Phyllis Stuart

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Kathryn, a 75-year-old woman, sat at her kitchen table speaking warmly about life as a rural farmer’s wife, cooking, cleaning and caring for children in the documentary “Kathryn and Her Daughters,” produced and directed by Sandra Pfeifer.

This finely wrought visualization of a fast-disappearing way of life was one of 19 films, documentaries and shorts shown here at the second annual WinFemme Film Festival the first weekend of December.

There were no blockbusters, no high body counts, no gratuitous violence or sex. Instead, the films presented complex tales, artfully told and skillfully realized.

“Click Three Times” featured Karen, a mentally disabled 22-year-old woman portrayed by Kelly Boczek, looking for a way to escape her unhappy existence in the fantasy land of Oz, with the help of a homeless woman, portrayed by Isabel Sanford, well-known for her role as Louise Jefferson in the “Jeffersons” television series.

The other documentaries included profiles of women singers, painters and dancers, such as Martha Becket, a reclusive artist and dancer. The plot of “Loyalties” centered on two Canadian friends discovering that one was the direct descendant of slave owners who had owned her friend’s slave antecedents. Their relationship leads to the meeting of the two extended families. Other plots dealt with a little girl stumbling into spirituality in “God at Seven” and a young woman dealing with a gay father in “Godass.”

Women in Films Complex, Not Decorations

The films at the festival recognize the fullness of women’s lives, a point blatantly absent on the big screen which prefers perpetuating stale stereotypes of women as objects and decoration, said the festival organizer.

Sponsored by the Women’s Image Network, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 with the purpose of encouraging more positive portrayals of women in the media, the festival showed works with female protagonists in the lead. The network also produces the Win awards and seminars for women in screen-writing, financing for films and new media. It also produced the television special “Fifty Years of Funny Women” for ABC.

WinFemme AdvertisementAn advertisement for the festival poked fun at the tired roles portrayed by women. Featuring a chick, a tomato, a fox and a Barbie doll, the tag line read: A gentle reminder for those who sometimes confuse women with various unrelated objects.

“I use humor to help people along,” said network founder and festival organizer Phyllis Stuart.

Stuart organized what she terms her “pilot” festival in Los Angeles last year featuring only one film, one documentary and one short, two of which were later nominated for prestigious awards.

This year, she had film festivals in Los Angeles and New York. The West Coast version presented 43 films, almost double the 19 shown in New York.

Recalling her doubts before this year’s festival got underway, Stuart said she was worried then about finding enough films to present.

“I didn’t know if people were making enough films about women.”

However, Stuart advertised on her Web site and in industry newspapers and found films worth showing. None featured women as bimbos, victims, romantic interest or sexual sidekick.

Festival Is Pointedly Not Called a Women’s Festival

Stuart said she doesn’t call the festival a women’s festival because it marginalizes it and because the films can be made by women or men.

The purpose of the festival is, she said, to “satisfy my commitment to getting more women’s stories out there and dispelling stereotypes about women.” She added, “I thought that if I continued to show images of women as interesting and multi-dimensional that perhaps people would begin to see them as such in our culture as well. Women are every bit as complex as men are, and I’m really interested in seeing what I can accomplish rather than just talking about things.”

Stuart said, however, that she’s not sure if she can do the film festival again.

The industry, she said, is already overflowing with film festivals, making it harder to stand out when people have so many options to choose from.

“I don’t know if I can survive another year of the film festival,” she said in an interview after the festival. “It’s very difficult to juggle getting things promoted and trying to get the resources to promote and then run a festival and run your life. It’s been very challenging this year.”

Mashadi Matabane is a New York-based journalist.