In 1998, the book, Beauty Bites Beast, was published and added to the illustrious shelves of the “gender literary ghetto,” as the author Ellen Snortland phrases it, the genre of nonfiction literature on women’s issues and gender that rarely reaches the hands of male readers. Beauty Bites Beast provides a series of ground-breaking “how-come” insights on why empowerment self-defense for women is essential in the fight to prevent violence against women and create greater gender equality. It’s the kind of book that women who are seeking out feminist ideas would read, and one that would be passed among girlfriends, or mentioned in gender studies courses, but breaking through to men has thus far been a fruitless effort.
So when one of Ellen’s male friends, Fred Ouweleen, CEO and director of the Pacmin factory in Tijuana, Mexico, read her book and invited her to conduct an empowerment self-defense course for his female factory workers in 2006, she could have never imagined that her life passion for the next ten years was being signed away to destiny. The opportunity inspired her to bring on an all-female recording crew to film the course, for as much as records show, no factory owner in a developing country had ever offered to train their workers in empowerment self-defense.
Ellen’s experience in Tijuana with the factory workers, and the footage she took home, was the beginning of the Beauty Bites Beast documentary project. What was originally a film focused on the 2006 Tijuana course has thus become an international look at “how come” women’s self-defense continues to be excluded from major political and philanthropic discourse on violence prevention and gender equality, in a medium that more successfully reaches male audiences.
By training, Ellen Snortland is an actress and journalist. She has been working in media for decades and has never ceased to involve herself in creative theatre projects since her undergraduate years at the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in Santa Maria. The combination of her passion for women’s self-defense and feminist issues, theater, film, journalism and writing, has made the feature length film Beauty Bites Beast a dream come true.
From Tijuana, Mexico to Grand Forks, North Dakota, a small suburb in Nairobi, Kenya and to our very own Jerusalem, Beauty Bites Beast the film explores how empowerment self-defense proves to be applicable to women and girls in vastly different circumstances worldwide. It also systematically covers all of the current objections to self-defense advocacy and the intellectual fallacies supporting them. Now after years of work, she’s come to Israel to introduce the film and the translation of her book into Hebrew “The Beauty Awakens” (״היפייפיה מתעוררת״) in an event she could have hardly imagined was possible. The film’s first ever screening will be hosted by El HaLev at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on March 28th, in a festive event to promote the Hebrew translation of Beauty Bites Beast the book and to introduce the film to Israeli audiences (with Hebrew subtitles).
Needless to say, Ellen didn’t make it to Jerusalem without a world of challenges and setbacks throughout the film’s production. Limited funding due to the Great Recession at the end of the 2000s stalled the project for years. Constant calls for donations of $10 here and $25 there made the project seem impossible to finish. There’s no money making in the documentary business, she explains, so you have to be extremely passionate about the story you’re trying to tell. Ellen tried her best to take criticism with an open heart and mind, even when those closest to her turned out to be the harshest. She found that when doing so, she was able to make essential improvements to the film. Despite having the constant love and support of her husband, Ken Gruberman, who helped keep her going for much of the way, she didn’t anticipate that meeting Yehudit Sidikman, co-founder and CEO of El HaLev, in NYC in 2008 would lead to an exciting and inspiring partnership that would catapult the film into its long awaited completion.
Throughout much of the process, Ellen attempted to recruit the help of friends and colleagues with only occasional success. In 2014, Yehudit offered a helping hand and signed on to promote the project in an inspiring partnership that she had been seeking all along. The partnership not only provided a base in which Ellen could finish the film, but also gave Yehudit a chance to use a new and dynamic medium to engage the Israeli population in the issue of self-defense and women’s empowerment. Her organization, El HaLev, is a nonprofit based in Jerusalem that provides self-defense and martial arts programming for personal empowerment and building safer communities, and is the Israeli ambassador of the women’s empowerment self-defense movement.
Like Ellen, Yehudit has spent decades making women’s self-defense her life’s work and believes full-heartedly in the immense impact its implementation can make for the betterment of women’s lives. With tears in her eyes, Ellen explains, “Most of the project I was running after people. Yehudit is one of those people who runs toward you.”
If you’d like to hear Ellen Snortland and Yehudit Sidikman speak about empowerment self-defense and enjoy the screening of Beauty Bites Beast the film in a festive evening of fundraising, please order your tickets today for the one-time-only Jerusalem Cinematheque event, March 28th, 2016.