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Maxa Zoller: Empower Women Through Film

This is why the festivals matters

BY Agnes Amondi

Sep 22, 2022, 08:53 AM

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In the run-up to the International Images Film Festival for Women, we are bringing together people who’ve worked with the festival and those who'll be part of the event, to learn more about their involvement, their work and the impact it's making on women in the African film industry.

Maxa Zoller is the artistic director of the International Women's Film Festival Dortmund-Cologne, one of the biggest and oldest women’s film festivals in the world. 

Zoller, who joined the organisation in 2019 has extensive experience in cinema and has worked with different women’s film festivals around the world - in 2017, she was the curator of the Art Basel Film program, Tate Modern and the EYE Filmmuseum.

She speaks to us about the partnership between the IWFF and the IIFF, which is the first African film festival she worked with during her time as the artistic director. That said, they’ve worked closely with other initiatives that support and promote women in film such as the Ladima Foundation.  

How did this partnership come about?

M.Z: Our festival is an international event and that reflects on the composition of our jury which Tsitsi Dangarembga was part of. During the event, you come across so many people and make connections which is how we crossed paths. We were impressed by her work as a filmmaker, a writer and as an individual and because we share mutual goals, we decided to work together.    

What is Dortmund+Köln bringing to the festival?

M.Z: We have provided a pool of films that the curatorial team in Harare is interested in. One thing you need when you organise a festival is to watch the films you want to consider for the event and then get distributors among other people to get them to the event. This is a long curatorial process but we had already done all this which made the process easier. 

We also evaluated the films and made sure they meet certain standards -  Is it technically relevant, or does it tell a story from a new perspective? or is it fresh? Another thing we did was select films from two categories, those that are newly created and those that were archive based. Thus, the team in Harare simply had to choose what they wanted. 

How long do you intend to work with the IIFF?

M.Z: We are more interested in a long-term partnership and also the best form of exchange. Should we come to Harare for a couple of days, interact with people and fly back? Or should we be in touch regularly and then come together later on when we have built a solid connection and understand the context of the people there?

During my time in Egypt, I saw many curators fly in and out, see a minute presentation of Egypt without really understanding the context of it all and as they left, they had all kinds of assumptions about the place, which is why I’m very wary of parachuting in and out. We want to be more strategic and have a continuous engagement that’ll help us build a solid and sustainable relationship. 

Why is it important to have inter-country partnerships?

M.Z: There has to be global solidarity among women as we work to break down the barriers of entry for women into these industries. We can have films that have been made from different parts of the world inspire women elsewhere to also tell their own stories. The other thing is that we want everyone to communicate with one another regardless of their differences and experience. There’s simply no need of segmenting the world into small groups. 

What connects you to the African Film industry?

M.Z: Personally, I have a relationship with the continent having lived in Egypt and worked with Nigerians and Ghanaians when I was in London. That said, my knowledge of the film industry in different parts of the continent - Congo, Harare, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya - is sporadic. The good thing though is that our network of friends in those areas recommend films to us which is how we get African films to our festival. 

Why are women’s festivals important?

M.Z: We want to end the oppression of women. We make up half of the world’s population but how much visibility do we get? So we need a medium to show women and girls that they can be anything they want to be and all women's film festivals around the world want one thing and that is to empower women through the moving image.

What do you want people to get out of this event?

M.Z: I want the people to have joy, be sensual, interesting, emotional, transformative, go on a different planet for two hours and then come back to planet earth. I want them to use the screening as a communal echo so that after the event, they can express what they felt to each other and hopefully, meet new people and make new friends.

Read More: What Is The IIFF?