Confronting Silence at the Walker

By Christina Houghton

For the next two weeks, the Walker Art Center will become a haven for women in film as it plays host to the 13th annual Women with Vision Film Festival. This year’s festival, grouping films around the theme of confronting silence, presents an array of works, both features and shorts, which strive to create a voice for women in a male-dominated industry.
The Walker’s Film/Video Curator Sheryl Mousley notes, “This year’s festival celebrates women in film who courageously confront silence, from actors and writers blacklisted in McCarthy-era Hollywood to directors today who are boldly giving voice to their vision in places like India, Iran and Cameroon as well as Europe and the United States.”
Creating a space for women in film is no small feat, and the Walker approaches this task with vigor and poise. A blacklisted series of films anchors the 2006 festival, honoring women such as Norma Barzman, whose careers were interrupted or destroyed by being labeled communists by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Another highlight is the screening of the complete Indian trilogy of films by the Indian-born, Toronto-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta. She commented on the three features to Indiewire: “They are very different films. The trilogy is about elements on one level that nurture and destroy us. They are very tangible elements. ‘Fire’ is about the politics of sexuality, ‘Earth’ is about the politics of nationalism and ‘Water’ is about the politics of religion.”

While the intentionality of the films is consistently laudable, the visual compositions and intrigue are slightly less so. The Walker’s series of shorts include the bizarre and slightly contrived “Woman in the Park,” directed by Emily Haddad. In an interview with Sheryl Mousley, Stillwater-based Haddad comments, “I love writing…I love making up stories and seeing what happens to my characters.” While her film certainly suggests mystery and vulnerability, its pace and complexity lulls as we realize that the plot centers solely around an old woman waiting on a park bench for her sister, and a young police officer’s attempt to help her. When talking about the film’s central theme, Haddad notes, “There are some problems in life that just don’t have solutions.”
Many of the carefully chosen films shine. French-born director Gaelle Denis masterfully crafts her film “City Paradise.” This six-minute short follows Tomoko, a young woman who arrives in London to learn English and discovers an underground world replete with mystery and charm. Gaelle’s playful, ingenious film delves into a world of vibrant surrealism. Other shorts include “E=NYC2,” directed by Kimi Takesue, a series of vignettes about the self-contained yet interconnected communities of New York City. In an interview with Channel 13 WNET New York, Takesue explains, “I was drawn to different expressions of energy and movement within the city.”

The Walker also encourages young filmmakers with Girls in the Director’s Chair, a portion of the festival showing short films made by eight to 18-year-olds. “In the Know,” shown at 2:00 p.m. this Saturday, addresses a range of topics affecting young Minnesotans. The one-minute “Plastic Surgery,” by Hannah Pietrick, impresses upon its viewers the simple message, “avoid plastic surgery,” by assembling incongruent images to create one disconnected visage. Another film, “District 202,” poignantly highlights a nonprofit youth community center committed to providing social, cultural and educational opportunities by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. The film is surprisingly self-confident for one that addresses such a sensitive topic, eloquently capturing the awkward vulnerability of marginalized youth.
The 13th annual Women with Vision Film Festival runs through March 18. Most screenings take place in the Walker Cinema and tickets are $8 ($6 Walker members) for each program. A festival pass is $40 ($30 Walker members). Passes do not guarantee admittance to screenings; early arrival is recommended.