Listen Up: Our First Panel and How Not To Act At It
When I started The MUFF Society nearly two years ago (eeeeeee!!!), I never dreamed it would make it this far. My goal was to bring some sparkle (figuratively and literally) to Toronto film series whilst also highlighting something I am passionate about: women in film. Criticism is important but we shouldn't forget to celebrate the amazing contributions women have, and continue to make, to the film/TV industry, both in front of and behind the camera.
I'm incredibly pleased with how MUFF has grown the past two years and proud of all of the films we have screened and all of the events we have partnered with and co-presented. It's hard being a Founder who can't actually attend her own events anymore (oh, right, I live in the UK now) so I am humbled to have an amazing team of MUFFians to produce our events each month. And last night it got even better: we launched Reel Girl Talk, our new series that pairs a film with a panel series/discussion.
The series is being produced by the incredible Emily Gagne of Cinefilles, with help from the entire MUFFian crew. We screened 9 to 5 and hosted a discussion afterward to talk about equity in the workplace. When looking for panelists, we sought individuals doing awesome things in the community and film industry who could take the themes of the film and add personal experience and insight. In creating the "talk" portion of Reel Girl Talk with Emily and the team, I put more value on personal stories and experiences as I didn't feel we were trying, or wanting, to create an academic-style lecture.
I was literally blown away by the inspiring women she rallied together: Chandler Levack (an amazing filmmaker and founder of the badass Feminist Live Reads), Imogen Grace and Joella Crichton (founders of the necessary Bechdel Bill), Emily Milling and Jenny Tang (creators of the wonderful Her Name Is… podcast), and Jessica Sikora (an empowering Labour Activist with the OPSEU). Here is a group of women who are creating and working to promote feminism through a variety of mediums and they took time out of their schedules to come and share their stories with MUFF and out audience. Amazeballs. (Read more about them here and swoon.)
Now, I heard that the panel sparked a lot of heated debate and, to quote one of our MUFFians, "people got argumentative and loud and privilege got checked." I am pleased by this because what is a panel discussion if not to nurture conversation and debate and ultimately I want MUFF to be a space where people feel comfortable to speak up. My hope is that as Reel Girl Talk grows, we continue to have challenging discussions. I want it to always be okay to share your viewpoint at a MUFF event.
But what is absolutely not okay and what I will not tolerate is verbal abuse and shaming. Fuck that.
Apparently after our event concluded, two attendees approached one of our panelists and aggressively told her she did a terrible job and called her a "bad feminist." I am appalled and ashamed that an individual was treated this way at one of our events, let alone someone who spoke on our panel. Apparently these individuals did not like our event. That's cool and I would've happily listened to any constructive criticisms they might've had. But how is speaking like that to one of our panelists constructive? Or even acceptable? It's cruel and childish and not what MUFF is about.
That being said, we did receive some actual feedback via Facebook. Thank you to those who left comments about the event. Along with all of the positive praise we received, there was concern that our panel was not representative enough, that the discussion did not touch upon enough topics, and that there wasn't enough room for all panelists/audience members to feel heard.
As this was our first panel event, we will be examining what worked and what didn't so that our next Reel Girl Talk can be even better. Going in, we knew the delicate balance that is panelists + moderator + audience but definitely underestimated how beautifully challenging conducting that orchestra can be, especially when we are encouraging our audience to participate throughout.
At the end of the day, no matter who was on our panel or what we talked about, someone might feel like something is missing. And I am okay with this because MUFF is not, cannot, nor will it ever be, everything to everybody. MUFF is first and foremost a screening series that celebrates women in film; Reel Girl Talk exists to enhance that concept with a post-film discussion. I am also okay with that because MUFF exists within a vibrant women in film community that offers many different kinds of events.
I love that in Toronto alone you can attend women in film centric events (like Bechdel Tested, Heart On, Breakthroughs Film Festival, Female Eye Film Festival, Drunk Feminist Films, and Ladies of Burlesque to name some) and that larger organizations are also programming series that highlight women in film, and that publications like cléo journal exist. I like to think that there is something for everybody. That's why MUFF is always happy to co-present with other organizations and share events with our community. In fact, we have a monthly newsletter that does just that! MUFF might not be for everybody (or not enough) so we want to keep promoting and sharing other events and programs and organizations.
As this is now reaching an epic length, I leave you with these final thoughts:
The MUFF Society pledges to always grow and learn from our criticisms. As we program future Reel Girl Talk panels, we will aim to make them as inclusive and properly representative as we can. We will also re-examine the logistics management (set-up, time limit, flow, number of panelists, etc) to ensure that an optimal number of stories and voices are heard.
Please continue to challenge us. Let us know if we could be doing something better or differently. Better yet, let us know of an event that is so we can share it with our community. BETTER STILL, become a MUFFian so you can be part of the crew and directly shape the Society!
But as you challenge us, we ask (actually, we demand) that you do so in only a positive and respectful way. If not, there's the fucking door.