Berlin Feminist Film Week #1: Witches are among us (and we love it)

Witching Friday at the BFFW featured on indieBerlin

Imagine an art film that pretends to be a B-movie. Now imagine if the execution is as hilarious as the concept. Then add a live ritual performance and an art exhibition devoted to daring and you have Witching Fridays, 10th March 2017.

What does ‘witching’ mean to you? Do you think of nymph-like women skipping in a circle, or a hag in black with a pointy hat? Do you think of deep connection with nature, or Satanism and superstition? A healer or a seductress? Power or fear?

An evening in three parts

Don’t think these are charged questions. The answer is never so simple, of course, and that’s the theme of Witching Friday. An art exhibition, a ritual performance and a screening of The Love Witch were thrown into the same melting pot (should I say cauldron), and the result was bewildering. I’ll say one thing with certainty: the way the organisers arranged the whole spectacle was as skilful and meaningful as each individual element.

The guests begin by milling in the week-long exhibition space. Curated by Girls’ collective exhibition ‘A Story the World Needs to See’ is mostly made up of works of photography in a patchwork of styles, apparently unified by the commitment to ignore comfort zones. Each exhibit raises a challenge, some to taboos, others to traditions. Brash and eye-catching, this is probably the most didactic part of the event in that it seeks a reaction, but not a reply.

The Witch Within performance featured on indieBerlin

Magic is mere intention

All of a sudden, all heads snap to the front as though commanded. The crowd migrates towards the front as though summoned, where circles drawn in chalk glow eerily in the lighting. This is The Witch Within, a demonstration of witching that falls between performance and ritual, poetry and incantation.

Of course these contrasts are delivered through an experience yet unhad for most of the spectators, but novelty alone doesn’t account for all of its curiosity. Among the four performers are a theatre practitioner and a practising witch. The group’s movements fall between choreography and inspiration, their words between politics and prayer. Whatever you want to call it, it’s mesmerising.

The Love Witch – carefully unsubtle, deliberately unsettling

Finally, the film. Imagine an art film that pretends to be a B-movie. Now imagine if the execution is as hilarious as the concept. The Love Witch is a masterpiece of unsubtlety, from the garish colours to the carefully pitched overacting, all with a dash of Rocky-Horror-esque absurdity.

Still from the Love Witch featured on indieberlin

Yet its message is anything but blatant. The protagonist is a seductress in possession of killer looks (literally), an unrelenting libido and some magical love potions that are almost as powerful as her abandonment complex. Her internalised misogyny rules her out from being a role model.

But the real villain (as ever) is the patriarchy, so we’re glad that this witch’s comeuppance never comes. Instead, we’re left considering the suggestion that any attempt to subvert the natural dominance of man over woman ends in tragedy and misery. Even our witch, whose desires are entirely in line with those of her besotted victims, is punished for striking that deal on her own terms.

Curated by girls, collated with skill

Curated by girls exhibition featured on indieBerlin

The placement of The Love Witch after the two previous parts of the evening is pretty hilarious as well, testament to the organisers’ sense of humour. After the rawness of the art and the sincere grandeur of the performance, we spend the whole film expecting it to draw its tongue out of its cheek, but it never does.

And so congratulations to the Berlin Feminist Film Week, who succeeded in combining two already memorable expressions of witching themes, along with the exhibition, to make something even more memorable. It’s not often that modern witchcraft is given space to present itself and be discussed. Witching Friday celebrated this, without forgetting to contribute to the dialogue of the whole week.

Student small fry, country boy in the big city, with inky fingers and a travel guitar.

Student small fry, country boy in the big city, with inky fingers and a travel guitar.

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