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Women in the Director's Chair International Film & Video Festival

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The 21st annual Women in the Director's Chair International Film & Video Festival, featuring narrative, documentary, animated, and experimental works by women, runs Friday, March 15, through Sunday, March 24. Screenings are at Preston Bradley Center and WIDC Theater, both at 941 W. Lawrence; Chicago Eagle, 5015 N. Clark; Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State; and Video Machete, 1180 N. Milwaukee. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $8, $6 for students, seniors with a valid ID, and members of Women in the Director's Chair. Festival passes are also available; for more information call 773-907-0610. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, MARCH 15

Homegirls: New Work From Chicago

This program of local work is a very mixed bag of videos on a variety of topics, but some are notable. In the lively Big Girls: Big Beautiful Women in the Adult Entertainment Industry (2000), Sara McCool advocates for larger women on the screen, seeking comment from random men on the street, a few rotund sex workers, and the "publisher and top model for Big Butt magazine." Amy Beste telescopes Billy Budd into a homoerotic three minutes, with live men, dolls, and a Tom of Finland touch. Stacy Goldate's provocative and sexy Single Repressed Female (2001) interweaves porn imagery with Hollywood film. And in Diplomatic Immunity: A Primer for the Enthusiast, Holen Kahn manipulates the self-important ceremonial greetings and addresses at the UN to satirize the organization's paralysis during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. On the same program, work by Samantha Sanders, Suree Towfighnia, Paula Froehle, and Kelly Hayes and K.J. Mohr. 107 min. (FC) (Preston Bradley Center, 7:00)

Conduction: Heating Up Households

Six films about family issues, by Roslyn Rhee, Wen Hwa Tsao, Rachell Antell, Dana Plays, Fatima Tobing Rony, and Claudia Myers. 103 min. (Preston Bradley Center, 9:00)

SATURDAY, MARCH 16

Supersheroes to the Rescue!

Birgit Rathsmann's Grit and Polish: Heroines From Hong Kong (2001) examines the place of women in Chinese history through the lens of Hong Kong's martial-arts cinema, interviewing film scholars (Patricia Erens) and superstars from the 1960s to the '90s (including Cheng Pei-pei and Michelle Yeoh, both of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Rathsmann clearly admires the actresses, many of whom started out as dancers or beauty queens, but her highly digressive video relies on the usual feminist platitudes to compensate for a superficial understanding of China's gender dynamics. In Katherine Makinney's The Limited (2000) a young father dies in an accident, finds himself on a train to the afterlife, and strikes up a conversation about his virtues with a cynical woman; an abrupt and puzzling conclusion is mitigated by the cinematography and Makinney's sure handling of actors. On the same program, work by Rachel Zabar and Meghan Halder. 93 min. (TS) (WIDC Theater, 2:00)

* Fleshing Out

Eight films and videos on women's attitudes toward--and discomforts with--their bodies. In the witty Portrait #1 (2001), Liz Rosenfeld writes her meal menus on her belly with black marker and later applies duct tape to her midriff, expressing all the usual ambivalence toward food and girth. Lucy Weisman's menstrual In the Red is disturbing but humorous, its bright, cartoonish colors echoing (and including) blood. Diane Cheklich's four-minute Drain Baby spoofs consumerism as well as horror movies: after a couple have sex in the shower, their vitamin-fortified shampoo nurtures a creature in the drain. In the hour-long My Left Breast (2000), Gerry Rogers of Newfoundland videotapes her lover's struggle with breast cancer; while touching, the piece lacks meaningful form, to the point of becoming a home video for the women and their friends. On the same program, work by Hope Tucker, Anna Van Someren, Myra Sito Velasquez, and Elizabeth Press. 102 min. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 4:00)

Jock Drama

Two video documentaries about women who've broken into male-dominated sports. Ted Shen writes that True-Hearted Vixens (2000, 57 min.) "profiles a group in their 20s and 30s who joined the Women's Professional Football League, enticed by its profit-sharing scheme. Mylene Moreno devotes a great deal of time to the nitty-gritty of forming the first two teams--from recruitment to debates over names (the Vixens, the Minxes) to possible sponsorship from Hooters--focusing on two players, a mother who frets about her future and a leader who comes out despite her dislike of the dyke athlete stereotype. Moreno's approach is PBS standard--lots of talk, presented dully--but there's enough fresh information to sustain one's interest." Fred Camper writes that Laura Plotkin's Red Rain (1998, 60 min.) "documents the life of boxer Gina 'Boom Boom' Guidi. Skillfully intercutting diverse voices with Guidi's, Plotkin captures the woman's energy and emotional strength: the oldest child of a single mom, Guidi had to raise three younger brothers and recover from drug and alcohol abuse to become the thoroughly grounded person we see in the film. Though she's openly lesbian, she argues that her sexuality has nothing to do with her being a boxer, and while she's mature enough to ignore a homophobic slur from a magazine publisher, she's clearly hurt by it. Her vulnerability is visible in the ring too, her face registering fear and hesitation as well as aggressiveness." (WIDC Theater, 6:00)

* Dyke Nite: New Queer Work by Women

The myth of the humorless lesbian is effectively exploded by several fine pieces on this program. In Helpless Maiden Makes an "I" Statement (1999) a handcuffed Thirza Jean Cuthand complains from her dungeon to an offscreen mistress: "A couple hours a day would be fun. . . . I can't be a 24/7 bottom, and I thought I told you that when you kidnapped me." Cuthand intercuts images of queens and witches from old movies, playfully juxtaposing lesbian B and D with media images of female power. Paula J. Durette's Ladies Tea is a delightfully dry diagrammatic study of the crowd flow at a Baltimore lesbian bar, with a voice-over explaining, "All the dancing parameters may change if there's a particularly strong dynamic of ex-girlfriends." And Dayna McLeod tweaks antiporn academics in Watching Lesbian Porn (2001), with a lecturer talking theory as a couple cavort in the background. Two documentaries are worthwhile as well: the Cincinnati kids in Norah Salmon's Lesbian Teenagers in High School are impressively knowledgeable and articulate, and in Teresa Cuadra and Suzanne Newman's Our Health: Latina Lesbians Breaking Barriers (1999) perpetrators and victims of domestic violence describe behavior remarkably similar to that of straight couples. On the same program: work by Jessica King, Moustach Tamar Eylon, Jen Sachs, Sonali Gulati, and Melissa Pearl Friedling. 118 min. (FC) (Preston Bradley Center, 8:00)

SUNDAY, MARCH 17

* The Air We Breathe: Artists/Activists for Human Rights

A double bill about community-based media activism. Greta Snider's evocative The Magic of Radio (2001) lives up to its title with blasts of radio sounds and montages of transmitters and antennas seen against the sky; footage of eccentric amateurs (like the one who bicycles through town carrying a portable transmitter) argues that this magic is accessible to all. Cindy Leaney's Walls for Change (2001), a more conventional documentary produced for Canadian TV, focuses on the mural movement in Northern Ireland and Los Angeles. Its advocates believe in art as "a tool for social change and self-transformation," encouraging the excluded to find a voice through public wall-painting. 70 min. A panel discussion on "community-inspired media projects in Chicago" will follow the screening. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 12:30)

After-wars

Short videos, mostly about people living in the wake of violence. Zoe Roland's moving From Memory (2001) focuses on nine New Zealanders who fought in Vietnam, carefully orchestrating their voices on the sound track alongside old footage, stills, and mortality statistics to make palpable the ways a past war affects lives in the present. Diane Nerwen also works with multiple voices, in this case American Jews and young Germans talking about their feelings toward contemporary Germany, but her video In the Blood never digests its raw data. Tina M. Bastajian addresses the Armenian genocide in Jagadakeer . . . Between the Near and East (2001), which ranges from the banal (Jeopardy questions on Armenia) to the cryptic (what's with the belly dancer?). But in the funny and original Cat Lady (2001), Liesel de Boor cleverly edits old home movies to illustrate her grandmother's tall tale about a pet cat who served in World War II. On the same program, Silent Song by Elida Schogt. 102 min. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 3:00)

Media Grrls: New Video by Young Women

Five videos by women high school age and younger, some group collaborations. The one really strong piece is Bronwen Marsden's three-minute Callesthetics (2001): as the director speaks of her childhood sexual abuse, her words are written on her skin, and her sense of alienation from her own body is brought to life on the celluloid original by scratches that cover her breasts and stains from the hand processing. Others are fun but unincisive: Break the Stereo, produced by the 911 Media Arts Center, begins with an amusing segment called "Bad Teen News" (a gang fight, a school takeover), then two kids seize the TV station and broadcast their own video about teen stereotypes, a diffuse collection of nutty skits. 2 Homes (2001), produced by Global Action Project, is a series of touching interviews with young refugees recently transplanted to New York from Bosnia, Liberia, and elsewhere. On the same program, work by Ayanna Oden and Street Level Youth Media. 57 min. (FC) Admission is free. (Video Machete, 5:00)

MONDAY, MARCH 18

Detours to Freedom

In the Dogma 95 documentary Detour to Freedom (2001, 81 min.), Danish filmmaker Sidse Stauholm follows 27-year-old A'a'me Nameth after she's paroled from an LA jail. She tells all: her confused childhood in Copenhagen, her parents' broken marriage, her mother's hippie friends, her and her mother's imprisonment in Bangkok for drug smuggling, the Englishman who wrote her every week--and who marries her during the production of the video. But watching the minutiae of her new life is like peeking through a Webcam: not much happens, and tedium sets in quickly. Both she and Stauholm play to the camera, seeming not to notice the video crew and pretending surprise at events they must have known about beforehand. On the same program, Laleh Soomekh's Dear Judge (27 min.), in which the children of a single mother who's been arrested on a drug charge petition for her release while adjusting to life without her. (TS) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 6:00)

Black Russians

Video maker Kara Lynch takes on a fascinating subject, interviewing and following the shifting fortunes of several black or semiblack people who've come to Russia (or were born of immigrant parents) from North America, Africa, and the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, their experiences are extremely varied: some are international students currently studying in Russia, while others (among them an eloquent poet) are the offspring of black and Russian parents who got together in the 30s. The forms and expressions of Russian race prejudice are presented with some nuance, and the archival footage holds one's interest throughout. Unfortunately the video is handicapped by its diffuse focus, cutting between sound bites of mainly unrelated individuals, and Lynch mostly overlooks the Russian careers of actors Paul Robeson and the lesser-known Wayland Rudd (who appeared in Lev Kuleshov's The Great Consoler). 117 min. (JR) (Preston Bradley Center, 7:00)

* All Water Has Perfect Memory

Poetic and poignant shorts about momentous family events. In All Water Has a Perfect Memory (2000), Natalia Almada records her Mexican-American family's impressions of the accidental drowning of a young daughter. Their somber voice-overs, alternating between Spanish and English, accompany shots from home movies and images of shimmering water to complete this anguished and moving eulogy. In Still (Stille) (2001), Wendy Oberlander delivers a staccato, matter-of-fact narration about her mother's experiences as an upper-middle-class Jew in Berlin before World War II. Though hardly a novel tale, the film is personalized by Oberlander's curiosity, empathy, and resistance to pathos, aided by Lori Freedman's klezmer-spiced score. In My Mother India (2001), Safina Uberoi revisits the durable marriage of her Australian mother and Sikh father, proud eccentrics who defied convention to make a life for themselves in New Delhi. The video isn't very accomplished, but it sneaks in some history about Sikhs in India and the country's lingering colonial customs. On the same program, Rachel Antell's A Fortune in Change. 105 min. (TS) (WIDC Theater, 9:00)

TUESDAY, MARCH 19

Creating Culture, Performing Justice

A discussion on "the role of cultural work in challenging our current crises of democracy," including clips from Diane Maroger's Body Talk. (WIDC Theater, 7:00)

Who's Framing Whom?

By accident or design, three of the short works on this program explore the ambiguities of identity by pairing a woman with her double. In the strongest, Rock Hole (2001) by Lizzie Eves, a white filmmaker observes an aboriginal woman in the Australian desert; handheld shots of the woman's feet as the filmmaker follows behind articulate the impossibility of seeing through another's eyes. In Liv Gjestvang's My Own Face Opposite (1998) two women who resemble one another brush their teeth and snuggle in bed, though Gjestvang never reveals whether they're friends or lovers. In Larilyn Sanchez's Absorption (2001) a woman seems to disappear into her abstracted reflection in a mirror, suggesting the perils of self-contemplation. Other pieces offer alternative perspectives on public events: Jen Sachs takes on a lurid multiple murder case from 1931 in The Velvet Tigress (1999), and Emily James's A Brief History of Cuba, in D Minor (2000) is an amusing pro-Castro version of that history in song and dance: "So every hour of every day / Please let me be more like Che." On the same program, which runs 89 minutes, work by Diane Nerwen, Elida Schogt, and Kelly Hayes and K.J. Mohr. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 9:00)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20

Duty Free

Amy Chen's The Chinatown Files (2001) is a routine telling (archival footage, contemporary interviews) of an important story--the oppression and harassment of Chinese-Americans during the McCarthy era. Laundry workers were imprisoned for sending money to relatives; a fearful writer burned his poems; the feds investigated all 6,500 subscribers to a Chinese newspaper. One man explains that the bureau tracked him for 20 years and then stopped after the president went to China in 1972, wryly concluding, "Nixon liberated me." On the same program, work by Wen Cheng, Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe, Wen Hwa Tsao, and Gui Garakot Prasartkul. 97 min. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 7:00)

Road Trips and Head Trips

At least four of these five 35-millimeter films are actually student productions, and it shows: the striking images and intriguing story ideas don't always add up to a convincing film. Most interesting is Anne Paas's Gas Up and Save!, the story of a crazy, Liberace-obsessed mother who thinks her son is Jesus and should therefore abjure sex. Hints of unconsummated incest and excerpts from Liberace's TV show add a nice absurdity, but the film never jells as drama or cultural satire. Kathy Smith's animated but unoriginal Indefinable Moods (2001) has some fetching computer-generated textures; disjointed editing dulls Jessica Weinberg's Attempt? (2001), Suk-yee Cheung's Once Upon a Night (2001; set in Hong Kong), and Anne Misawa's Waking Mele. 84 min. (FC) (Gene Siskel Film Center, 8:00)

In Sisterhood

Six films about sisters, both literal and figurative, trying to find their place in society. In the splendid and gently humorous documentary No Dumb Questions, first-time filmmaker Melissa Regan profiles three young sisters struggling with the fact that their beloved uncle Bill is becoming a woman. The children squirm and make faces as they tentatively ask whether Bill will have genital surgery, what will happen when the airlines ask for identification, and how one can look like a man but be a woman inside. In the solid We Got Us, Joan Brooker eavesdrops on four sharply reflective elderly women as they meet for their weekly mah-jongg game, discussing their histories, their marriages, and what it means to be old. Julia Kwan's Three Sisters on Moon Lake is a dark fairy tale about three young Asian sisters who create their own mystical but doomed world. On the same program, work by Catherine Gray, Myra Sito Velasquez, and Lisa Bennett. 96 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) (WIDC Theater, 9:00)

THURSDAY, MARCH 21

Proibido Amar: Brazilian Love Stories

Beautifully constructed by Flavia Fontes, Forbidden Wedding (2001, 56 min.) opens with the Catholic Church refusing to sanction the planned wedding of a paraplegic to his caregiver, purportedly because canon law requires sexual consummation (Hedir, the paraplegic, has been impotent since age 15, when he was shot). The format seems unexceptional--stills and interviews are interspersed with the duo living their lives--but Fontes unfolds the story with artistry and care, gradually introducing wider and more diverse perspectives. In one graphic scene Hedir's pretty fiancee bathes his scarred torso, distended belly, and atrophied legs; when the fiancee's declaration of sincerity is placed immediately afterward, the couple's genuine affection contrasts vividly with a church that, as one woman says, "is only thinking about sex." On the same program, Eunice Gutman's Just Between Us (30 min.), in which two women talk about their lives together and go to an international gay event in Rio. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 7:00)

Sex Garage!

A butch skate punk in San Francisco plays matchmaker to a best friend despondent over a recent breakup in Desi's Looking for a New Girl (2000, 80 min.), a long-winded, technically clumsy comedy by Mary Guzman. The romantic quest is dreadfully arduous, entailing self-conscious girl talk, disjointed episodes of first dates, and the sort of leering humor that would be condemned as sexist if the characters were straight men. This might have offered a glimpse of the dating scene for Latina lesbians or the lightweight moral comedy of a film like Go Fish; instead it plays like something by Ed Wood. (TS) On the same program, Morning: Four Sequences of Love (2001, 15 min.) by Kim Wyns of Belgium. (Chicago Eagle, 8:00)

Orbiting: Between Spaces

Most of these nine works show how circumstances can challenge and change an individual's identity. In Miranda July's Getting Stronger Every Day (2001) a boy kidnapped by a pedophile later has trouble "fitting in"; a creepy painted blob hovers over some of the images, disrupting them like a trauma. In Public Web (2000), Tagny Duff documents a performance art piece in which participants react to recorded instructions. The tape is provided as voice-over, and their reponses to its directives ("collect found objects and build a shelter") become a metaphor for the controlling power of the cityscape. Two Algerian sisters are separated by the Atlantic in M'Daya Meliani's Tell Me a Story (2001), but the combination of poetic voice-over, old photos, and present-day images becomes more confusing than affecting; Joan Nidzyn's musing on the 2000 presidential election in Florida, 36-365, is barely coherent. On the same program, work by Duff, Kristiina Szabo, Melanie Jeffrey, and Abigail Severance. 88 min. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 9:00)

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