As part of the Take One Action! film festival, Women in Motion is a collection of four short films from different countries, all focusing on women’s issues. In Maja (dir. Marijana Jankovic, Denmark, 2018), we follow the eponymous six-year-old Serbian girl on a day at kindergarten in her new home, Denmark. As expected, she finds it difficult to communicate with her Danish schoolmates and teacher and seems withdrawn, struggling to find her place, even at this young age. What is unexpected, though, is a reveal at the end of her school day, highlighting an untold story of working-class migrants and an unenviable life of graft. The film is a gentle examination of these social issues as well as the malleability of young children and the formative events that can seem tiny to us yet impactful to them: the terms of endearment an adult addresses you with, the songs you’re sung, a teacher’s sense of justice, and the places you spend most of your time. Maja treats all of this with a deft touch yet is moving and thought-provoking in its short runtime.
Hello Ahma (dir. Siyou Tan, Singapore/USA, 2019) also focuses on a young girl, Michelle, this time in America. The film begins with the capture of a phone screen as Michelle watches the funeral of her grandmother back in Singapore – a technique it would have been interesting to see employed for longer. In the aftermath, she looks for signs of her grandma in the world around her: in too-big shoes that have been left behind; in a pet turtle that might be hosting grandma’s reincarnated spirit; and in the mournful actions of her mother. The film is dimly lit – mostly set at night or dawn – and gentle, conveying a child’s sense of sadness, confusion, and curiosity around death. It’s poignant yet brief, leaving us with the sensation that there was more to be explored here.
Strong is Better than Angry (dir. Hope Dickson Leach, UK, 2019) is a short documentary interviewing women from various backgrounds on the topic of anger – what makes them angry, how they manage it, and who they’d like to punch in the face. Filmed in a kickboxing gym, it’s funny at times, although not particularly profound, and showcases a diverse group, highlighting different lives, yet pointing us to things they share in common. The most interesting moment is a slow-motion sequence of one woman beating up a David Cameron rubber head, which gradually becomes bruised and bloody. This provocative moment is transient, though, and the rest of the film could have benefited from more of this dark punch.
The shortest of the collection at just ten minutes, Let My Body Speak (dir. Madonna Adib, UK / Jordan, 2020) feels more experimental; a visual art piece as opposed to strict documentary. In it, filmmaker Madonna Adib narrates key incidents from her childhood which was scarred by the control of society over her gender and sexual identity. Accompanying this voiceover is home film footage, scans of photographs and documents, and, most arresting, extreme closeups of Adib’s body. These shots present her anatomy as a landscape, textured and seared with memories, trauma, and strength. It’s hypnotic and quietly powerful, and is a standout amongst this collection, addressing its subject without restraint.
Women in Motion is an interesting mix, then, mainly exploring growth and transitions in childhood. Strong is Better… is, ironically, the weakest selection here and doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Overall, though, the others in the selection are impactful, providing engaging visuals and evoking emotional responses, particularly from the child actors.