Grand Rapids festival showcases feminist films

GVL/Samantha Mosley - Dale Jackson works the front desk for the Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.

Samantha Mosley

GVL/Samantha Mosley – Dale Jackson works the front desk for the Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.

While the new “Madea” and “Jack Reacher” films might have dominated the box office last weekend, Wealthy Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids transformed for a film festival celebrating titles with a different focus like “Baby X” and “GIRL.”

Now in its third year, the 2016 Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival held its annual one-day event Sunday, Oct. 23. Sponsored in part by Grand Valley State University’s women, gender and sexuality studies department, the festival aims to bring awareness to the lack of diversity and inclusion in the film industry.

Sisters Lydia and Francie VanHoven, the main organizer and volunteer coordinator respectively, have been working with the festival since it was just a small showcase event. Both have worked to create a growing space for celebrating intersectional feminism.

“The reason we decided to start doing the festival is because, frankly we’re sick of seeing the same types of people in the media all the time,” Francie VanHoven said. “We want to see real stories from real people.”

Sunday’s event welcomed around 500 people to watch 43 films made by both local and international feminist film makers. Additionally, merchandise made by local feminist artists was sold during the event, including live screen-printed shirts by Citizenshirt.

“We wanted to open up a platform for people in more marginalized groups,” Francie VanHoven said. “We wanted to lift up and show off women, people of color and LGBT people, so they have a voice as well and can show off their amazing work in film.”

“It’s a great celebration of feminist arts and culture in Grand Rapids,” Lydia VanHoven said.

In addition, she said the festival has a major focus on community, giving people a space to be themselves and educate others.

“It’s about teaching what feminism is, because a lot of people think feminism is a ‘man hating’ club and it is 100 percent not,” Lydia VanHoven said. “It’s about equality, intersectionality and celebrating everyone.”

Shukri Bana, WGS major at GVSU, has attended the event for the past three years and said she enjoys the opportunity for conversation with the local feminist community on the themes brought up at the festival.

“It’s a good event, because the folks who are producing the films are generally folks with marginalized identities, so these aren’t narratives we’re getting in popular media or in classrooms,” Bana said.

The event also served as a space for discussion, offering 12 workshops and panels throughout the day designed to cultivate empowerment and understanding.

“Going to the panels is a great way to hear local activists, artists and thinkers speak on things that matter,” Bana said. “Things that probably aren’t making it into the dominate discourses around justice or equality.”

To find out more about the films shown or panel topics discussed at the 2016 Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival, visit