Brussels, je t'aime

I arrived in Brussels on the evening of Friday, 28th of January. I'd been invited there for the 9th edition of Brussels International Women's Film Festival, or Elles Tournent. At the airport, I was met by Roland, who was the other half of the couple who would be hosting me. Jacqueline, his wife and a long-time volunteer at the festival, was coming down with the flu so she was resting at home.

Roland took me on a bus to their place to get settled in. Their epic Brussels townhouse was easily the most beautiful house I'd ever set foot in. The ceiling in each floor was so high you could've practised cheerleading stunts indoors. Jacqueline was resting by the fireplace in the living room. I learned that she works in human rights, particularly women's rights, and does volunteer work with refugee children. Then Roland asked me whether I wanted a beer or a shower first. By this point, I was pretty sure I'd died on the plane and was totally winning at afterlife.

I opted for a shower because I'd been living in Tallinn for the past two weeks or so, and the place we were staying at almost never had any hot water. I was dying for a proper hot shower.

Our place in Tallinn.

Our place in Tallinn.

The huge bathroom in Brussels with a skylight overlooking a park...

The huge bathroom in Brussels with a skylight overlooking a park...

After freshening up, I took the SEVEN flights of stairs (not even kidding) back down and was immediately handed a cold Belgian trappist beer. I sat down to chat with Jacqueline by the fire while Roland was cooking raviolis. We had raviolis, French red wine for dinner and French cheeses for dessert. I'm getting a bit depressed now just thinking about that, and what I've eaten today at school.

With a full stomach and a stupid, happy smile on my face, Roland took me to the theatre where the festival was taking place. I got a goody bag, and a name tag, and met with some of the lovely people behind the festival. To be totally honest, I don't remember much more from Friday night probably because of the benzos I take to be able to fly. And maybe the beer and wine. Also it was almost a month ago so don't judge.

Saturday morning there was a brunch for the filmmakers. This was at another equally stunning townhouse. I went there with Nassima, who was also staying at Roland and Jacqueline's place. I didn't realize what génial company I was in until I saw Nassima's film on Sunday. But more on that later.

It was full on spring in Brussels. This is the backyard of the house.

It was full on spring in Brussels. This is the backyard of the house.

At the brunch, I met Fairouz M'Silti, Shahana Goswami, and Britt Raes... Wait, after looking at this picture from the brunch, I suddenly remembered what happened Friday night! I saw a Turkish feature film, Toz Bezi (Dust Cloth). And it wasn't forgettable at all, actually, but a really, really well-made film. It's always such a pleasure to watch fiction that doesn't feel like fiction. The characters were so believable and alive that I was happy just to watch them do whatever. The drama was also there but there was no need to follow a sydfieldian pattern by the minute. (Although, if I were to analyze the film it may very well follow that pattern but at least it didn't feel like it.)

Watch the trailer below:

1. TOZ BEZI (Dust Cloth) by Ahu Ozturk

Turkey, 2016, 97'

I mostly talked to Fairouz at the brunch but I had missed the screening of her short film because it was on Friday before I had arrived. However, I just watched it recently on Vimeo with a password I was kindly given by Fairouz. Hers too is a film with refreshingly multifaceted women characters. There isn't a trailer online but here is a poster of the film. You can also look for upcoming screenings on the Facebook page for the film.

2. CARAMEL SURPRISE by Fairouz M'Silti

France, 2016, 22'

France, 2016, 22'

After the brunch, I went thrift shopping with a bunch of cool, young, Belgian animators: Britt Raes, Ornella Macchia, and Gwendoline Gamboa. They were skeptical at first but then decided to let me hang out with them because I told them my film also has some stop-motion animation sequences. Phew. Thrift-shopping was a bust unfortunately – I couldn't find any West German leather ties for my partner who collects them in different colors.

Later that day I got to see all of their films in the Elles s'animent shorts screening.

For this screening, I opted for an "English whisperer" because all the films at the festival were either in French or subtitled in French. It's a pretty weird experience having someone live-translate by whispering in your ear in the movie theatre. I found it really distracting so for the rest of the festival, I got by with the moderate amount of French I know. I was really pleasantly surprised actually at how well I still understand French, even though I haven't studied it in years. Kudos to my grandmother for bribing me to take French in school! Strange things can pay off one day, kids.

Watch the trailers for Britt's, Gwen's, and Ornella's films:

3. CATHERINE by Britt Raes

Belgium, 2016, 12'

Catherine is actually quite a sad and macabre story but nonetheless got the entire audience laughing. I really liked how Britt takes full advantage of what can be done creatively with animation and just has fun with the medium. Britt also has a blog for the film.

4. PAPIERS D'ARMÉNIE (Armenian Papers) by Ornella Macchia

Belgium, 2015, 7'

In just seven minutes, Ornella has created a lively and wholesome world with some cool animation techniques.

4. RESPIRER SOUS L'EAU (Breathing Under Water) by Gwendoline Gamboa

Belgium, 2014, 6'

In her film, Gwen deals with personal trauma through animation.

I didn't get to meet the other directors in the animation screening but here are some other ones I enjoyed:

5. LE CLITORIS by Lori Malépart-Traversy

Canada, 2016, 4’

By now, I've seen so many films similar to this that I was expecting to be a bit bored. But I was happy to be proven wrong. The film is said to be released online soon, you can follow it at (Lol, I just realized the director's name without the accent is "Malepart". Haha)

6. ROUGES by Jacinthe Folon

Belgium, 2015, 3’

Belgium, 2015, 3’

Animation about periods! I couldn't find much about this film online but obviously could not leave it out of this list. Period pains perfectly illustrated in three minutes.

Next up on Saturday was the screening of Girl Power, a documentary about women graffiti artists by a woman graffiti artist.

7. GIRL POWER by Sany

Czech Republic, 2016, 92'

I learned a lot about graffiti writers and their culture – and I got to meet the notorious Sany! 🙀  Educate yourself by watching this film. You can watch it here on vimeo on-demand for only $5.

As a side-note, there was another awesome graffiti film that was screened actually on Sunday in the same screening as Period Stories. This one's a lot more light-hearted and more on the legal (yawn) side of things. But funny and endearing nonetheless. It's only 4 minutes, and you can watch it right now for free below:

7 1/2. I'M A GRAFFITI GRANDMA by Lata65

Portugal, 2016, 4'

After watching films all day, I was struggling to stay awake but I wanted to watch the last film of the day anyway, a Chinese documentary, We Are Here.

8. WE ARE HERE by Shi Tou & Jing Zhao

China, 2016, 60'

China, 2016, 60'

What happens when 300 lesbians from all over the world attend the largest United Nations conference?  How did two busloads of lesbians headed to an underground nightclub help spark the birth of a lala (LBT) movement in China?  At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the first ever lesbian tent at an UN NGO Forum was created.  At the tent, ideas were shared, connections were made, and identities were assured …with energy for change in growth.

We Are Here is a documentary about historical events that I knew nothing about beforehand. However, it could've used a lot more breathing space in the editing, as the film was packed full of interviews and people talking with hardly any breaks during the entire 60 minutes. The subtitles could hardly fit on the screen or keep up. Nonetheless, it was a very interesting topic, and if I understood correctly, one of the organizers of the Elles Tournent festival had actually been present in Beijing in 1995. Very cool, very educational.

Moving on to Sunday!

I woke up to a super sunny Brussels. The smugness on my face speaks for itself.

I woke up to a super sunny Brussels. The smugness on my face speaks for itself.

Sunday started with the perfect brunch with Roland, Jacqueline (who was luckily feeling better), their daughter, and Nassima. God, I'd missed a real pain au chocolat.

After my little selfie session with the sun, we headed to the theatre to watch Nassima's film, 10949 Femmes.

10. 10949 FEMMES by Nassima Guessoum

France, 2014, 76’

Actually it's ninth on my list but I listed it as tenth because this film is such a 10/10. (Even though I probably missed a lot of it because it was subtitled en francais). But skillfully made cinema is a universal language. In the screening, I was sitting with Fairouz and after the film she told me that on the brunch on Saturday she was trying to act cool but was actually totally fangirling inside about meeting Nassima because she'd seen 10949 Femmes before.

In the film, Nassima spends time with and films her namesake, Nassima. In a nutshell, Nassima is just the coolest old lady revolution fighter, and you will love her.

Sadly, I can only give you the trailer to watch for now, but the film should be available to watch online some time soon this year. You can like it on Facebook to follow for updates.

Next up was the film that Shahana was the lead actress in.

11. UNDER CONSTRUCTION by Rubaiyat Hossain

Bangladesh, 2015, 88’

I don't think I've ever been to a film festival where at least one of the films didn't have some sort of a technical issue. Very unfortunately, this time it was Under Construction, where somewhere mid-film the audio went out of sync. I'm guessing it may have been a framerate issue because people said they thought it got worse gradually.

However, the film was still really good, and Shahana was great. I loved how they showed her with and without make-up, hair done and not done – and I mean like the way people REALLY look like when they're home in sweatpants, not like Hollywood usually portrays this, where the "home in sweatpants" is actually a very carefully crafted illusion of effortless conventional and "presentable" beauty.

And then! It was time for the Vive le Feminisme screening with Period Stories. I haven't been nervous in screenings in ages but somehow this time I felt some jitters again. I really liked the festival and I really wanted the people to like it. Also, for some reason the theatre was packed for this screening. Voila all the people in the picture below. I'm one of those tiny dots at the front of the theatre doing the Q&A.

The screening went really well and there were many audible reactions from the audience during the film which is always great. All in all, an awesome experience!

After the screening, our little family: Nassima, Roland, Jacqueline, et moi, went to have some beers and dinner. Roland recommended it, so I had an epic bucket of spicy mussels which were to die for. The people in the neighbouring table also kindly taught me how to eat them like a pro: you're supposed to eat one and then use the shell of that as a little tool to eat the rest. A skill I doubt I'll be needing very often but maybe you eat mussels all the time and I've now changed your life forever.

Mussels in Brussels.

Mussels in Brussels.

I flew home to Tallinn early Monday morning. Meanwhile, my partner had moved our stuff to our new place which, mind you, has an endless supply of hot water. Ahh.