Just like Cyndi Lauper, SJP et al., the Girls On Film Festival just wants to have fun. It also wants to smash down any perceived wall between “capital F” feminism and pop culture. “We are unashamedly populist,” says GOFF director Karen Pickering. “We love movies that lots of other people love and we are also unashamedly feminist. And those two things are sometimes considered incompatible.”

Pickering is also the force behind Cherchez La Femme, a monthly gathering at the pub (currently the Duke of Wellington in the city, but it is looking for a larger venue to accommodate demand) where beer meets feminist discussion. She is a co-founder of Slut Walk Melbourne and thought up Feministmas (“another hair-brained scheme”). She is a writer, social commentator and does workshops for boys in schools on gender literacy. She outright rejects the idea that she has to tone down her role as an entertainer/writer/thrower of parties in order to be taken seriously as a feminist and an activist.

“People think that in order to take something seriously, you have to be serious,” she says. But I think approaching something with love and humour – and a kind of looseness – can actually get across serious messages.”

This weekend GOFF is presenting two days of accessible, mainstream movies and some documentaries. It will screen pop-culture classics (Heathers, 9 to 5, Heavenly Creatures) and movies the GOFF team thinks haven’t been seen enough, such as Radiance, Ponyo and Whale Rider. The rest of the weekend is a huge party.

“Finding 10 films that all passed the Bechdel Test, are all feminist in sensibility and message, that all have women and girls at the centre of them and aren’t massively depressing was hard,” says Pickering. “Film festivals often don’t have kids at them. They are held at venues that don’t have wheelchair access. And they mostly show movies made by men about men. We wanted to flip that in almost everyway. So it’s almost the anti-film-festival festival.”

GOFF is also presenting Girl Germs. It’s an all-ages day of zine making (Bitch Please, A Zine Thing, Sticky Institute), unisex nail painting (Nailed It), DJing lessons, music (Pikelet, Georgia Fields) and talks and presentations by Fairy GOFF mothers such as author and playwright, Anna Barnes and film and video director, Sarah-Jane Woulahan. There will also be a screening of The Punk Singer, a documentary about Riot Grrrl founder and musician Kathleen Hanna.

“All the films in GOFF are all celebratory in some way. Or they’re celebrating survival and struggle. The organising principal behind everything presented at GOFF is that the stories of girls and women matter.”

So, here is just a flavor of GOFF, from the head-honcho Fairy GOFF Mother herself.

T is For Teacher
T is for Teacher, by Melbourne filmmaker Rohan Spong, is a documentary that follows three transgender women who work in schools in the US. “It just blew me away,” says Pickering. “I couldn’t believe that this quiet, sensitive story could tell me so much about American culture and about trans women and about the fight that trans folk have. These women who agree to share their stories are saying: I’m here and I’m a woman whose story matters. And that is exactly in the spirit of GOFF.”

Radiance
This story of three indigenous half sisters (starring Deborah Mailman in her debut, AFI Award-winning role) coming together for their mother’s funeral is up there with the best of family dramas. It is also very funny. “Some of these more serious, heavy topics, actually have a lightness about them,” says Pickering. “Or the director or the maker has allowed for a levity or humour.”

Heavenly Creatures
This cult classic which launched Kate Winslet’s career is about two girls who create an intense, intimate world of their own – that leads to murder.

“It’s a terrifying movie,” says Pickering. “But the genuine love story between these two girls is so touching. Also, Juliet [Winslet’s character] is hilarious, she’s really funny … she’s everything in it; she’s sexy, she’s funny, she’s diabolical, she’s chilling, knowing, all these things.”

Whale Rider
Director Niki Caro tells this story of Pai, a girl claiming her place in her Maori culture. Whale Rider presents all the wonders of girlhood through Pai, played by break-out star Keisha Castle-Hughes. “I don’t think it’s controversial to say that movies made by women, about women and girls – and especially about women and girls of colour – are not valued in our culture the same way as stories in which the majority of people see themselves are,” says Pickering. “So for our children’s programming, we wanted to give feminist parents the opportunity to show their kids stuff other than the Disney and Pixar at the cineplex. A lot of our GOFF family members are mums and dads who are tired of sitting through films in which they hate the gender politics.”

The Punk Singer
This film is about the career and influence of the irrepressible Kathleen Hanna.

“It’s a love letter to Riot Grrrl and to Kathleen Hanna,” says Pickering. “I feel like it’s a thank you to her and those women for fighting really hard to make music – and not the world’s best music – but to make their music in a scene that was not only hostile to them, but dangerous for them. She paved the way for a lot of women and girls to do what boys and men have always done, which is just whatever they want.”

The Girls On Film Festival will be held at Northcote Town Hall, 189 High Street, Northcote, from Friday September 12 to Sunday September 14.

girlsonfilmfestival.com