Women in the Director’s Chair International Film and Video Festival

The 18th annual Women in the Director’s Chair International Film and Video Festival, featuring narrative, documentary, animated, and experimental works by women, runs from Friday, March 19 through Sunday, March 28. Screenings are at the Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson; HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; Horizons Community Services, 961 W. Montana; South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.; UNITE, 333 S. Ashland; Viaduct Center, 3111 N. Western; and Video Machete, 5732 N. Glenwood. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $8, $6 for students, seniors with a valid ID, and members of Women in the Director’s Chair; festival passes are also available. For more information call 773-281-4988.


Homegirls: New Work by Chicago Women and Girls

See Critic’s Choice. (HotHouse, 7:30)



Short films by Eva Ilona Brzeski, Pituka Ortega Heilbron, Laurie Collyer, and Laura Bennett, and a video by Phaedra Kolias with Street Level Youth Media. (HotHouse, 5:00)

Epic Journeys

The 45-minute documentary Motorcycle Diaries is a series of missed opportunities to delve into the experiences of women who ride motorcycles. Loosely linked interviews representing stops on a road trip taken by director Diane Howells and cinematographer Samantha Schutz are intercut with footage of competitions, riding clubs, and special events–all set to energetic music. But the commentary, which extends into voice-overs, is mainly rah-rah platitudes elicited from the various enthusiasts and pros. On the same program, Jean Cheng’s Sweet Potato, Vicky Yiannocetsos’s Melody’s Song, and Natasha Spencer’s The House She Flew In On. (LA) (HotHouse, 7:00)

Desire Disorients: New Lesbian Work, Part 1

Short films and videos from the U.S. and Canada by Liza Johnson, Suzie Silver, Chelsea Walton, Yau Ching, Allyson Mitchell, Daaimah Mubashshir, Catherine Crouch, Carolynne Hew, Lisa Hayes, and Debra Anderson. I’ve seen only Walton’s four-minute animated Bird Watching, which manipulates the interaction between Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds to tease out some of the lesbian subtexts. (JR) On the same program, live music by Humo and Sista Tambourine. (Hothouse, 9:00)



Six short works about immigrants assimilating in the U.S. By far the most accomplished is From Here to There, Maria Teresa Rodriguez’s poignant, imaginative tribute to her Colombian father and Irish mother; assembling archival footage, home movies, family photos, and personal reminiscences, Rodriguez not only reconstructs her blissful childhood but also reclaims her ethnic identity. Lisset Barcellos’s spunky, ironic Custom-Made recalls the pivotal events in the lives of a young seamstress and her Mexican father. Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s El Corrido de Cecilia Rios records a Mexican community’s reaction to the murder of a high school girl; the sound track, with its street ballad eulogizing a bright life cut short, conveys more pathos than the inept imagery. Veronica Majano’s Calle Chula presents a giddy, impressionistic history of a neighborhood as seen through the eyes of a young El Salvadoran girl. Camille Billops’s Take Your Bags is an intriguing look at the loss of African heritage, though ultimately it’s spoiled by the filmmaker’s didacticism. (TS) On the same program, Fatimah Tobing Rony’s Demon Lover. (HotHouse, 12:30)

Crimes of Omission: Stories From the Other Side of the Wall

Though this film and video program focuses on justice and clemency for prisoners, the work that best expresses their loneliness, paranoia, and longing for freedom is fictional: Liesel de Boor’s Without a Name, inspired by the memoir of political dissident Jacobo Timerman, is a surreal nightmare ending in despair. Magaly A. Ponce Geywitz’s more experimental Magnetic Balance evokes the atrocities of the Pinochet regime in the 70s, piecing together found footage and audiotape in a collage of broken memories. Carol Leigh’s Blind Eye to Justice: HIV+ Women in California Prisons decries the California penal system’s horrific treatment of women, but it’s hobbled by amateurish visuals, slapdash editing, and liberal platitudes. Tammy Rae Carland’s Lady (Out)laws and Faggot Wannabes ranges far and wide in its sympathy for working-class lesbian criminals, but its message disappears in a jumble of imagery and rhetoric. (TS) On the same program, Inside Out, an eight-minute video compiling interviews with girls in the Audy Home, Cook County’s facility for juvenile offenders. A panel discussion follows the screening. (HotHouse, 2:30)


Seeking India

Eisha Marjara’s Indian-Canadian feature Desperately Seeking Helen follows its heroine from Quebec to Bombay as she tries to track down a Bollywood film star. On the same program, short works by Seema Shastri, Buboo Kakati, and Priya Ramasubban. (Viaduct Center, 7:00)

Lives of Artists: Bourgeois and Stein

Videos by Pouran Esrafily and Catherine Jacobi dealing, respectively, with the lives and works of Louise Bourgeois and Gertrude Stein. (Viaduct Center, 9:00)


From Coast to Coast: New Queer Girl Video

Four short videos, all by teams or collectives. This free event is limited to people ages 14 to 23. (Horizons Community Services, 6:30)

Invisible Labor: Women in the Workforce

Films and videos from Canada, India, and the U.S. (UNITE, 7:30)


Why Not Every Woman: New Youth Videos

Ten short videos, most of them by collectives. Free admission. (Video Machete, 6:00)

A Letter Without Words

In 1981 filmmaker Lisa Lewenz discovered a trove of home movies taken by her Jewish grandmother, Ella; this informative 1998 documentary incorporates much of that footage and reminiscences from surviving relatives to reconstruct the Lewenz family’s life in Dresden and Berlin at the dawn of the Nazi era. Lisa Lewenz captures the gilded existence of the German-Jewish upper crust in the 30s (including home-movie images of Albert Einstein, Walter Gropius, and Brigitte Helm), and her grandmother definitely had an eye for pretty postcard images–some in Kodak color–that could be used for Ralph Lauren ads. Lewenz, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, clearly identifies with Ella, retracing her steps and drawing strained parallels between her grandmother and herself. But her gratingly self-absorbed narration glosses over her father’s conversion to Christianity and her professed ignorance of his Jewish heritage; in the end, Ella’s cinematic legacy illuminates only part of the family’s history. (TS) On the same program, Iris Rubin’s video Hide & Seek. (Viaduct Center, 7:00)


Alisa Lebov and Cynthia Mandansky’s 55-minute film tells the story of two Jewish lesbians in New York City; its raw handheld camera work personalizes it but ultimately becomes distracting, and the film’s celebratory tone seems almost trite. (FC) On the same program, Na’ama Batya Lewin’s short video Cycle: The Mikvah. (Viaduct Center, 9:00)


Everyone’s Child

This 1996 Zimbabwean film, directed by Tsitsi Dangarembga and sponsored by several development agencies, is weighed down by its good intentions. Three rural children are orphaned when their parents die of AIDS; after an uncle and the neighbors abandon them (signaling the breakdown of traditional social structures) the daughter is forced into prostitution, and the older son seeks his fortune on the streets of Harare. Though it effectively portrays the boy’s life in the street gangs of the capital and the girl’s entrapment by an older man, the film is a mess, a pastiche of visual styles and preachy songs that rather ridiculously delineate the social issues. On its own, however, the sound track offers an interesting selection of contemporary Zimbabwean music. (FC) To be shown on three-quarter-inch video; on the same program, Emily Fader’s short video documentary Cat Man. Free admission. (South Shore Cultural Center, 3:00)

Lives of Artists: Ayim and Cixous

Remembering Memory (1997)–Lara Fitzgerald’s French-Canadian documentary about the Joycean, feminist autobiographical French writer Helene Cixous–was available for preview only without subtitles, and while I couldn’t follow everything, I was entranced by how Francophone literary documentaries tend to be much more artistic and literate than their American counterparts. Fitzgerald probes Cixous’ life, memories, writings, and North African Jewish roots, using quotations, poetic evocations, archival footage, and interviews (with the writer and many others, including philosopher Jacques Derrida and stage director Ariane Mnouchkine); the film ranks alongside Jean-Daniel Pollet’s exploration of Francis Ponge (the recent Dieu sait quoi) and Edgardo Cozarinsky’s presentation of Cocteau (the 1985 TV documentary Jean Cocteau, Auto-Portrait). (JR) On the same program, Maria Binder’s German documentary, Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story, about the late Afro-German poet. (Film Center, 6:00)

Through the Door of No Return

Inspired by her father’s journey to Africa in the 70s, Shirikiana Aina traveled to Ghana to make this lyrical, moving documentary that’s as much about the relationship of the descendants of slaves to their ancestral home as it is about the history of slavery. Demonstrating great attention to composition and light and what seems to be an intuitive appreciation of what makes a compelling interview, Aina captures the emotions and thoughts of visitors and immigrants to Africa in the late 90s, among them a tour guide at the Elmina slave fort, whose “door of no return”–a narrow passage in the wall through which people were sent to be taken to slave ships–becomes an inverted metaphor for the lens through which the filmmaker views her relationship to history. (LA) Aina will attend the screening. (Film Center, 8:00)

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): And Everything Nice film still.