12th Women’s Film Festival opens in Brattleboro

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(Host) For the past 12 years, the Brattleboro Women’s Film Festival has been bringing independent films by and about women to the Brattleboro Area. This year’s festival started last weekend and will continue through March 23. The films are being shown in two Brattleboro theaters and the New Falls Cinema in Bellows Falls.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more:

(Keese) The film ‘Mai’s America’ begins on the streets of modern-day Hanoi. Ragged Vietnamese children are shining shoes to earn a few cents.

(Sound from film) “Compared to these kids, I feel like I’m a princess. My family is rich compared to most Vietnamese….”

(Keese) The speaker is Mai, a spirited North Vietnamese high school student. She’s excited to be heading to the U.S. on an international exchange. But America is not what she expects. Mai’s American odyssey begins with an out-of-work host family in rural Mississippi. (Sound from the film, “I told you to look in the refrigerator….”)

It leads eventually to Detroit, where she finds herself painting the toenails of overweight housewives. For Mai, it’s an ironic parallel to the shoeshine boys of Hanoi.

For the audience, it’s all part of the 12th annual Brattleboro Women’s Film Festival. Arlene Distler is the festival’s co-chair. She says these movies break the mold of the ‘big marquis’ blockbuster.

(Distler) “It gives people in our community a chance to see films they wouldn’t get to see otherwise, that are not part of mainstream film fare. And one of the motives is to show women on film in a way that is much more whole, and spotlights women’s achievements, women’s struggles.”

(Keese) Proceeds from the films go to the Brattleboro Women’s Crisis Center. The center, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, offers advocacy, shelter and support for survivors of domestic violence. Film Festival Co-chairwoman Barbara Charkey serves on the crisis center’s board of directors:

(Charkey) “There’s also a strong tie between having a women’s film festival and the educational mission of the crisis center. It really helps our community see a very broad range of possibilities for women’s lives throughout the world, women’s lives at different stages.”

(Keese) Most of the festival’s 24 films are shown repeatedly throughout the three-week period. This year’s offerings include four films by French filmmaker Agnes Varda. She was part of the “new wave” of filmmakers that included Jean luc Goddard and Francois Truffaut. Many of the films portray women in different cultures. There are portraits of women artists, women firefighters and women rodeo riders.

(Sound from film, ‘One in Nine’) “When I was a child I wanted to be a stewardess. I wanted to be a football player.”

(Keese) ‘One in Nine’ is a documentary about a team of breast cancer survivors training for a rowing regatta. ‘Uphill All the Way’ follows five girls from a school for troubled teens on a 2,500-mile bicycle trip along the Continental Divide. After this film on March 22, a panel of local adolescent girls will discuss the difficulties of coming of age in the 21st century. A number of other showings include discussions with film makers about their art:

The festival is intended to appeal to men as well as women. Harry Saxman is an artist from Guilford:

(Saxman) “The movies are great. Anybody that’s interested in great movies is here. I think if you look around you’ll probably find about 10-15% guys here.”

(Keese) For volunteer ticket-taker Lani Wright, it’s a community experience:

(Wright) “I love going to the film festival. I remember all the great films that I’ve watched in years past here, where people were laughing together, crying and cheering together in the middle of the movie. I look forward to it every year.”

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.

Related link:
The Women’s Film Festival show times and locations are available online.

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