Film festival puts focus on female filmmakers

Sunday, October 19, 2008 | 8:13 p.m. CDT; updated 9:09 a.m. CDT, Monday, October 20, 2008
Stephanie Barber, left, shows Candice Carmichael how to design a strip of film during a handmade film workshop at the Citizen Jane Film Festival on Sunday morning at Stephens College.

COLUMBIA — Viewers sat crossed-legged in front of a makeshift movie theater made from tapestries as loud music accompanied a silent, experimental film.  The faint sound of an old-fashioned film projector hummed as the long filmstrip circled through reels hung from the ceiling.  

The fort-like creation was called the Underground Teahouse, an exhibit in the Windsor Auditorium lobby at Stephens College. It played host to California filmmaker Micaela O'Herlihy's short film, "Alone In The Woods ‘till Death Do I Wonder," on the last day of the Citizen Jane Film Festival. Celebrating the festival's first year, participants engaged in film workshops, screenings and Q&A discussions Friday through Sunday.


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"It seems really fun and playful the whole time," said O'Herlihy, one of the many filmmakers who traveled to Columbia for the festival. "There has been an army of volunteers to help us. We'll be back for sure."

Citizen Jane was an encouraging experience, said New Mexico native Nanobah Becker. She is the director of "Flat" and "Conversion," two short films that showed at the Ragtag Cinema on Saturday.

"It's always so flattering to be asked to screen your work," Becker said. "Everyone is so nurturing and supportive — just a lot of very talented people doing different things. It's great to meet other artists and to put the spotlight on women, which doesn't happen often in film."

Smaller and more intimate, the festival's turnout was mostly female in comparison to the True/False Film Festival, said Beth Perrin, volunteer and MU staff member. She sees Citizen Jane growing in the future, becoming a "sister festival" to True/False.

Some attendees, regardless of gender, came solely because the festival highlighted women in the industry. Columbia resident Josh Younkin came to see his second short film of the festival, "Tales of Hope and Heartache," on Saturday.

"I like the female perspective," Younkin said. "At this point in my life I value that more."

Citizen Jane began as a lecture series at Stephens College in 2005. Nicole Martin, a sophomore film major at Stephens College, attended some of the Q&A sessions over the past year and said she prefers the new festival's set-up.

"Events like this are a lot more fun and involved," Martin said. "I think we get more out of it ... There's layaway time between films to ask questions one-on-one rather than in a classroom setting — it's more laid back."

A handmade films workshop on Sunday offered festival-goers the opportunity to create their own films using 16 mm cameras. Sophomore Lydia Lane, a film major at Stephens College and festival volunteer, liked this technique.  

"I think it's really interesting because it's so different from digital, which is what we use," Lane said in reference to her film classes.

In addition to experimental films, there were several documentary and short films that addressed controversial topics, such as "Trouble the Water," a film by Tia Lessin chronicling the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and "Frozen River," a look at illegal immigration from director Courtney Hunt.

"People are afraid to touch our work because it's too honest, it's too painful or it's too emotional," O'Herlihy said. "Distribution and production companies are afraid to fund a lot of these projects because they're too intense."

O'Herlihy said she enjoys female-focused film festivals because they recognize the abundance of talented individuals in the industry, but the mainstream film community has yet to tap into this resource.

"We are half the audience," she said. "People need to take more risks and support these projects  because they will be seen and they will sell."

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Andrew Rea October 21, 2008 | 10:55 a.m.

Great ending line. I don't know whether it's ineffective advertising or a sad lack of interest, but genuinely interesting projects like these get passed over by the general public too often.

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