Short film festival celebrates women

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by Jordan Green

The nine short films by, for and about women compiled for the traveling Lunafest comprised a brisk, enlivening and therapeutic slate for a screening at the Mack & Mack boutique in downtown Greensboro last week.

Clif Bar & Co., makers of the Luna nutrition bar for women, uses the film festival to raise money for the national Breast Cancer Fund and local nonprofits — in this case, the Hirsch Wellness Network.

The nonprofit brings together people who are facing or have survived cancer to process their experience by making art.

“I think it’s a community,” Hirsch Wellness Network founder Louise Grape says in an opening piece about the nonprofit that kicked off the festival. “It’s a place to go to process experiences with people through creative means.

“Even if you don’t think you’re an artist,” she adds, “you are.”

This is the fifth year Hirsch Wellness Network has hosted Lunafest in Greensboro.

As a composite, the nine short films explored themes of female solidarity, strength and vulnerability that struck a chord with the hundred or so people who turned out for the festival — an audience that was overwhelmingly female, multiracial and multigenerational while tending towards seasoned. “Granny’s Got Game,” a 10-minute film directed by Angela Alford that opens the official slate, set the tone through a rousing celebration of women’s vitality, with a Carolina twist. Dubbed the “Fabulous Seventies,” the documentary follows a basketball team from Raleigh. Challenging preconceptions about aging, the women are fiercely competitive, not to mention loyal to one another. Watching them run the court, maneuver around each other and sink baskets is a spectacle as electrifying as any NBA game.

“I had breast cancer and my big concern was that I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to play in the state finals,” one of the players says.

The remaining eight films, the longest of which clocks in at 21 minutes, maintain the same level of quality, illuminating aspects of women’s lives that are often provocative, humorous and heartrending.

“Flying Anne,” a Dutch documentary directed by Catherine van Campen, might be the most ambitious of the grouping. Its sensitive handling of its subject recalls the groundbreaking documentary work of Jim Klein and Julia Reichert in the 1971 documentary Growing Up Female.

Impressionistic camerawork and deft editing drew viewers into the life of Anne, an 11-year-old girl who struggles with Tourette’s syndrome, a condition that yokes her to involuntary tics and urges. The opening scene showed her trying to complete a schoolwork assignment that frustrated and nearly overwhelmed her. As burdened as Anne is by her disability and the judgment of her peers, she also possesses a tremendous zest for life that is a marvel to watch, whether climbing a basketball goal, performing somersaults and splits on a trampoline or riding through the rain on her bicycle.

Scenes with Anne and her therapist and, eventually, in a classroom explaining her condition to her peers are equally affecting, as is footage of her talking about and spending time with her boyfriend — a relationship of uncommon emotional maturity.

“Sidewalk,” an animated short directed by Celia Bullwinkel, gave an entertaining look at a woman walking city streets as her body changes with age — humorously juxtaposing the young woman’s annoyance at men for ogling her with her older self’s chagrin that they no longer notice her. Taking stylistic cues from the classic era of television cartoons, “Sidewalk” earns its marks by exaggerating movement and physical traits. The audience at Mack & Mack howled with laughter when the protagonist of “Sidewalk,” portrayed in the fullness of her years, reacts with shock when she lifts up her ample breasts and watches them flop down.

“Maria of Many” portrays a Mexican immigrant housekeeper in California with quiet dignity.

“Running Dry,” a Greek film directed by Dimitra Nikolopoulou, conveys chagrin, acts of shared humanity and release in a depiction of one woman’s efforts to cope with the economic crisis that besieged the country.

“Date with Fate” and “Tiny Miny Magic,” exports respectively of Sydney, Australia and New York City, hold charms and latent pockets of humor.

Among the most revelatory films in the batch are “Sound Shadows,” a Norwegian production directed by Julie Engaas that creates a visually arresting series of frames to dramatize the experience of blindness, and “First Match,” a depiction of a 14-year-old wrestler directed by Brooklyn filmmaker Olivia Newman.

The sheer determination of Monique “Mo” Morris to beat her opponent in her first co-ed makes for gripping cinematic experience, but her efforts to connect with her father, a former wrestler, might be the more difficult struggle.