At the end of last week's column, I noted that the Brattleboro-based Women's Film Festival was kicking off its 20th anniversary celebration. Two decades is a milestone for any event, but for a film festival it's truly a feat.
The logistics of mounting even a short festival call to mind the plate-spinning act of old vaudeville, and the fact that the WFF has carried on for so long without anything crashing down is a testament to the strength of its films and the dedication and commitment of its directors and audience alike.
To celebrate all this, the organizers have this year mounted an impressive, month-long affair peppered with visits from filmmakers, panel discussions and Q&A sessions, and family events that help connect the film world to everyday life. For an in-depth schedule and screening locations—many films will screen several times—visit www.womensfilmfestival.org; in the meantime, here are some highlights of the opening weekend.
Things get underway Friday with Women Without Men, Shirin Neshat's 2009 drama set in 1950s Iran. With the CIA backing a coup d'etat, four women from widely different backgrounds come together in the safety of an orchard, where they find an unexpected sense of companionship during a tumultuous time. And from Switzerland, the delightfully titled documentary The Woman With The Five Elephants paints a picture of Svetlana Geier, one of the great translators of Russian literature (the title refers to Dostoyevsky's five major works, which Geier wrestled into German) and a woman with a complicated relationship to Nazi Germany.
Saturday brings Dorota Kedzierzawska's 2007 film Time To Die, a festival favorite from 2008—as part of the anniversary celebration, the organizers are bringing back hits from past years for a kind of victory lap. It's followed up by the documentary Pink Saris, a U.K./India co-production about the "Pink Gang," a fascinating look at feminist activism in northern India, where Sampat Pal Devi and her crew are fighting violence against women. The day wraps up with My Queen Karo, a poetic but plainspoken drama about communal life in 1970s Amsterdam—where a family struggles to balance their idealism with the reality of raising a child.
If you're not exhausted come Sunday, head out for a mini-festival of documentaries. Included in the lineup are films about writer and activist Grace Paley, abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell, assassinated Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, and Marion Stoddart, an "ordinary housewife" whose fight to clean up the Nashua River led to the passage of the Massachusetts Clean Rivers Act, a United Nations award, and a profile in National Geographic.
Also this week: Amherst Cinema celebrates an anniversary of its own on March 12, when it plays host to Academy Award-winning writer/director Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side, 2008) as part of its annual fundraising gala to commemorate the theater's opening weekend. Executive director Carol Johnson notes that the theater is "thrilled" to have Gibney in town, and that the filmmaker, also known for documentaries about the Enron and Eliot Spitzer scandals, has a long history of support for small and independent theaters. For more information, visit amherstcinema.org. If on the other hand you just want to see a movie, the genre-bending Kaboom opens Friday at Pleasant Street Theater. A word of warning: Gregg Araki's film is frankly, enthusiastically sexual, and while it won't be for everyone, it's a heck of a ride.
And finally this week, Shelburne Falls' Pothole Pictures brings back an annual event: The BBRRDDEFSFFF, aka The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Daffy Duck Elmer Fudd Shelburne Falls Film Festival, aka The Looney Tunes Cartoon Festival. In short: an hour and a half of some of the greatest cartoons of all time, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 'Nuff said."
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.