The Island’s first annual Women in Film Festival comes to the M.V. Film Center on Friday, Oct. 25, Saturday, Oct. 26, and Sunday, Oct. 27. A mix of fiction films and documentaries, the six festival movies feature women directors telling stories about women.
Beginning the series on Friday afternoon is “I Am Not a Witch,” set outside Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Awardwinning Zambian-born director Rungano Nyoni plunges the viewer into a world where some women are still accused of being witches. When Shula (Maggie Mulabwa), a 9-year-old orphan, startles a woman carrying water, the girl is relegated to a witch camp. Populated by older women and run by a tourism official, Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri), the camp forces its inhabitants to labor in the fields. Along with Shula, they all are attached to white ribbons on large spools, and are told if they cut the ribbons to escape they’ll turn into goats and be eaten.
Beginning with stories of witchcraft in Zambia, the director visited an actual witch camp in Ghana to help craft her story. To say that “I Am Not a Witch” is simply a fairy tale reflects only part of the remarkable world it creates. The film addresses tourist exploitation in Zambia, the oppression of women there, and this African nation’s mix of modern and traditional cultural practices.
‘Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché’
Director Pamela B. Green restores pioneering filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché to her rightful place in the documentary “Be Natural.” Preceded by a wine reception, it plays at the Film Center on Friday evening, Oct. 25. A Q and A session with the director on Skype will follow the film.
Thanks to Green’s research, viewers will learn that Guy-Blaché was most likely the first female director, and one of the first narrative filmmakers. This engrossing film begins with the earliest days of filmmaking in 1895. Guy-Blaché worked for the French company Gaumont, the oldest film organization in the world, and later founded the American film company Solax with her husband Herbert. In addition to employing many forms of special effects, she put women in leading, active roles. By 1957, she seemed to have disappeared, with many of her films attributed to others. Green’s interviews with her daughter Simone revive the history of Guy-Blaché, and make her story an important contribution to film history.
In “Sensitivity Training,” playing Saturday, Oct. 26, director Melissa Finell turns microbiologist Dr. Serena Wolfe’s (Anna Lise Phillips) attitude adjustment into a lively comedy. After being blamed for the suicide of a colleague, the sarcastic, bad-tempered scientist is paired with Caroline (Jill Alexander), who has been assigned to improve Serena’s disposition.
Caroline begins by gifting her client with a turtle. But Serena’s response is simply to test the pet for salmonella. When her half-brother Ethan arrives, looking for a place to stay, Serena wants nothing to do with him. Caroline persuades her to give Ethan a job as an intern. Gradually, Serena learns how to be nicer to her staff, as well as Ethan. She also begins to appreciate Caroline’s pleasing personality, with some surprising plot twists and insights.
Spanish director Alice Waddington’s “Paradise Hills” is marked by spectacular settings and clothes. The young women in the film are confined to a magical island for rehabilitation. Uma (Emma Roberts) is the central character in this fantasy film, who tries repeatedly and unsuccessfully to escape.
Uma teams up with Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), Yu (Awkwafina), and Amarna (Eliza González), as they plot to avoid drinking the drugged milk they’re served and run away. Uma’s lover Marcus promises to get her off the mysterious island, but substitutes show up, and things turn out in unexpected ways.
‘A Fine Line’
Empowering women chefs is the theme of director Joanna James’s documentary “A Fine Line,” playing Sunday afternoon, Oct. 27. She interviews such prominent female chefs as San Francisco restaurateur Dominique Crenn; April Bloomfield of New York’s Spotted Pig and Breslin Bar & Dining Room; and James Beard awardwinner Barbara Lynch to consider why so few women are among the world’s best chefs and restaurant owners.
Director James also interviews her mother Valerie, who has owned and been the chef at Val’s Restaurant outside Worcester for 25 years. She is an exception to the statistic that shows fewer than 7 percent of head chefs and restaurant owners are women. “It’s a little intimidating,” says James’ mother. “You’ve got to have a thick skin.”
The Women in Film Festival closes Sunday night, Oct. 27, with the Sengalese film “Atlantique.” French director Mati Diop, who won the 2019 Cannes Grand Jury Prize for her film, focuses on the love story of Ada (Mama Sané) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré). Ada is promised to Omar, another, more affluent man. Unable to make a living in construction, Souleiman sets off by boat to Spain without telling Ada. When the marriage bed for Omar and Ada is set on fire, police blame Souleiman, even though he has left. “Atlantique” turns into a supernatural story, as Ada imagines that Souleiman has returned, as well as a group of women who have not been paid.
Information and tickets for the Women in Film festival and other Film Center and Capawock Theater films are available at mvfilmsociety.com. Information about films playing at Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown can be found at entertainmentcinemas.com/locations/edgartown.