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Now Playing! Coven Film Festival Convenes Sisters of Cinema at the Roxie

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Still from Jessica Ellis' 'What Lies West,' 2019. (Courtesy of Coven Film Festival)

Some years are devoted to preparation, others to reflection and contemplation. 2020 is going to be a year of action.

That’s the conclusion I draw from the Coven Film Festival‘s pole position on the perennially packed Bay Area festival calendar. With its emphasis on networking, tools, support and inspiration, Coven aspires to be a launching pad for women and non-binary filmmakers. Its eager-beaver stake out of the first post-holiday weekend of the year (Jan. 10–12) is a veritable clarion call for anyone on its frequency.

The second-year festival boasts a new director of programming, Faridah Gbadamosi, who has shifted last year’s emphasis on short films to a balance of features and shorts programs. The theme connecting the various works is discernible from even a cursory glance at the lineup: The urgent lure of freedom—and the forces that arise in opposition.

Still from Haroula Rose’s ‘Once Upon a River,’ 2019. (Courtesy of Coven Film Festival)

Haroula Rose’s Once Upon a River, one of three narratives in the ambitious program, is a waterborne, ’70s-set road trip that compels its fleeing/seeking Native American protagonist to reconcile with the past even as she clears a path to her future. Jessica Ellis’s What Lies West sets a newly minted college grad and her temporary teenage ward on a journey of liberation and, perhaps, transformation.

Special events include a master class in directing with actress-director Karen Allen, featuring her 2017 screen adaptation of Carson McCullers’ short story A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud. The crowdfunding platform Seed & Spark hosts a workshop on connecting filmmakers with potential audiences, while a panel on creative distribution offers guidance for getting finished work out in the world. What’s that old line? Oh, yeah: Sisters are doing it for themselves.


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