Amanda Barbour of FEM&IST Films
I first met Mandy Barbour back in 2015 when we were both living in the birthplace of Le Petit Prince author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. We met the French chanteuse Yelle at Ninkasi Kao and I attended a rally Mandy organized in front of Hôtel de Ville against the Forced Closure of Indigenous Communities. I always wish I had spent more time in Mandy's company because she is a force to be reckoned with. Mandy is, in a word, fierce.
When I moved to Metz in 2017, Mandy sent me a physical copy of a zine in the mail. I was so touched. There were some excerpts about architecture I particularly enjoyed. Mandy informs me she was "completely smitten" with Eluard's Capitale de la Douleur earlier this year, and I make a mental note to read it. For someone who's only 25, I think Mandy recognizes the duality and transience of life in a way that is exceptionally insightful. "I don't think I'll ever truly get out of the chasms my mind gets itself into," she says, comparing herself to a bucket in a well. "Things like my friends getting attacked will weigh me down, time will make it lighter, and I'll be going up and down that sentimental seesaw for the rest of my life."
RS: What is it that you do?
MB: I ask myself these questions like all the time haha. Like, what am I actually doing? My CV states that I'm the artistic director of FEM&IST Films, an intersectional feminist film festival, and I do film criticism and translation on a freelance basis.
RS: Tell me how you decided to launch the festival.
MB: When I got back to Australia from France I applied for a bunch of internships, and I didn't get any of them. So I made my own festival.
RS: Your mother called your festival "very alternative."
MB: Which is useful feedback for me to have because my friends mostly reflect and validate my own opinions. Mum's one of my few connections to slightly more conservative worlds, whose opinion I actually value. I guess I'm drawn to people on the fringes because that's where I feel the most comfortable, and I talk about what I see (through curation and whatever) because I can't really conceptualise not doing so.
RS: What was your first published piece of film criticism?
MB: A critique on The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) for the Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues. After I watched that film, it felt like a supanova went off in my gut that I couldn't quantify in words. So I forced myself to watch it again and again (which was a fucking harrowing experience) and read as much as I could about it so I could finally understand in words what my body knew. Then I wrote about it. Most of my work in that sphere probably looks like objective criticism, but it's actually deeply personal and self-centered.
RS: How so?
MB: Well I made a video essay on Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) for the Melbourne International Film Festival when I was depressed, and the antithesis to my defeatism in that piece that came later in the year when I met Ester Bergsmark. People like Ester and my friend Maite Galarza show me, through their work, that they understand at the molecular level how fucked the world is.
RS: But they both have this overriding optimism.
RS: Which I find incredible. I haven't learnt to share that optimism (yet), but these are fkn smart people and I trust them.
RS: So you've been watching a lot of Kung Fu lately?
MB: Bruce Lee is my fav, but I'm starting to move more towards the Japanese side of thing with samurai/chanbara flicks. It's not the violence that I find enthralling, it's more the movement at an abstract level: the symmetry and speed of samurais, and the ridiculousness that seems to be embedded in kung-fu. I know you, Rachel, are a massive leftie, so I would highly recommend Viénet's La dialectique peut-elle casser des briques ?
RS: What do you wish you were exposed to when you were younger?
MB: I don't really have any regrets about what I was and wasn't exposed to. Like, I'm not from an "arty" household by any means, but my parents were open minded which means I saw a lot of I guess niche things without being encouraged to think it was weird. For example, mum's the accountant at a sexual health centre and they have a clinic for sex workers. So when I was like 7 I danced in the Perth gay pride parade with the sex worker brigade and we were advocating for decriminalisation [and for] sex workers to have access to the same occupational health and safety standards that all other Australians enjoy (they can't be classified as criminals for just being at work). I knew that some of the people I was dancing with were gay, some were sex workers, but I didn't know homophobia and whorphobia existed until I got to high school.
RS: What's a day in your life like and what are you working on for the future?
MB: Mm, it's a bit of a weird time to ask me that, because my dad died six weeks ago, a friend was strangled until she passed out and raped two weeks ago, and Eurydice's body was found a few days later. I'm lacking ambition atm because I'm sad. You're probably wondering why I'm scattering references to violence against women in this interview, but my doing so is political because it does honestly answer your question: trying my best to not get raped or killed is a part of my everyday life. It dictates how fast I walk home, what time I'm comfortable being outside alone, you know the drill.
RS: It's infuriating. What's an example of failure to you?
MB: This is a really good question because I think everyone in the arts community believes that they're a piece of shit/a failure, to some degree. What got me really down recently was being confronted with the fact that there is literally nothing I can do to protect my friends from violence against women. So in this instance, what got me down was my powerlessness, and the rage that I have against a system that I can't see ... and I still don't think I've found an appropriate outlet for that rage.
RS: So who makes you laugh?
MB: Probably my housemate Ryan. Within two days of being back from tour he'd turned the lounge room into the techno room and accidentally set his new percolator on fire. I didn't even know it was possible to set a percolator on fire, but hey.
RS: When was the last time you felt truly happy? Frustrated?
MB: When I was lying in my friend Madeline's bed last night. Happy 'cause she's a good friend to have and frustrated because I needed to debrief about some misogyny in our worlds.