Film directing, like truck driving or airline piloting, is one of those strange professions that, traditionally, was mostly dominated by men. Fortunately, this has changed in recent years, bringing fresh perspectives and greater sensitivities to independent cinema.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this evolution in the field is the emergence of Lunafast, a traveling film festival which spotlights a series of great shorts written and directed by women. I was fortunate to attend a Lunafest presentation last evening in Alexandria, Virginia. The festival, which was founded by Luna, the makers of the Lunabar nutrition granola bars for women, was held as a fundraiser for important women’s causes such as breast cancer research and NARAL-Pro-Choice-Virginia; but even without supporting the charities, seeing such great shorts was reason enough to go.
This year’s Lunafest, which is held in various locations throughout the country from September to May, contained ten shorts. In my view, five were fantastic, a few slightly less than wonderful, and one that just rubbed me the wrong way.
One of the best was called “Red Wednesday.” It is about an Iranian-American teenage girl whose mother is sick. To try to cheer her up, the girl attempts to perform an ancient Zoroastrian fire celebration which she knows her mother enjoys; however this is much more difficult than it at first seems to be, in a culture which promotes conformity more than it promotes diversity.
Another very good short was “Big Girl.” Quite touching, actually. It is about a nine-year-old girl named Josephine whose mother is dating a new boyfriend, Gerry. Josephine resents that any man might take the place of her father, and so gives Gerry a hard time. Gerry challenges Josephine to a series of contests; if she wins, Gerry will walk away from her mother, but if he wins, Josephine must accept him. It’s rather moving to watch the relationship develop between the two.
A really cute short was the animated “My First Crush.” The filmmaker interviewed people talking about the first time they ever had a childhood crush on a person and then set that soundtrack to a series of cartoon animals. Parts were quite funny, and might remind you of the comically awkward moments you associate with the first time you ever had a crush. And I liked how the surrealistic cartoons reflected the character of the person being interviewed.
I also very much enjoyed “Vali and Mimi: The Ladies.” A cute little documentary about two elderly sisters who talk about their work of dressmaking and the interesting lives they’ve led, their loves, and their pains.
I admit I had a little trouble with the Portuguese film, “Fim-de-Semana” (“Weekend”). It was about a woman who discovers she is pregnant, but doesn’t tell anyone. She is spending the weekend with her family, but no one says anything to anyone. I admitted to my sister, with whom I saw Lunafest, that I had trouble with it; but she got it. She explained to me that it was about silence and the inability to communicate. Then it made sense to me and I was a bit overwhelmed by the tragedy.
There was an interesting short documentary called “Kaden” about a transgender individual who was preparing for reconstructive surgery. There was a creative piece on a Filipina woman called “My Mother Said.” She was 100-years-old and had much to say, looking back on her life. And another documentary, “Grappling Girls,” was about women’s wrestling in high school. Now I admit I’m not really into wrestling, but I found it quite interesting since there is much prejudice by men who believe that women shouldn’t be allowed to wrestle.
The only short I really didn’t care for was called “34x25x36.” It was a documentary which interviewed men who run a mannequin factory. They spoke of how they try to define the ideal female body and how important that is to help sell women’s clothing. They even went so far as to compare their work to religious icons of the Middle Ages and Renaissance era. Now, all of the women with whom I spoke afterwards said they liked that short, so I am willing to admit maybe I just didn’t understand it, and perhaps being a man might have had something to do with that. But regardless, it just rubbed me the wrong way; it seemed to me these men were trying to manipulate women into thinking that there was something wrong with their bodies if they didn’t match what these men considered the ideal form.
So now, finally, I have saved the best for last. My absolute favorite of the ten shorts was “Sarah in the Dark.” I found it very funny, but also inspiring too. Sarah, like many people, has a little voice inside her head telling her that she’s no good. Every little aspect is criticized—from the way she looks to what she eats. The voice tells her that she’s inferior to everyone else and no one likes her. Sarah has been listening to this voice for so long that the voice has actually manifested itself into the form of a physical man who actually follows her around everywhere. Can Sarah finally overcome this voice and get on with leading a normal life? I won’t say how it ends; I’ll just say that I really liked the ending.
And I really liked Lunafest. If you have a chance, you should go to a presentation if it plays near you. You can check out more information, and the schedule, at the website:
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be too many more dates left this year. But keep an eye on the site so you can plan to go next year. No doubt, next year’s films should be just as good. You’re sure to enjoy it. And, as a bonus, you can help support some worthy charities. What a deal!