Film

CinemaDope: Northern Exposure

A festival in Brattleboro

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Friday, March 09, 2012
Image Courtesy of Gkids/Lumafilms
Chico & Rita

It can be easy for Northamptonites and their neighbors to overlook the film offerings of the northern reaches of the Pioneer Valley. The Northampton area's cluster of high-profile colleges, coupled with a liberal art and music scene, have helped ensure that local cinemas will always have an audience for all kinds of film. While it's often the case that one must travel to Northampton or Amherst to see a certain new art film, the reverse is not so often true.

For those willing to dig a little deeper, though, there are delights to be had in all our Valley's towns and villages. I've written often about Pothole Pictures, which screens movies classic and new alike at Shelburne Falls' Memorial Hall (watch for their Fiddler On The Roof sing-along later this month) but this week the spotlight moves a bit further north: straight out of Massachusetts, in fact.

That's because right over the Vermont border in Brattleboro, the 21st annual Women's Film Festival is getting underway this week. With a wide range of features and short films—dramas, documentaries, and more—the festival will run from March 9 to 18, and screen over two dozen films over the course of its run. An added bonus: many of the screenings will take place in the town's stunning Latchis Theater, a jewel of Art Deco design and one of the area's most classic moviegoing experiences.

Kicking things off for opening weekend (March is Women's History Month) is a screening that has drawn strong interest from the local activist community. Miss Representation, screening at 4 p.m. on the 10th, is a new hour-and-a-half documentary that examines the seemingly stalled advance of the women's movement in national politics. With female representation in Congress at a 30-year low, it's a timely film. On hand for the show is Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, a national self-empowerment program for young women. Barker will introduce the film and lead a discussion after the screening.

Films come fast and furious after that, and the all-volunteer festival is a whirlwind until the closing curtain—this year, a documentary about the enduring work of primate researcher Jane Goodall. For a full schedule, visit womensfilmfestival.org; some of this week's selections are below.

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (March 9) offers a rare look at an American icon, capturing the vitality and vivacity of the woman whose personality is as big as her famous smile. By default, it's also an inside look at Broadway's most glamorous era. Following that screening is the documentary I Am A Girl. Director Susan Koenen's short film is a frank look at the beginning of a transgendered girl's foray into dating. Later in the weekend, filmgoers can catch Sex Crimes Unit—a real-life look at the work of the New York attorneys whose work is dramatized in any number of Law and Order serials)—and The Carrier, an intimate look at the life and pregnancy of Mutinta Mweemba, a Zambian woman whose family (including her unborn child) is threatened by the scourge of AIDS.

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Also this week: Back in Northampton, Pleasant Street Theater brings in Chico and Rita, nominated this year for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category (it lost to Rango). Set in late 1940s Cuba, it tells the story of a young piano player and the beautiful singer he falls in love with. As their musical ambitions and personal passions keep them in and out of love, the narrative charts half a century of their story. Filmmaker and music producer Fernando Trueba (Calle 54) sets their story against beautiful visuals from artist Javier Mariscal and animator Tono Errando, whose art serves to point up the sensuality and verve of the great Afro-Cuban musical history.

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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