Women in the Director's Chair International Film & Video Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

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

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The 22nd annual Women in the Director's Chair International Film & Video Festival, featuring narrative, documentary, animated, and experimental works by women, runs Friday, March 14, through Sunday, March 23. Screenings are at the Women in the Director's Chair Theater, 941 W. Lawrence; LaSalle Theatre, LaSalle Bank, 4901 W. Irving Park; Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center, 4859 S. Wabash; and School of the Art Institute of Chicago Auditorium, Columbus Drive at Jackson. 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. The schedule for March 14 through 20 follows; a full festival schedule through March 23 is available on-line at www.chicagoreader.com.


Homegirls: New Work From Chicago

The longest of these seven videos by female Chicago artists, Division + Western (2002), takes its name from the Humboldt Park intersection. Equating gentrification with colonization, director Rachel Rinaldo admits that she's part of the problem--she likes sushi too--but she glosses over the difference between invasion by force of arms and takeover by real estate buyouts. Mary Patten's moving Letters, Conversations: New York-Chicago, Fall 2001 contrasts depictions of the aftermath of September 11 with those of the subsequent agonies of Afghanistan in an implicit indictment of American self-centeredness. In A Fish (Almost) Eaten by a Shark, Zaida Sanabia documents the resistance she encounters from students and staff at her high school while making a video about how to start a gay-straight alliance. Anna Christopher's amusing Sock It to Me is a self-deprecating bit of faux autobiography chronicling her difficult relationship with her mother and the serial rejection of her work by the "Annual Midwest Sock Art Convention." 98 min. Also on the program: Bad Ideas for Paradise (20 min.) by Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby; Cecilia Cornejo's Encuentro (Now That "Whole" Is Always In Between) (5 min.); Collapse (4 min.) by Laura Heit. (FC) (LaSalle Theatre, 6:30)

* Sisters in Cinema

Yvonne Welbon (Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100) wrote and directed this warm and expertly crafted video documentary about the history of black women in American cinema, from Zora Neale Hurston's ethnographic projects in the 1920s to current indie directors like Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust). In the process she spotlights some forgotten pioneers--like Eloyce King Patrick Gist, a Texan who produced race films in the 30s--and elicits sharp observations from people like Neema Barnette and Jessie Maple, who broke into the business via TV in the 60s. Welbon ends on an upbeat note, predicting even more breakthroughs in the next decade. But when Chicago's own Coquie Hughes appears near the end, her street dialect ("You know what I'm sayin'?") contrasts dramatically with the "white" English of the more successful interviewees, suggesting that, for all the celebration of "new voices," some accents are not yet welcome in the mainstream. 60 min. (JJ) (LaSalle Theatre, 9:00)


A String of Pearls

Camille Billops has been documenting the lives of her extended family in Los Angeles since 1979; in this sixth installment (2001), codirected by her husband, James V. Hatch, she focuses on the men, profiling her middle-aged nephew, his grown son and nephews, and an 82-year-old longtime friend of the family. Drawing on footage that spans two decades, Billops does deliver numerous "pearls," but she's allowed herself way too much string: the film's 55 minutes are cluttered with peripheral family members, thematic intertitles, voice-over from emergency-room doctors commenting on the mean streets of LA, and the musings of poet/martial artist Afaa M. Weaver. (JJ) (Hayes Center, 2:00)

The Body Eclectic

A program of recent shorts. Exercise With Chin Yung is local filmmaker Wenhwa Ts'ao's affectionate yet exasperated look at her tradition-minded father--an inventively edited mix of travel footage and captions that comes off as a plea for independence. Christine Khalafian's Mark Set Burn juxtaposes microscopic shots of skin with images of a woman waxing her leg; the spooky music hints that this is some sort of commentary on the price of beauty. Carrie Schultz's Chroma explores the phenomenon of synesthesia, which affects women more than men, but the talking heads and psychedelic images don't add up to much. In Through the Skin: A Film About Love, Lithium and Gym Teachers, Elyse Montague describes her own puberty, "when she didn't really want to grow into a female body," but her experimental use of home-movie shots, distorted images, and jarring sound gets precious after a while. Also on the program: works by Kate Matthews, Naomi Uman, Lisa Yu, and Micaela O'Herlihy. 96 min. (TS) (WIDC Theater, 3:00)

* Sisters in Cinema

See listing for Friday, March 14. (Hayes Center, 4:00)

SOS Tehran

Director Sou Abadi focuses on the plight of women in this 2000 video documentary about social problems in Iran, interweaving footage of a psychotherapy group, a compulsory premarital-counseling course, an Islamic charity, and government bureaucrats trying to help the poor and the homeless. While acknowledging that marriage can be a prison for Iranian women, Abadi also includes signs of hope: a husband in group therapy recognizes that he has been imposing himself on his wife; a grade school student defiantly throws off her head scarf. In French and Farsi with subtitles. 84 min. (FC) (Hayes Center, 5:00)

* Masculine Wiles

In this excellent bunch of shorts about men the most touching is Wenona Byrne's film Saturn's Return, from Australia, in which a young gay man drives with his lover to Sydney to visit his dying father. The direction is observant and matter-of-fact, and the intimate close-ups and give-and-take capture the love between the two men (both terrific actors) and between them and the father, a countercultural relic who's finally accepting death. Martha Pinson shows an understanding of male bonding in her video Don't Nobody Love the Game More Than Me, in which four men shoot the breeze while playing pickup basketball in a park. Their bragging is endearing, and Pinson has a good ear for street lingo. In Abigail Severance's Come Nightfall, a curious teen spies on an old cowboy and is invited in to see the guy's collection of women's dresses; the director cleverly uses horror-movie tricks to crank up the suspense. Also on the program: works by Cheryl Park, Anita Di Bianco, Jacqueline Goss, and Bill Basquin. 87 min. (TS) (SAIC Auditorium, 7:00)

* The Odds of Recovery

Filmmaker Su Friedrich had been living with an extremely asymmetrical body for years when doctors found a 13-pound cyst in her spleen; since then she's undergone six surgeries and been diagnosed with a serious hormonal imbalance. In this moving 2002 film, Friedrich explores the political and personal dimensions of illness and therapy with subtle but mordant humor, taking some justified swipes at the American health care system and laying bare the stress that recovery can place on an intimate relationship. 65 min. (FC) (SAIC Auditorium, 9:00)


Unapologetic Lives

Two video documentaries. The shorter of the two, Tanaz Eshaghian and Sara Nodojoumi's I Call Myself Persian: Iranians in America (2001, 27 min.), takes on a fascinating topic, but the execution is pedestrian talking-head stuff. Among the better heads on display are Edward Said and the artist and filmmaker Sharin Neshat. Lu Lippold's The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall (2002, 59 min.) is an absorbing portrait of the bohemian writer and activist, an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy in Central and South America. After living in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Mexico for decades, Randall sued to have her American citizenship--which she had previously renounced--reinstated, incurring a lengthy deportation battle with the U.S. government. Randall, her mother, her daughters, and poet Adrienne Rich are better at telling Randall's story than the awkward narration. (JR) (WIDC Theater, 1:00)

Caught In Between

Katia Jarjoura's video documentary (2002, 52 min.) about southern Lebanon after Israel withdrew in 2000 focuses on Lebanese who'd either resisted or collaborated with the Israelis: a self-described freedom fighter imprisoned and tortured for over a decade, a farmer who did menial labor in Israel to feed her family, a former Lebanese soldier who lived in Israel and has recently returned home. Jarjoura has sympathy for all her subjects--and for Hezbollah, praising its lenient treatment of the collaborators. Her presentation of the subjects' reminiscences is almost chatty, but a sobering sequence in which a Hezbollah member teaches his kid to hate Israel supports the observation that everyone in southern Lebanon is a prisoner of the conflict. In Arabic with subtitles. Also on the program: Lena Merhej's four-minute Drawing the War. 58 min. (TS) (WIDC Theater, 3:00)

A Day's Work

In A Day's Work--A Day's Pay, the centerpiece of this international program of shorts, Kathy Leichter and Jonathan Skurnik address the fight waged by former welfare recipients in the late 90s to improve conditions in New York City's exploitative Work Experience Program. Part of the national initiative to "end welfare as we know it," the program installed people in city jobs that provided only a fraction of the standard wage and none of the benefits. Unfortunately this 2001 video falls somewhere between cinema verite and documentary TV--though well-meaning, it lacks the visceral power of the former and the thoroughness of the latter. Skurnik's videography provides only the most predictable images--the press conference, the city council session, the grassroots meeting--and rarely captures anything more personal or intimate than one might see on the ten o'clock news. Also on the program: works by Gail Noonan, Ericka Beckman, and Diana Logreira. 87 min. (Jack Helbig) (WIDC Theater, 5:00)


Ghost Cities

Sergei Eisenstein once described the ideas of Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky as "a string of pearls without a string." This ambitious 2002 first feature by Chicagoan Ines Sommer, a cinematographer who can conjure up more arresting images with digital video than most industry professionals can with 35-millimeter, is tenuously centered on a young woman (Terri Reardon) who does temporary cleaning work. She's deliberately defined by her lack of definition (which is apparently what inspires her to change her name from Therese to Joan halfway through her lonely odyssey), but she provides only a slender thread for Sommer's essayistic pearls, which document the city in terms of real estate, Native American origins (alluded to in the title), and "invisible" lower-income working women. The improvised performances are persuasive, and the heroine's dreams are eerie and suggestive despite their seeming to develop independent of her personality; unfortunately not even the inserted text crawls explaining her background and supplying various statistics can make a satisfying narrative of this multifaceted collage. 85 min. (JR) (SAIC Auditorium, 6:00)

* Wind Bird

Sri Lankan filmmaker Inoka Sathyangani makes her feature debut with this somber, affecting portrait of a young pregnant garment worker abandoned by her lover and scorned by her family. Sathyangani, who also wrote the screenplay, minimizes the melodrama by downplaying every plot development: even the revelation that the child's father has been married all along is remarkably understated. Shot by Channa Deshapriya and edited by Ravindra Guruge in spare documentary style, this deceptively simple 2002 video speaks volumes about the status of women in Sri Lanka and the dislocations caused by the country's feverish attempts to modernize. The film's naturalism is heightened by its minimal score--bits of Bollywood sound-track music heard from the windows of homes or passing cars. 125 min. (Jack Helbig) (WIDC Theater, 6:00)

All the World's the Stage

Kristin Pichaske's video El Teatro Campesino, Teatro Roots (2001) looks at the satirical Chicano theater El Teatro Campesino, founded to support Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The film includes fascinating footage from the company's 60s heyday, but its contemporary hook--a performance starring the next generation of actors--is given only cursory treatment. Liz Miller's interesting video Novela, Novela (2002) documents the trials of producing the Nicaraguan soap opera Sexto sentido, which regularly tackles issues like alcoholism, homophobia, and family violence. Nancy Andrews's dryly witty film Monkey and Lumps (or Life in the Super-Arboreal) is a mock biography of fictional artist Ima Plume, who uses detailed chalk drawings in her performances. Also on the program: work by Christine Panushka, Jennet Thomas, and Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. 93 min. (Jack Helbig) (WIDC Theater, 8:00)

You Must Remember This

Eight videos and two films about memory, both historical and familial. The best is Hope Tucker's Bessie Cohen, Survivor of the 1911 Shirtwaist Fire (2000), an affecting video obituary of a woman who lived to 107 after surviving the notorious Manhattan factory fire as a teenager. Also intriguing is Marie-Francoise Theodore's video Rebel in the Soul (2002), in which Theodore plays two African-American women in 1915, one a Georgia lynching victim, the other a sculptor in Massachusetts. Also on the program: work by Elise H. Greven and Kate Sobol. 84 min. (FC) (SAIC Auditorium, 8:00)


I Did What I Knew

An international program of short works, the best of which is Jacqueline Goss's wild, low-budget video essay The 100th Undone (2001): part text, part silent movie, it defies categorization as it ponders the issues raised by cloning and the Human Genome Project. Marina Gonzalez Palmier, director of the slick AFI-funded film White Like the Moon (2001), could use some of Goss's imagination; her story about a Mexican-American girl wrestling with issues of identity and autonomy in the 1950s uses every Hollywood convention in the book. Also on the program: works by Eva Gaspar, Mirha-Soleil Ross, Frances Nkara, and Pascale Simmons and Jenny Mijnhijmer. 97 min. (Jack Helbig) (WIDC Theater, 6:00)

* Incidental Journeys

In this hour-long 2000 feature from Taiwan, two women meet when one offers the other a ride, and together they visit a farm in the mountains. Director Jofei Chen gracefully unfolds the growing attraction between the pair--a wandering painter with a broken heart and a student who's taking some time off from an affair in the U.S.--as they hike in a misty forest, chat with friends, and agonize over their imminent parting. The tone is languid and melancholy, yet the ending is happy in its own way. In Mandarin with subtitles. Two videos complete the program: Helen Haeyong Lee's half-hour Sophie (2002), in which a Korean-American girl tries to save her mother from her abusive father, and Jeong-a Seong's Green Tea. (TS) (LaSalle Theatre, 6:00)

* Girl Hood

Video maker Liz Garbus spent three years tracking the lives of two teenage girls incarcerated at the Waxter Juvenile Facility near Baltimore: Shanae, who was only 12 when she stabbed a friend to death, and Megan, who spent ten years in as many foster homes before being busted for assault with a deadly weapon. The profiles of these violent young women seem superficial at first but deepen as the two progress through adolescence, growing wiser in their assessments of other people and themselves. Contrary to expectations, Shanae is the one who manages to put her life back in order, overcoming the death of her mother to graduate fourth in her class in high school and go on to college. Megan, shackled with a hapless mom who's been in and out of jail for a decade herself, seems more imperiled by her own weary cynicism than by the blunts she smokes with a pal. Like many similar documentaries, this 2002 feature doesn't present easy answers, but by letting the two girls register as individuals, it forces the viewer to care about them when few around them can be bothered. 80 min. (JJ) (WIDC Theater, 8:00)

I'm Afraid of Americans

In Mai's America (72 min.), a video documentary by Marlo Poras, an exchange student from Hanoi completes her senior year at a Mississippi high school and her freshman year at Tulane University. Mai, daughter of a hotel manager, is cheerful, talkative, inquisitive, and fearless, and she adapts quickly, moving from her host family's trailer park to the home of a young black couple and befriending a gay transvestite. Poras seems to have staged many scenes, apparently in hopes of documenting racial tolerance in the south, and her disingenuousness becomes as grating as Mai's perpetual smile. Yet the girl's lucky break and the pressure from her parents to finish college in the U.S. make for a compelling story. Also on the program: Language Lessons (9 min.) by Jeanne C. Riley and John Muse; Trick or Treat (15 min.) by Alice Wu. (TS) (LaSalle Theatre, 8:00)


I Like the Ones With Sex

I guess I do too, which is why I chose to review this program. But Micaela O'Herlihy's 14-minute Thunder Perfect Mind, a choppy experimental film mixing found footage with elliptical glimpses of a cavorting New Age prostitute, is too arch and self-conscious for my taste. In her 58-minute video documentary Bad Girls Marielle Nitoslawska interviews smart and articulate women on the subject of porn, including film theorist and former Chicagoan Linda Williams, French feminist Luce Irigaray, filmmaker Catherine Breillat, performance artist and porn star Annie Sprinkle, and several directors of erotic films, including some who work for Lars von Trier's Danish porn studio. Much of this is fun and interesting, though only occasionally both at the same time. Ximena Cuevas's 2-minute Baba de perico and Juliana Piccillo's 23-minute video I Was a Teenage Prostitute were unavailable for preview. (JR) (WIDC Theater, 6:00)

Modern Anxieties

The best entry in this shorts program is Amy Wendel's 35-millimeter Weightless, in which a poetry-loving elderly patient helps a nurse overcome her fear of swimming: the dialogue is smart, the tone subdued, and the acting graceful. Kathleen Man's 16-millimeter The Interview conveys a young man's paranoia as he's inducted into a faceless bureaucracy; the use of unusual sculptures and sterile Parisian architecture adds to the Orwellian feel. S. Casper Wong's 16-millimeter Shirts & Skins plays with stereotypes as two Asian-Americans--a nerdy engineer and a corporate lawyer--deal with their colleagues' perceptions of them and their perceptions of each other. Also on the program: works by Pearce Williams, Brittany Gravely, and Karen Skloss. 93 min. (TS) (LaSalle Theatre, 6:00)

Women, the Forgotten Face of War

The title of this 84-minute video documentary from 2002 is misleading--atrocities against women in the ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia have been extensively reported in the Western mainstream media. What Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir (the team behind The Brandon Teena Story) add to the discussion are feminist rhetoric and interviews with survivors done from 1999 to 2001--all without a male voice. Five women provide long firsthand accounts of Serbian attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, describing their survival of rape and imprisonment. The video quality is uneven, the editing is a bit slapdash, and the testimonies get repetitive after a while--but the rough edges add immediacy to these portraits of courage. In Serbian with subtitles. Also on the program: Sedika Mojadidi's 12-minute experimental video Zulaikha (2002), in which an Afghan immigrant in LA tells her own tale of woe against a background of news reports from September 11. (TS) (LaSalle Theatre, 8:00)


Bad Day

An international collection of films and videos. Samara Helperin's Sorry Brenda (2001) is a witty and all-too-brief deconstruction of Beverly Hills 90210 that imputes a gay subtext to the friendship between Luke Perry and Jason Priestley. Grainy scenes from the series, shot off a TV screen on Super-8 and transferred to video, add to the subversive tone. By contrast, Jan Libby's 2002 video Eleanor couldn't be less ironic: a heartfelt portrait of an elderly crossing guard who becomes friendly with a young girl, it records telling details of the old woman's mundane life but uses nonlinear devices (repeated images, eccentric editing, unexplained flashbacks) to portray her distracted frame of mind. Also on the program: work by Rosario Garcia-Montero, Irina Sitkova of Russia, Jyothi Kapur Das of India, and S.L. Lau of China. 92 min. (Jack Helbig) (WIDC Theater, 6:00)

Out Front: Seeds of the Grassroots

Berkeley students go on a hunger strike to save the endangered ethnic studies program in Irum Shiehk's 1999 video documentary On Strike! Ethnic Studies 1969-1999 (38 min). Laura Lipson's video Standing on My Sisters' Shoulders (61 min.) commemorates the courage of Mississippi women who fought segregation in the 1950s and '60s. (LaSalle Theatre, 6:00)

* Chekhov's Motifs

Members of a farming family incessantly repeat the same lines of dialogue while a student prepares to leave home for school; guests at an interminable wedding cackle maniacally while the ghost of the groom's lover interferes with the ceremony. Pushing 70, the great Russian filmmaker Kira Muratova (The Asthenic Syndrome) seems to get wilder and more transgressive with every passing year. This updated merging of two Anton Chekhov texts (the short play Tatiana Repina and the story "Difficult Natures") veers closer to the mad lucidity of Gogol than to the wry realism of The Cherry Orchard. I found the extreme stylization perversely mesmerizing, though it may cause others to flee the theater. Some of the subtitles in this two-hour black-and-white feature are illegible, though I doubt I could understand all of this wonderful piece of craziness even if Russian were my mother tongue. To be projected from Beta SP video. (JR) (WIDC Theater, 8:00)

Dating and Its Discontents

In the longest of these eight works, Georgina Garcia Riedel's video One Night It Happened (2001), a couple paw each other unconvincingly in a cab. Finding themselves locked out of her apartment, they grapple some more in the elevator and on the rooftop. In Nora Malone's video Drinking Raoule (2002), a woman talks in voice-over about rejecting a guy for making a sexist remark, but it's not clear what this has to do with the sensuous, soft-focus close-ups of body parts on the screen. In Alice Wu's clever video Trick or Treat (2002), a little boy left home alone dons a fright mask and joins his baffled upstairs neighbors, recent immigrants from Taiwan, for dinner. And Tanya Haden's video animation The Visit (2001) turns a dental appointment into an appealing spoof of romance fiction. 88 min. (FC) (LaSalle Theatre, 8:00)


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Agenda Teaser

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October 25

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