The 23nd annual Women in the Director’s Chair International Film & Video Festival, featuring narrative, documentary, animated, and experimental works by women, runs Wednesday, March 17, through Sunday, March 21. Screenings are at the Women in the Director’s Chair Theater, 941 W. Lawrence. 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 773-907-0610. Films marked with an * are highly recommended. The schedule for March 17 and 18 follows; a full festival schedule through March 21 is available online at


Strategic Offense

A program of politically charged shorts. Charlton Heston stands in for George W. Bush in Diane Nerwen’s The Thief of Baghdad (2003), a collage of snippets from old Technicolor epics that transforms Hollywood orientalism into an indictment of U.S. foreign policy. The war in Iraq also figures in Janet Fuchs and Deb Huston’s Let My Country Awake (2003), a documentary about peace demonstrations held around the country in 2003 that were all but ignored by the mainstream media. Bettina Frankham’s Out of Fear (2003) examines the plight of Middle Eastern and Asian refugees seeking political asylum in Australia. Also showing: Dara Greenwald’s Strategic Cyber Defense, Carola Dertnig’s A Room With a View of the Financial District, and Lori Hiris’s The Invisible Hand. 101 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (6:00)

* In the Beginning Was the Eye

A program of six experimental videos. Animation brings picture postcards to life in Bady Minck’s seductive In the Beginning Was the Eye (2002, in German with subtitles). Dani Leventhal’s surrealistic video Draft 9 (2003) combines broken strands of disparate narratives (two women make out; a bicyclist travels through Chicago) with images of animals, some being skinned, some cut open to expose tiny fetuses. We’re reminded of another kind of brutality by an old man with numbers tattooed on his forearm. Rachel Weiss’s Transformation revives the conceit of a cartoon character coming to life: the ‘toon takes revenge on her sleeping creator by erasing the colors on her body. 96 min. (FC) (8:00)

Watching Ourselves Watching

A program of six videos. Marlene Madison’s A Hollywood Story (2003) is a painful but effective evocation of the emptiness of celebrity culture: against a white background a woman recites lines about stardom (“Of course the public has to want you”); her annoyingly flat, nervous delivery demonstrates the “lack of an inner charisma” she claims causes failure. Jen Fisher’s White Palace (2002), a protest against male-dominated student productions in which “violent things happening to women were the only way they could think of to move the plot along,” is a bit pretentious. The longest of these six videos, Masami Kawai’s Whose Dream, Which Cut?, is a choppy, self-indulgent portrait of the maker’s mother. 87 min. (FC) (10:00)


Black Planet

Based on Ted Shine’s 1974 one-act play, Rebecca Abbott’s Herbert III stars the talented George Moore and Aleta Staton as a long-married couple waiting up for their son to come home. Their conversation, which ranges from tender and funny reminiscences of their courtship to bitter memories of segregation and political repression, adds up to a whirlwind tour of recent African-American history. Also set in 1974 is Amy McConnell’s endearing Nigel’s Fingerprint, in which a mixed marriage tests the bonds of a Toronto family. Daheli Hall’s The Memo is a wicked, rapid-fire send-up of both revolutionary fervor and corporate careerism. Also on the program: JJ Goldberger’s somber historical drama Stone Mansion and Haaruun Ayawa’s densely layered art film First We Pray. 101 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (6:00)

Tell Me the Truth

Rhonda Larrabee grew up in Vancouver’s Chinatown thinking she was French-Chinese, but when she reached adulthood her mother–breaking into sobs–informed her she was half Indian. Eunhee Cha’s A Tribe of One (2003) movingly fleshes out the story of how Larrabee lost and regained her native identity. Christine Cynn and Harriet Hirshorn’s Pote Mak Sonje: The Raboteau Trial documents the prosecution of Haitian soldiers and U.S.-backed paramilitary thugs who tortured and killed presumed Aristide supporters in 1994. Testimony from eyewitnesses, some of them filmed against the sky at the outdoor trial, is stunning; the claim that the U.S. helped leaders of the massacre evade arrest is troubling. In English and subtitled Creole. 93 min. (FC) (8:00)

While You Were Out

The title of Underground (2003), Aimee Lagos and Kristin C. Dehnert’s suspenseful short, has a hidden meaning related to the closing quote, from Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anne Ramsay plays a subway rider shadowed by two sinister characters; our anxiety for her nicely sets up a surprise ending. Austrian Marie Kreutzer’s Un Peu Beaucoup (2002), about two sisters who fall for the same guy, also ends with a twist. Marty Mericka’s Happy Hour (2003) is a droll vignette about singles dishing over cocktails. Also on the bill: Unsynchables at Any Age, Victoria Foster’s affectionate documentary about a California swim team; Virginie Danglades’s darkly comic Sparks; and Sabine Marte’s abstract Stewardessenclip. 100 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (10:00)