Often During the Day (Joanna Davis, UK, 1979, 16mm film, 16min)
Bred and Born (Joanna Davis and Mary Pat Leece, UK, 1983, 16mm film, 1hr 15min)
Structured around a series of photographs of neglected parts of a kitchen, quotations of Ann Oakley’s book The Sociology of Housework (1974) and a long sequence shot of a kitchen table during breakfast, Joanna Davis’s Often During the Day creates a complex orchestration of sound and image fragments to question the relationship between theory and practice. Akin to Martha Rosler’s video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), the film seeks to create a new way of seeing the kitchen, and its problematically gendered association as the domain of female labour. In presenting the particularities of a household kitchen in which work is not defined by gender, the film responds to the notion that household labour is feminine, as well as to Oakley’s feminist text, by showing the difficulties of applying her theories to a specific rather than a general environment.
In Bred and Born (1983), Davis’s subsequent collaboration with Mary Pat Leece, the phrase ‘I’m using people to talk about things that interest me’ is repeated at key junctures in the film, signalling the problem of social division that accompanies sociological research. Developed through a long-term investigation of women’s relationships with their mothers, in particular in communities in London’s East End, Bred and Born seeks to critically re-frame its own investigation throughout the film.
In both these rigorous works the relation of theory to practice is explored through the filmic processes of scripting, performance, staging and editing, which both seek to expose to the spectator. Moreover, the two create complex reflections on the potential of film to develop nuanced sociological arguments. The film-maker and the apparatus of cinema are made present in both works in order to question the power relationships inherent in documentary-based practice.
Both films’ fidelity to the theoretical texts they are attempting to adapt is eventually unravelled by carefully framed direct observation and interactions with their ostensible ‘subjects’, as developed in the final kitchen table sequence in Often During the Day, or the re-framed discussion at the end of Bred and Born. These instances return the viewer’s attention to the staging of the observed situation and its particularities, which risk being obscured by sociology or political arguments.
Bred and Born was developed over four years with the help of Circles, which hosted women-only screenings and discussions throughout the production of the film. Built around community participation, these discussions and screenings, a fundamental part of feminist film distribution in general, not only informed the research and development of the project but by recording them they also became a crucial part the film itself. The film can now be seen as exploring one of Circles’s fundamental ambitions, as outlined in their statement that it ‘is important that barriers between film-maker and audience are broken down, and that there is interaction and feedback between the two. We also feel it is important to create a public space for discussion and for all women to participate in the making and showing of their work.’
In operating as discursive critical projects, these films highlight the centrality and necessity of discussion to this period of film practice in the UK. The statement also signals the broader social ambitions of feminist distribution, and of the Showroom exhibition.