State of the Arts
Where can you go to see films whose settings range from a Cameroon courtroom helmed by women to a basketball court where the "ladies" of Rutgers University battle for the NCAA Championship? Where themes range from procreation to exploitation to recreation? If you're up for a drive, the answer is Brattleboro's 17-year-old Women's Film Festival.
This fundraiser for the Women's Crisis Center of Windham County offers 27 films, "almost all made by women, about women," according to its press release. "Visions and Voices," an art exhibition running concurrently at the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery, features the work of local female artists and a silent auction.
The fest gives Vermonters a chance to see a couple of 2005 documentaries that screened to considerable acclaim elsewhere. Heather Lyn MacDonald's Been Rich All My Life profiles the tap-dancing Silver Belles, who were Harlem chorus girls in the 1930s and still perform together today, in their golden years. Miched X. Peled's China Blue, filmed covertly in a Chinese blue-jeans factory where young girls toil for pennies, will be accompanied by a panel discussion on child labor practices. Richard Brody of The New Yorker called the film a "didactic yet revelatory documentary" that reveals the realities of "[u]npaid overtime, sleep deprivation from mandatory round-the-clock shifts, arbitary fines, and Draconian rules" in the places that make our jeans.
Former governor and current University of Vermont professor Madeleine Kunin will introduce the film Be Fruitful and Multiply on March 17. Shosh Shlam's doc is about four ultra-Orthodox Jewish women who live out the Biblical command. Other films at the festival that explore cultural faultlines include Linda & Ali: Two Worlds Within Four Walls, about an American woman married to a traditional Muslim; and Me and the Mosque, Canadian Zarqa Nawaz's "Michael Moore style" investigation of women in Islam.
Closer-to-home filmmakers are represented at the festival as well. Charlotte artist Eleanor Lanahan's short animated film Naked Hitch-Hiker will be shown several times. Positive Profiles in Courage is a 45-minute documentary about five Vermont women living with AIDS or HIV. Produced by the nonprofit Twin States Network, it will screen on March 10.
Local filmmakers Lisa Merton and Alan Dater, of Marlboro Productions, will be on hand for a special preview of their documentary Roots of Change. It traces the life of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan woman who founded the Green Belt movement. She won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her 30-year work organizing women to plant trees, a project that helped promote democracy in Kenya.
The festival is dominated by documentaries, many with sober, topical themes. Fiction films are less common here. But they range from the ascetic - Gypo, "the UK's first certified Dogme 95 film" - to irreverent fare such as Jennie Livingston's Who's the Top, billed as "a fantastical lesbian S&M musical-comedy(!)."
In short, fans of indie, offbeat and politically engaged film will find plenty here to tide them over until Montpelier's Green Mountain Film Festival , coming up on March 16.
The 2007 Women's Film Festival screens at three theaters in Brattleboro, March 9 through March 18. $8 per film. Info, http://www.womensfilmfestival.org  or 258-9100.