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The Brattle Revives Focus On Cinema Made By, For And About Women

Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell in "The Women." (Courtesy The Brattle)MoreCloseclosemore
Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell in "The Women." (Courtesy The Brattle)

Beginning in March, the Brattle Theatre will kick off “A Year of Women in Cinema,” a program highlighting films by, for and about women.

Given the current political climate, the program feels timely and on point. However, as Brattle creative director Ned Hinkle points out, its genesis "isn’t necessarily a response to the current administration in Washington. We were planning this long before, and even before it looked like we were going to elect our first female president. It’s a response to the general inequality in the movie industry.” That said, the Brattle’s executive director and Ned’s spouse, Ivy Moylan, quickly adds today's climate “only makes it more relevant.”

The program is an attempt to revive in some shape or form the Boston International Festival of Women’s Cinema (BIFWC), which flourished between 1993 and 2003 under the stewardship of Marianne Lampke and Connie White, former co-directors of the Brattle Theatre who passed the reigns on to Hinkle and Moylan in 2001. The festival waned in part, as Moylan sees it, “because, at the time, the conversation around women’s cinema was changing and there was a bit of a backlash. But now, considering the recent conversations about Oscar recognition and the endemic sexism in Hollywood, I think people are more willing to engage in a discussion about women in film.”

A limit for the former BIFWC was its primary focus on films made by women. The “Year of Women in Cinema” will take a broader approach, including films directed, written, edited, produced or "just plain willed into existence" by women.

The series will follow a format akin to last year’s “A Year of Noir,” which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the genre by weaving in varying noir-themed slates into the Brattle’s eclectic repertory lineups. “We really like that format,” Moylan notes, “it allows us to go deeper into a subject and add in more rarities.” With each new repertory calendar, one of the slots will be reserved for women in film programming.

The first series, "The Women Who Built Hollywood," runs March 1-8 and will present films crafted by, or starring women in the heyday of silent film and the early talkies. You probably couldn’t find a more apt classic to embody women in cinema than “The Wild Party” (1929), playing on March 2 and starring Clara Bow as a hard partying co-ed with Fredric March as her prim professor and romantic interest. Even more germane is the fact it’s helmed by Dorothy Arzner, one of the first women to direct a cinematic feature in Hollywood and later, an instructor to a young Francis Ford Coppola.

Other series selections include “The Wind” (1928), conceived by the prolific writer Frances Marion and starring Lillian Gish, and “Little Annie Rooney” (1925), staring and co-written by Mary Pickford who helped found United Artists. The two films play as a double feature on March 4. The most contemporary of the series is George Cukor’s revered classic, “The Women” (1939) starring Hollywood legends-in-the-making Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine. The film, which was penned by four women and an uncredited F. Scott Fitzgerald, kicks off “A Year of Women in Cinema” on March 1.

A scene from "The Women" (1939). (Courtesy The Brattle)
A scene from "The Women" (1939). (Courtesy The Brattle)

Of the many repertory prospects in development, the women of French cinema tantalizes as it would most certainly feature the works of Claire Denis, whose remarkable resume of eclectic cinematic gems includes “Beau Travail” (1999), “35 Shots of Rum” (2008) and “White Material” (2009). The auteur’s profound 2001 cannibal drama “Trouble Every Day” would make a perfect double bill with “Near Dark” (1987), an early cult vampire hit from Kathryn Bigelow, who would go on to become the first womanto win an Academy Award for directing "The Hurt Locker."

In addition, Moylan says they want to have a focus from underrepresented countries, a series on documentary filmmakers (Barbara Kopple and Agnès Varda clearly top that list) and women who help shape a film that aren’t actors or directors. The Brattle hopes to recognize Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who has artfully stitched together nearly every one of Martin Scorsese's masterpieces and Megan Ellison, who founded Annapurna Pictures, which has become a meteoric player in independent cinema with the likes of "The Master" (2012), "American Hustle" (2013) and "Joy" (2015).

Throughout the year, there will also be other films along the year's theme that are not part of a repertory track. On the immediate horizon, there's "XX" (2017), a horror anthology made by four "fiercely" independent filmmakers including Karyn Kusama, and "The Lure" (2015), Agnieszka Smoczynska's cult comedy cum horror about cannibalistic mermaids who are part of a cabaret troupe.

In May, BIFWC regular Allison Anders ("Mi Vida Loca" and "Sugar Town"), who was one of that festival’s many A-list visiting female filmmakers (along with Sofia Coppola, Lisa Cholodenko and Mary Harron) will visit the Brattle to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her art house classic, “Gas Food Lodging.” Moylan and Hinkle also plan to work in something to recognize trailblazers Lina Wertmüller, the first female director nominated for the Academy Award for her 1975 film “Seven Beauties,” and Ida Lupino, and the women who continue to break ground today like Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding") and Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty” and “Point Break”).

Moylan muses that a loose goal of “A Year of Women in Cinema” is to create something sustainable that carries on beyond the year time frame. Given the conversation going in Hollywood about inclusion, the women's marches across the country in January and Jennifer Lawrence and other prominent actresses waging a very public battle for equal pay in the industry, it’s unlikely that interest in women in cinema would ebb during the course of one orbit of the sun.

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Tom Meek Twitter Contributor, The ARTery
In addition to The ARTery, Tom Meek's reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in The Boston Phoenix, Boston Globe, The Rumpus, Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal.

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