Viewing life through a different lens

BRATTLEBORO — Frances McDormand won best actress for her role in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" at the Academy Awards last Sunday and used her acceptance speech as a platform to address inequity in the film industry. Acknowledging all of the women in the audience she said, "We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed," chiding executives in the audience, "Don't talk to us about it tonight (referring to the party afterwards), invite us to your office in the morning ... "

For 27 years the Women's Film Festival has been a platform for women to tell their own stories to a southern Vermont audience while serving as a major fundraiser for The Women's Freedom Center. Shari, an outreach advocate for the Center said, "What we have seen in the radical #MeToo movement is that a lot has been going on behind the scenes that is coming to the front. There is a similar reality still in the film industry for all the progress we have made as a culture, we have a long way to go in terms of diversity and equity."

Shari called the festival a double bonus because it raises money to help women in crisis and helps affirm these woman filmmakers, adding that this festival exists to shift norms for all survivors, witnesses, and concerned community members.

Unless you stay at the end of a movie and read the credits you may not be aware that most mainstream movies are being told from a white, straight, male point of view. Roughly 93 percent in fact, even though there is an even number of women and men graduating from filmmaking schools. Not that men don't make great movies — they do — but when women don't get to tell their own stories the lens of the film industry is skewed. Women get less than half of the speaking roles and they are often hyper-sexualized. This is beyond equal opportunity in the work place, it is about how we view women.

The context is different in films by women.

Every one of over 50 world-class documentaries, feature films and shorts screening in the festival portrays women as they really see themselves. Shari said that is what is so thrilling about these films.

"It's always a thrill to honor these women. Such phenomenal films coming from around the world," she said.

These films can often only be seen at Sundance Film Festival and many films shown here have gone on to receive awards and international acclaim. Films that are inspiration for all genders — stories about friendship, art, activism, history, sports, religion, romance, and more. New this year is a series of Shorts Programs with several screenings of exciting short films including an evening of Queer Shorts.

The festival traditionally opens with a gala and a film to kick things off. In a reflection of today's political climate, this year's theme is "revolution." Come dressed as your favorite revolutionary or activist from history, any gender, to the gala — or just pin a picture to your shirt — or come as your are, on March 9, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the New England Youth Theatre. Tickets for the gala are $30 and may be purchased at

The gala will begin with a reception of champagne, wine and hors d'oeuvres, followed by a screening of the film — "Left On Pearl." The film tells the story of a highly significant but little-known event in the history of the women's liberation movement, the 1971 takeover and occupation of a Harvard University-owned building by hundreds of Boston-area women. The 10-day occupation by women demanding a Women's Center and low income housing for the community is one of the few such takeovers by women for women, this action led directly to the establishment of the longest continuously operating Women's Center in the United States.

Other festival highlights include "La Chana," a high-voltage film about a talented Gypsy flamenco dancer as she returns to the stage to give a final seated performance after a 30-year break. This film is sure to set your feet tapping. If you recall Oprah's potent speech at the Golden Globes about the #MeToo movement she said, "Recy Taylor is a name we should all know." The WFF presents the unforgettable documentary, "The Rape of Recy Taylor." This film shines a light on a common reality for black women in the Jim Crow South in the '30s: racially motivated rape by white men. While the subject here is sobering, the film's treatment throughout is sensitive, eloquent, and deeply respectful. This film will be followed by a conversation with advocates from the Women's Freedom Center and audience members who would like to stay and join in. "The Peace Agency," is a subtitled Indonesia documentary on Lian Gogali and her 500 female students in the conflict-torn area of Poso, Indonesia. They are part of a powerful and successful movement for peace and justice in an area that has been racked by inter-religious violence for over a decade. SIT will facilitate a discussion afterwards. "The Diving Order" tells of a young housewife challenging the status quo by fighting for women's suffrage in 1971 Switzerland. She organizes the women of her town to petition for the right to vote. If you enjoyed "Fried Green Tomatoes" you will love this film. "Window Horses" tracks a mixed-race Canadian poet travels to a poetry festival in Iran and discovers her own voice while opening herself to those of others in this whimsical, animated film. It is an entertaining tale filled with stories and poetry. "Little Stones," is an award-winning documentary that unites the personal narratives of four women around the world using art to create positive change in their communities. Other films include "Big Sonia," about a 90-year-old Holocaust victim, a story of survival; "32 Pills: My Sister's Suicide," an emotional quest to understand her sister's life; "A Suitable Girl" focusing on the pressures to get married in India; "A Thousand Mothers," on growing up with Buddhist nuns; "JessZilla" documenting a young girl with hopes and dreams of becoming a boxer; "Lane 1974," a 13-year-old coming of age growing up in a northern California commune; and "Run Mama Run," Olympic-bound Sarah Brown unexpectedly becomes pregnant and wonders if she really can have it all. These are just a sampling of the full range of feelings that appeal to men and women.

The festival has been extended from two to three weeks this year, through March 25. WFF encourages men to support the festival also and stand in solidarity. As women's films garner more traction and easier access to funding the more moviegoers — men and women — will have to choose from. Ultimately, WFF's goal is to break from the status quo and give women filmmakers a louder voice.

Tickets for movies are $10 for sponsoring admission, $9 for general admission, and $8 for sponsored admission. A five-movie pass is available for $40. The passes may be purchased at Everyone's Books, 25 Elliot St.; at; or by calling the Women's Freedom Center at 802- 257-7364. The Women's Freedom Center is a non-profit domestic and sexual violence organization in southeastern Vermont.

All films are screening at the New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat St. Trailers, film details, tickets and schedule may be found at

Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261


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