Why FilmScene is showing nothing but films made by women in March
Kenyan film 'Rafiki', which is about two women falling in love, has had its premiere at Cannes Film Festival despite being banned by the country's censors at home. Jayson Mansaray reports. Video provided by Reuters
Last year, it seemed like a simple yet radical idea to the staff of Iowa City's non-profit theater FilmScene: show nothing but films directed by women throughout the entire month of March and call it Women's March.
In 2018, the two-screen theater bucked national trends and historic norms with its response to #MeToo, the actual Women's March movement and societal shifts around the world that put the voices and issues of women in the forefront.
"I think we knew to do it once is cool, to do it twice is a real statement," Rebecca Fons, programming director at FilmScene said.
Beginning March 1, FilmScene will dedicate all its screen-time to films directed by women. Though even something as simple as showing films made by women can seem like a political stance, Fons views the idea as more more of a joyous occasion of respecting great artists who often don't get the same billing as men.
"I think people really appreciated that in the storm of the emergence of #MeToo and Time’s Up, we were representing a celebration of women," Fons said.
The month of programming will be broken down in various series of films. The Vanguard series will show newer and yet-to-be released films by women before they're shown in New York City or Los Angeles. They will hold an animation spring break camp for girls and non gender-confirming youth. Women filmmakers will come to FilmScene to discuss their projects. They will show some of the oldest films ever made, scored with live music from the all female Iowa City band The Awful Purdies.
They'll also show the film "They," which played at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2017, by University of Iowa professor and filmmaker Anahita Ghazvinizadeh.
"More than anything, I just want to share the film with the community here," the filmmaker said.
The second year of Women's March was made possible by several groups, Fons said. One being organizations giving major finical support like local philanthropy group 5224Good, FIlmScene's neighbor and clothier Velvet Coat, Produce Iowa and UI's Obermann Center for Advance Studies. And certainly last-but-not-least, ticket-buyers.
"We got so much positive feedback from patrons and the community last year," she said.
Fons and FilmScene leadership saw the first Women's March as a success both financially and in the conversations it started in town and across the country.
"Our fellow arthouses have told us that this was awesome and that they're going to do something similar," Fons said.
Having just come back from Arthouse Convergence, a convention of arthosue cinema leaders in Midway, Utah, Fons said FilmScene leadership received a lot of feedback about the program's unique qualities, and the guts it took to do something that drastic.
This year, Fons said she was able to incorporate more input from the community over a longer period of time thanks to a Women's March committee. The diverse group of women throughout the Iowa City area met regularly to discuss the films presented and Dr. Lina-Maria Murillo, a professor at UI in the History and Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies departments and Ghazvinizadeh as well.
"It’s not just about producing work that showcases the lives of women of color, it’s about showing the vision that these directors can bring to film from backgrounds that have not necessarily been supported in Hollywood,” Murillo said.
Murillo was most involved in picking films for Women March's Vanguard Voices series of movies. The series features "The Third Wife" by Ash Mayfair of Vietnam and "The Chambermaid" by Lila Aviles of Mexico. Both will play in Iowa City before their premieres in New York or LA. The two other films in the series are "Little Woods" starring Tessa Thompson and "Rafiki," a Kenyan movie made by Wanuri Kahiu that was infamously banned from the country because of the film centering around two queer women.
The festival will spotlight filmmakers based in Iowa, including Ghazvinizadeh and her film "They," a film about a 14-year-old contemplating whether they will transition or not. "They" plays at 7:30 p.m. March 27.
“I really hope the film itself is what will generate conversation. I think my hope is to create art that that can help people leave the theater with questions more than celebrating the identity of the filmmaker," Ghazvinizadeh said.
The other Iowa-based film is "Uranium Derby" by Brittany Prater. The documentary focuses on Prater unearthing the nearly secret history of Ames and its connection to the Manhattan Project and the construction of nuclear weapons. The film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. on March 9.
Both Ghazvinizadeh and Prater will be at the screenings of their respective movies.
Other movies of note include the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee from Lebanon "Capernaum," the gritty cop drama starring Nicole Kidman "Destroyer," the first full-length animated film "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" from 1926, the noir classic starring Oscar-winner Edmond O'Brien "The Hitch-Hiker," the Edward Snowden documentary "Citizenfour," the original film version of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the prison drama about a hardened criminal getting therapy by training wild horses "The Mustang."
Women's March will be sprinkled with unique events that stray a bit from traditional movie screenings.
To kick off Women's March at 5 p.m. March 1, FilmScene will host a Opening Night Soiree with its neighbor Velvet Coat and the UI Stanley Museum of Art. The museum will host a gallery exhibit featuring only women artists. The party includes drinks, eats and more.
At 6:30 p.m. March 13, FilmScene will show some of the earliest silent films made by women with music scored by beloved Iowa City band The Awful Purdies.
From March 18 to March 22, FilmScene wll host a Spring Break Makers and Creators Film Camp for girls, trans and gender non-binary youths ages seven to 14. Visit icfilmscene.org for more information about the camp and registration.
At 6 p.m. March 31 will be Women's March closing event with dinner and a movie at vegan restaurant Trumpet Blossom Cafe featuring the Oscar-nominated film "The Kids are All Right."
Murillo said that FilmScene hopes to continue Women's March into the coming years. For her, and many who are avid film fans, the need is clear: women filmmakers still don't get the recognition they deserve.
A look at the Academy Awards, the most prestigious prize for films (which hosts its annual ceremony Sunday night), shows a dramatic apathy toward women filmmakers. Of the 244 movies nominated for Best Picture in the last 41 years, only 10 were directed by women. Two were directed by Kathryn Bigelow — "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty" — and two have been nominated in the last five years — Greta Gerwig's 2017 film "Lady Bird" and Ava DuVernay's 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. drama "Selma."
Only five women have been nominated for the Oscar's Best Director award: Sophia Coppola, Gerwig, Bigelow, Lina Wertmüller and Jane Campion.
The 2019 Oscars continued the trend of little female representation. None of the films up for Best Picture were directed by women and none of the directors nominated for Best Director were women.
For Fons and the rest of FilmScene's staff, the influences of Women's March reached far past the month, and Fons hopes it does the same for its viewers.
"It really made us think how can we be sure it's not just movies made by white guys playing here every month. We hope people start thinking the same way too," Fons said.
Reach Zach Berg at 319-887-5412, email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @ZacahryBerg.