Friday, January 19, 2007

Focus on Female Directors

Spent an enjoyable evening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood watching a bunch of short films directed by women. It was the American Cinematheque's Second Annual Focus on Female Directors night, a celebration begun and continued by my industrious friend Kim Adelman, who covers short film for the website and has written a fabulous book called The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films: Making It Big in Shorts.

First, I always enjoy a night at Grauman's Egyptian, which since it's remodel has become the most attractive theater in Los Angeles. I am an Egyptophile, so I may be a tad biased, but how many theaters you know have a courtyard containing palm trees, let alone palm trees carefully lit against the sky at night? This theater houses the organization, the American Cinematheque, which does events like last night's Focus on Female Directors, brings back camp classics like Walk on the Wild Side, and promotes the heck out of all sorts of film and filmmakers.

The short films we saw last night were supposedly the creme de la creme of shorts made by women. Zoe Cassavetes directed a 20-minute comedy that evoked her father's realistic style and respect for actors called "Men Make Women Crazy Theory." It was so realistic in its depiction of a neurotic young woman hanging onto a man who treats her poorly that I wanted to shake the character and tell her to get some self respect.

Sanaa Hamri got her start lensing music videos, and we saw an example of this with Prince's video for "Musicology." Very nicely shot. That was followed by the concise, energetic "Viernes Girl," directed by Aurora Guerrero, where an annoyed sister has to listen to her brother seduce a different girl every day, until the Friday girl (Viernes) provides an interesting twist. Ms. Guerrero spoke passionately after the screening about her desire to depict a life more like her own, and how her movie had been shot by a crew that was almost exclusively female, Latina, and queer-identified. At only six minutes long, this film was probably the most inventively directed of the group, using split screen, sometimes even dividing the image in three screens, to address the issue of boundaries -- what keeps people apart and how they come together.

Sian Heder directed "Mother" for the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and got amazing performances out her actors, including twin one-year old girls. One of the few movies that didn't directly deal with romantic love, "Mother" was surprisingly effective and moving.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Mary Wigmore co-directed the most commercial of the films, "Dealbreaker," which had a laugh out loud moment and a predictable ending appropriate for a romantic comedy. While the two-minute "Girl Meets Boy," directed by Grace Lee, utterly confounded the usual romantic comedy stereotypes very effectively. ("Dealbreaker" is available for free download at ITunes. It's 13 minutes long.)

"The Danish Poet," directed by Torill Kove was probably the most popular film of the evening, using animation and the warm voice of Liv Ullmann to tell a whimsical fable about love and destiny. Here the tone of the script meshed beautifully with the more quirky animation, fusing into a story that felt timeless. Short film maven Kim Adelman predicted that it would be nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Film, so keep your eyes peeled, and see it if you can.

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