“Our Festival Strives to Fight the Male Gaze and the Objectification of Women in Film”: The Stockholm Feminist Film Festival

Stephanie, please briefly introduce yourself.

For more than seven years I’ve been working with gender equality and women’s rights. Besides that, I’m also a huge cineaste. I thought I’d combine these two areas and start a feminist film festival, so now I’m the director of the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival.

2017 will be Stockholm Feminist Film Festival’s (SFFF) second edition. Please tell us what SFFF is, and how it all started.

It started with a frustration over the very one-sided distribution of films. Films that reach a wide audience are mostly made by men, and they tend to portray a stereotypical image of women. We felt that there was a need to show that there are a lot of fantastic films made by women. For four days we’ll screen features and documentaries by women from all over the world. There’ll also be several panel discussions, parties and even Face 2 Face interviews with filmmakers.

How do you select films to be screened at the festival? What are the criteria?

All films should be directed by women, and, as far as possible, have women in the central production positions and a female main character. I want to underline that not every film needs to have a “feminist agenda”. The feminist approach of the festival is rather to balance the enormous misrepresentation of women in the film industry.

Organising a festival can be quite hard. SFFF is a new festival. How has it been so far? Have there been any challenges you need to overcome?

It’s been going surprisingly well! In 2016 almost all our screenings were sold out, and people seemed to like the films a lot. I think the challenge that all organisations working with feminist events have to face is to reach to an audience outside the feminist community. There are so many feminist activists in Stockholm, so we could easily fill the festival only with them, but we want to reach out to the ordinary cinema audience – young, old, women and men – and show all kinds of people that there are amazing films that tell stories and talk about situations that they might have not experienced in their daily life.

Sissela Kyle, an important representative of the Swedish entertainment industry, will inaugurate SFFF 2017. How did this happen?

Sissela is one of Sweden’s most prominent actresses, comedians and women’s rights activists. She’s currently starring in Miss Friman’s War (Fröken Frimans krig) produced by SVT, the Swedish national public TV broadcaster. It is a miniseries about women struggling for their rights in Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century. Fighting for women’s rights has always been a significant social issue. Sissela, apart from being a brilliant actress, was, is and will always be an important advocate for women’s rights in Sweden.

The festival will take place at Zita Folks Bio that opened its doors for the first time in 1913. How does it feel that it will take place in a cinema with such a long history?

I love Zita, because it’s a fantastic venue and for its selection of films and ambience. Recently I heard that Zita used to screen porn films back in the days. I don’t really know how I feel about that… Our festival strives to fight the male gaze and the objectification of women in film.

Sami Blood by Amanda Kernell opens the festival. The film has already attracted the interest of the international film community, has had screenings all over the world and has won a few awards. Last year award-winning films such as Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, Ninja Thyberg Girls & Boys and Elisa Paloschi’s Driving with Selvi were presented. What else are we going to see in this year’s programme besides Sami Blood?

You are going to see The Stopover by the Coulin sisters, an impressive psychological drama about soldiers on their way back from a mission in Afghanistan, the warm transgender drama About Ray, and the powerful documentary The Apology about victims of World War II claiming justice. Also, this year the festival will have a Nordic theme and will screen fantastic new Nordic features like the Danish relationship drama Long Story Short, the romantic comedy The Together Project from Iceland, and the Finnish family drama Little Wing.

Do you have any favourite films from this year’s programme?

My personal festival favourite is Home by Flemish director Fien Troch. It is an incredibly strong film about a couple of troubled teenagers, and their relationship with each other and the adult world. I also recommend Kristina Grozeva’s political thriller, Glory. Last year we screened hers and Petar Valchanov’s film The Lesson. I was biting my nails while watching both.

Stockholm has an audience that loves cinema and especially quality films. That could justify the existence of so many film festivals taking place throughout the year, for example, screening national and international films of different genres. Although films with a feminist agenda and films created by women have been screened in different festivals, Stockholm didn’t have a film festival devoted to women until the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival. How did the audience respond to the festival last year, and what are your expectations for this year and the years to come?

The audience response was overwhelming. It really felt like there was a desire for films that portrayed women in a non-stereotypical way. Hopefully, our audience from last year return, and perhaps even more people will join the festival, and discover our films.

The issue of gender inequality in the film industry is not a new phenomenon. Reflecting on the Nordic evaluation of gender (in)equality in film distribution that the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival conducted, the Danish numbers that were published and can be found on your  website, were quite surprising, and definitely raised a lot of questions. Where are the women in the film industry?

They are obviously part of the film industry, but like in other industries there are patriarchal and homosocial structures that make it harder for women to get acknowledged. These structures can only change if they’re made visible, discussed and actively counteracted. Gender equality isn’t a question of generation shifts, which means one can’t lean back and wait for the old men to disappear. The structures and ideas of who is a director and whose story is important to tell as well as the ways we’re used to seeing women and men being portrayed on the big screen are deeply rooted in the film and media culture.

What is the situation in Sweden like?

My perception is that we’ve come far when it comes to the Swedish film industry, and the production of films by women and men are on equal terms. However, I believe a lot more can be done when it comes to the purchase and distribution of foreign films in Sweden; 86% of all films screened in Sweden last year was directed by men.

What are your thoughts on the future of the film industry, and how can the gender inequality be improved?

Cinema owners and distributors often say they buy and distribute what people want to see. And, of course, that’s true. But if people never get to be exposed to films that depict different types of stories, they will never ask for them. Someone needs to begin and introduce those stories to a wider audience so that eventually the demand for unconventional films would send an important message to producers and film-makers. I know that this might sound naïve, but something needs to be done. Last year, 93% of all cinema visits went to films directed by men.


To avoid confusion, the name of the festival in Swedish is Stockholms feministiska filmfestival (STIFF).

Tickets and festival passes to the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival have already been released and you can buy them online from tickster.com. Learn more about the festival and programme by visiting their website, sthlmfemfilm.se, and following them on social media.

Facebook: facebook.com/sthlmfemfilm

Instagram: instagram/sthlmfemfilm

Twitter: twitter/sthlm_femfilm