Women With Vision: Fearless female filmmakers at the Walker

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From March 6-21, the Walker Art Center presents the 16th annual Women With Vision Film Festival—showcasing female filmmakers from Holland to Iran to Minneapolis with award-winning documentaries, feature-length fiction films, shorts, and even a 3-D movie.

“One thing about an annual festival,” says Sheryl Mosley, the festival’s curator, “is that I get to see what women are thinking about—the zeitgeist of collective thinking. Women are concerned about our daily life being thrown into chaos because of situations. The politics of our times makes things so disjointed, and we’re trying to find our human connections. I didn’t set out with these themes in mind. That’s what came to us from filmmakers around the world.”

women with vision, march 6-21, walker art center, 1750 hennepin ave., minneapolis. admission $8. for a complete schedule, see walkerart.org. hear conversations with curator sheryl mosley and minneapolis filmmaker anne follett on fridays in march at 11 a.m. on kfai. (programs archived online for two weeks after broadcast.)

The festival opens with Treeless Mountain (March 6, 7:30 p.m.), a film about two young sisters whose mother has left to find work. Director So Young Kim, who immigrated to Los Angeles from South Korea when she was 12, drew on her own childhood memories of loss to make this moving film that perfectly captures children’s view of a huge world. Kim’s first feature, Between Days, swept many festivals’ awards. Kim will be at the Walker to introduce her film.

One of the best dramatic films I’ve seen recently is Katia’s Sister, (March 20, 7:30 p.m.), which also looks at relationships among mothers, daughters, and sisters. Russian emigrants migrate to Holland, but face tough economic times, leading the mother into prostitution and 17-year-old Katia to dance at a strip club. Katia’s 12-year-old sister flounders, often alone. Their feelings of love, competition, and longing are beautifully rendered. Director Mijke de Jong refrains from sensationalism. Katia’s Sister won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival.

Women’s view of war is explored in two films.

Sari Soldiers (March 14, 2 p.m.)—directed by Julie Brigman, who spent three years in Nepal—looks at Nepal’s civil war through the eyes of six very different women: a human rights lawyer, her client searching for the fate of her “disappeared” daughter, a village elder who supports the monarchy, a Maoist guerrilla, a soldier in the Royal Army, and a student activist in the pro-democracy movement. This extraordinary film reaches new depths in looking at such troubling conflicts.

An equally powerful fictional feature, Snow (March 21, 7:30 p.m.), looks at a small Bosnian village of mostly women and children in the former Yugoslavia, trying to rebuild amid the rubble of war. Pastoral beauty contrasts with the stark pain of missing husbands, fathers, and sons. Subtle tensions rise as the villagers face a business offer from former enemies, and the film’s ending packs a punch to the gut.

“After war, how do you form a new community?” asks Mosley. “When you take this universal story and place it in a conflict anywhere in the world, how do you mend? We can look at what’s going to happen in other places—like Iraq—and ask, what’s going to happen when we try to rebuild?”

God’s Offices (March 14, 7:30 p.m.) is a refreshing look at women’s reproductive rights and conflicts. French director Claire Simon cast well-known actors as the workers in a family planning clinic and non-actors as the girls and women coming their with unplanned pregnancies or to get contraceptives. The result is a fictional film that evokes a documentary-like reality. Suburban high school girls coming to the city alone, North African immigrant mothers, a Muslim couple, parents with a pregnant daughter and a middle-aged woman reveal a more complex look at contraceptives and unplanned pregnancy than, say, Juno.

Can a film of conversations with contemporary philosophers hold your attention for 90 minutes? Astra Taylor’s Examined Life (March 13, 7:30 p.m.) is an engaging series of walks with nine brilliant minds contemplating some of the most profound questions of our times. Peter Singer, who’s been called “the father of the animal rights movement,” meditates on consumerism as he passes the expensive stores of New York’s 5th Avenue. Feminists Judith Butler and Sunsara Taylor (in a wheelchair) traverse San Fransisco streets contemplating physical disability and the human reality of living in a body—especially a female or trans-gendered body—and its implications for our freedom. Kwame Anthony Appiah, a Ghanese-American who grew up in London, talks about globalization. These provocative exchanges are linked by recurring conversations with a national treasure, African-American activist/scholar Cornel West, who alone would be worth the price of the ticket. West artfully weaves together Socrates, America’s democratic creed, the blues, and more. Taylor will be present to continue the conversation in person after the screening.

The 1960s anti-war movement and counter-culture are compared to today’s opposition to invading Iraq in a re-examination (and 2006 re-mounting) of a breakthrough Broadway hit in Hair: Let the Sunshine In (March 19, 7:30 p.m.). The documentary features archival footage and interviews with the plays’ creators and original actors. Directors Wolfgang Held and Pola Rapaport occasionally fall into nostalgia, but mostly hit their notes with perfect pitch.

Minneapolis filmmaker Ann Follett documents the 1998 cross-cultural struggle to stop Highway 55 and save Coldwater Creek in Stop the Re-Route: Saving Sacred Land (March 21, 2 p.m.).

See the sun like you’ve never seen it before in 3-D Sun (March 6-March 8, screening every half hour), made from NASA films. The film’s co-director Melissa Butts talks about this awe-inspiring experience on March 7 at 4 p.m. “We’ve all seen those solar flares,” says Mosley, “but in 3D, they come right at you!”

Agnes Varda, pioneer of New Wave Cinema, celebrated her 80th birthday by making a lyrical autobiography, The Beaches of Agnes (March 7, 7:30 p.m.). Fancifully, she uses photographs, home movies, and marvelous clips of her films from her earliest shorts to Vagabond to present an utterly delightful look at a female artist’s life. The threads linking the chapters of her life are beaches she’s loved from her native Belgium to California, with magical opening and closing shots.

Unlike her husband, fellow New Wave director Jaques Demy, Varda is too often absent from histories of cinema. “Varda was sometimes called ‘the only woman in the New Wave’ or “the woman invited to be in the New Wave,'” says Mosley. “She was always on the second tier. Women filmmakers still don’t get recognition.”

The Walker aims to pre-empt forgetting of the late Ana Mendieta with the debut screening of the Cuban-American’s Super 8 films, Earth Body (March 10-21, screening continuously). This is a rare chance to see the cinematic work of a multidisciplinary artist whose photographs have been widely exhibited; Mendieta often filmed her own body as both lived experience and metaphor. Olga Viso, Walker’s director, just published a monograph on Medieta’s work and gives a free talk at MCAD on March 18 at 1 p.m.

Mosley notes that short films are a format in which women filmmakers shine, and find wide distribution on the Internet. A short film showcase is a great way to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8, 1 p.m.).

There are stories Hollywood doesn’t tell, or distorts or oversimplifies. This festival shows what women can do when they get access to a camera and the money to realize their visions.

Lydia Howell (lhowell@visi.com), a winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism, is a Minneapolis independent journalist writing for various newspapers and online journals. She produces and hosts Catalyst: politics & culture on KFAI Radio on Fridays at 11 a.m.

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