COLUMBIA — Fire spinners, aerialists, acrobats and an "electric circus" dance party are part of the Citizen Jane Film Festival this weekend.
Starting Friday, about two dozen feature-length and short films and special events will be held at Stephens College, Ragtag Cinema and other locations. The theme for the fourth annual festival is "Cirque du Cinema."
A pullout section in Vox Magazine, available in Thursday's print Missourian and in racks around town, has previews of the films at the Citizen Jane Film Festival, a screening schedule and a map of location. You also can read about four teenagers who attended the Citizen Jane Film Academy this past summer and a Q&A with Jennifer Miller, the "Bearded Lady."
Citizen Jane's goal is to increase the number of women working in film and expand their opportunities in the the field.
"But then on the community level, it’s just to celebrate this artistic town that we live in,” said Kerri Yost, chairwoman of Stephens' film department and co-chairwoman of the festival.
“It’s a really nice reminder of what a creative community we are and how well we work together,” she said.
Citizen Jane began as a lecture series in 2005 when Stephens added a film major. The college brought in guest speakers two to three times a semester to put what the students were learning into context, Yost said.
In 2006, Stephens hosted a weekend-long Fem Film Symposium to extend what it was already doing with the guest speakers. The Citizen Jane Film Festival premiered in 2008.
The festival dovetails with Stephens' mission to empower women.
"Citizen Jane grew out of Stephens — it's everything we're about," said Shelley Gabert, director of marketing and public relations.
The festival is deliberately held in the fall to complement the True/False Film Festival held in late February and early March, Yost said.
But Citizen Jane is also developing into a presence throughout the year. In addition to the lecture series, there is now a Citizen Jane Summer Film Academy.
The festival has grown every year since it started. Last year, almost 4,450 people attended, said Amy Schneider, acting director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. A survey the visitors bureau conducted for the first time last year at Citizen Jane showed three-fourths of attendees were women.
The survey also showed 44 percent of attendees were from out of town. Of those, about 74 percent said the festival was their primary reason for coming to Columbia and 65 percent stayed in town overnight, Schneider said.
"The festival brings another level of folks to Columbia that may not be coming if Citizen Jane wasn't here," Schneider said.
She predicted the festival will continue to grow.
Yost enjoys talking with festival out-of-towners about Columbia.
“It’s refreshing to see how other people see our community and our town and everything that goes along with it,” she said.
"Sometimes when you live in a city and all these incredible things are going on around you, you don’t appreciate it as much as when you’re coming from outside," Schneider said. "I know that there are a lot of community members that do appreciate Citizen Jane, and I hope as it grows and as the years go on, that more and more people become aware of it."
Yost said one reason Citizen Jane was embraced when it started was that Columbia's arts community was coming into its own.
“If it weren’t for the community, we'd still be a kind of quiet symposium," Yost said.