The Power of Female Directors
in the Year of #Metoo
Report on Bronx World Film Cycle, Winter 2017-18
Graphic Design: Julie Ortiz
Original Photography: Walter Krochmal
Walter Krochmal and Julie Ortiz at closing
of our 7th Annual Winter Cycle
The same year the #MeToo movement sent shock waves through the US film industry and beyond, we culminated seven years of continuous programming and a longstanding commitment to women directors with a landmark Winter Cycle. Held January 12-14, we had the honor of kicking off the 150th anniversary year of our mother organization, La Nacional on West 14th Street in Manhattan, which has nurtured us and brought us so far along the way. Out of the 31 films we screened from 29 countries, women directed 20. Those 20 films represent the thinking of 18 distinctive female voices.
Highlights include the return of Aleksandra Niemczyck, who screens at all Cycles since our founding, with the US premiere of her feature Baba Vanga. The 20th-century Bulgarian clairvoyant made chilling prophecies, some of them come to pass in recent times, some still hanging over us. Dance film master Deirdre Towers (Bell 8 and In Memory of Alysha Joy Stith, USA), along with collaborators from more recent times Nicola Balhuizen (Home, The Double, Netherlands) and Bronx-based Hyonok Kim (Dance with Horses and Ode on a Korean Urn, South Korea/USA) brought us the dance films so essential to the Cycle. The Algerian-born, Morocco-based molecular biologist, journalist and playwright Amira-Géhanne Khalfallah shone bright with the world premiere of The Shoe; USA-based Lindsay Washington burned a hole in the screen with Black Things, White Spaces:#BlackGirlMagic.
The times have changed and our organization reflects that vastly changed time and place. Much of its programming reflects the creativity, wit and complex world view of female directors, which makes for far more interesting curated programming. Interestingly enough this year, even the 11 films made by male directors, the remaining 36% tilted to storylines attractive to women and girls.
Women at the Forefront Again
The same year that #CentralAmerica recaptured the world’s attention as if it were the 80s all over again, the region’s finest cinema again stood front and center at our annual event. We selected 9 total works, 6 helmed by women, who prove time and again to be valued and faithful collaborators. Brenda Vanegas of El Salvador graced our event with the US premiere of Paula, a lovingly shot coming-of-age story. Costa Rican-Iraqi filmmaker and frequent contributor Ishtar Yasin shapeshifted and returned as the female lead in the stark desert drama Thirst, directed by Aldo Gutiérrez Cortés of Mexico). In The Blue Balloon, New York-based Guatemalan Izabel Acevedo takes on the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church from a young girl’s viewpoint. Muriel Hasbun of El Salvador explores her Central American Arab Palestinian cultural identity in the New York City premiere of Sheherazade or (Per)forming the Archive.
Many of these works bear the stamp of Mexican production and direction. The sister republic has provided a home and launching pad for generations of Latin American artists in all disciplines. Central American filmmakers are the most recent wave of creatives from the rest of the continent. Other Mexican films in this year’s program came simply from our ongoing search for great arthouse film no matter its provenance. They provide an unmistakably rich dimension.
Young, Younger Youngest!
The strong tilt to women directors also brought a program steeped in naturalism and complex drama, with children often playing leads. Dazzling youth provided the perfect foil for the starker tone. Secrets, a whodunit by 11-year-old screenwriter, director and star Ms. Leela Charlotte West, was the highlight. It first screened at our Summer Cycle 2017 outdoors series in Bronx parks, like several other shorts. Strong performances by children actors gave magic, poignancy and staying power to The Fall of the Angels (dir. Olivier Jolibert, France), The ocarina (dir. María Inés Pijuan, Costa Rica), Iku Manieva (dir. Isaac Ruiz Gastélum, Mexico) and The Fawn (dir. Jennida Chase, USA) among others. This program arc flowed into the charming Eliza, (dir. Mazahir Hashimov, Azerbaijan), a comedy infused with adolescent angst counterbalanced by light, folksy irony and the mercurial charm of its lead, Deniz Tajeddin. The former child performer and musician is a recognized figure in Russian theater and television, and carries the entire film with grace and verve.
for International Arthouse Filmmakers
While greatly expanding our geographical reach this year, we also saw continuation of a trend that started in 2016, namely filmmakers traveling to New York City from abroad at their own expense to attend their NYC screenings. That year we welcomed filmmakers from Botswana and Lebanon, along with 6 guests from our fledgling counterpart organization in Honduras, <San Pedro Sula> [RESET] (www.spsreset.org). This winter, Hannah Rayne (@inmate22 on Instagram) flew up from Australia with two friends to enjoy the applause her 30-second, hand-crafted animations elicited every time they appeared interspersed throughout. She took in her accolades, granted us a glamorous photo, then headed off into the New York City night and back Down Under. Natalie Plaskura flew in from Germany for the New York City premiere of Faint (a short film with a glossy, high-fashion look that strikes terror into the heart), and Roya Eshraghi, an Iranian film artist, from her adopted Costa Rica for The Tree, a short on immigration and displacement from her days as a student at the San Antonio de los Baños film school in Cuba.
"A Place for Young Fimmakers"
On the promotional front, we landed our first interviews on major Spanish-language television at Univisión, where four separate producers in a row interviewed us the day a severe snowstorm kept scheduled guests away (Edición Digital, Viernes y Más, Semana en Revisión and Free-Güey). Univisión calls our organization “a place for young filmmakers.” Indeed! Despite our small size, low budget, reliance on volunteer staff and lack of a headquarters, we offer emerging film artists whose work might not ordinarily find a place in the increasingly sanitized international festival circuit an effective launching pad for greater international exposure. We work with them carefully to present their films in the best possible light, from helping correct subtitles to editing their marketing copy. The figures speak for themselves: This year’s Cycle included 3 world premieres, 5 US premieres, 8 NYC premieres and 2 special screenings. 18 out of 31 films were a world premiere, a US premiere or a New York City premiere. That amounts to 58% of our programming dedicated to new work. These figures speak to the special trust that binds us to a distinguished network of filmmakers regionally, nationally and around the world, and of our commitment to fresh, new voices.
Bronx World Film has a mission mandate to help build local communities and exert a measurable impact on its immediate constituencies. Bronx-born filmmaker Cris Raffaele returned again for the third time with the New York City premiere of his feature The F3ar, screened to a full house of friends and followers. Bronx-based Hyonok Kim (Ode on a Korean Urn, To Dance with Horses) screened at our Summer Cycle 2017 and for the second time this year with us in the Winter Cycle, as we move to provide year-round screening opportunities for filmmakers.
Our extensive outreach to Bronx-based talent for Summer Cycle 2017 put us in contact with visual artist, graphic designer and actress Julie Ortiz (@julesdafoolz). Over the following months, we developed an easy rapport, out of which that came the promotional image for the Winter Cycle and the ¡España Hoy! film series (a new program we introduced later in January). Ms. Ortiz accompanied us on air at Univisión after overcoming her initial misgivings about not speaking Spanish, her presence a palpable representation of the partnerships we are establishing in our home borough. When we saw that her visual art -- portraits of women in a range of fantasy/psychological settings, reflections of her own psyche, struggles and evolution –dovetailed perfectly with our emphasis on women, we also invited her to exhibit as our featured guest artist. Julie is now a vital, trusted member of our local community and we look forward to more collaborations.
Reaching back again to our roots, we extended return invitations to several visual artists who exhibited at our 2011 launch. Farhana Akhter (originally from Bangladesh) specializes in abstract wire mesh sculptures that play with texture, shapes, color and luminescence in a largely pastel palette. Vilo López records the vanishing lifestyle of the Garífuna people of the Atlantic Coast of Honduras, on canvas, in handcrafted miniatures and in a variety of other media. Ecuadorian artists Pablo Caviedes and Amaru Chiza added their works to the gallery, and Sonja Irohde’s jewelry added a master touch to the multidisciplinary components.