“What film would that be?” was Graciela Sanchez’s response when Palo Alto college professors Belinda Román and Mariana Ornelas approached her about screening a single film at Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, where Sanchez is executive director, in honor of Women’s History Month in 2005. And just like that, the
CineMujer film festival was born. “Why don’t we consider showing many films,” Sanchez recounts, “and we’ll go through this process together?”
Three (and a half) CineMujers later, Esperanza carries the festival solely on its shoulders, despite the added pressure of their current litigation over the parade ordinance. “We continued with Palo Alto for the first three years,” Sanchez says, “and then last year — even in the third year they were kind of saying they were struggling with the administration, so they kind of said we’ll help you out … it really had nothing do with the Esperanza as much as their own struggles … This year they didn’t even call us or ask to support us or anything like that, but we just move forward.”
Sanchez and Esperanza staff member Amanda Haas agree that Palo Alto’s withdrawal is nothing compared to the difficulty of haggling with distributors and negotiating pay with filmmakers — procedures some festival organizers see as
“So many people nowadays do film festivals and all they do is get the Netflix copy,” says Sanchez, “or the Blockbuster `copy` and show it for free and not pay the artist, and we’re all about paying the artist — but on what level?”
In addition to showcasing more feature films (though fewer total films than last year), a major change in programming has been the division of the festival into two weekends rather than fill an entire week. According to Sanchez, opening-Monday turnout was usually significant, but the numbers dwindled as the week went on — people have jobs and lives, and it’s difficult for them to attend late in the evening and wake early again the following morning for several days in a row.
Haas says the numbers for the first weekend of the 2008 CineMujer were strong, that some individuals came for specific films and others attended all three days. “It went really well,” she says.
According to the 2006 Celluloid Ceiling
report, only 7 percent of that year’s films were directed by women. But Esperanza’s commitment to CineMujer extends beyond championing female artists (Sanchez says they look for films with women involved in every level of production) and into the realms of social justice and education, two of the center’s core interests.
“The films are one way that people’s eyes kind of get opened for the first time,” says Haas. “So last year there was a film called Maquilapolis, and it’s about, you know, globalization and the work in the maquilas, and the low wages, long hours, and bad working conditions, and it `was` made by 10 women who work in the maquiladoras. And so we brought two of the women down as well to talk with local activists and people. Everyone who came was a part of that conversation.”
The Esperanza counts on ongoing relationships with female filmmakers like Guita Schyfter as one avenue for finding programming. Unfortunately, they haven’t found a fit among Say-Town’s local filmmaking institutions for youth. Last year, the festival rejected submissions from Say Sí and Harlandale, according to Sanchez, who adds, “It felt weird.”
This year, content was discovered through the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, who brought Esperanza together with the Queer Women of Culture Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP), an operation out of the Bay Area whose “Color of Justice” short-film series will be playing on the closing day of the festival. “This is something we’re excited about,” proclaims Sanchez.
QWOCMAP founder and executive director Madeleine Lim, an independent filmmaker herself who screened a film at Esperanza’s Other America Film Festival in the mid-’90s, created social-justice-themed programming specifically for CineMujer after discussing the festival with Haas. The films were culled from the creations of four free film-training programs that QWOCMAP provides to queer women of color each year.
Haas notes that the beauty of this collection of shorts is that it allows CineMujer to address several topics, such as the death penalty, that weren’t already tackled in the festival’s feature-length fare.
Besides confronting issues and controversies, Haas describes the goal of CineMujer as a communal one: “We want to talk about issues but also talk about film just as kind of a way that people can come together and see how our experiences connect.” •
Check the Curblog Wednesday, April 2, through Friday, April 4, for reviews of films screening this weekend at CineMujer.
CineMujer Schedule: April 3-5
Thursday, April 3
Hutto: America’s Family Prison
Dir. Lily Keber and Matt Gossage (USA) A short documentary about the families held in the Department of Homeland Security’s prison just north of Austin, and the conditions they vie with.
Plática with filmmakers, activists, and former detainees will follow the film.
Friday, April 4
Dir. Kylie Eddy (Australia) Successful Juliet and stay-at-home mom Lucy reunite after a high-school incident dissolved their friendship and realize their lives aren’t what they’d hoped for.
Enemies of Happiness
Dir. Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem (Denmark/Afghanistan) In the face of death threats, Malalai Joya runs in Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections, vowing to speak for the underrepresented women of her nation.
Dir. Djamila Sahraoui (Algeria/France) Two women search for a missing journalist in 1990s Algeria. Along the way, they gain a more profound understanding of their country.
Saturday, April 5
El Aliento de Dios
Dir. Isabel Cristina Fregoso (Mexico) Documentary exploring the experiences of nuns in Mexico’s various orders, their struggle to help other women, and against the patriarchy of the Catholic Church.
Morristown: In the Air and Sun
Dir. Anne Lewis (USA) Globalization impacts workers in Tennessee and Mexico. 8:00 Q&A with Anne Lewis
“Color of Justice” short-film series
By the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project Includes shorts on military-inspired fashion, the impact of the death penalty, and internalized sexism.
Dir. Jerome Foulon (France) Three years after her last gender-reassignment surgery, Léa returns to Paris, where her wife and children reside.