Within the film industry, women experience discrimination and underrepresentation on a daily basis. Often, primarily male directed movies are nominated for awards and showcased on big screens. Today, women are still extremely marginalized within a male dominated field.
LUNAFEST, a traveling film festival, was founded in 2001. It was the first film festival to feature only female directors and stories. Funded by LUNA Bar, a Cliff Bar & Company branch, LUNAFEST showcased the power and sheer might female directors can hold while creating female inspired films.
“I appreciate the variety and diversity of the LUNAFEST films and especially how they showcase women filmmakers,” said Lynne Rieff, the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies. “This season’s LUNAFEST films deal with trauma, marginalization, ostracism and insecurity that women experience at work, in sports and within their families and the various ways women find strength to meet those challenges.”
The festival featured seven films, all female directed and all intended for a female audience. Of the seven showcased films, three stood out the most when it comes to modern issues many women face on a daily basis.
The first film, “There You Are,” directed by Lisa Donato, tells the story of a transgender woman facing backlash from her family during the death of her grandmother. The film begins with the main character attempting to appear more masculine to be accepted by her family. Having already gone through the transition process, this attempt to become something that she is not was visibly difficult for her.
In the beginning of the film, the main character and her girlfriend do not speak any words. Even without words, the audience witnessed the raw emotions this woman experienced while transforming into what she fought her whole life not to be. When she arrives back home, she is ridiculed by her aunt for having long hair and breasts, displaying a lack of acceptance and love that many transgender men and women may face from their own family. It is hard to fully transition when one’s family still uses their birth name and refers to one as their birth gender.
In “There You Are,” the main character bites her tongue when facing the resentment from her aunt and says goodbye to her grandmother. On her deathbed, the grandmother looks to her daughter and says: “I want to see my granddaughter.”
The next film, “Ballet After Dark,” directed by B. Monét, focused on women finding strength after becoming survivors of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence through ballet. Through a documentary style of film, the audience saw firsthand how powerful dance can be.
“The film “Ballet After Dark” examined how a young woman started a dance therapy group to help survivors of sexual abuse & domestic violence,” said Rieff.
Every woman has a different story when it comes to the healing process after sexual or domestic violence. Like with grief, there are multiple steps. Many women may search for a way to express their feelings in ways other than verbally. Monét gave women and families of color an outlet to express themselves artistically.
In the film, Monét explained that ballet was a way for her to feel regal and strong after she had been raped. After she realized that ballet was a way for her to heal, she decided to give other women the same opportunities. It started with healing workshops for survivors of sexual trauma and eventually stemmed into teaching ballet classes to women and children.
When people think of ways to heal after trauma, some may consider therapy. Dance, in a way, could be therapy through moving and taking claim of one’s own body to heal from traumatic events.
Through Monét’s classes, women are never healing alone. These women are healing together and that portrays the sheer power of “Ballet After Dark.” Women hold a momentous amount of power; but when women come together, they become stronger.
The third film, “Game,” directed by Jeannie Donohoe, focuses on a female basketball player who tries out for the boys team.
“In the film, we were reminded of the disparity women continue to experience in professional sports,” Rieff said. “The film featured a young high school athlete who recognizes the limitations professional women athletes experience & decides to try out for her high school men’s varsity basketball team.”
For the first bit of the film, the audience was unaware of the fact that the main character was a female pretending to be a male. It was not until her dad picked her up and asked about the girl’s team that viewers were made aware of her true identity. When confronted by her peers after they found a sports bra in her bag, she explained why she did not try out for the girl’s team. She asked her coach how many WNBA (The Women’s National Basketball Association) players he could name and he responded with silence.
Her point was that professional female athletes are not given the same spotlight and glorification that male athletes are. For example, female sports teams on a collegiate level rarely have as high attendance as the male teams do. In the end, the main character is allowed to play on the boys basketball team. The coach judged her talent and driven personality over her gender.
“Although the stories and topics varied, each of the films reminded us of women’s individual strength, the importance of embracing who we are, and supporting other women,” Rieff said.
All the films showcased at LUNAFEST highlighted what makes women strong and all the issues women may face on a daily basis. They made their audience aware of new female issues and reiterated ongoing ones.
In the end, one takeaway could be that women have the power to change the world. These directors are doing so, one film at a time.