For every 10 films made, only one is directed by a woman. Since the creation of the Academy Awards in 1927, only one female-directed film has ever received an award for Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker” (2009), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, an action-packed war movie targeted at male audiences. In this primarily male-dominated industry, the voices and contributions of female filmmakers are easily lost or overlooked.
The Wilmington Female Filmmaker Collective (WilmFFilm) will look to correct that when it holds its fourth annual Cinema Sisters International Film Festival March 6-7 at Jengo’s Playhouse. The festival will screen 39 female-directed films from all over the world—England, Canada, India, Spain, Mexico and Denmark included. Founders Monika Winters Sanchez, Mariah Kramer and Rebecca Busch have an impenetrable desire to give power and voice to female and femme-identifying filmmakers.
“Some of our films are about empowering women and telling stories about women overcoming obstacles,” Busch says. “And then we have films that are not related to women’s issues. The very act of making a film is empowering in itself, and we wanted to provide a place where female filmmakers took center stage and were celebrated for their works.”
WilmFFilm began in 2013 when Kramer and Busch directed a film called “Got No Fetish.” Throughout the process Busch realized she was unconsciously giving over her voice to the males on set. After the film was completed, she began to wonder if the dynamic would have been different if the crew were all women.
“I tried to reclaim the power as a director,” Busch admits. “And that’s kind of hard once you’ve given that power away: to try and take it back.”
Shortly after, Kramer, Busch and Sanchez formed WilmFFilm as a collective platform for women filmmakers to collaborate with and inspire one another. Since the festival began in 2017, WilmFFilm has grown into a safe space for women to showcase their works that may otherwise have been overlooked.
Originally called “Chick Flicks,” the festival was rebranded two years ago as “Cinema Sisters,” a name that better embodies their mission of a collective sisterhood. In the festival’s first year, submissions were limited to only filmmakers in North Carolina; it opened up to all southeastern states in its second year. 2019 was the first time submissions were made international, a broadening of scope that has carried over to 2020.
“The first couple of years we wanted to get our feet under us and figure out how to run a film festival,” Busch says. “After two years we felt we were better equipped to expand internationally.”
The festival kicks off Friday night with two shorts: “The Movie (La Película)” by Andrea Lovatón, and Cinema Sisters’ first spaghetti western, “In the Blood” by Regina Banali. The shorts will be followed by the 2020 special feature, “The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,” by Canadian director Allison Reid. The film, which won Best Documentary at the 2019 Sonoma International Film Festival, retraces the steps of scientist Anne Innis Dagg’s 1956 journey to South Africa to study giraffes in their natural environment. It’s an intimate look at the woman who pioneered the study of animal behavior and her trailblazing efforts for women in science. Festival organizers chose it as this year’s feature sine it honors the work of a woman who laid down the foundation for others.
“The film addresses sexism and misogyny [Dagg] experienced in academia and in a patriarchal society,” Busch says. “She has become a vocal feminist fighting for women’s rights, and this film honors her.”
The kickoff party continues at Jengo’s Playhouse with Steve’s Down Home Shrimparoo, a family-style event that gives moviegoers and filmmakers a chance to talk about the night’s films, network and unwind. On Saturday morning Anna Lee from Working Films will host a conversation about fundraising strategies and grant writing, “Writing, Reporting & Relationships,” from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. After the workshop four different film blocks will take place between 11:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m., featuring 30-minute films across all genres.
The festival will play host to directors and filmmakers of all ethnicities, backgrounds and ages, ranging from a ninth grader to women in their 60s. Also included in the lineup are several local filmmakers: Tiffany Ablright (“A Great Expanse”), Sophia Lanza (“Stop the Bans”), Linda Booker (“Lumberton”), Jacqueline Mangrum (“Prey”) and Erika Edwards and Krista Ray of Honey Head Films (“Lorelei”).
Joy James, local spoken-word artist, will return in 2020 with her film “Judging Eyes.” James has participated in the festival every year during entertainment segments with her spoken word performances. This year she will screen a short film inspired by her work. Originally written as a poem, “Judging Eyes” follows a young prostitute and her journey through life in the sex industry. The 6-minute film shows contemptuous interactions with those on the outside as she attempts to do ordinary things like shop for groceries.
“It was inspired by the concept of the cliché ‘judging a book by its cover,’” James says. “[It] challenges all of us to maybe do something that’s not our first instinct—before judging someone, we may want to find out their story.”
Full all-access weekend passes are for sale at csiff.org, where folks can also view the full schedule.