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Reel Life: filming a feminist pilgrimage

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The most powerful moment of Beyond Beijing. The International Women's Movement was inspired by a downpour. "My camera got wet in the heavy rain, so I had an off-record conversation with Bi Shumin," director Salo Chasnoff states in text scrolling over a snapshot of two smiling Chinese women, one of whom is Shumin, a doctor who spent 12 years in Tibet during the Cultural Revolution

before becoming an author. "She told me she had always thought of hereself simply as writer, uninflected by gender. Because of her experience in this forum, now sees herself in a landscape of women, flooded with their stories. She has begun to think of herself as a woman writer. This moment--the rain, her work and her face, the passion of her companion are etched in my memory."

Chasnoff's hour-long video documents last year's Nongovernmental Organizations Forum on Women in Huairou--a historic gathering of than 50,000 feminists from around the world, including several from Chicago. The event coincided with the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Chas Chasnoff was first compelled to work for a cause during high school when she marched in Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964. At the University of Chicago she joined Student s for a Democratic Society, but after a while dropped out of school because "it was debilitating--it was so much work with no time to be human."

She waited tables and mimed in an off-off-Broadway production of Alice In Wonderland before settling in Evanston and going back to school. Last year she completed her PhD in performance studies at Northwestern University.

Chasnoff's video credits include a home-birthing tape made for Chicago

Community Midwives and a tape for Family Focus that exposed "how teen mothers are satanized in our culture." Her upcoming projects include making a video about a woman she met in Beijing who's translating Carl Jung's psychological oeuvre into Chinese. She's also planning to head to Papua to help a New Guinean activist start an alternative-media movement for women in the highlands.

"You know how the Christian Coalition has this amazing ability to project itself? This is something the women's movement has struggled with," notes Chasnoff, who chairs the board of Women in the Director's Chair. She points to the coverage of the Beijing conference. "The mainstream media focused on conflicts and controversies. It seemed the conference was about China, not about women. Yet there were women of warring nations sitting down together to talk about peace."

Chasnoff will attend a benefit screening of Beyond Beijing on Thursday, September 19, to raise funds to subtitle her video for distribution in Africa. The event, sponsored by Women in the Director's Chair, begins at 6 PM in the auditorium of the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State. Tickets are $10. For more information call 281-4988.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.

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