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Women in the Director's Chair Film & Video Festival

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The 23rd 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 19 through 21. Screenings are at the Women in the Director's Chair Theater, 941 W. Lawrence. 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 19

Thicker Than Water

Most of these six works about families are mediocre student productions by novices lacking the necessary aesthetic distance from their subjects. Yuri Makino's Tokyo Equinox (2003) chronicles her visit with her dad in Japan, using hackneyed slow motion and freeze-frames intercut with sumo wrestling scenes (huh?). Giovanna Chesler's Hand-some (2003) is worse: in recording her sister's relationship with another woman, Chesler incorporates her pauses and lapses, turning her inability to make sense into the central subject. The sole bright spot is Sue-Yeon Jung's Waiting for Spring (2003), about two aged Korean sisters, one in Los Angeles and the other in Seoul, seen through a patient camera that genuinely respects the slowed rhythms and physical awkwardness of the very old. 104 min. (FC) (6:00)

* Homegirls

Nine shorts by local filmmakers. Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby's Curious About Existence is a witty pastiche of mock texts, including a thermodynamics lecture that compares a dead romantic relationship to a rotting mouse, and fanciful letters in which Friedrich Nietzsche addresses a distant lover. In the allusive I Wonder What You Will Remember of September, Cecilia Cornejo provides voice-over narration drawn from her parents' reminiscences of the 1973 Chilean coup, which accompanies shots of them and Cornejo's daughter and turbulent images of the Sears Tower that suggest the lost World Trade Center. And in the rudely enlightening diary Baby Makes Three, Beth Austin pokes her camera in her boyfriend's face as he frets about their cat's tumor and later sobs at news of his father's death. 100 min. (Bill Stamets) (8:00)

Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

Six upbeat films and videos about body image. Cindy McKeown's One in Eight: Janice's Journey chronicles a Boston woman's battle against breast cancer; Jaime Scholnick's Hello Kitty Gets a Mouth is a live-action goof in which the Japanese cartoon character seeks cosmetic surgery; and Mary Feidt's The Goddess of Isla Mujeres shows a topless 303-pound woman overflowing with positive sentiments about herself as she enjoys time on a Mexican tourist beach. The best entry is Jesse Epstein's delightfully deconstructive Wet Dreams & False Images, in which a young connoisseur of glossy men's magazines learns the ugly truth from digital photo retouchers. 104 min. (Bill Stamets) (10:00)

SATURDAY, MARCH 20

* (Inter)National Commodities

The talking-head shots of Cambodian survivors of sexual slavery in Sonya Shah's Something Between Her Hands (2003) demonstrate that sometimes the best choice a filmmaker can make is to dispense with artifice entirely. Haltingly but without self-pity, the women recount how they were duped, sold, drugged, and forced to service 30 clients and more a day. In Khmer with subtitles. Leena Manimekalai's harrowing Parai (2003), about India's Dalits (untouchables), analyzes sexual abuse as a weapon of class oppression. Many untouchables live in near slavery, the men beaten if caught studying, the women preyed upon by upper caste men--who compel Dalit children to relay sexual demands to their mothers. In Tamil with subtitles. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion. 85 min. (FC) (11:00 am)

Young & Restless

The human costs of the suicide bombings in Israel are sensitively probed in Hilla Medalia's 45-minute Daughters of Abraham (2003; in English and subtitled Hebrew and Arabic), which portrays the brief yet accomplished lives of two teenage girls, one who becomes a bomber, the other her victim. Intercut interviews with the grieving survivors (including the victim's mother, who confesses her hatred for Arabs) leave one with the melancholy sense that there is no solution. Equally effective is Shannon Walsh's Fire & Hope, a South African anti-AIDS video with bright colors, lively editing rhythms, and a hip-hop sound track. The other three works on the program are variously weak, overly cute, or obscure. 95 min. (FC) (2:00)

* Prison Lullabies

This fascinating 2003 documentary by Odile Isralson and Lina Matta examines a little-known topic: felons who give birth to and rear babies within prison walls. It opens in upstate New York at the Taconic Correctional Facility, one of only five U.S. penal institutions with nurseries, and follows four drug-addicted women as they mother their children through the first years of life, relinquish them to outside caretakers, and finally reenter society themselves. Struggling with the treacherous cycle of rehab and relapse, they try to make peace with extended families that are sometimes leery of enabling more destructive behavior, while throughout the film their children mutely return the camera's unflinching gaze. 83 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (4:00)

Radical Harmonies

Dee Mosbacher's 2002 documentary video traces the 30-year political, sexual, and cultural evolution of "women's music," framing it with the feminist and civil rights movements. Although visually and formally plain, the work is enlivened by expressive performances from Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, and Sweet Honey in the Rock that showcase the liberating power of the music. The interview subjects offer somewhat quixotic takes on various racial, sexual, and class issues, but the absence of dissident or outside perspectives makes for a narrow ideological field. 90 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (6:00)

Dyke Night

Eight shorts with lesbian themes. In the appealing, affirming Butch Mystique, Debra Wilson collects interviews with nine African-American lesbians ("My interior landscape is male," observes one); both gay men and straight women come on to them, and they run into problems using public restrooms. D.E.B.S. by Angela Robinson & Power UP is a hilarious, Hollywood-slick comedy about four preppy teens working as secret government agents, and Laurel Almerinda's lyrical Firepussy is the overly poetic reverie of an orphaned arsonist who describes an erotic encounter with another woman in an underwater Mayan temple. 109 min. (Bill Stamets) (8:00)

Crying & Wanking

This international program of ten shorts about longing and libido takes its name from Alys Hawkins's inventive UK animation, an elliptical, erotic message to a lover. In Un Amor Sin la Vida Nepalese director Subina Shresta pines for her tangoing ex in Buenos Aires, voicing lines like "I loathe my own melancholia" over a hypnotic nocturne of rainy streetscapes in Katmandu. And Thomas Draschan and Stella Friedrichs's To the Happy Few is a pulsating montage of porn and found footage, accompanied by Hindi pop. 92 min. (Bill Stamets) (10:00)

SUNDAY, MARCH 21

Sour Mix

Seven shorts about growing up. In Michelle Oznowics's conventionally styled drama Sour Mix a troubled girl at a new high school tries to deal with an overworked father and a mother in rehab; similar themes animate Erla Skuladottir's Savior, Catherine LeCouteur's Spin, and Miriam Kim's Just Between You & Me. Far fresher is the brash self-portrait Whatev...I'm Weird by teen extrovert Nicole Beaudry, who asks, "Who isn't weird? And if you're not, you're boring and I refuse to play with you." In the truly unsettling Man's Search for Happiness, Caz McIntee hijacks an old Mormon filmstrip, inserting titles that recast it as a self-help aid for "genetically engineered" children in existential crisis. 93 min. (Bill Stamets) (noon)

* Beah: A Black Woman Speaks

Biography can not only inspire but also heal, as Lisa Gay Hamilton demonstrates in this 2003 profile of her mentor, actress and black feminist icon Beah Richards. Hollywood often cast Richards as a domestic or a matriarch (as Sidney Poitier's mother in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? she was nominated for an Oscar), yet she excelled at her craft, from her stage debut in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner to her last film, Beloved. Born in the jim crow south, she grew up steeped in familial love and black pride, and exposure to Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois sharpened her political ideas. "We are not actors, so much as be-ers" was a favorite expression, providing the foundation for her acting as well as her activism. 90 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (2:00)

How Do Things Work Around Here?

A panel discussion with screenings of work from India, Ghana, Somalia, and the Netherlands. (4:00)

* Night Passage

Two Asian women who are best friends, both of them realistically established characters, and a little boy travel by train at night, disembarking at each stop and encountering enigmatic and highly unrealistic events. This feature by Jean-Paul Bourdier and Trinh T. Minh-ha (A Tale of Love, Naked Spaces--Living Is Round) unfolds as an avant-garde picaresque, though unlike other examples that spring to mind (Cocteau's Testament of Orpheus, Pasolini's Hawks and Sparrows), it seems neither autobiographical nor ethnocentric, and tends to emphasize theatrical elements (including forthright use of music, choreography, and spoken text). Such seemingly unanchored work is obliged to entertain on some level, and this succeeds pretty well, aided by Bourdier's lighting and production design. The credited inspiration is Kenji Miyazawa's novel Milky Way Railroad, and the effective music is by the Construction of Ruins. 98 min. (JR) (7:00)

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