A FOCUS ON WOMEN FILMAKERS
The MadCat Women's International Film Festival Comes of Age
The San Francisco Reader
By Paris Morgan
If you free-associate the descriptive phrase "woman filmmaker" with Penny Marshall, and if the word
"independent" causes you to draw a total blank, the MadCat Women's International Film Festival, in its
sixth season, aims to expand your consciousness and refine your discretion.
Though the designation "independent" in film has become somewhat slippery, women filmmakers are gaining prominence,
often rising through the indie ranks. Sofia Coppola, with the critical acclaim and cultural success of "The Virgin
Suicides," stands out, and Allison Anders's films "Gas Food Lodging" and "Mi Vida Loca" were indie hits before she
directed some episodes of the television series "Sex and the City." Mimi Leder directed the television series "ER"
and went on to make "The Peacemaker," "Deep Impact," and "Pay It Forward" in the same entrenched Hollywood camp in
which one of the best-known box-office betties, Betty Thomas, made "8 Days" and "Doctor Dolittle."
So let us go beyond the scope of the Cineplex box office and prime time TV and thank our lucky stars that we live in
San Franciscoˇhome to the MadCat Women's International Film Festival. This year MadCat celebrates its sixth year with
nine programs, chock-a-block with provocative and artistic films and videos made by women, showing September 6-29 at
four Bay Area venues: in San Francisco at Artists Television Access, El Rio, and the San Francisco Art Institute; and
in Berkeley at the Pacific Film Archive.
Over 700 submissions from 38 countries proffered MadCat director and curator, Ariella Ben-Dov, an unequalled 30 premiers,
including nine world premieres, for this year's festival. These 30 films are organized thematically into nine programs,
designed to give maximum expressionistic impact to topics such as love (and love gone awry), travel and searching, science
fiction and altered realities, New York, and educational films (or films that impart). The programs tend to partner accessible
films and videos with more experimental ones, in an effort to bring an audience into a subject, then illustrate the various
constituent meansˇvisual, musical, and narrativeˇfor that subject to be interpreted and expressed by filmmakers.
A typical arrangement of a MadCat program is made plain in the festival's first presentation of the month, "This Crazy Thing
Called Love," in which inhere a Village Voice-acclaimed Super-8 narrative, along with a filmed interview of boys on the subject
of anatomy, teamed with a Japanese language lesson on making out, and, finally, an animated drama about a bizarre true story of
a 1930's crime-of-passion.
One of these programs will also feature live music and quite a few will feature discussions and interviews with the filmmakers.
Additionally, MadCat will present two feature length films at this year's festival:
"The Odds of Recovery," by Golden Gate Award-winner Su Friedrich, is a biographical account of the director's battle with
illnesses and her struggle to understand the web of Western medicine. In this film, Friedrich weaves a first-person account
with texts from medical, self-help, and gardening books and the principles of T'ai Chi with the filmed images of different
seasons in her garden to convey, through her personal history, the universal realities of aging, personal stagnation, and growth.
"Catching Out: The Act of Hopping Freight Trains," by Sarah George, is a contemplative observation, using time-lapsed photography
of contemporary train hoppers as they navigate the constraints of society and the freedom of the road.
Other established filmmakers who join Su Friedrich this year include Abigail Child, who has shown her work in "The American
Century, 1950-2000," the Whitney Biennial, and the London Film Festival, and Helen Levitt, who, heralded for her photographs of
Harlem children in the 1940s, brings her still images to life in her first moving picture.
The emphasis of the MadCat Festival is that the filmmakers be women, not that the subjects be suppositionally "women's issues."
The constant is that the point-of-view is always a woman's, so it expands what can be considered women's issues. In this definition,
that which concerns women is what concerns people everywhere, what concerns the planet, and what concerns the legacy of storytelling.
Sheri Wills, professor of film and video at the University of Rhode Island, whose abstract film, "Effigy," deals with technological
peril and medical anxiety and appears in the "Altered Realities" program, says, "My films wouldn't show at another woman's film
festival, because my films are not generally what one would consider women's issues. But I do think they have a feminine point of
view, because that's my perspective in the world; that's the way I have experienced the worldˇas a woman. Ariella's programs are so
interesting because they are so much more encompassing and not limited to traditional women's issues."
Finally, the commonality for the MadCat filmmakers, besides being women, is that, according to Ben-Dov, they "challenge how they
are telling stories through moving images."
A still from "Introduction to Living in a
Closed System," a film by Brittany Gravely.