This year marks the tenth anniversary of the MadCat Women's Film Festival, so tunnel into your coziest sweater, step out, and brave the fog because this festival features the very best new avant-garde films made by women. This year, as always, there's a wide variety of stuff to see: narratives, documentaries, animated shorts, political films, and unique combinations of these.
For instance Program #4, the animation show, features Marie-Jose Saint-Pierre's animated documentary about (and homage to) Canadian film innovator Norman McLaren, entitled McLaren's Negatives. The film is absolutely gorgeous, making use of McLaren's own techniques of painting directly on and scratching the surface of the emulsion to create beautiful images that wriggle and dance across the screen. Saint-Pierre also integrates real footage of McLaren and clips of his own films, all accompanied by a cool, jazzy soundtrack of original music. This film is visual poetry. See it!
Also outstanding is Stacy Steers' Phantom Canyon, an animated short painstakingly composed from nearly four thousand collages. This film tells the strange and erotic story of a bare-breasted woman who's plagued by giant beetles that crawl from beneath the sheets of her floating bed. While battling these insects with giant scissors, she falls off the bed and down, down, down to a room inhabited by a nude man with bat wings. He pursues the bare-breasted woman, they make love, and for a very short time all goes well. . .
The look of Phantom Canyon was oddly familiar to me. Once the end credits rolled I learned that the collages were pieced together from figures in Edward Muybridge's Human and Animal Locomotion. I wouldn't say we can call Speers' piece an homage to Muybridge as father-of-the-anatomy-of-motion, but it certainly acknowledges him; mainly, though, it realizes something deep about the female psyche -- as we follow the main character to various interiors the story takes on the mythic quality of Persephone's descent to Hades, or Alice's to Wonderland. This re-construction of Muybridge's work is wickedly and delightfully subversive.
Another film you shouldn't miss is Maquilopolis, by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre. "Maquilopolis" is a Spanish word meaning "city of factories." This nicely understated documentary tells the story of assemblers in Mexico's Tijuana, eighty percent of whom are female. For companies such as Sony and Sanyo, they put together the components for televisions, batteries, and many other products that are subsequently shipped to U.S. markets.
There's lots to love about this film, beginning with the creative use of fast-motion still shots. But the real strength of Maquilopolis is its emotional balance -- while we despise the corporations that don't even try to hide that they're dumping chemicals into the river flowing through their employees' village, while we're horrified to see the resulting rashes and sores (not to mention the birth defects and the kidney problems), while we cheer when the subjects of the documentary band together to sue Sanyo for the severance pay they're owed by law, in the end we're left with the feeling that the workers' small victory barely scratches the surface. Tijuana can't possibly recover from the damage that's been done and its residents are losing their factory jobs because Asian labor is cheaper. Missing, then, is the triumphant ending typical in current Hollywood film, but despite this we recognize that a small victory is victory nonetheless.
And that's exactly what I like about MadCat. It's INSPIRING that these filmmakers (who in some cases you might get to meet after a showing) are doing something brand-new with their medium, both formally and with their particular messages. Because these films don't try very hard to manipulate us -- and let's face it, manipulation is insulting -- their makers seem to understand us. In other words, these artists acknowledge that their audience is capable. And if the audience is capable, perhaps we, too, can make films. Which is a call to everyone: check out MadCat, then pick up your cameras (or whatever you use) and create!
The tenth annual MadCat Women's Film Festival runs September 12-27, 2006 at various venues. Visit the festival's web site for more information.