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Save the Feminist Library! – An Interview With Filmmaker Anaïs Charles.

13 September 2016 | Stephanie Brandhuber

London’s Feminist Library has been archiving women’s “herstories” since 1975 and houses a large collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature. Entirely run by volunteers, the Feminist Library has created and guards one of the most important collections of feminist material in the UK. We sit down with filmmaker and writer Anaïs Charles to talk about her new documentary about the extraordinary women who run the Library and about their fight to keep their precious institution open in the face of rising rent prices and impending eviction.

There’s a natural glow that surrounds 24 year-old filmmaker and writer Anaïs Charles as she settles down with her cup of Earl Grey to talk about her latest project, The Feminist Library – A Short Film, a documentary about the Feminist Library in London.
           
Despite her relaxed and peaceful exterior, Anaïs has had a turbulent past few years. After an abusive relationship and dealing with depression, Anaïs used writing as therapy, channeling herself and her emotional rawness into battling the oppression that she had experienced. “I had to write”, Anaïs bluntly states, “It was really necessary. My process was to write and, through that therapy, I really got in touch with what it means to be a woman and the oppression that I’ve internalized through being a woman.”
 
When Anaïs’ friend suggested they collaborate on a project involving the Feminist Library, she jumped at the opportunity. “I was like, hell yes! This is exactly what I want to do right now, this is what I need; this couldn’t be more perfect. So it was one of those random acts of providence where a project comes your way and it’s just the perfect thing.”
 
The Feminist Library has had its home in South London for thirty years, but in 2015 it received the devastating news that its treasured space was facing closure due to Southwark Council’s unsustainable rent increases. Facing imminent eviction, the members of the Feminist Library launched a wide-scale campaign to fight the Council’s decision, gaining international support, positive media coverage, and 16,000 signatures in an online petition to save the library. Having reached an agreement with the Council that has allowed the library to remain in its current location until October 30th 2016, the collective will either have to pay the new market rate, or find another location to house their priceless “herstory” archive. They have launched a second campaign to find a new, permanent and secure home to house their unique collection, currently at risk of being lost forever.
 
When asked why she wanted to make a documentary about the Feminist Library, Anaïs’ passion for the work and legacy of this space was evident. “The Feminist Library is so important because it symbolically says, look women’s history exists and it’s powerful and it’s real and it’s here, and you can come and read about it. You can come and talk to the women who actually participated in the Liberation Movement. We don’t know that women had to fight for basic things, we’re not actually taught that at school, so we think feminism isn’t relevant anymore.”
 
‘The library’s also important because of the actual information and knowledge that’s available there. People, whether they’re PhD students, journalists, whomever, they go there and conduct research. It’s been crucial over time for women to have spaces like the Feminist Library. And even just being able to go there and talk to women and educate yourself on a personal level, I think that is one of the most important things about the library, certainly for me.”
 
Anaïs’ documentary features interviews with the women who were key in the fight for Women’s Liberation in the UK. The film explores how these women’s accounts weave into a broader discussion about modern-day feminism and what the movement means to us today. “I got to talk to all these incredible women who actually went through that process and were politically active during that time. They told me the most incredible stories.”
 
A natural storyteller herself, Anaïs’ passion for listening to people’s lived experiences and sharing them for others to be inspired by is at the heart of her documentary on the Feminist Library. “I’d love people to come away from my film feeling like they know a little bit more about feminism and that they understand that [feminism] is this historic social movement, it’s not just some buzzword. It’s a huge movement that’s run throughout history and we stand on the shoulders of giants. I want people to understand that feminism is complex and it deserves their attention and their serious study.”
 
“To understand something, you need heart, you need emotion. There needs to be that kind of a connection to something for people to really start to be moved to act. These women move me and I want to impart that to my viewers. I want them to be moved too”.
 
Anaïs Charles “The Feminist Library – A Short Film” will premiere on 17th September 2016 at 6pm at the Feminist Library, 5 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7XW. For more information and to discover more about the Feminist Library and their “Save the Library” campaign, visit them online.
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