Interview by Tammy Thorne
Bechdel Tested returns for the final edition of its second season with a cycling themed film and panel. This Earth Day they’ll be screening the critically acclaimed Wadjda, the first feature film ever directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia - the brilliant Haifaa al-Mansour. Preceding the film will be a panel discussion focusing on women in cycling featuring: Yvonne Bambrick (moderator) author of The Urban Cycling Survival Guide and co-founder of Cycle Toronto; Siva Vijenthira, former manager of education at Cycle Toronto and biking editor at Spacing; Nancy Smith Lea, director of Toronto Centre for Active Transportation; Hyedie Hashimoto, creator of the Toronto Cupcake Ride; and Claire McFarlane, founder of The Bad Girls Bike Club and former dandyhorse editor.
dandyhorse caught up with the executive producer of Bechdel Tested, Erica Shiner.
How did Bechdel Tested get started?
I created the series shortly after I joined the board of the Revue Cinema in 2015. I had recently gotten involved in feminist activism, after creating a petition to have a misogynist act removed from the lineup of NXNE. It garnered 40,000 signatures and made international headlines, and I was inspired to keep going after such a successful accomplishment. So many different fields of work are hostile, or at best unsupportive, to women; I wanted to do something that would bring women together in various career fields and a film series seemed like a fun way to do that. I also love panels; especially all-women panels!
(Ed's Note: the concept of the Bechdel Test - a blunt, basic measure of gender equality in any work of fiction - was created by this woman. To pass the test, the work must 1) have at least two women in it, who 2) talk to each other, about 3) something other than a man.)
Why did you decide to do a cycling-themed event?
We've focused on a lot of straightforward industries (such as women in politics) for our previous events, and this one is a little bit more niche. But Toronto has lots of cyclists, the entire Bechdel Tested team included. At the same time, the ratio of women to men on bikes in this city seems extreme, and we want to do what we can with the series to encourage more women to ride.
Do you ride?
My bike was my primary method of transportation for nearly 20 years, but I ride less since having a child. My husband is a 365 rider.
Where is your favourite place to ride a bike?
Any bike lane. And preferably downhill.
What do you think Toronto could do to make things safer for cyclists right now?
We need way more protected bike lanes, lower speed limits for drivers, we need to change our by-laws to allow for the Idaho Stop, and we need much more robust, clean, and affordable public transit to get cars off of the roads. People don't necessarily categorize cyclists as an equity seeking group, but I've lost friends to road violence, and when you're out there every day, so vulnerable and with so little support, with your life literally on the line, it drives it home that in many substantial ways cyclists are a really marginalized and unsupported group. You're making an ethical choice, to use the energy from your own body to get around, and for that you're risking death on a daily basis. It's a serious thing and more people need to take it seriously.
What lessons does this film impart about cycling? And what does it show us about the need to fight for equality for women?
Wadjda uses a bicycle as a metaphor for freedom, and it's a beautiful and fitting symbol. Women's rights are so relative from nation to nation, but not in a way that's as clear cut as some people think. While it's extremely important to understand and respect the agency of all women, and not buy into stereotypes, Saudi Arabia is absolutely forcing a system of gender apartheid on women. I'm not qualified to elaborate on the politics there, but it's amazing that this film was made.
I'm so impressed by the director for standing up to the extreme sexism in that society and making such a gorgeous and defiant film.
Does it pass the Bechdel test? [SPOILER ALERT!!]
What’s this FB 'ode-to-men' all about?
That was an April Fool's post. For the most part our audience, women and men alike, is hugely supportive of what we're doing. We did have one man try to insist that he ask a question (because all the other questions had come from women) after our cut-off time during our Q and A, but he was laughed down pretty quickly. Most people understand the value of centering women in what we do.
What’s next on the marquis for Bechdel Tested Toronto?
We're breaking for the summer after this, but next season we'll be taking on theatre, food, law, and one more to-be-decided.
What else are you working on?
We've got big plans for our future programming, as in doing more than the standard film plus panel format in the future, but we're keeping that under our hats until it's time to roll it out.
I'd love to urge everyone reading to make sure to follow our social channels for all the news on season three, starting in fall 2018! And thanks to dandyhorse for helping us spread the word about Bechdel Tested!
When: Sunday, April 22nd, 2018, 7pm (Earth Day)
Where: Revue Cinema, 400 Roncesvalles Ave
Theme: Women in Cycling
Film: Wadjda (Dir: Haifaa al-Mansour, 2013)
About the film: A rebellious Saudi girl (Waad Mohammed) enters a Koran recitation competition at her school and hopes to win enough money to buy her own bike. Wadjda is a movie about freedom - and nothing represents freedom with the metaphoric simplicity and symmetry of a bicycle.
Tickets: $11 - $13 (http://bit.ly/BTcycling)
Bechdel Tested screens a women-centric film relevant to a particular occupation, alongside a panel discussion with experts and leaders in that field. Bechdel Tested aims to advance women's roles in various industries through public discussion, community building, networking, and, of course, cinema.
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