave feminist film about repression and what repression leads to, which can be mass hysteria and exploring the idea of hysterical women. We’re also going to do a two-part retrospective of Carole Roussopoulos, a documentary filmmaker who was part of a feminist collective called Les Insoumuses which included Delphine Seyrig. They made amazing films with Jean Genet, talking about Angela Davis, documented public actions by, for example, sex workers and gay and feminist movements, and restaged Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto.
CQ: How do you feel at the moment about the way the pandemic has changed film culture? Experimental film has always existed on a certain outer boundary but perhaps now there’s a greater sense of accessibility?
DS: There’s been a real surplus of free films made available online during the pandemic. It’s almost overwhelming. I remember the filmmaker Laura Huertas Millán posting on Facebook last March, cynical about the artist’s responsibility to ‘entertain, distract, educate, relieve’ as these artists were losing money for exhibition fees. I really agreed, especially because the exhibition value of women and artists of colour has only recently increased, and so these creators maybe only just starting to see some money for films they made 20 years ago. This will always be a big question with Another Screen. Of course we pay distribution costs but what about the unscanned films, the ‘lost’ films, the damaged films and the films that were thought to have no value and are now the site of battles between distributors and rights holders? It’s all very political and, even though we are small and moneyless, I feel a big responsibility to educate myself about these things.
Another Screen was definitely only made possible by the pandemic but also I just wonder what’s going to happen when things start opening up. I think it’s a vital resource, and I know that things will only get worse because cinemas will be pumping out the big sellers, trying to claw people back into a compromised filmgoing experience. The aspects of culture which have thrived during the pandemic are those that have never had any money because we are used to having to tread water, to finding advantages on the margins, and having to be constantly adaptable and innovative.
Caitlin Quinlan is a freelance film writer from London with work published for Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, and the Brooklyn Rail. She programmes women-led film events with the Bechdel Test Fest and is a member of the London Critics’ Circle.
[Silence] […] [Laughter] will be available to stream until 3rd May on https://www.another-screen.com/.