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

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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