This week the Esperanza Center is running its annual Cine Mujer film festival. I'd missed it the last two years. It's a week of films by and about women, with an emphasis on the global peace and justice movements. And it's free. Monday, March 26th through Sunday, April 1st. Over thirty films: shorts, features, documentaries, narrative films, and experimental work. I missed yesterday's opening night, but I made it to tonight's screening with my friend Alston.
I like the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center because they are always pissing people off. Maybe, on occasion, they alienate those kindred individuals and organizations who are philosophically in agreement with them … but, the problem is, I still haven't lived in this town long enough to work out all the history and back stories of how San Antonio cultural non-profits interact. You know, all the bad blood and the petty bullshit. But, damn, Esperanza runs some great art events, especially films with a radical of progressive edge.
Tonight the program opened with a grouping of three shorts. “Bingo Nation” took a lighthearted look at a bingo parlor and the women who obsessively show up to win. This ain't no quilting bee. One of Alston's friends — a woman named Frieda, who is, I'm guessing, 70ish — came and sat with us. As the end credits rolled on the bingo film, I heard her whisper to Alston: “Oh, my. I hope I don't become like that.”
“Light As A Feather / Heavy As Lead” was a video montage of a performance piece where a woman in a Puritan dress is submerged in a giant fish-tank as a poem was read about testing for witches (you know, float or sink) … as well as other metaphors. Visually, it has a wonderful element of ritual. The glass tank, the black dress, the audience sitting on the floor in the background … and the tank was just large enough so that the woman in the dress could maneuver in a gentle choreography, with the dress billowing around her like a jellyfish.
“Clean” is a work in progress from a local artist who I've not heard of. Julia Barbosa Landois. I'm curious as to why an unfinished 6 minute piece was submitted, unless the artist is a friend of the Esperanza Center. It's a poem about the eradication of that which is unwanted. And that which society wants cleansed isn't always what the individual herself wants cleansed. The cleansing metaphor is the egg ritual used by curanderas. We watch as a woman (the artist?) rubs herself with an egg. It's a visually stunning piece. The poem works fine. But I don't need to see a six minute work in progress. Go ahead and finish it before showing it to an audience.
“Black and White.” A 17 minute piece about the relationship between photographer and model. The two subjects of this piece are from New Zealand. The model is Mani Bruce Mitchell, who is designated as “intersex,” what some might call an hermaphrodite. The photographer is Rebecca Swan. Mani appeared in one of Rebecca's books, and filmmaker Kirsty MacDonald showed up as they were working on a second book. It's a wry and moving little film that probably would have lost focus or turned mawkish were it longer.
“Look Us In the Eye: The Old Women's Project.” About thirty minutes of old women talking about their political activism. They're funny, mildly crass, and have been working in the trenches of political activism even before they turned old. The core group is just three. And often they organize events with hundreds showing up. There was a little clip of a young woman who, and here I paraphrase, praised the three leaders of the Old Women's Project as: “They're hilarious — they bring this wonderful combination of levity and gravitas.” There's the quote for the DVD box.
“Transitional Tradeswomen.” This is a feature-length documentary on female construction workers in Asia. The piece was directed by an American construction worker and trade union activist. It was okay, but could easily have been twenty minutes shorter. There were some technical problems that were very intrusive. Someone needs to give Vivian Price a grant to re-edit this piece. The information is great, but the final product is a mess.
“Border Cafe.” This was the only narrative of the night. It's an Iranian feature film about a recently widowed woman trying to run a restaurant which serves tourists and truck drivers on the north-western frontier of Iran. It's a wonderful little film. And I think it's crucial for American audiences to see films like this which have been produced in those countries which we deem our enemies. What “Border Cafe” shows us is an Iran which is willing to admit that it has problems with gender equality, the inflexibility of Koranic law, and occasional repressive behavior with movement through its borders. International films are a great panacea for the obscene Yankee propaganda that makes us think that the devil resides in occupied Palestine, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and whatever current region of this planet onto which our country's executive office has turned a suspicious eye.
I'm going to Cine Mujer tomorrow night. Be there or be square. I did say it was free, right? No excuses, mofos.