Terra Femme is a film-essay composed of amateur travel diaries filmed by women in the 1920s-1950s. With soundtrack by Sarah Davachi, the film moves between geographical essay, personal investigation and historical speculation, examining these films as private documents and accidental ethnographies. The films present a new type of traveller: gone is the man in search of conquest, it could be a divorced woman on a stroll through biblical gardens or a widow on a cruise to the North Pole. Representing the world through women’s eyes, the films raise questions about female representation in archives and the role of amateur cinema in understanding women’s participation in early non-fiction films. Another thing these films decode is a profound absence: the general absence of women in film archives and the greater absence of female figures in the historical record. They also explore the attempt to realise one’s own experience through the act of filmmaking, while acknowledging other forms of power that enabled these women to gain access to film cameras.
A film about longing for past worlds through cinematic excavation. A power that flows in both directions: how women of the past transport themselves into the present through the power of their gaze. (Courtney Stephens, USA, 2021, 62 min.)
The film will be presented as a live performance-lecture, similar to how the films might have been shown almost a hundred years ago when they were shot. Courtney Stephens is a writer/director of experimental and non-fiction films. The American Sector, her documentary (co-directed with Pacho Velez) about fragments of the Berlin Wall transplanted to the US, was voted one of the best films of 2021 by The New Yorker. The essay film, Terra Femme, composed of amateur travel footage shot by women in the early 20th century, premiered at MoMA and is touring as a live performance. Courtney’s work has been shown at the National Gallery of Art, The Barbican, Walker Art Centre, The Royal Geographical Society, BAMPFA and at film festivals including Berlinale, Viennale, SXSW, IDFA and Hong Kong, Mumbai and New York Film Festivals. Stephens has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sloan Research Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship for India.
This event is organised by the Thinking Documentary Film working group with the support of FLAD (Luso-American Development Foundation) and ZDB, in collaboration with ampersand, and is part of the project Philosophy and Documentary Film. Mediating the Real, financed by national funds through FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology, under project EXPL/FER-FIL/0045/2021.