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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, continues Friday through Sunday, March 22 through 24. Screenings are at Preston Bradley Center and WIDC Theater, both at 941 W. Lawrence, and Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln. 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 22

* To Be a Wo/man

Nine short films exploring the physical, social, mental, and theoretical aspects of gender. In Daniela Zanzotto's moving documentary Kissed by Angels (2001) a despairing breast cancer patient comes to terms with her body after a mastectomy. Her honesty and eloquence are stunning, and the washed-out colors highlight her mental exhaustion. In Harriette Yahr's fluid, hilarious Baker's Men (2001) two young girls interrupt their patty-cake game to express very adult thoughts about gender socialization, releasing a torrent of academic jargon. The most maddening film is Gender Line (2001), in which Canadian filmmaker W.G. Burnham quizzes 13 transgender people about abuse and discrimination; the film highlights the diversity of the transgender community but stresses its victimhood. On the same program: work by Punam Sawhney, Mirha-Soleil Ross and Mark Karbusicky, Wen Cheng, Nina Czegledy, K.J. Mohr and Kelly Hayes, and Tara Miele. 76 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) (WIDC Theater, 7:00)

* By Hook or by Crook

In this remarkable debut feature, butch lesbians Silas Howard (of the queer band Tribe 8) and Harry Dodge (a performance artist who appeared in John Waters's Cecil B. Demented) cleverly subvert the male-bonding genre by casting themselves as the two leads. Shy (Howard) flees her small town for the big city and hooks up with Valentine (Dodge), a vulnerable waif in search of her mother. Much of what follows is fairly familiar--flirtations with girls, confrontations with the law, a botched holdup--except for the unsettling experience of watching the two women impersonate men with a breezy conviction. Their direction carefully modulates between humor and bathos, and the jarring home-movie cinematography of Ann T. Rossetti (Go Fish) captures with realism and intimacy a fringe Bay Area milieu that tolerates the blurring of the gender divide. With Joan Jett. 100 min. (TS) (Preston Bradley Center, 9:00)

SATURDAY, MARCH 23

* Domestic Hiss

Five films and videos presenting unconventional views of home life. In Wendy Wilkins's fine and funny Jack & Diane (2000) a couple's brief conversation consists entirely of lyrics from popular songs ("I want to die with you, Diane, on the street tonight in an everlasting kiss"). The relentlessly conventional editing and cinematography mirror the dialogue, underlining Wilkins's case that our personal relationships have been warped by media cliches. In Nuclear Family (2001) Dana Plays offers a nightmarish view of life in the shadow of the bomb, interweaving footage of nuclear testing, kids crouching under desks, and ominous speeded-up clouds. And in Jailhouse Romance (2001), made for Canadian TV, Wendy Rowland examines three couples in which the man is a long-term prisoner. Despite the weirdness--how could an obviously intelligent attorney fall for a convicted murderer?--all three couples seem quite natural and loving. On the same program, work by Maria Posse and Melanie Coombs. 101 min. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 1:00)

Stressful Food Stories

In the provocative Kickin' Chicken (2001), a woman leaving a rehab program is confronted almost immediately by her cravings for fried chicken; director Joy Phillips manages to rail against addiction and advocate animal rights while maintaining a keen sense of humor and style. Julia Bourke's clever, brightly colored animation Angel Food (2000) explores the futility of life, as a pouting strawberry bounces from one horror to another (seductive but deadly chocolate, vicious household appliances), only to discover that its dream of redemption is illusory. Filmed in rich red hues, Jennifer Elster's Dirty (2000) is almost unbearably dark, a riveting dreamscape about confronting the horrors of one's past. On the same program: work by Maggie Carey, Caryn Cline, Maria Rosenblum, Lisa Dombroski, Natasha Maidoff, and Marie-Joelle Rizk. 89 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) (WIDC Theater, 3:00)

Living Legends

In 1946, 20-year-old Corinne Sykes, a maid in Philadelphia, became the first African-American woman executed for murder. Tina Morton's intriguing documentary Severed Souls (2001) shows how powerless she was: convicted by an all-white jury, she apparently hadn't understood the confession she signed, and she professed her innocence all the way to the chair. Actress Faye Dunaway makes her directorial debut with The Yellow Bird (2001), adapted from a Tennessee Williams story, about a possibly satanic bird and a small-town preacher's daughter who becomes interested in sex and liquor; James Coburn gives an incisive performance as the preacher. And the title character of Sarah Hamaday and Devorah Herbert's Ezekiel collects things he finds on the street (like a discarded vibrator) and puts them to bizarre use in his home; like the Dunaway film, it lacks the stylistic inventiveness demanded by the fantastical subject. On the same program: work by Juliana Marchand, Daniele Wilmouth, and Cheung Suk-yee. 99 min. (FC) (WIDC Theater, 5:00)

* The Fourth Dimension

This essay film about contemporary Japan is the most visually pleasing work to date by writer Trinh T. Minh-ha, whose films often approach foreign cultures through a series of contrasting and layered perspectives. Trinh shot it herself in digital video, an exploration that may account for its distinct look, though her aphoristic narration fails to provide the degree of unity found in most of her films. (Its method recalls her 1991 documentary about China, Shoot for the Contents, more than her earlier African documentaries, Reassemblage and Naked Spaces--Living Is Round.) When she isn't shooting landscapes from bullet trains and reflecting on what this mode of transport suggests about the country, a good deal of what she shows falls under the category of public spectacle. But like most of her work, this is provocative, intelligent, poetic, and certainly worth a look. 87 min. (JR) (WIDC Theater, 7:00)

* Strange Bedfellows

Two delightfully informative video documentaries on American pop culture. In American Mullet (2001, 52 min.) filmmaker Jennifer Arnold goes on the road in search of the hairdo that's short in front and long in back, a favorite of poor whites, weight lifters, country-music fans, soccer players, and lesbians. A cross section of working-class Americans wax euphoric over the mullet, a declaration of independence for them but an embarrassing affectation to others. Arnold is alternately sincere and tongue-in-cheek, which seems appropriate to the bifurcated look. In Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc's Adventures in Plastic (2001, 58 min.), Lisa Udelson profiles Phranc, the Jewish lesbian folksinger who enjoyed her 15 minutes in the late 1980s and then settled down to raise a family--and became a top seller of Tupperware. Udelson captures her abundant charm as she seduces customers with frank talk, randy jokes, and songs delivered in dulcet tones over strummed ukulele. In one funny yet poignant segment Phranc travels to Las Vegas for a Tupperware convention, her suit and flattop haircut leading many to mistake her for a man and prompting self-deprecating jokes--all of which is juxtaposed with her concert there a decade ago, when she was at the height of her fame. (TS) (WIDC Theater, 9:00)

SUNDAY, MARCH 24

New Frontiers

A moving cri de coeur for Palestinian refugees trapped by cruel Israeli restrictions, Mai Masri's video documentary Frontiers of Dreams and Fears (2001, 56 min.) focuses on two refugee camps, Dheisha in the West Bank and Shatila in Lebanon (where a 1982 massacre killed the heads of many families). Though the children in each camp describe it as a hopeless prison, they manage to meet and communicate with each other via videos and letters; in the documentary's emotional centerpiece they meet near a fence that divides Israel from Lebanon, exchanging food and gifts while dancing and crying. But Masri's presentation of the refugee issue is one-sided: she shows one child asking, "Why am I a refugee while someone else has his own country?" but makes no mention of the Arabs' half century of violent attempts to deny Jews a homeland. (FC) On the same program, Anita Chang's 29-minute video She Wants to Talk to You. Masri will lead a discussion after the screening. (Preston Bradley Center, 1:00)

Depth of Field

Born in Afghanistan but educated in the West, Sedika Mojadidi returned to her homeland in early 1996 to record the aftermath of the decade-long Soviet-backed civil war; with the Taliban in power she had to wear a veil and often film clandestinely, interviewing people in the countryside and on the streets of Jalalabad and other towns. Her video documentary Kabul Kabul (2001, 47 min.) focuses on the plight of women, mostly middle-class, including her mother and other relatives. Mojadidi coaxes forth their memories of the peaceful 1970s and their resentment of the harsh life they now endure. Unlike Afghan warriors, who get most of the attention from news media, these practical-minded women talk about the war's carnage, its broken families, and its erasure of history, but they're also hopeful that educating the young will bring a better future. On the same program: Ursula Biemann's video essay Remote Sensing (2001, 53 min.), which explores the links between technology, globalism, and the sex industry. (TS) (Preston Bradley Center, 3:30)

Festival Wrap Party

This year's closing-night celebration features repeat screenings of three programs: "Stressful Food Stories" (see listing for Saturday, March 23), American Mullet (see listing for "Strange Bedfellows" on Saturday, March 23), and "Homegirls: New Work From Chicago," of which Fred Camper writes, "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." Also included in the "Homegirls" program: work by Samantha Sanders, Suree Towfighnia, Paula Froehle, and Kelly Hayes and K.J. Mohr. Admission is free, but no one under 21 will be admitted. (Delilah's, 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. Also on the bill: work by Jessica King, Moustach Tamar Eylon, Jen Sachs, Sonali Gulati, and Melissa Pearl Friedling. 118 min. (FC) Rescheduled from Saturday, March 16. (Preston Bradley Center, 8:00)

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