Film Festival: Celebrating the creative power of women

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BRATTLEBORO - Shari of the Women's Freedom Center said to "come hungry" for this year's Women's Film Festival Opening Night Gala at the New England Youth Center, kicking off nine days of feature films and shorts by and about women from all around the world. The gala opens with a champagne reception, then hors d'oeuvres and desserts created by local female culinary artists. This tribute to women chefs is complemented by the screening of the spirited feel-good film "The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution," that highlights the talents of seven female chefs navigating a high-pressure, male-dominated industry. Come casual or all dressed up! Tickets for the gala on March 22 at 7 p.m. are $40.

"We highlight women behind the camera. For all the progress women have made in the film industry, they still only make 10 percent of the films," said Shari (the Women's Freedom Center does not use last names). "Even though just as many women graduate from filmmaking schools as men they don't get the opportunity and funding to produce films. Women have been watching men's films, it's time men watch women's films too."

This is the 28th annual WFF celebrating the creative power of women with 35 films that inspire both men and women. Aislin, WFC's development coordinator said that WFF exists to excite people and to raise money for the work of the WFC, a non-profit domestic and sexual violence organization providing shelter, advocacy and support to southeastern Vermont for over 45 years.

The center's work for the festival is to help "unpack the gender box" by welcoming films that bring a different lens, Shari said. These films provide a megaphone for justice for women and girls around the world on the arts, friendship, activism, sports, lesbian/queer lives, motherhood, gender roles, religion, fashion, radium, romance - films that have an impact on our culture.

Women from all walks of life tell stories from their vantage point where female characters aren't hyper-sexualized like those in most male-driven movies sending body images impossible to live up to. These films are more real, respect women, and need to be seen, organizers say. Of the 200 plus features and shorts that are submitted, this year's choices have been narrowed down to present a range of subject matter that travels the globe and time. From "Radium Girls" when radium was sold as a cure-all miracle potion and a group of factory workers in New Jersey in the 1920s advocated for safer work conditions, to a more recent setting in "Rafihi," a film that was not allowed to be shown in Kenya where homosexuality is illegal because of its content stirred enough international pressure to cause a two-week lift on the ban of the film so it could be shown.

Other highlights include "On Her Shoulders" that follows Nobel-Peace prize winner, 23-year-old Nadia Murad, who survived the 2014 genocide of the Yazidis in Northern Iraq and escaped the hands of ISIS to become a relentless beacon of hope for her people. "Yellow is Forbidden" is a modern-day Cinderella story where the brave, diminutive and daring heroine's dream doesn't end at the ball chasing every designer's fantasy to become part of the exclusive yet savage world of Haute Couture. "Netizens" follows three women who are targets of cyber harassment, along with advocates, legal experts, and others, as they confront digital abuse and strive for equality and justice online.

Issues that continue to exist are approached like "My Big White Thighs & Me," a true story that pushes back at stereotypes in a short that is poignant, fun, endearing and honest from a female perspective that both genders can relate to, as well as controversial freedoms now at risk like that in "Ask for Jane," based on a true story in 1969 when abortion was punishable by prison. Shari describes these films as an activist's booster shot to watch.

"The Great Unknown" takes on the subject of miscarriage and loss in a way that is relatable for both genders. A brief Q&A with director and star Desiree Matthews will follow the showing.

Many of these films go on to the Cannes Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival, debunking the notion that only men's films are of interest.

Amazingly, 100 years ago women had a much more involved role in filmmaking, until big Hollywood took over and masculinized the film industry, squeezing women out of funding. In 2017 only 7 percent were directors, but there is promising information that women's film festivals are making a difference. Female leads have risen from 11 to 40 percent and by keeping Hollywood under a microscope, activism is having an impact. If these films aren't being made, the conversation isn't getting started.

Shari said it is great to show this amazing art and they couldn't do it without the support from the community. It is so important.

The featured chefs who have donated their time and energy for the opening gala are Patricia Austin of Wildflower Bakery; Erin Bevan of 4 Columns Inn; Britni Christiansen of Top Tier Baking Company; Caroline DiNicola Fawley of MamaSezz; Gretchen Hardy of The Porch; Tracey John of VT Country Deli; Sharon Myers of The Purple Chef, Sharon Myers Fine Catering; Leda Scheintaub of Dosa Kitchen; Cai Silver of Cai's Dim Sum Teahouse & Catering; Dar Tavernier-Singer of Tavernier Chocolates; and Jennifer Williams of Artisan Eats Vermont.

The sponsors are Chroma Technology, Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital, SIT, The Trust Company of Vermont, Thompson House, Brattleboro Area Hospice, Brattleboro Food Co-op, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Landmark College, Tracy Sloan, CPA, Windham Movement Apparel, Sobo Studios, Girls on the Run Vermont, VT Jazz Center, Brattleboro Women's Chorus, Green Mountain Crossroads, Southern Vermont AIDS Project, Gallery in the Woods, C&S Grocers, and The Commons.

Shari says there is truly something for everybody and a chance for men to show solidarity with the women in their lives.

Feature length films and shorts are paired, and screen from Friday, March 22, through Saturday, March 30, at New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat St. On March 23 the Saturday matinee films are children-friendly.

Tickets for individual films are $10/generous, $9/general admission, $8/students/seniors. A five-movie pass is available for $40 for the first time online at womensfilmfestival.org, and at Everyone's Books, 25 Elliot St. Individual tickets are available at the door.

For more information on this year's films, screening times visit womensfilmfestival.org or find Women's Freedom Center on Facebook.

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