Project SymposiumWomen’s Auto/Biographical Cinemas: The Gendered Story

A 2-day online international symposium on Women’s and Feminist Auto/Biographical Cinemas at University College Cork, Ireland

Dates: 27-28 November 2021



Hosting Department: Department of Film and Screen Media, University College Cork

Speakers include academics and filmmakers specializing in autobiographical cinemas:

Dr Laura Busetta (University of Messina)

Dr Brenda Hollweg (University of Leeds)

Dr Rahat Imran (University College Cork)

Prof. Bill Nichols (San Francisco)

Prof. Sarah Nuttall (University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg)

Prof. Laura Rascaroli (University College Cork)

Penny Siopis (Filmmaker)

Prof. Lizzie Thynne (Sussex University)

Dr Kiki Tianqi Yu (Queen Mary, London)


Symposium Report

Online Symposium Title: Women’s Auto/biographical Cinemas: The Gendered Story

Dates:  27 and 28 November 2021

Institution:  University College Cork, Ireland

Symposium website:

Twitter: @UCCStoryteller

The two-day IF Project Symposium was held online. It was attended by over 50 international audience members during the two-day event.

Event 1: In Conversation: Penny Siopis and Sarah Nuttall

Saturday 27 November 2021, 5.00–6.30 p.m. (Greenwich Mean Time)

A set of films made by South African filmmaker Penny Siopis were made available by the filmmaker for viewing on the symposium website two weeks prior to the event. 

The event was conducted as a conversation between South African filmmaker, artist, and academic Penny Syopis, and Professor Sarah Nutall, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. The lively discussion focussed on Syopis’s distinctive use of found footage, home-movies,  experimental style of filmmaking, and representation of historical periods and events, both at the personal and auto-biographical, and political and  national levels. The conversation was followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Event 2: Round Table: Women’s Auto/biographical Cinemas

Sunday 28 November 2021, 5.00–7.00 p.m. (Greenwich Mean Time)

With a focus on autobiography, biography, first-person, diary, and essay films, the Women’s Auto/biographical Cinemas: The Gendered Story Symposium focused on discussion of the contribution of global women/feminist filmmakers who have used the film medium to record, archive, and disseminate women’s stories, to share their experiences, build cross-cultural solidarity for change, consciousness-raising, and for pedagogical purposes. 

The Roundtable event was moderated by Professor Laura Rascaroli, Department of Film and Screen Media, University College Cork, Ireland.

A set of pre-recorded talks by the speakers was made available on the Symposium website at University College Cork for viewing online during the two weeks prior to the symposium. 

The Roundtable talks, comprising a diversity of topics and themes from global cinemas, generated a lively discussion on women’s auto/biographical storytelling in all filmic forms-documentary, experimental, and fictionalized accounts and portrayals.

Roundtable Speakers:

1- Dr Laura Busetta (Post-doctoral researcher at the University of Messina): Everything Speaks about Us: Autobiographical Writing and Collective Memory in Italian Women’s Documentary Making

Dr Busetta’s talk addressed first-person documentaries made by Italian women filmmakers in the last two decades, a period in which documentary has emerged as an important space for the affirmation of new female filmmakers, encompassing hybrid practices, which include the reuse of found footage, the enhancement of amateur films, and the rediscovery of home movies.

2- Dr Brenda Hollweg (Research Fellow in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds): The Political Work of Mourning: Personal Essay Films by Women

Dr Hollweg discussed her in-progress monograph on essayistic film practices by women, with the working title Encounters in the Feminine: Women–Essay–Film. Her talk reflected that as an intimate, performative and self-reflective form of documentary filmmaking, many essay films by women make use of autobiographical details to set up a larger scene from which self-affection, thought, self-othering and also new voices, new subjectivities can co-evolve. 

3- Dr Rahat Imran (MSCA Post-doctoral  Research Fellow at the Department of Film and Screen Media, University College Cork, Ireland): Locating the Storyteller in Sabiha Sumar’s Silent Waters: A Tale of Shared Histories and Divided Identities

Dr Imran’s talk examined the significance of Pakistani woman filmmaker Sabiha Sumar’s film Silent Waters (2003) as a cinematic auto/biographical-historiography by a Muslim woman filmmaker. As an example of ‘history on film/film on history’ (Rosentstone 2013),  her talk located the filmmakers’ own tacitly embedded participation in the film as an experiential ‘auto/bio-historiographer’, arguing for the value of this category within Cinema Studies.

4- Professor Bill Nichols (Professor, Cinema, San Francisco State University, USA): Precarious Bodies 

Professor Nichols talked about three films representing multiple generations of women filmmakers from different regions: Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon(1943), Agnès Varda’s Les Glaneurs (2000) and Waad Al-Kateab’s For Sama (2019). He focused on the function of the camera—a vital element of the search for a radical film form for Deren, an instrument of inquiry into the unfamiliar and unseen for Varda, and the creator of a vivid testament by Kateab as a mother’s struggle to secure a just future for her child– and how it bears witness to distinct ways of seeing that move from the space of inner disturbance, through a reconfiguration of the relation of abundance, waste and aging, to a documentation of the triumph of the human spirit against deliberate mass destruction.

5- Professor Lizzie Thynne (Professor of Film, Sussex University, UK): Narrative Voices in a Documentary Biopic: Independent Miss Craigie

Professor and filmmaker Thynne discussed her research experience to create a first-person narration of Jill Craigie (1911- 99), one of the first women documentary makers in the UK, and her life and career, which like that of many women in the sector, was fragmented and disrupted. Thynne discussed how her film orchestrates two voices for Craigie that reflect the different identities and performances that emerge from the archives and her media appearances, as a younger and as an older woman, suggesting how this split might be a response to the gendered hierarchies of the film industry.

6- Dr Kiki Tianqi Yu (Senior Lecturer in Film, Queen Mary University of London, UK): Maternal Love and Mother-Daughter Relationship in Contemporary Women’s Cinema in the PRC

Dr Yu discussed the representation of mother-daughter relationship in Girls Always Happy and Spring Tide in relation to the production of her own autobiographic essay film The Kindness of Women. She argued that the exploration of maternal love in recent women’s auto/biographic cinema reflects the search for meanings in motherhood and being women of China’s post-socialist generation, and their realisation of their own powerful role of being women and being mother to the next generation and the next China to come.

The Symposium focussed on the vast variety and diversity of women’s auto/biographical cinemas from different regions, eras, cultures, and filmmaking practices and forms, with a lively  participation from the audience. A keen interest was shown by all speakers at the Roundtable for further similar events and follow-up discussions on women’s auto/biographical and first-person cinemas in the future.

The two-day Symposium event was organized by Dr Rahat Imran, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow, Department of Film and Screen Media, University College Cork, Ireland; and Professor Laura Rascaroli, Department of Film and Screen Media, University College Cork, Ireland.


The Symposium was organized as part of the H2020 MSCA-IF project, Locating the Storyteller: Muslim Women’s Auto/Biographical Cinema from the Muslim World.

Storyteller logo by Alice Carroll

Symposium banner by Megan Wilmot

Online assistance for the two-day Symposium event was provided by Michael Holly

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 837154.


Film Forum for Diversity in Storytelling

The Film Forum for Diversity in Storytelling was an open-call monthly event organised by MSCA Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Dr. Rahat Imran, at the Department of Film and Screen Media, UCC.


The monthly Film Forum for Diversity in Storytelling invites broad academic engagement in and beyond the Department of Film and Screen Media to establish a vibrant hub for exchange of ideas on issue-oriented global cinemas, and to create an informal space for critical thinking and discussion on historical, contemporary, and topical issues represented through cinematic storytelling.

With a focus on diversity, the Forum, held monthly during term time, will screen issue-oriented films that represent world cinemas and developing trends in filmmaking, followed by open discussion with the audience. All UCC faculty members and students are welcome to propose a film screening (from all genres) on a topic of their choice that focuses on issues of local or global significance. Proposals to screen films with an emphasis on the cinematic expression of marginalized voices, stories, and issues relating to gender and human rights are particularly encouraged.

Faculty members and students are invited to propose a screening to the convener at:

The Film Forum for Diversity in Storytelling aims to:

  • Be gender-inclusive in the choice of topics and proposed film screenings
  • Be open to interdisciplinary approaches in the critical evaluation of cinematic expressions
  • Promote the spirit of academic and filmic activism–both social and scholarly
  • Focus on bringing attention to issues of social justice and social change through cinema, and build platforms for cross-cultural and cross-class communication and solidarity through issue-oriented film screenings
  • Focus on awareness and consciousness-raising, learning, and education beyond the academic parameters of Film Studies
  • Be particularly focused on encouraging and highlighting minority issues and voices from all under-represented segments and communities
  • Be considerate of cultural, gender, and religious sensitivity and constraints during discussion and Q&A sessions


Date: Thursday, February 27, 2020

Time: 5.00-7.00 pm

Venue: Film and Screen Media Auditorium, Kane Building B10B (Basement)

Theme: Women’s Storytelling through Cinema/Film

Screening: Persepolis. Marjane Satrapi. Iran. 2007. 96 min (animation/feature/biography) (Persian/English Sub-titles)


In 1970s Iran, Marjane ‘Marji’ Satrapi watches events through her young eyes and her idealistic family of a long dream being fulfilled of the hated Shah’s defeat in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However as Marji grows up, she witnesses first-hand how the new Iran, now ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, has become a repressive tyranny on its own. With Marji dangerously refusing to remain silent at this injustice, her parents send her abroad to Vienna to study for a better life. However, this change proves an equally difficult trial with the young woman finding herself in a different culture loaded with abrasive characters and profound disappointments that deeply trouble her. Even when she returns home, Marji finds that both she and homeland have changed too much and the young woman and her loving family must decide where she truly belongs. [IMDb]

Note: The Forum was suspended for the Covid-19 pandemic.