by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
March 18, 2007
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- March is Woman's History Month - as though we don't have any history during the other eleven months - and it was somehow fitting that Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award for best director and best film at last Sunday's Oscars. That's the first Oscar given to a woman for directing, even though women - including Bigelow - have been directing films for years.
Despite all the changes in the status of women during my lifetime, it's an uncomfortable truth that many women, including myself, feel that no matter how successful they have become, they are always one step away from becoming a bag lady.
The fear gets tamped down with children and a loving husband and credit cards and bank accounts and a mortgage and a car and a career, but damn it, it's there. My cousin, an industrialist, e-mailed me: "Interesting that we share the bag lady nightmare. I have always had it. The terror of being old and broke."
And Karen Gehres, the director of "Begging Naked," which traces the life of a prostitute and artist from 1996 to her living (and still making art) while homeless in New York's Central Park, told me, "I can't tell you how many women have come up to me after screenings or contacted me and expressed the same fear of being homeless. There is no generational boundary."
No matter how far we've come, will women's vulnerability always be an issue? Or are we all, men and women, afraid of begging naked in the streets -and women express the fear more openly?
Gehres's film will not be part of the Women's Film Festival, which opens on Friday and runs through March 21st at various venues around Brattleboro, because the festival rights have expired. But of the films I've been privileged to preview, I can report that, as usual, they can be divided into several categories: outrage films (women as victims, already bag ladies of the mind); women fighting victimhood (refusing to go gentle into that good night); and artists who blithely make art despite the roadblocks.
Take victimhood. "About Face: The Story of Gwendellin Bradshaw" by Mary Katzke, is the story of a young woman who, as a baby, was thrown into a blazing campfire by her mentally ill mother. The mother then disappears. As you can well imagine, the daughter lives with many physical as well as emotional scars. The film follows her as she traces her mother and learns the ugly truth about what happened on that primal night.
For fighting victimhood, you can't beat "Rough Aunties" by Kim Longinotto, about a group of women in Durban, South Africa, who protect the poor and abused. It opens with an excruciating scene in which a shy young girl describes how she was raped by a neighbor. The way the Aunties have to fight to keep the rapist from once again living next door to his victim - well, it's not your standard episode of "Law & Order: SVU." Imagine that show, only with the authorities not giving a damn.
For rising above victimhood, see "65_REDROSES," by Philip Lyall and Nimisha Mukerji. It's an Internet love story of the best kind. Even though they're separated by borders and miles, three young women, all suffering from cystic fibrosis and all in need of lung transplants, find friendship and support through a Web site. We follow one of them, whose on-line name is 65_REDROSES (it sounds like cystic fibrosis when you say it, she explains) through her deterioration and then her renewal. It's a triumphant film that will make you cry.
I like a good cry as much as the next person, but the films I really love are about artists' lives. I've already written in this space about "Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" by Aviva Kempner, that documents the remarkable career in radio and television of the woman who invented the family sitcom, Molly Berg.
But my personal Best of the Fest is "Beaches of Agnes," both for its visual delights and for its most personal introduction to the life, mind and vision of a great filmmaker, Agnes Varda.
Varda has an impressive resume. She was the only female director in France's immortal New Wave. Her film, "Cleo From 5 to 7," still stands as a classic. She directed, all told, 33 long and short films. She was the "discoverer" of Harrison Ford. She was the wife of the late Jacques Demy, who created the immortal "Umbrellas of Cherbourg."
If you want to know what love looks like, watch Vardas filming his hair, lock by lock, getting in as close as she can to preserve every part of this beautiful man she loves as he dies of AIDS.
In creating the story of her long life, Varda could have done it the way most people do - chronologically, with photos and interviews. But she does it cinematically - with beautiful, creative images, dialogue, invented scenes and wry asides. In the end, you just want to hug her.
For more sheer joy, try to catch Paris Mavroidis' short film "Divers." Actually, catch as many films as you can. The Women's Film Festival (womensfilmfestival.org) is always a blast.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.