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Arts & Culture

San Diego Women's Film Festival

Although SDWFF is only five years years old, it is the longest running womens film festival in Southern California, which is great for the festival but just goes to show how much more attention and support women filmmakers could use. SDWFF was founded by Renee Herrell with the goal of providing a venue for women filmmakers and a means of countering media stereotypes about women. Herrell worked with young girls in programs like the Girl Scouts and she wanted to offer them positive and empowering images of women, something that wasn't always available in the mainstream media.

The first year SDWFF had a mere 25 entries from which to program the event. This year it received 400 submissions from 22 countries. That shows that not only are there more films to choose from but more diversity among the submitted films. It also shows that women are increasing their numbers behind the scenes around the globe. This year there were 4 major features directed by women that the festival was considering for opening night, two from foreign countries. Thats very positive for both the festival and women artists in general. The film they finally went with for their Friday opening night feature is Partibha Parmer's Nina's Heavenly Delights . In addition to Ninas Heavenly Delights, the films that were up for consideration at one time or another were August Rush, Across the Universe and Persepolis all by women filmmakers. That's rare and exciting to see that many films by women filmmakers up for release in just one quarter. There are also more than a handful of women directors now whose names mean something at the box office and with audiencesSofia Coppola, Mira Nair, Julie Taymor being the most noteworthy.

Nina's Heavenly Delights is being promoted as "a surprising love story where Scottish humour meets Bollywood spectacle!" Nina (Shelley Conn) is a young Scottish-Asian woman who had left home years ago after a fight with her father. When he dies suddenly, Nina returns and finds herself in the middle of a curry competition at the family restaurant.

Suzan Pitt: Persistence of Vision (Suzan Pitt)

As in years past, I served on the film selection committee for the festival and worked with a panel of dedicated judges and with the festival co-director and curator Jennifer Hsu to narrow down the 400 submissions to about 60 titles. Two of my favorites are documentaries. Blue Kraning and Laura Kranings Suzan Pitt: Persistence of Vision and Celia Careys Mr. Dial Has Something to Say . Both look at the artist and the artistic process. Suzan Pitt is an amazing filmmaker in her own right and the documentary looks at the process by which she creates her incredible animated films. There is a very tactile quality to her work. She hand draws images then wrinkles them, stains them irons them and photographs them. She has also animates in sand. Each of her works takes years to produce but the results are worth it. The Dimensionality in her animated images is something that can never be achieved with digital animation. Her dedication to her craft and her works of art are amazing. She has lived in Mexico and her work has a magic realism to it as well as an appreciation for Mexican culture. The Kranings' film is a beautiful portrait of an artist, her craft and her sources of inspiration.

Artist Thornton Dial in Mr. Dial has Something to Say (APTV)

Mr. Dial is about not only the artistic process but also about the struggle artists face to get their work shown. It focuses on African American artist Thornton Dial and how his work has been marginalized by the mainstream art world. The filmmaker sees the label of "folk artist" as a demeaning one in this context. Carey's film asks a lot of questions about art: Has Afro-American improvisational visual art been disregarded by the mainstream art world as less important? Have terms such as outsider, visionary, primitive, folk, self-taught, and naveall of which have been applied to this particular styledowngraded the importance of this art? Are works produced by artists who never received formal training equal in dollar value to pieces created by talent honed in art classes? On a more fundamental level, what is art, where is it born, and who decides what is great art? Her film cannot possibly answer all these questions but the asking is important, and she provokes viewers to consider their own opinions as they are afforded the opportunity to see Dial's work close up.

Kill John Wayne (Vivian Wong)

I also love a pair of very different short animated films. Anny Slaters hilarious Barney the Terrier and Vivian Wongs politically provocative Kill John Wayne . There are also special youth programs featuring works by and for teen girls. The San Diego Womens Film Foundation, which oversees the festival, also runs a program called Divas Direct, which trains young girls to make films. So SDWFF is not just showcasing women filmmakers but also helping to create an environment that provides both inspiration and practical skills to young women so that they can become filmmakers.

When asked why it's important to have a women's film festival, I always say it's because it's good to highlight diversity. Women filmmakers are a minority in the film industry and until the idea of a woman filmmaker is no longer a novelty, we need events like this to showcase their works. But what's also important is to highlight the diversity within this communiy of artists as well. I think its important that audiences not stereotype women films as either chick flicks or feminist diatribes. Women filmmakers are capable of making a full range of films, some of which dont deal overtly with womens issues at all, like the delightfully titled, Ode to the Eyebrow. These women artists are also dealing with global issues but from a female perspective. Take the Middle East, the festival will showcase Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers side by side as they look to the conflict there. There's also Casheamelo that looks at an immigrant's trouble in cashing a check. And there are even some women working in genre fare, check out Mae Catt's Ghost of Ana Maria Garcia.

SDWFF's closing night film, Inner Circle Line (Green Finch Pictures)

In addition to the films, festival goers can enjoy an opening night party, lunch with young filmmakers, and discussions with the filmmakers after selected screenings. Filmmakers are often there at screenings and there's an interactivity at festivals that you cant find in a movie theater or by watching films at home. Its energizing to see a film you love or that you hate, and then be able to talk to the filmmaker or to others in the audience who were also affected by what they saw. You will also get to see short films and documentaries that are often brilliant but which do not have a venue outside of festivals at which to be screened.

The San Diego Women Film Foundation's mission statement is to empower, promote and mentor young women and women filmmakers by developing opportunities to expose the art of filmmaking and to tell women's stories to broad and diverse audiences. The festival provides a venue for womens voices to be heard and showcased.

The San Diego Womens Film Festival kicks off today with their opening night feature Ninas Heavenly Delight screening Friday and on Sunday the closing night film is a US-Korean work by Eunhee Cho called Inner Circle Line about a man and a woman who share the same name and whose lives intersect. Both films screen at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. The Festival runs through Sunday. For more information visit their website at www.sdwff.org. -----

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