Festival celebrates women in film

D.C. was host to hundreds of women filmmakers last week as the Women in Film and Video International Festival ’97 swept through area theaters.

The nine-day festival included more than a dozen screenings of feature films, short films and documentaries – all written, produced, and/or directed by women.

Featured works ranged from Escape, a gritty documentary about one man’s escape from a brutal Hungarian slave-labor camp after WWII, to The Woman in the Moon, a visually stunning feature about the adventures of three women on a yoga retreat in Arizona. The festival proved women are a powerful and creative force in contemporary films.

Early Saturday morning Oct. 25, the festival presented “Raising Your Cinematic Voice: A Directors’ Forum” in Funger Hall. The forum, co-sponsored by GW’s Women’s Studies Department, was a rare opportunity for filmmakers to share their experiences and give advice to other women.

The panel included many talented women from varying backgrounds. All were eager to share their knowledge of the industry and their experiences. The forum was moderated by Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and chair of the Film Studies program at Wesleyan University.

The panelists discussed education, creativity and financing in the three-hour forum. Most of the filmmakers put up their own money to finance their films. The co-writers/producers/directors of the documentary A Leap of Faith, Jenifer McShane and Tricia Regan, are still paying off the loans they took out for their film, which was released two years ago.

Most of the panelists said they did not plan to become filmmakers. The writer/producer/director of The Woman in the Moon, Ariadne Kimberly, was studying photography at Williams College when a professor said her shots looked like film stills. On a whim, she decided to make a short film.

“I basically taught myself,” she said. “I bought a book called The Independent Filmmaking Book and watched movies all the time.”

Christine Choy, director of NYU’s Graduate Film and Television Department in the Tisch School of the Arts, has made more than 50 award-winning documentaries. She advocates not only formal film training, but also patience.

“You have to experience life before you can make a film,” she said. “Give yourself 10 years, observe life, write it all down, and then apply it.”

An hour was left at the end of the forum for questions and comments from the audience. The most inspiring comment came from a 17-year-old high school senior, who expressed her admiration for the panelists and asked them for a few words of wisdom. She could not have received a more encouraging response.

“A few years ago Jenifer and I were at a conference like this, wondering how we could ever do it, and now here we are,” Regan said. “You really are just a couple of years away from your own film.”

Basinger remarked on the diversity of the films made among the panelists and the devotion all possessed for the craft. “It is clear that women don’t just make one kind of film. Despite the odds against them, they have managed to be successful and support each other.”

The forum concluded with each panelist discussing their current and future projects. The festival concluded Oct. 26 at the American Film Institute with the screening of McShane and Regan’s A Leap of Faith, which examines the first Protestant-Catholic integrated school in Northern Ireland.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.