Women's Freedom Center: Films by women, and inspiration for all

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March is Women's History Month, and we're happy this year to celebrate some colorful history of our own: The 25th Annual Women's Film Festival is happening March 11 through 20 in Brattleboro.

This beloved fundraiser for the Women's Freedom Center features 38 films by women from around the world, telling women's and girls' own unforgettable stories with sensitivity and depth. Indeed for a quarter century now, the festival has offered such a liberating shift from mainstream movie portrayals that it's worth making time both weekends for a rare cinema feast.

To start off this festival in particular, and honor women in general, we invite you to our sparkling Opening Night Gala on March 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the New England Youth Theater. The evening begins with a reception of champagne and hors d'oeuvres, followed by a screening of the film "Mavis!" a celebration of the extraordinary Mavis Staples. Her family group, the Staples Singers, inspired millions and helped propel the civil rights movement with their music. After 60 years of performing, legendary singer Mavis Staples' message of love and equality is needed now more than ever. Tickets can be bought online at womensfilmfestival.org, or you can call us at 802-257-7364. Come dressed in whatever makes you feel fabulous, and share in this special night!

Trailers for all films are on our website, so you can select your own movie marathon throughout the festival. A few highlights include the Oscar-nominated "Mustang," a stunning film about five sisters in rural Turkey who resist losing their freedoms in a story which blends laughter and tears; "Something Better to Come," is a powerful documentary by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Hanna Polak, which follows an incredibly resilient Russian girl whose home is the largest garbage dump in Europe; "Olmo and the Seagull" is a poetic dive into an actress's mind during her pregnancy as she confronts her most fiery inner demons to rewrite a new philosophy of life, identity and love.

As always, the vibrant spirit of this festival also exposes a persistent gap: Between the great quality of each film, yet great inequality of the film industry, and our culture itself. Most people are surprised to learn that in spite of all the progress women have made, fewer are actually working as directors today than 20 years ago, according to the ACLU; on average, they accounted for less than 5 percent of directors of top films. And yet women do graduate from film schools in almost equals numbers now, but continue to be systematically discouraged, not given the same opportunities, and so kept out of the ranks of this old-guard industry, which is still overwhelmingly male, and white, and straight.

But unless you've sat through all the credits over the past few decades, you might not realize the extent of the disparity in who's actually shaping the stories we're all shown, and the entire creative process: according to a long-term study by the Women's Media Center, "as the prestige of the producing post increased, the percentage of female participation decreased." This dramatically affects content too, creating the whole cultural backdrop for what women and girls experience every day; research shows that female characters with speaking roles are still about four times more likely to be hypersexualized in a male-made film than male characters are.

The bottom line of course is that women deserve to tell their own stories, and we all deserve to see women and girls treated as whole and complex human beings on screen. This is an inspiring festival for everyone, and we look forward to seeing you at the movies.

The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at Women's Freedom Center and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.


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