Women filmmakers take center stage in this year’s new filmmakers festival

The road for independent filmmakers is tough. This is one reason that film festivals are important — they reach audiences outside the commercial distribution system.
The path for women filmmakers is especially difficult. This is true for women independents and, especially, in Hollywood. Last year, women made up 52 percent of moviegoers. But, for the top 100 films at the box office, only 4 percent were directed by women and only 11 percent had women writers. Only 3 percent of these films had women cinematographers; 19 percent had women producers; 14 percent had women editors; and 3 percent had women composers. And just 26 percent of these leading films had women protagonists.
For lower budget films, the numbers are somewhat better. In 2016, women directed 28 percent of narrative shorts and 27 percent of narrative independent films. But in film criticism, women are also outnumbered by men, 27 to 73 percent, respectively.
This year’s Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival highlights the work of many women filmmakers, including documentary filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg. They will screen their newest film, “Marathon: The (Boston) Patriot’s Day Bombing,” that navigates the still-difficult aftermath of the April 2013 tragedy. Boston Globe critic Peter Keough called the film “restrained, eloquent, and artfully composed.” Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan praised it as, “a very human, very moving documentary.”
We will also screen Stern and Sundberg’s probing documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” that goes behind the scenes to reveal multiple dimensions of the late comedienne’s life and work.
Two-time Academy Award winning documentarian, Barbara Kopple, will return to Middlebury with her new film, “This Is Everything: GiGi Gorgeous,” which centers on Gigi Gorgeous, a YouTube star formerly known as Gregory, who underwent a gender transition in 2013. The film premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
And our opening night film, the sharp and humorous documentary, “Take My Nose, Please,” will be presented in person by the picture’s first-time filmmaker, 89 year-old journalist Joan Kron. The film explores the phenomenon of plastic surgery, focusing on several prominent women who elected to undergo the procedure.
Actress Hedy Lamarr was more than a legendary leading actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age —she was also a self-taught inventor who came up with technology that was intended for World War II service against torpedoes but later proved useful to the development of modern wireless communications, including WiFi and Blue Tooth. Alexandra Dean’s stunning documentary, “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” tells the complex story of this Hollywood icon. Filmmaker Dean will also join us at the festival.
Other notable films, this year, were made by women and explore issues of gender. Alankrita Shrivastava’s narrative film, “Lipstick Under My Burkha” shows three women determined to break social constraints in contemporary India. Althea Jones’s hilarious gal pal picture, “Fun Mom Dinner” promises plenty of knowing laughs, especially from women.
In her captivating documentary, “It’s Criminal,” Vermont filmmaker Signe Taylor tracks the life-changing experiences of Dartmouth College students who face questions of privilege, poverty, and justice as they work with New Hampshire women inmates to create a reality-based play.
Several short films also break ground this year. In her visually rich satire, “Buckets,” Julia Jones dramatizes the sacrifices one young woman must make to satisfy her love. Actress and cirque nouveau star, Aurelia Thierree, will be on hand to screen her untitled short film that conjures a magical world of surrealistic characters outside a stone farmhouse in the French countryside. Thierree’s vivid film shows fertile imagination and a clear belief in film pioneer Jean Cocteau’s credo, that all cinema should aspire to the condition of a dream.
Editor’s Note: Jay Craven is artistic director of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival. 2017 passes, film descriptions and screening schedules are available at middfilmfest.org.

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