This year’s Oscars had a hard time finding strong enough roles by women to fill the five nominations for Best Actress. But, the 13th annual Women with Vision Film Festival curated and hosted by Walker Art Center has a wealth of wonderful female characters (both fictional and true) from around the world.
“We found two things going on all around the world —India, Cameroon, Iran, Tibet: women telling stories, voicing their oppressions, confronting silence with loud voices of concern,” observes Sheryl Mousley, Film Curator at the Walker.
Part of the pleasure of this year’s festival is to see bold women from unexpected places—like Iran. One Night (Yek Shab), is the directorial debut by Niki Karimi, who is an established film actress in Iran. A teenager is told (yet again) to spend the night at a friend’s house, so her mother can enjoy her boyfriend’s company. Instead, the young woman embarks on a night of adventures hitchiking across the capitol city Tehren, meeting three very different men.
“It looks at the relationships between men and women and other issues. It really shows the possbility of freedom, “Mousley says. “We don’t know the subtleties of what’s going on in the family and the realities for women in Iran.”
One Night screens, Sat. Mar.11, 6pm.
Another bid for female freedom comes from Cameroon, in Africa, in the documentary Sisters In Law. In a small town, two women in the legal professin (a judge and a prosecutor) shake things up. No man has been even charged with domestic violence there in 17 years–although it’s obvious that there are battered women.
“It’s a kind of Judge Judy…They’re bold, telling men what to do,
saying what the honorable thing is. Really putting the law into
action!,” Mousley says with obvious relish. “It’s Islamic law so there’s that challenge and this is a film that will inspire discussion. We’re having Nyango Melissa Naubangi, Executive Director of the Minnesota African Women’s Association there to lead that discussion.”
Sisters In Law screens Thursday, Mar. 9, 7 pm and it’s free.
There are works by Minnesota film-makers, mostly shorts and experimentals. But, one documentary really stands out: Moving in a Mirror. Director Joanna Kohler follows a high school friend to Jerusalem where the young activist works for peace. You can hear an interview with Kohler on KFAI Tues. Mar.,7, 11am on “Catalyst”. It’s a rebroadcast from KFAI News/MOVIE TALK hosted by Jennifer Nemo.(KFAI 90.3fm Mpls 106.7fm St Paul archived for two weeks at www.kfai.org)
Sat. Mar.11, 3pm: Moving in a Mirror
A highlight of this year’s Women With Vision festival is the chance to see the complete “elemental triology” of films by India’s feminsit
film-maker Deepah Mehta.
Fire>(1996) is the first film to take on the subject of Lesbianism in India and got Mehta death threats. Inevitably, current audiences will compare the film to this year’s surpprise hit and Oscar nominee Brokeback Mountain (a film I liked very much). Both films deal with ‘forbidden love’ and the tensions between social duty and individual happiness, in the context of emrging same-sex love. But, that’s where the similarities end.
Fire has a kind of complexity that Brokeback never quite reached. Partly this is due to the cultural differnces. Set in contemporary India, Fire is as much about gender roles as it is about lesbian love. Both women are married when they meet–as sisters-in-law. Radha has been “a good wife” for 15 years—13 of them celibate, as her husband pursues his spiritual life through “resisting all desire”. Sita (who seems to be around 19 or 20 years old) has just married Radha’s brother-in-law –who’s more interested in being with his mistress. Radha and Sita spend their days running the family resturant, caring for their elder mother-in-law (silenced by a stroke) and coming to care about each other. Mehta realy delves into all the characters’ lives.
Mehta artfully interweaves Hindu religious stories as counterpoints to her characters’ struggles. There’s definitly a subtext which trancends same-sex love: How do human beings handle desire? Does one succumb to it without any restraint or sense of consequence to others? Does one reject
all desire as “evil”? Or is there a “middle path”–that is, can desire (in all its senses)be balanced with duty to others and responsiblity towards one’s self? Unlike Brokeback, Mehta directly takes on gender in these questions.
“These two women find each other in the purest way, falling in love…It’s truely magical in the way all the elements of family, relgiion, tradition–all swirking around in this maginal story.” Mousley enthuses.
Sun.Mar,5, 2pm: Desire by Deepha Mehta
Mehta’s Earth is an epic tale set in 1949 during the changeover of India from British colonialism to independence.There’s all this religious strife and political complications of what that means,” Mousely says of the second film in Mehta’s trilogy.”We can see a parallel with what Iraq is going through today.”
Earth (1999) takes on these big “political” issues by beautifully grounding them in personal relationships in a circle of riends from diverse religious/ethnic backgrounds. While the frineds vow to not be torn apart by the prejudices storming all arund them (and there’s even a mixed religios couple who fall in love), none of them are left untouched by their country’s turmoil.
Sun. Mar.12, 2pm: Earth
Finally, Mehta’s last film Water (2005) closes out the festival.Set in the 1930s, in an ashram for widows, the film merges the politcal and the personal. By Hindu custom, a widow is banished from society to ‘repent her sins that caused her husband’s death”—even if thta widow is an 8-year-old child bride. At the same time that we see a group of widows dealing with their fate, Gandhi is emerging from prison to make his ‘freedom walk” across India. Deepha Mehta will spoeak after this screening.
Sun. Mar.19th:8 pm: Water with Deepa Mehta speaking.
Mousley has chosen a series of films within this year’s festival, Blacklisted, that looks at Hollywood films of the 1940s and ’50s that were touched by the Red Scare and McCarthyism. For those too young to remember, this was an era of the emergence of the Cold War and Congress’ witch-hunt for Communists, led by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy (who’s name is now attached to this sort of censorship). Those labled as Communists were fired and banned from working in the government. teaching and the movie industry. The films in Blacklisted feature female screenwriters and actresses who’s careers were destroyed by the Red Scare.
“We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of saing ‘Oh, we’ll never have another McCarthy period in America, again!’ Maybe,we thought that for the last 20 years, but, now it’s very clear that having many of our civil liberties eroded, we could go back to this,” Mousley declares. “We need to keep in mind what happended in the past, be vigilant and see how it could happen again.”
There’s the glorious light and shadows of film noir in this series with some fun films: Mary Ryan: Detective, whose star, Marsha Hunt, felt the ire of the Hollywood blacklist when she protested other artists’ persecution. Escape is William Wyler’s 1940 anti-Nazi film–one of the first to oppose Hitler and “investigated as pro-war propaganda”. (It should be rmembered that until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7,1941, most Americans were isolationsists who did not want U.S. involvement in the war.)
The Locket (1946) is an esecially enjoyable example of film noir. It’s “femme fatal” lures men with vulnerability more than being a vixen. (You get to see early Robert Mitchum, too!) A psycholigical thriller, it’s surprisingly sophisticted and has inventive flashback editing, created by blacklisted screenwriter Norma Barzman. You can meet Norma Barzman and hear her talk about her memoir The Red and the Blacklisted after the screening.
Sat. Mar. 18, 3 pm: The Locket, with screenwriter Norma Barzman speaking.
Women with Vision is a marvelous antidote to the one-diensional wives or sexy scenery girlfriends that the vast majority of female roles still tend to be in Hollywood movies.There’s a magnificient range of fiction and documentary
Hear Sheryl Mousley talk about the festival on Tues. Mar.7,11am, on “Catalyst” on KFAI, 90.3fm Mpls 106.7fm St Paul archived www.kfai.org.
With tickets to screenings, there’s also some opportunities to see other Walker exhibits and go on museum tours. These are just some of my personal favorites from this year’s Women with Vision. For complete schedule: http://www.walkerart.org or call the box office (612)375-7600
Walker Art Center is at 1750 Hennipin Ave., next to the Sculpture Garder, near downtown Minneapolis.