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


The 20th annual Women in the Director's Chair International Film and Video Festival, featuring narrative, documentary, animated, and experimental works by women, continues Friday through Sunday, March 23 through 25. Screenings are at the Women in the Director's Chair Theater, 941 W. Lawrence. 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 a 4 are highly recommended.


Stranger With a Camera

A pair of provocative video documentaries about how insular communities are perceived by outsiders. For Visitors of the Night (1998) Belgian ethnographer An van Dienderen traveled to southwest China to study the Mosuo, a matrilineal tribe whose women practice polyandry (taking multiple male partners). Yet van Dienderen discovers that the Mosuo's promiscuous image is being exploited by a tourism industry that coaches the tribesmen and imports non-Mosuo women to pose as natives--which, as she readily admits, implicates her as well. In Stranger With a Camera (2000), Elizabeth Barret revisits a 1967 incident in which a landowner in an eastern Kentucky coal-mining town killed a Canadian broadcaster who was trying to document poverty in Appalachia. Eyewitnesses, media colleagues, and trial lawyers recall the motives and emotions behind the case, and the fact that Barret, a native of the area, took up filmmaking around the same time adds an extra layer to this heartfelt examination of a community thrust into the spotlight against its will. 96 min. (TS) Barret will attend the screening. (7:00)


More than 20 years after feminists broke with their proscriptive philosophy to advocate whatever women wanted, they're still pushing the envelope. In Our Bodies, Our Minds, Rebecca M. Alvin interviews seven cheery, intelligent sex workers who defend their occupation: erotic dancers are "empowered . . . controlling a roomful of everymen"; a porn filmmaker describes her work as "a very feminist thing," explaining that before women got behind the camera "our fantasies and sexuality were completely ignored"; a porn actress says there's a talent in "being able to take amazing things up your anus." Their families don't always accept their career choice, and police sometimes dismiss them when they've been raped, but the overall picture here is so upbeat that you'd never guess any hookers could be drug addicted, pimp slapped, or mentally ill. On the same program: Kara Herold's Grrlyshow and Tricia Creason Valencia's Eighty Layers of Me (That You'll Have to Survive), on a group of former cheerleaders who stage activist rallies. 97 min. (FC) Alvin and Valencia will attend the screening, which will be followed by a dance party. Admission is $10, $8 for students, seniors, and WIDC members. (9:00)


Creation Myths

In Olivia Martin-McGuire's exquisitely photographed video Under the Swell a bathing woman ruminates about her pregnancy, the poetic images of her through the water suggesting the ocean and the womb and culminating in a state of blissful acceptance. In contrast, Lynn Shelton's The Clouds That Touch Us out of Clear Skies deals with the pain and resilience of women who have miscarried, their moody voice-overs heightened by suggestive and occasionally surreal shots of craggy landscape and sheltering sky. Farida Pacha's clever and tantalizing Cooking Tales shows a woman preparing an Indian feast in her kitchen, yet her voice-over regales us with wicked stories and metaphysical musings. In Bridget Bedard's preachy Baby a family finds a discarded newborn baby at a gas station and then confronts the unwed teenager mother. On the same program, films by Antonio Kao and Laura Margulies. 77 min. (TS) Martin-McGuire and Shelton will attend the screening. (Noon)

Translating Zapotec

An earnest celebration of strong womanhood, Maureen Gosling and Ellen Osborne's documentary Blossoms of Fire explores the Zapotec town of Juchitan, in southern Mexico, where men and women have been equals since pre-Columbian days. Ethnographic segments about the natives' daily life are bridged by expressive folk songs, though the film digresses to consider colonialism, homosexuality, and the effects of globalization on indigenous cultures. Gosling's schoolmarmish narration betrays the filmmakers' awestruck naivete toward the culture, which they seem to consider some sort of matriarchal utopia. Maria Santiago Ruiz's fictional The Tree of Soap, made in the Zapotec language and subtitled only in Spanish, shows the hard life of women in a Oaxacan village. 95 min. (TS) Gosling and Osborne will attend the screening. (2:00)

Hidden Wars

Audrey Brohy and Gerard Ungerman's Hidden Wars of Desert Storm reminds us that the U.S. intervened in the Middle East to maintain its access to oil after World War II, instigating coups and supporting Saddam Hussein in the 1960s, and might have been able to forestall Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The film effectively argues that the starvation caused by the embargo following the gulf war has strengthened Saddam and speculates that American troops and the people of the Middle East suffer higher rates of illness because of radioactive uranium in our weaponry, which now lies scattered across the desert. Brohy and Ungerman excel in the usual mix of archival footage and expert witnesses, though they might have placed the story in its larger historical context of human brutality and eco-ruin. In Johanna Bermudez Ruiz's Vieques residents of a Puerto Rican island protest its use by the navy as a target for bombardment exercises, which purportedly have increased cancer rates. 81 min. (FC) Brohy and Ungerman will attend the screening. (4:00)

Daring to Resist

Martha Goell Lubell and Barbara Attie's 57-minute video Daring to Resist weaves together the stories of three Jewish women who survived the Holocaust as teenagers. The intercutting of interviews, archival footage, stills, and present-day shots of key locales is a bit muddled, but the stories' details are moving enough: one girl trusted her boyfriend's assessment of the Nazi roundups rather than her father's and survived while the father perished; another, summoned to photograph a local Nazi leader, was convinced that he would kill her if she captured his cruel visage and asked him to smile. Susana Donovan's enigmatic Haunt #451 conflates events from human and geological history: voice-overs about mass extinctions and images of violent events on stars are tinged by hints of personal trauma as the filmmaker tries to find her place in the scheme of things. On the same program, Alejandra Szeplaki's She and Jennifer Petrucelli and Rachel Antell's Her Own Law. 98 min. (FC) (6:00)

The Great Pretender

For their tongue-in-cheek Annie Complex, Stacy Goldate and K.J. Mohr interviewed fellow admirers of the musical Annie, all of them old enough to remember the nationwide audition for the title role and their obsession with Andrea McArdle, the redheaded moppet who won the part. In Ana Maria Jomolca and Victoria Garza's self-absorbed Everygirl a young woman tries to shoot a video valentine to indie rocker Ani DiFranco, her loony intensity recalling Sandra Bernhard in The King of Comedy. Julia Zando's The Apparent Trap is a bizarre homage to The Parent Trap, the old Disney comedy with Hayley Mills playing twins, juxtaposing footage of two adult women with clips from the film. And in Beatriz Anton and Felix Pinuela's delightful musical potpourri Dedos costumed fingers do all the dancing. On the same program: Antonia Baehr's Erika in Amerika. 92 min. (TS) Jomolca, Garza, Anton, and Pinuela will attend the screening. (8:00)

Madame X: An Absolute Ruler

A charismatic and tyrannical pirate (Tabea Blumenschein) entices a motley crew of bored women onto her ship with the promise of gold and love, but their camaraderie unravels as the passengers unleash their libidos. This high-seas adventure (1977) marked the debut of German director Ulrike Ottinger, and like much of her work it's a maddening mix of exotica, feminist rhetoric, postmodern humor, and allusions to literature and pop culture. Her stream-of-consciousness narrative style recalls Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Andy Warhol, and the theater of the absurd, yet her visuals are deliberately flat and the acting (by her friends, including filmmaker Yvonne Rainer as an overwrought artist) is strictly silent-movie pantomime. Intended as a political allegory about the marginalization of women, the film hasn't aged well: at best it's an aesthetic romp, at worst a precious game of dress-up. 141 min. (TS) (10:00)


Marianne & Juliane

Also known as The German Sisters and The Leaden Years, Margarethe von Trotta's film won the top prize at the 1981 Chicago International Film Festival. Juliane (Jutta Lampe) is a leftist who believes in working within the system; her sister Marianne (Barbara Sukowa, of Fassbinder's Lola) is a clench-jawed terrorist who rejects everything Juliane stands for, but still comes to her for help. The film never quite transcends the sterile atmosphere of allegory, though von Trotta's psychological insights--developed largely through flashbacks to the sisters' girlhood--add some human density to her didactic fable. With RĂ¼diger Vogler. 106 min. (DK) (1:00)

Out: The Making of a Revolutionary

Sonja DeVries and Rhonda Collins's sympathetic video tells the story of political activist Laura Whitehorn, who spent 14 years in prison for detonating a bomb in Washington, D.C. An impassioned speaker, Whitehorn eloquently describes how her lesbianism made her feel excluded from "any recognized group," eventually connecting her to "other people who were despised by the system." Radicalized in the 60s, she lived in Chicago briefly, met Fred Hampton, and later participated in a series of bombings directed at "U.S. imperialism." Collins and de Vries accept her claims too easily (she blames the sexism of white males for alienating women from the antiwar movement, when some of the most notorious sexist remarks came from black leaders), and one has to wonder about their labeling of serial bombers as "political prisoners." 59 min. (FC) Whitehorn will participate in a panel discussion after the screening. (3:00)

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