Why women yelled, sang and stayed silent in Sheffield square for film inspired by #MeToo

For one day, Sheffield’s only Georgian square will be transformed into an art gallery for a major outdoor screening.

Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 06:00 am
Women taking part in A Soft Rebellion in Paradise. Picture: Grace Higgin Brown

A Soft Rebellion in Paradise, a new short film by artist Chloë Brown shot on location in Paradise Square last September, will receive its premiere on June 8 as part of the Sheffield Doc/Fest.

The film – inspired by the #MeToo movement – was created with an all-female crew, production team and cast, and was commissioned by the city’s Arts Council-funded visual arts programme, Making Ways.

A Soft Rebellion in Paradise was a response to Sheffield’s history of political activism and where, in 1851, the Sheffield Female Political Association was the first organisation in Britain to call for women’s suffrage. It concentrates in particular on ‘the voices of women that are often silenced and lost in the retelling of histories around the world.’

Over 200 women participated in creating the film, performing a series of ‘Soft Rebellions’ – Chloë’s previous projects have involved working with people who dance, eat, meet and applaud in places where it is unusual, or even forbidden, to do so.

At the film’s heart is a poem, Soft Rebellions in Paradise Squared, by Sheffield-based writerGeraldine Monk. Described as ‘part chant, part song and part incantation’, it sits alongside silence and an ear-splitting yell by the crowd; Monk performs on a balcony in the square where, in the past, John Wesley once addressed the masses who gathered there and Chartists were dispersed by troops leading to a running battle.

In addition, a group of four women perform a discordant ‘song’ that references both historian Mary Beard’s lecture ‘Women & Power’ and author Henry James’ criticism of the female voice, which he described as ‘a mumble or jumble, a tongue-less slobber’.

To accompany these ‘Soft Rebellions’, Belfast-based musician and performer, DIE HEXEN, hascomposed a soundscape that builds to an intense crescendo.

“At a time when the world is still reeling from the #MeToo campaign and we mark the 100-year anniversary since women first achieved the right to vote in this country, I wanted to make a film that could contribute to this debate by focusing solely on women’s voices to create a defiant piece of art that is demanding to be seen and heard,” said Chloë, a senior lecturer on the fine art undergraduate course at Sheffield Hallam University.

She has made similar films in two other post-industrial cities, Stoke-on-Trent and Detroit, where the term 'soft rebellion' was first suggested to her by an attendee at a talk she gave.

To make the atmosphere more vibrant she asked some of the audience to stand up, put headphones on and 'dance in their own world'.

In Stoke she undertook a residency at the former Spode pottery factory, videoing two Northern Soul dancers doing a turn in the disused boardroom.

In Detroit - synonymous with car manufacturing - she got people to dance in the street to, appropriately, Dancing In The Street by Martha and the Vandellas, a girl group associated with the US city's Motown record company.

She also persuaded community figures to do the 'Wigan Clap', a type of applause given by Northern Soul audiences at the famous Wigan Casino in north-west England.

The 10-minute film will be screened from midday to 9pm as a free drop-in event. There will be a special introduction by Chloë at 4.30pm.

Sheffield Doc/Fest runs from June 6 to 11.