“What do we, as feminists, need right now—from cinema, from archives, from our communities? How can filmmaking, film festivals, and social movements of the past inspire or befuddle us today? And what is at stake in selecting and presenting archival works by women to create new forms of community?”

With these questions, guest editors Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak open their introduction to the new double-issue of Feminist Media Histories on “Feminist Film Curation.” Timed to celebrate the journal’s 10th volume, the issue includes nearly 50 participants and discusses histories pertinent to around 20 regions in the world. Editor-in-Chief Jennifer M. Bean asked the guest editors to talk a bit about the impetus for the project and their experience as guest editors.

Why “curation”?  Does curatorial work differ from academic work?  Are they different fields?  Given your respective positions as film/media historians at research universities, what first gave you the idea of developing a special issue on curation?

Curation is for everyone! This is the intervention and rallying cry of our collective double-issue. We both got into curating out of a desire to make our own research materials more accessible. We’d been consulting a range of archives (both FIAF-sanctioned and unofficial), where we’d marathoned hours of long-forgotten silent films spotlighting slapstick comediennes, gender-bending lesbians, and other beautifully wayward nasty women. We shared knowledge about these films in our dissertations and then in our monographs. But we wanted people to be able to see them. This is how we got into curating: to shake up the canon, remake the dominant histories, and spread the counter-archival gospel. We started by programming local screenings, then screenings at film festivals like Il Giornate del Cinema Muto, and more recently partnered with Kino Lorber to release some of these films on Bluray, DVD, and streaming. 

How many FMH readers out there are familiar with archival materials just waiting for wider attention and public exhibition? We encourage everyone to curate them! To share your media objects and other historical documents and contextualize them imaginatively for new publics both in and beyond the academy. 

This is a huge issue, with over 20 entries and multiple co-authored essays. The three roundtables alone amount to 30 participants and the international reach of the collection includes materials pertaining to Iran, Egypt, Latin America, Peru, Croatia, Egypt, China, Mexico, Poland, Britain, Germany, Canada, Lebanon, Albania, Spain, and South Korea as well as the US. What challenges did this Table of Contents pose for you?  Alternatively, what rewards? 

No challenges, only rewards! We’d initially planned a single issue but received so many brilliant, timely, and rousing proposals that we felt compelled to double up, which made more space for disparate, collective voices. We also decided to prioritize roundtables, case studies, and short takes over longer academic essays (with 3 vital exceptions). Honestly, it was a pleasure to expand the global aperture, which will be essential to sustain if we’re serious about decolonizing film & media studies, which we (Maggie and Laura) think that we (feminist media scholars at large) absolutely are. The collaborative momentum of co-editing this polyphony of voices, identities, materials, and perspectives was massively energizing. More of that, please! No more lonely monographs (says Maggie). 

What is the biggest surprise in the issue (for you and perhaps also for readers)? Did the materials come together in ways you had imagined, or are there unexpected entries/ideas/contributions? 

For me (Maggie), it was the sensation of cohesion across differences. Laura and I discussed drafts of the contributions at various stages of development and went through multiple rounds of review and revisions with the authors. It’s quite a heterogeneous line-up! Geopolitically, archivally, discursively, and feministly…. When it was time to “gather despite scattering” for the TOC, to borrow Claire Cooley’s evocative concept, it’s like we knew the order already. We felt the totality in our bones—as a result of our continuous, recurring, and dialogical engagement with all the many authors and moving pieces involved. Laura, what was the biggest surprise for you?

Reading the submissions for this issue, I was heartened to learn about so many different feminists all over the world excavating, preserving, and curating feminist histories via forgotten media works. Sometimes, especially during the COVID lockdowns and while doomscrolling, you can feel so alone and overwhelmed as someone who values and fights for women’s and gender nonconforming people’s lives and creativity. But hearing about the good work being done by all the people who sent in a submission—not only the few we were able to include!—and all the histories of feminist organizing that they have been tapping into with their curatorial work was really inspiring. It makes me feel connected to something much bigger.

What do you think is the next step of this project—whether for you or for others?  How can we make feminist film curation a staple of ongoing and future work?

Just do it! Don’t overthink it. Dive in headfirst and figure out the nitty gritty en route. That’s the only way this kind of work will ever gain steam—because there’s always a million reasons why we’re too busy or don’t think that feminist curating should be as high a priority as endless bureaucratic service on the altar of broken structures. 

Speaking of which, the next step will be for academic institutions to recognize the value of this kind of collaborative writing and public-facing curating, and to place them on the same footing as the fetishized genre of the peer-reviewed article and monograph, which is a point that Neta Alexander makes incisively in her remarks on the Cinema’s First Nasty Women roundtable. Also, work with people you love to collaborate with! Part of this work is rehearsing, in the present, the world you’re trying to create for the future.

We invite you to read FMH‘s special anniversary double issue, “Curating Feminist Film Archives” for free online for a limited time.

POD copies of this issue (10.2-3) and other individual FMH issues can be purchased on the journal’s site. For ongoing access to FMH, ask your library to subscribe and/or consider an individual subscription.