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The 2009 Baltimore Women's Film Festival

"The Problem With Pets"

Posted 10/22/2009

The third annual, non-profit Baltimore Women's Film Festival runs Oct. 23-25 at the Landmark Harbor East, featuring an eclectic three-day schedule of documentaries, features, and shorts of cinema created by and/or for women, and a number of the filmmakers will be attending the festival. As in previous years, 50 percent of all ticket sales are donated to breast cancer research and outreach/survivor programs.

What follows are reviews for every BWFF movie for which City Paper could obtain a screener, and we'd like to thank the BWFF for making these films available for review. Reviews courtesy Michael Byrne, Edward Ericson Jr., Anna Ditkoff, Joe Macleod, Erin Sullivan, and Wendy Ward.

"Beyond Debate: Rights of Homeless Students" The Public Justice Center and Megaphone Project team up to create this short drama about Devon, a high-school girl whose family loses its home during her senior year of high school. Devon, a good student hoping for a college scholarship, finds her life in disarray and her future in jeopardy when she finds that she may be forced to change schools due to her sudden homelessness. Her teacher and a school friend discover that homeless students do have rights under the law, and they embark on a mission to help Devon get her life back together. A cleanly edited, informative public service announcement-style movie. (ES) Screens Oct. 25 at 2:15 p.m. as part of the Films Set in Baltimore program, with the filmmakers in attendance.

"Bird Flu of My Chicken Heart" Writer and director Boim Hwang's 22-minute "Bird Flu of My Chicken Heart" takes you through the protracted opening-night jitters of Jennifer Wilson (Kat Ross, channeling Party Girl-era Parker Posey), a budding filmmaker who idolizes John Waters and is dedicated to making films as long as at least one person shows up to watch them. As the annoying soundtrack unwinds, you learn, after a rejection-letter montage, that Jennifer's movie featuring a vampire, a priest, and a chicken is scheduled to premiere at the third annual "Better Than Home Movie Film Festival" (good one) and, after encounters with her mother, a "friend" from high school, and seemingly interminable (but tolerable) mugging by Ross, we're also not sure anyone is showing up at this film. No spoilers. (JM) Screens Oct. 24 at 3:30 p.m. as part of the Comedic Shorts program.

"Bongfen" The serious short "Bongfen" is a prosaically photographed but well-acted story of Bongfen (played by Petra Sunjo, who also writes and directs), a beautiful internet-mail-order bride from Cameroon taking part in deceptions and misunderstandings almost immediately as she lands in America with little more than the djembe on her back. Her intended has a beautiful home and a surprise for her, and at 25 minutes running time, we're not going to get far into their possible relationship, but there's still a satisfying amount of drama and changes without cliché. (JM) Screens Oct. 25 at 5:45 p.m. as part of the Short Films About Love program.

"Chicken Wings Writer, director, and animator Pauline Kortmann's five-minute "Chicken Wings" is a pleasing enough exercise, rendered in a sketchy sort of no-pencil-marks-erased style, carrying you along in the minimally vocalized story of a young pioneer lady and the chicken she wants to slaughter. No animals were harmed in the making of this short. (JM) Screens Oct. 25 at noon with other animate shorts.

"The Colors of Veil" Jehan Harney's five-minute documentary is about a Baltimore woman who converted to Islam and started wearing a headscarf. Kimberly King faced bigotry for wearing the scarf, which made it difficult for her to find employment. King's story is interesting but the doc is too short to go into it any real depth. (AD) Screens Oct. 25 at 4 p.m. as part of the Documentary Shorts program, with Jehan Harney and Kimberly King in attendance.

Films about Magical Realism and Dreams This shorts program includes six visually diverse films. Director Phillip Christon's "I'm Not Britney" is a bit of anti-celebrity/girl power agitprop cloaked as some kind of fake Victoria's Secret/ fashion-week television advertisement. It stars Ndoema, who is apparently a legit international fashion star. Director Ruckus Skye's "Hungry For Love" is bit too into its own quirkiness for its own good; from color to character, the style here is cartoon-y. It's the tale of an unhappy, elderly woman overcoming a pair of seemingly unconnected troubles via a therapist (who acts and looks like a '50s talk-show host, for some reason); entertaining, but short on explication. Director Helen Parks' "Yes," an enjoyable short that shares a great deal with a certain Jim Carrey movie, tells the tale of a dour women working in some kind of bleak bureaucracy that a requires a great deal of rubber stamping of the word "No." One day she decides to answer "yes" to everything, and a few good gags and misadventures involving a drug dealer, a Renaissance fair, and a patio party ensue. Director Jennifer Hardacker's "The Nightgardener" tackles, via various archived speeches/talks, semiotics, fractals, time, and a handful of other topics in very strangely rendered night garden—a visual treat at the very least. In Jenny Milly's "A Peacock Colored Blue," a little kid who's really good at art but bad at science gets admonished for being bad at science and discouraged from making art. For a school science fair, he tackles one of pop philosophy's greatest mind-freaks, making a new color-with literally explosive, and very cute, results. The Jose Gonzales soundtrack is a bonus. Autmnn Andel's "Hideaway" is basically a music video for Oregon's Gnomenclature—imagine a funky version of the Blow—that involves some pretty cool-looking sets and costumes and a mix of cardboard, hand drawings, and live actors. (MB) Screens Oct. 24 at 11 a.m.

"Magdalene" Rebecca Cremona's slick-looking "Magdalene" is a visually rich and melancholy 27 minutes—what may be the last minutes—in the life of Magdelene (Susan Hanfield, highly compelling in the gamut from pathos to flights of fancy), who in 1931 can't play the piano the way she did when she won the 1911 Boston Piano Competition, before she married a doctor who neglects her as she withers away in despair within the confines of a California home. Miron, an earnest Polish immigrant (the sometimes indecipherably-accented Roman Marshanski) selling kitchen implements with the enthusiasm of someone at the start of the American Dream, catches the erstwhile Miss O'Flaherty at a bad time, and in the picture-perfect '30s kitchen Magdelene's maid prepares meals in, we watch Magdelene and Miron talk about life and reasons to get up in the morning. This short is unsatisfying in that it looks like part of a whole movie we'd like to see. (JM) Screens Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. as part of the Short Films About Madness, Sanity and the Creative Process shorts program, with actress Susan Hanfield in attendance.

"No Strings Attached" It's probably pretty tough to do a short documentary on a topic like burlesque without delving into the clichés that abound in the identity politics of female empowerment. Director Lisa Whitmer's "No Strings Attached" covers many of them: Burlesque is about being sexy but it's not necessarily about sex; burlesque is naughty but nice girls can do it, too; burlesque is a fun way to learn to accept your body, warts and all, etc. Unfortunately, this doc doesn't really explore its subject much beyond those themes, which makes for an entertaining, but not terribly challenging short. Expect a good number of stage shots featuring unusual pasties (some shaped like liquor bottles, some that light on fire), interspersed with scenes of burlesque performers living their everyday lives, talking about their childhoods, making their own costumes, and just being regular women. (ES) Screens Oct. 25 at 11 a.m.

Not Dead Yet

Not Dead Yet "A film for everyone who believes in second acts," says the official web site of this dramedy built for the menopausal set, but thoughtful and funny enough for those still bleeding. Three friends who happen to have been performers in their younger days, before husbands and children took center stage in their lives, embark on journeys of self-discovery via a shaman, an independent film contest, and glass jars of kombucha tea. The ladies are fed up with lunching and dissatisfied with the selfless expectations of the mother/wife caretaker role. Jane (Susan Hess Logeais, who also wrote and produced) is the daring, athletic wife to a French man with very traditional ideas about a woman's place. Michelle (Sherilyn Lawson) has a great marriage but she's really wound up and her mom is a bitch. And Cindy (Betty Moyer) suffers from empty-nest syndrome and a negligent hubby. In each other they find acceptance, even as they call out one another's BS. Their friendships strain under the pressure they feel inside to live a self-actualized life and all that jazz, and the stress of putting together a film in mere days results in embarrassing costumes and a terrible plot filmed by a BDSM porn expert. But hang on, the ending rocks. (WW) Screens Oct. 23 at 6 p.m., with producer Susan Hess Logeais and director Sam Hull in attendance.

"Open Your Eyes" A thirtysomething woman (Traci Dinwiddie) stands apart as a friend's bridal shower gets underway, and soon finds herself sharing a joint in the bathroom with the bride-to-be's older sister (Suzy Nakamura, busting up every Asian female stereotype there is), talking about her breast cancer. She couldn't do this with her husband, Kevin (Eric Lange), even though he's trying his best to be supportive. She won't even let him see her body after the mastectomy. First-time writer and director Susan Cohen got lucky with Dinwiddie, who plays the broken-up, tight-lipped, crazy cancer survivor with scary grace. In the final scene we see why. (EE) Screens Oct. 23 ay 9:15 p.m. as part of the Dramatic Shorts program.

The Perfect Cappuccino Written, directed, filmed, and narrated by Amy Ferraris, this documentary starts out as a testimonial/history lesson singing the praises of the masterfully made caffeine-packed espresso and steamed milk beverage Ferraris enjoyed while in Italy years ago, but quickly heads into Michael Moore territory decrying the corporate greed of America. The Italians she interviews have much to say on the genesis of the espresso—named for a train, because the drink was fast to procure and consume—but America's extensive love for coffee means even hating Starbucks keeps few of their customers away (very little here is a revelation; see Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture by Taylor Clark). Highlights include interviews with the third wave of coffee peddlers—we are now heading back to the small, independent roasters (like Pete's in San Francisco, the godfather of Seattle's original Starbucks and still selling to beatniks) whose coffee houses attract more and more customers with a nose for the good stuff. Also, the saga of Tulsa, Okla.'s, DoubleShot coffeeshop, threatened by—you guessed it—Starbucks for confusing coffee drinkers who might mistake the shop for the trademarked can of their delicious, cold, sweet DoubleShot. (WW) Screens Oct. 23 at 4:30 p.m.

Plan B: Single Women Choosing Motherhood What do women do when they desperately want children but have not yet found the romantic love that makes creating a family a no-brainer for most breeders? This documentary from director Beth Cramer takes a very straightforward, at times overly optimistic, look at a handful of women who have chosen to be single mothers. Some choose adoption, others in-vitro fertilization, still others find sperm donors. Plan B asks these women the tough questions about the choices they've made—how do you tell your child he or she was the result of in-vitro fertilization? Should a child have a choice when it comes to meeting a sperm-donor father? How do kids at school respond to "fatherless" children? —and doesn't shy away from some of the more difficult decisions each woman has had to make in following the path to not just single, but at times lonely, motherhood. (ES) Screens Oct. 24 at 12:30 p.m., with director Beth Cramer in attendance.

"Pour Jeanne" As he digs a lakeside grave for his saddest memories, a man (Emmanuel Bilodeau) composes a letter to his wife (Jacinthe Lague), explaining himself, apologizing, and vowing to carry on with their daughter. Beautifully photographed and well-paced, writer/director Anouk L'Heureux's short plays like a tragic memoir, with lots of pathos but little surprise. (EE) Screens Oct. 23 at 9:15 p.m. as part of the Dramatic Shorts program.

"The Problem With Pets" Writer Frances O'Neill and director Catriona Craig collaborate on "The Problem With Pets," 13 minutes of sharp-looking and well-crafted dark comedy at the expense of small animals. Little 7-year-old Monica (Eva Brunjes, probably at the start of a profitable career of child-acting) tolerates her mummy's "pets," the two-legged male types, but Dr. Dick, the latest guest, is kind of a problem, as far as a turtle, a budgie, —we're pretty sure—a bunny are concerned. Watch Monica fail to use her words as she works out her difficulties amid the low-impact carnage. (JM) Screens Oct. 24 at 3:30 p.m. as part of the Comedic Shorts program.

"Sleeping" A young girl's first babysitting job turns out to be pretty weird when the family insists that the baby is sleeping and she is not under any circumstances to check on him. The twist ending in director Doug Current's short was so obvious we would have frankly been shocked and pleasantly surprised if the baby had just been sleeping. The far-from-subtle acting didn't help either. Still, the production values are sleek and there are some lovely shots. (AD) Screens Oct. 23 at 9:15 p.m. as part of the Dramatic Shorts program.

"Storstad" ("Big City")

"Storstad" ("Big City") This less-than-12-minute short is why people make short films, or at least why they should. Director Rafael Deugenio manages to tell a deeply affecting story about a young Swedish boy in a small space that will haunt you long after the credits roll. Not only that, every shot has a purpose, both in what is seen and how it is shown to you. (AD) Screens Oct. 23 at 9:15 p.m. as part of the Dramatic Shorts program.

Straitlaced: How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up You'll probably wonder where director Debra Chasnoff found so many high-school kids willing and able to be so articulate and self-assured about gender identity issues. The answer, as with Chasnoff's other documentaries—1992's Academy Award-winning Deadly Deception, about General Electric; 1999's It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School —is pure hard work. She surveyed thousands of students across California, interviewed hundreds, and carefully categorized them by issue discussed, gender, and race, before settling on the 50 or so kids featured in Straightlaced: How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up. The resulting documentary moves easily and lightly through the socio-hormonal minefield of adolescent dating, sex, and behavioral issues, with frank and sometimes funny talk about everything from fashion to how to pick up girls to why scarves are "gay." But its real grace lies in its underplayed depictions of gay-bashing, suicide, and the eating disorders that kill so many teen girls, ailments that grow cancerously from our rigid and macho culture. "I hate fighting," says one guy (who is not gay, he assures us). "I think it's one of the stupidest things you could ever do. But for some reason, I still take part in some violent acts." (EE) Screens Oct. 24 at 8 p.m., with director Debra Chasnoff in attendance.

"Walk on By" Written and directed by Lisa Quijano Wolfinger, "Walk on By" tells the story of two people who pass each other walking their dogs everyday. After some flirtiness, they decide to go on a date, but a misunderstanding threatens to stop their romance before it starts. Unfortunately, the stakes are so low even the characters themselves don't seem to care. (AD) Screens Oct. 25 at 5:45 p.m. as part of the Short Films About Love program.

"Worth" Kathi Carey writes, directs, and stars in this short about a high-end auction. Unfortunately, Carey doesn't do any of these jobs very well. The story is obvious, her acting is ham-fisted, and the direction is lifeless. The violin playing is pretty, though; kudos to violinist Sid Page for that. (AD) Screens Oct. 23 at 9:15 p.m. as part of the Dramatic Shorts program.

"Young Love?" Wide Angle Youth Media presents this short, which starts out as a candid take on teens discussing their views on sex and then morphs into a playful and artsy, if at times confusing, series of statements about love and dating. Short vignettes of boys' dream-come-true dates with a random girl on a park bench, who rebuffs them all, and a mock dating-game show featuring a girl who must choose between a poet, a DJ, and a dweeb make for an interesting, though ultimately confusing, exploration of teen sexuality. (ES) Screens Oct. 25 at 2:15 p.m. as part of the Films Set in Baltimore program, with Wide Angle Media in attendance.

"You're Outa Here" The three-minute "You're Outta Here" is remarkable more for Lorraine Feather's rewriting and singing of a snappy Fats Waller composition ("A Minor Drag") than it is for the animation accompanying the lyrics detailing the no-surprises big kiss-off to a (no-surprises) philandering pig of a man. (JM) Screens Oct. 25 at noon with other animated shorts.

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