International Conference Doing Women’s Film and Television History

June 14-16, 2023, Sussex University, UK

Arielle Woods
A conference review of the Doing Women’s Film and Television History conference, held June 2023 at Sussex University in Brighton, England. The conference theme ‘Changing Streams. Channels, and Currents’.
feminism, film history, television history, media history, women’s media history.

The Doing Women’s Film and Television History Conference was held June 14-16, 2023 at Sussex University in Brighton, England. The conference had a celebratory atmosphere because it was the first time the conference had taken place in person since 2018 at the University of Southampton. The last conference was hosted online by Maynooth University in 2021. The festive atmosphere in no way detracted from the academically rigorous panels, workshops and roundtables, which were stimulating for all who attended (despite the murderous heatwave that descended on England just in time for the conference opening). As a first-year PhD student at the University of Exeter, I felt lucky to attend this as my first conference. It was a positive, collaborative and invigorating space, and I hope that this review will do justice to the impressive and original research that was presented (and any panels or talks that are left off this review are solely due to my inability to attend the panel or collate notes on each talk).

The conference began with a keynote address from Sally Faulkner, University of Exeter. Her talk, ‘Spain’s Feminist Filmmaking under Dictatorship and Democracy”, kicked off the themes that would continue in the following days and were interwoven into the 116 papers, plenaries and workshops. Faulkner spoke on the “peaks and valleys of women’s historiography”; the peaks being the high points of critical and academic scrutiny, the touchpoints on the filmic canon, with the valleys as the less visible troughs that the historical, popular and academic communities have largely left in the shadows. This idea was revisited over the three days, whether referring to the valleys of a woman’s career that have not yet been explored, or the peaks of women’s media work that are being integrated into the popular film canon through the work of the conference attendees. In her retrieval and restoration of the films of Cecilia Bartolomé and her work with the project Subtitling World Cinema, Faulkner provided a method of recovering women’s work and histories hidden in the troughs. However, she also warned of the danger of automatically placing the women’s stories in the ‘peaks’ of history, to resist the urge to simply insert women into the pre-existing auteurist canon. Instead, we can allow these to remain in the valleys but by employing the theoretical tools that auteur discourse provides us, we can highlight and draw attention to this work. Faulkner introduced lines of inquiry that were frequently reflected in most of the panels that followed.

The conference’s theme was “Changing Streams, Channels and Currents”, which several panels used to explore the streams of distribution and how they have been – or could be – useful for highlighting women’s work and examining women’s film histories. Hayley O’Malley, Allyson Field, Samantha Shepard, and Terri Francis applied this methodology to examine media history through Black Feminist film festivals. Nuria Simelio and Maria Forga, Liao Zhang and Heshen Xie, and Madhuja Mukherjee also explored the women’s film festival site as a form of representation and female agency in Spain, China and India respectively. The panels using the film festival as a mode of distribution for feminism and women’s work shared themes with the industry plenary where filmmakers, producers, preservers and distributors from Reclaim the Frame, ICO, Cinenova and Lux, T_A_P_E and Riot Films discussed the issues involved in feminist filmmaking and films made by women, and also questioned if there was a form of feminist distribution in the capitalist patriarchy we are inescapably a part of. Denah Johnston and Amy Reid also challenged the distribution status quo with their talks on Canyon Cinema and its role in distributing the avant-garde films that may have remained unseen in the ‘valleys’ of film history without feminist intervention.

Feminist intervention continued as a topic in several round tables and panels on women’s collectives and initiatives, and the role these organisations play in not only distribution but also the archiving and historicising of women’s work. Terri Wragg, the creator of the Leeds Animation Workshop and Frankie Drummond Charig, the archivist who has catalogued the Workshop’s archive over the past several years, provided two perspectives on the role of women’s collectives – that of a radical space for female expression while simultaneously becoming an archival site for women’s media, histories and labour. These ideas were explored further through an international lens by two panels on women’s global film collectives and initiatives. In the former panel, Malvika Ajikumar presented on Malayalam Film reforms, Hollie Price on the Four Corners Film Workshop, and Jasmine Trice on “Film Practice as Feminist Historiography: Shireen Seno’s and Otty Widsari’s Media Arts Organising”. In the latter panel, Joseph Morountdon offered comments on Nollywood, while Özlem Güclü and Irem Inceoglu spoke on women’s representations in Turkey. These panels all highlighted and elucidated the importance of women’s networks and their integral role in preserving women’s histories, as well as creating a space for discussion on the state of international feminism.

The examination of global collectives and initiatives was closely linked to the panels and talks that focused on the representation of marginalised groups in film and television, as well as on the radical nature of these representations in certain film canons and histories. In the panel on global queer film programming, So Mayer spoke on the transgressive Mädchen in Uniform (Sagan, 1931), and Lalu Esra Ozban on the trans/feminist Turkish documentaries Prince Charming, Don’t Come in Vain (Atsay, et. al, 2009) and Voltrans (Dutlu and Ozguner, 2014). Somaya Sabry (“Subalternity and Cultivating Egyptian Rural Women’s Identity in Ateyat Al-Abnoudy’s Documentaries in the Eighties”), Dalila Missero (“Exploring the Circulation and Impact of UK Independent Women’s Documentaries during the UN Decade of Women (1975-85)”), Cheryl Greene (“Transnational Feminist Documentary Practices”), Barbara Evans (“Lecture Tours by Early Women Filmmakers”), Emma Sandon (“Women Filmmakers in the British Empire”) and Poorvi Gaur (“Interrogating women’s agency in the works and practices of Films Division of India (1952-80)”) presented papers across two panels, all concerned with women’s international film work and their agency with their subjects spanning from documentarians to distributors. These panels highlighted the massive breadth and depth women’s historiography can cover when expanded beyond the Global Northwest’s borders.

Also considered was the general representation of women working in the media industries, as well as women’s representation by those industries. These panels discussed the methods and modes of analysis that we can use to intervene in or complicate the patriarchal history of film and television. Talks on women’s representation within the media industries were given by Claire Jenkins, who discussed women directors' reticence to use the “f-word” (feminism), Alan Morton, who examined women directors as products and how they are advertised by film trailers, and Irene González-López and Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernández, who explored the role of the female director in Japan. Women behind and on the camera were both deliberated in the Gender and Genre panel, where Stacey Abbot and Lorna Jowett spoke on the lack of women creators in the horror genre, Holly Aylett presented on women’s visibility on Channel 4 current events, and Courtney Brannon Donoghue questioned the decline of the mid-budget theatrical release. Finally, the impact of representations of women’s health and ageing was presented on by Laura Minor (“Examining the Impact of Sky’s Ageing Women”), Deborah Jermyn (“Interrogating the ‘menopause mission’ in Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause (Channel4, 2021)”). These topics showcase the wide-ranging themes covered when exploring the peaks and valleys of women’s labour and its representation in the media industries.

The conference was not confined merely to highlighting these peaks and valleys, but also challenging them, through challenging the representation of the agency of the women on or behind the camera. Terri Francis delivered an impassioned and rigorous exploration of the life and career of Josephine Baker and how examining the labour involved in her filmmaking complicates her image as a French hero and American dancer and actress. Her analysis of the critical valleys of Baker’s career - the dance films that are sometimes considered her ‘lesser’ contributions to art and history – enriches the appreciation of the star’s career. Ellen Wright, Theresa Trummel and Julie Lobalzo Wright also looked at the complicated and commodified public personas of Marilyn Monroe, Reese Witherspoon and Goldie Hawn, respectively, and how the labour and agency exerted by these women extends far beyond the ‘bombshell’ or ‘America’s Sweetheart’ identities assigned to them. In another panel this argument was extended by challenging the perceived agency and historical portrayal of Norma Shearer by Lies Lanckman and Anna May Wong by Yao Chieng, and how the star power of these actresses overshadows the labour performed and agency gained by these women. The understanding of all these stars has been not only complicated but also deepened by such fresh, feminist approaches.

To refer back to Faulkner’s keynote address, there were excellent panels focusing on those women in the ‘valleys’ of film history, ranging from examples of women working above and below the line, to the archival interventions we can use to excavate those valleys. Two panels focused on women in the silent era. Megan Boyd (“Producing and Distributing Women’s Humour in Silent Cinema”), Diana W. Anselmo (“Female Film Fandom in the 1910s”), and Kiki Loveday (“Olga Nethersole and the Emergence of the Motion Picture Director”) were the first panel. This was followed by Tami Williams, Enrique Moreno Ceballos and Veronica Johnson who all challenged the historicisation of women by examining early women producers and distributors, many of whom are hidden by history behind their husbands. Both panels presented research whose goal was challenging the male auteur narrative of film history and providing us with methods to excavate the women previously lost to – or ignored – by those valleys of history. Another valley that was explored was those women in below the line professions: Hannah Hamalian showed women animators in the ‘Golden Age’ and screened her film, The Golden Age, and Sofia Bull spoke on hand-written title cards, and Linda Pike on female cinema workers during WWII.

Alongside the panels on feminist historiography and the interventions used to excavate women’s history, several more examples of feminist praxes and methods were discussed and championed at the conference. Hyunseon Lee (“Yang Younghi’s Autobiographical Documentary Soup and Ideology (Yang, 2021)”), Jen Caruso (“The Films of Joanna Hogg and Mia Hansen-Løve”) and Lucy Brown (“Women’s Lives and the Intersection between Fiction and Documentary. A Practice-led Case Study on Thelma & Louise (Scott, 1991)) explored autobiography, memory, and documentary as possible feminist practices in their panel. Elsewhere, Ipsita Sahu (“Exploring Gender Relations in India during the 1970s-80s”) and Pauline Junginger (“Making Women’s Work Visible Through a Structured Data Approach”) examined how academics and researchers can use data to deepen their understanding of women’s work in film and television. On the panel on methods of feminist historiography, M. Leonie Biebricher also presented on data, in the context of how data visualisation can be used as a “countermeasure to dehistoricisation”; Lisa Smithstead mounted a teaching-led approach to feminist interventions and how research work and teaching can feed into each other and deepen feminist studies; Natascha Drubek-Meyer spoke on the wives of British cinema pioneers and how their ownership in these pioneers’ companies can (and should) be studied as a form of agency and labour. The panel on participatory filmmaking took feminist interventions in a different direction, in the context of activism and Amazonian Peru by Eylem Atakay and Sarah Barrow, ecological activism at Hanoi DocLab by Philippa Lovatt, and interventions through Latin American archives by Laura Albach. In the conference's final panel, Adriane Meusch (“Aesthetics, Functions, Circulation”) and Bernadette Kolonko (“The Invisible and the Unsaid”) discussed the modes and manifestos of feminist film practice, and Occitane Lacurie putting the model into practice with their video essay about Michèle Firk, Ginette Vincendeau and Geneviève Sellier.

Feminism as practice was another common theme throughout the conference and several panels engaged directly with feminist archival practice. Though the practices varied, preserving women’s histories was their shared goal. There was much overlap with the previously mentioned praxes and methods, but these papers also included explorations of memory and oral history as integral to feminist historical studies. Melanie Bell considered the “fragmentation” of many women’s working histories due to the domestic responsibilities women were (and are) required to balance with their careers, and how more flexible archival practices are needed to explore the women’s working lives. Helen Hanson elaborated on the difficulties in “mapping an invisible tradition” when attempting to trace the invisible labour found in editing and sound design, and how this reflects the larger invisibility of women in film history. Margaretta Jolly presented a case study on BBC’s Joan Bakewell and touched on both Bell’s and Hanson’s themes while also discussing the historical networks used to locate and historicise women previously omitted from media histories. Lucy Reynolds, Sarah Neely and Maria Palacios Cruz held a joint discussion on the conservation and curation of feminist experimental film and how we can use these “fugitive” archives. These presentations provided compelling and innovative ways to research and showcase women’s work through the archive, even if we must look to the margins, footnotes and other traces to locate this work and these women.

There was a surprising and exciting theme that ran throughout the conference: the unwritten, unseen, and incomplete work of women and how we fit this work into media histories. The panel on feminist film interventions, the made and unmade, featured Vera Zambonelli (“Reel Wahine of Hawai’i: The Making and Doing of Hawai’i women filmmakers”), Mary Jirmanus Saba (“A Labour Theory of Artistic Value: On Mothering and Artistic Genius”) and Michele Meek (“Away with the Auteur: A Pivot for Rewriting Our Film Histories”). They challenged the historiographical traditions of the white, male creator that have pervaded the film canon. The roundtable on incomplete feminist film archives featured Alix Beeston, Maggie Hennefeld, Karen Redrobe, Mathilde Rouxel, Isabel Segui and Shelley Stamp in a conversation about how to incorporate unfinished feminist archives into wider historiographical practices. Anthea Taylor presented Gloria Steinem’s unmade films and was one of many academics throughout the convention who questioned how we can historicise, analyse and reclaim the unmade projects of so many working in film and television. This thread of the invisible and unmade was one that tied into many presentations, inescapable in a conference on women in media, where the canonical histories have ignored or disenfranchised the stories of women.

The role of archives in women’s historiography was discussed in three vibrant panels: the plenary on feminist film exhibition and distribution previously mentioned, a roundtable on doing women’s TV production histories and a further roundtable on locating those histories. Rowan Aust, Jeannine Baker, Vanessa Jackson and Janet McCabe were in the first roundtable, which focused on the “doing” of the Doing Women Film and Television conference and organisation. In the second, Sarah Arnold, Janet McCabe, Alec Badenoch, Ipsita Saha, Morgan Wait, Lisa Kerrigan and Vanessa Jackson discussed the difficulty of disentangling media histories through the archive, with the ‘fractured’ work histories that Melanie Bell previously pointed out, alongside the multiple and overlapping projects television production usually entails. What is required, therefore, is the creation of the work histories through narrative archival practices, to “awaken” women’s histories from the dormancy of the archival space.

These speakers emphasised that ‘doing’ women’s historiography encompasses far more than academic research but also comprises all the work discussed above: archival practice, teaching, writing, distributing, exhibiting, presenting, reading the marginalia, following the footnotes, parsing through the anecdotes. ‘Doing’ was shown by all the speakers of the conference to also encompass the more intangible work: the disentangling, championing, excavating, the refusal to ignore the women who have been forgotten or willfully written out of history and the will to create new methods and practices when the existing ones are found insufficient. The ‘Doing Women’s Film and Television Conference’ was a fantastic showcase of all these forms of ‘doing’, and I look forward to attending the next one.

Arielle Woods
University of Exeter


Arielle Woods is a part-time PhD student at the University of Exeter, beginning her second year. Her areas of study include film feminism, feminist media history, invisible labour and women’s work. Her PhD project is on the many forms of invisible labour Irene Mayer Selznick performed as a Hollywood socialite, a wife-collaborator, and a theatrical producer.


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Hamalian, Hannah R. W. 2021. The Golden Age. Hannah R. W. Hamalian.

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Suggested Citation

Woods, Arielle. 2023. Review: “International Conference Doing Women’s Film and Television History. June 14-16, 2023, Sussex University, UK”. Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 17. DOI:

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