Chicago Feminist Film Festival 2019

The 2019 Chicago Feminist Film Festival takes place from February 27- March 1, showcasing three feature films, 40 short films and two web series from 15 countries, sharing the recent creative work of women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA community and underrepresented communities in the film industry.

For Michelle Yates, co-director of the festival, it is essential to think “about feminism intersectionally, recognizing that gender is not discrete from other social structures like race, sexuality, class, nation, and (dis)ability. The festival was founded in 2016 “to showcase films from around the world that are created by and about people who are otherwise underrepresented in the mainstream film industry, like women, queer and transgender folks, and people of color” adds festival co-director Michelle Yates. At the same time, the event becomes an inclusive space for dialogue around the stories being told on screen.

The fourth edition of the festival also includes five short films made by Ibero American directors. We find stories such as the one told by the Cuban director Damián Calvo, through his film Obini Batá: Women of the Drums, that exposes what happened 25 years ago on the Caribbean island when a group of dancers defied tradition by becoming the first Cuban women to play the drums. The short will be presented within the framework of the program “Beyond barriers” on February 28th.

The same session will also screen The European Dream: Serbia, a documentary about the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, directed by the Spanish journalist Jaime Alekos. Alekos investigates the torture that migrants and refugees went through by the Hungarian police in 2016, when thousands were trapped in Serbia after they tried to cross the border between Serbia and Hungary to enter the European Union.

The following session, “Regenerations,” features two films directed by Latin American women. Rhonda Mitrani, of Cuban and Argentinean parents, presents Supermarket, a satirical short film starring a woman who runs to a supermarket to pick some things for a celebratory dinner—and an olive changes her life. In Egg Day, director Grasie Mercedes, who is of of Dominican origin, uses black humor to tell an autobiographical experience of in vitro fertilization process that she and her partner have been going through.

In the session “Exit Strategies” Colombian Gisela Savdie presents Mani Cura, which tells the stories —based on real facts— that hide behind the hands of the richest women of Colombia. Tere, the local manicurist who visits their homes, becomes the repository of confessions that reveal that their lives are not what they seem to be.

In addition to Jaime Alekos’ documentary, there are three more films that portray stories about migration, refugees and racism. Your Hair is Cute (Holland) a poetic monologue by Cíntia Taylor explores the subtleties of racism, and will be screened on Thursday Feb. 28 at the “Rise up” session.  On the same day, the feature movie Crystal Swan, directed by Darya Zhuk and winner of several awards at different international festivals, will have its Chicago debut. This is worth noting because our city is precisely where the film’s protagonist, a young Belarusian DJ, wants to come, as she chases “The American Dream” in a story set in the mid-90’s, that takes her to a very different place from what she had imagined.

The topic of migration continues on Friday March 1 with Little Rebel (USA) telling he story of Isatou Jallow, a Gambian woman who arrived in Seattle in 2012 looking for asylum. Since then she has become a lawyer who fights for the rights of women, refugees and people with disabilities. As Festival Co-Director Michelle Yates explains, “Migration is a feminist issue. According to the United Nations, approximately 1 billion people around the world are migrants and half of them are women and children.”

Finally, a more optimistic story is told in the Canadian production Strangers Ourselves, directed by Lora Murray, to be screened on Friday March 1. The main character of the film is her 86-year-old grandmother, Elizabeth Rapley, who since 1979 has helped 92 refugees to settle in Canada. In a time of global refugee crisis, this short documentary explores the everyday face of extraordinary acts that are seeking and offering refuge.

Beyond the shorts, in each of the three days of the festival a feature film will also be screened. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, directed by Pamela B. Green, will open the festival. The film, narrated by Jodie Foster, shows Green’s journey discovering audiovisual archives from around the world. The long forgotten clips of interviews help to reconstruct the story of Blaché —the first film woman director— and consequently rescue the buried history of women in the cinema. Be Natural is a testament to the continued gender inequality in the film industry. This is a unique opportunity (February 27 at 6:30 pm.) to see the film before it is commercially released as well as to meet its director Pamela Green.

On Friday, directors Rose Rosenblatt and Marion Lipschutz will also be present for a talkback after the screening of their movie Bei bei, which premieres in Chicago. This high-stakes legal drama focuses on Bei Bei Shuai, a depressed pregnant Chinese immigrant put on trial for the murder of her unborn child after attempting suicide. The case captivated the nation a few years ago as it sets a disturbing legal precedent for women who terminate their pregnancies, whether intentionally or not. Bei Bei’s situation shines a chilling light on the ongoing encroachment of women’s rights and the confluence of religious belief and medical practice.

This is open to the public and admission is free, with a total of 45 productions the United States, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Cuba, Serbia, Belarus, Russia, Japan, Iran, Australia, France, Holland, Italy, Colombia, South Africa and Singapore.

Article written by Anna Bonet, translated by Elio Leturia.