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The San Diego Women Film Festival

The San Diego Women Film Festival, formerly the San Diego Girl Film Festival, enters its fourth year tonight with the San Diego premiere of

Come Early Morning

, The film marks the writing and directing debut of actress Joey Lauren Adams. The festival continues through Sunday with a selection of shorts, features, and documentaries playing at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Centro Cultural de la Raza.

When Sofia Coppola directed her first feature film The Virgin Suicides in 2000, some suggested either her father, Francis Ford Coppola, or her then husband and filmmaker Spike Jonze, must have been on the set to help her. She couldnt have possibly done it all by herself.

Its that kind of attitude that prompted Renee Herrell, founder of the San Diego Women Film Foundation (SDWFF), to launch the San Diego Girl Film Festival in 2003. I was really just looking at putting on a one-day event highlighting positive films and images of women, and celebrating women filmmakers, which there are too few of.

Sofia Coppola is one of those few women filmmakers providing a role model for a new generation of girls and women. Joey Lauren Adams, whose Come Early Morning is the festivals opening night feature, says, I think Sofia Coppola is a great example. I think young girls are going to grow up thinking, Oh I can do that. I decided to direct because the parts that were available were women not just me but other actresses that I really liked not getting to see them in roles that I found sort of gratifying or complex or real as I would like to see. I just realized that as an actor I wasnt going to be able to change that but as a writer and director I could.

This year Coppolas third film, Marie Antoinette will open in October, the same month that Herrells festival enters its fourth year. Re-christened the San Diego Women Film Festival to reflect its broadening goals, the event will be held at the Museum of Photographic Arts with a second venue added at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. This year the festival chose from more than two hundred entries from around the globe.

But Herrell recalls the festivals humble origins: The first year, we had a small number of entries, our VCR melted down, we had to stop films halfway through and my boyfriend John was the projectionist. Most of the films that first year were from San Diego filmmakers, and New Zealander Niki Caros film Whale Rider (about a young Maori girl) was shown on DVD after the film had had its theatrical run.

Last year the festival raised its profile with the San Diego premiere of Pride and Prejudice , which went on to win an Oscar nomination for star Keira Knightley. This year the festival kicks off October 5 with Come Early Morning , the writing and directing debut of actress Joey Lauren Adams (you probably remember her from her starring role in Kevin Smiths Chasing Amy ). Adams says that she doesnt think Hollywood has ever been really closed to women filmmakers but rather that the odds are just enormous against anyone making a film. As a first time director, she says the thing that surprised her the most were the politics, just dealing with the money versus the creativity, the art. I mean I get it its a business and I hope my investors get their money back but its always a sticky situation when you have commerce and art. The politics surprised me. You get so emotional and rightfully so. If you dont care about every word of the script, I dont know how you can make a movie. And you have to fight for it. You have to fight not just naturethe light, the rain, cloudsthen you have to deal with people and their different ideas.

Herrell, who serves as festival director as well as executive director of the SDWFF, is passionate about her goals of empowering young and grown women through positive media. Through the foundation, the festival and an after school program called Divas Direct, Herrell hopes to help create the next generation of young women filmmakers.

Herrells drive to run a film festival doesnt stem from a film background but rather from social consciousness: What really inspired me was volunteering in an after school program for young women in high school. Its kind of like a mentoring program, bringing in women from different careers and different backgrounds to speak to the girls so they have positive role models. So they could say, Oh I can see being that. Thats what really inspired me to show them films featuring women in a positive light.

Festival films are selected to counter media stereotypes of women being ultra-thin, beautiful and bubble-headed. Jennifer Hsu, the festivals assistant director, shares Herrells social consciousness but brings an artists perspective to the table.

Im personally looking to show work that tells stories that arent told enough in media, Hsu says, So its more important that the maker is a woman and that women tell stories about men, about children, about social justice issues and a lot of things that arent necessarily centered on women but that the point of view is distinctly feminine. And Im very much looking for artistic vision.

This year, Hsu has been struck by the fact that women filmmakers from around the world seem particularly focused right now on violence against women, violence emotionally, physically and sexually. I think as modern day empowered, educated women and feminists, we think these kinds of issues are on the decline. So its interesting for me to be seeing such a high percentage of the women and films being concerned with that as a contemporary problem not a historical one.

Hsu notes that theres an art to programming films for the festival. Films are grouped by themes, styles, moods or content into program blocks. Last year, you could find a program called You Look Fabulous, that examined womens relationship to their clothes. The program contained one of Hsus favorite films, Crack: The New Cleavage, a work by a young woman on a desperate search to find jeans that fit.

That film, says Hsu, balanced light hearted humor with an exploration into why stores only carry a certain kind of jean that are uncomfortable and fit a body type that very few women have.

Humor is something that some people may not expect from a festival driven by a socially conscious agenda. But Herrell says the festival is designed to be fun as well as enlightening. The festival also has to deal with the misconception that its a girls only club.

Its not surprising that 80% of our attendees are women, says Herrell, But men are very welcome and encouraged to come. I encourage men to come because the films are good regardless of the gender of the maker.

Similarly, Adams film deals with a woman protagonist but it is not just a chick flick. Its definitely a film about a woman and her relationship with her father, says Adams, and its probably something that more females can relate to, although I have had men come up to me in tears, having had similar issues with their fathers. The tag line they let me pick I think does say what the films about: Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. And thats what the film is really about. And that can apply to anyone.

In fact, whats great about the festival is its diversity. The makers may be predominantly female but the films come from every genre and from around the world. And maybe one day, Herrell hopes, the fact that they are women filmmakers wont be such a novelty.

Adams has this to say to the young women who may want to pursue careers in film: I knew rule number one was write about something you know and that immediately put me in Arkansas and the film just deals with emotions I was going through at the time and holes that I was trying to fill. But my advice to young women who make to make films is that it really is just a matter of believing that you can. There were times when I was writing that I thought who am I to be writing a script, I didnt go to film school. So you have to just keep going.

The Fourth Annual San Diego Women Film Festival kicks off October 5 at MoPA with a student film day, and runs through October 8 and is well worth checking out. Here are some titles to seek out: Is It True Blondes Have More Fun? (witty and succinct), Thick and Thin, The Insect Chorus (imaginative production design), Harvest Queens (satirical and compassionate) Curley's Diner, No!, Turtely and Palabra de Mujer: A Woman's Word . Plus the youth program features some fine work from talented young women and girls. For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit the website at www.sdwff.org.

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