Written by Fleur Feeney |
The Poly Theatre is a beloved institution in our small town and on 6th March it, once again, housed absolute brilliance. On the last leg of their tour, Shextreme — an organisation that champions women through adventure sports filmmaking — were back by popular demand, delivering a series of short films and documentaries. The theatre was abuzz with excitement as we settled in for an evening of excellent films.
As the excited chatter died down and the lights dimmed, we were welcomed to the screening with footage of Emma Watson delivering her infamous #HeForShe speech at the UN. Followed by figures like Madonna and then Oprah at the Golden Globes, it was clear that this was an evening about female empowerment from the offset.
These influential women framed the evening, a preamble for the display of strength to come.
This footage made way for muscular arms powering through rippling waves, an image that would become one of many.
The first film screened was the story of the Olympic weightlifting team in Pakistan, depicting a tight knit and hard working group of young women who want to show the world what they’re made of. Shots of their gleaming faces as they thrust the weight of a grown man up into the air were an impressive sight to behold. Speaking to the camera, the father of the athletes tells of how the community looked down upon him and his girls when he started to train them, he says they thought it wasn’t their place as women to be weightlifters, or even to leave their house. He then proudly tells the camera that the girls then won the gold medal, and after that it seems there weren’t so many wagging fingers.
There is such a strong sense of sisterhood among these athletes, the film showing them train together, break boundaries together. The star of this show, Twinkle, stands triumphant, a medal winner, at the edge of a rooftop and surveys the landscape below her. She owns this town now, and she could probably lift the whole damn thing.
The second documentary feature shown featured two mountain bikers on a treacherous trip through Iceland. What struck me about this film was the stunning cinematography, the landscapes really came to the forefront here as our mountain bikers careered down volcanoes and through seas of lupins, speeding along nauseating precipices with purpose. The women made some insightful comments on Iceland’s impact on the environment and how they use natural and renewable resources to power their cities.
An adventure documentary if I ever saw one, Shextreme really displayed their ethos here, presenting women that own their narrative and lived recklessly.
A documentary that really stood out, was ‘Boarders without Borders’ a short film centered on the community group established for BAME girls in Birmingham who want to learn to longboard.
Lacking direction at times, ‘Boarders Without Borders’ had a lot of personality and did well to highlight the issues facing young women of colour in the UK today. This doc was predominantly about making a space for yourself, when those sports or institutions don’t usually represent you. Boarding culture is predominantly white male, and these girls succeeded in creating a community that breaks these stereotypes.
The girls spoke passionately on the importance of being represented, of creating inclusive spaces, and how they craved positive role models that resembled them. I was in awe of the group’s achievements, their supportive teaching group being oversubscribed and in high demand.
Whilst they made no claims of revolution, these girls are making waves.
The highlight of the evening for me was the screening of the film ‘Surf Girls Jamaica’ and the Q&A with the filmmakers (Lucy-Jane and Joya Berrow) that followed. The film tracked Imani Wilmot, creator of an all-female surf group in Jamaica aiming to empower local women and break into an industry that doesn’t usually represent black girls.
Detailing the harsh reality of being a woman in Jamaica, this film showed the escape that surfing can bring, how it ‘turns you to the horizon’. Lucy Jane and Joya took great care in relaying the inclusive community that Imani had built, giving us joyful footage of women lifting each other up and doing something productive, showing them face their fears and get stronger together. The cinematography was breathtaking, with gorgeous shots of the girls riding waves and paddling through the sea, obviously liberated by this extraordinary group.
In the Q&A session that followed, filmmakers Lucy Jane and Joya spoke of the grassroots activism that’s so important to furthering gender equality today, expressing the need for role models and creating equal access and opportunity. When asked about advice for budding filmmakers, Joya expressed that;
‘‘There is no one film language, there are many.”
She added that filmmakers shouldn’t “feel pressure to tell a story in a certain way… tell the story in the way that you can see it and you can feel it, and you hope that others can feel it… Don’t be afraid, be courageous. Have fun. […] choose projects that are close to your heart.”
After a brief interlude for a raffle, the evening closed with the documentary ‘A Land Shaped By Women’. This was a gorgeous piece that followed two women’s journey around Iceland, partaking in all the adventure sports the landscape offers, teaching us about gender equality along the way. They interviewed human rights lawyers, poets, school girls, sportswear designers and the first woman to succeed in a solo mission to the South Pole — these strong female voices set against the formidable backdrop of the Icelandic landscape. This was a profound and empowering film that I recommend everyone see.
I think it’s safe to say that Shextreme made a huge impact on me, and the entire audience, with their films. Whilst the filmmaking was brilliant, what really shone through was the ethos of the whole thing.
The evening encouraged education, it encouraged bravery, it encouraged owning your narrative — saying ‘screw it, I’ll do it myself!’.
During the evening, Joya (Surf Girls Jamaica) expressed, “we need to challenge brands and we need to challenge the people around us” and every film did just that, breaking stereotypes and challenging the limitations subscribed to the female form. What really resonated was the fact that anyone can make a change, by making a film like this or by some other smaller action.
As Lucy Jane said, “creating equal access and opportunities to sports like surfing […] that can start with you. You can make change.”