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Women Get Top Billing in Film Festival

Rebel, directed by Emerson faculty Maria Agui Carter, will be screened March 22 as part of the Women Take the Reel Film Festival. 

Emerson College is furthering its mission to support women filmmakers by screening two documentaries in this week’s Women Take the Reel Film Festival, organized by the MIT Women’s and Gender Studies departments.

On Tuesday, March 22, 7:00 pm, Rebel, directed by Emerson faculty María Agui Carter, will be shown, followed by a discussion with Carter. And on Thursday, March 24, 7:00 pm, An Open Secret, directed by Amy J. Berg, will be screened, followed by a discussion with the film’s producer, Matt Valentinas.

A third documentary, Circus Without Borders, playing on Wednesday, March 23, 7:00 pm, is not an official selection of the festival, but Anna Feder, director of programming for the Department of Visual and Media Arts, said it fits nicely with the program, since it is directed (Susan Gray) and produced (Boston Globe reporter Linda Matchin) by women, both of whom will be on hand to talk about the film afterward.

“Anything we can participate in that sort of spotlights films by female filmmakers is a worthwhile endeavor, and it’s something we and the [VMA] department are happy to take part in,” Feder said.

All three films will be shown in the Bright Family Screening Room at the Paramount Center, and all are free and open to the public.

Rebel, which got an honorable mention for an Erik Barnouw Award for historical film in 2014, is the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Cuban immigrant from New Orleans who secretly fought on the battlefield during the American Civil War. The film asks why Velazquez fought, and why her story has never been told until now.

Carter said Rebel allows us to talk about how and why women and people of color have been “erased from history.”

“Media is one of the most important mediums of our age—we are bombarded with it 24/7,” Carter, VMA producer-in-residence, said.  “If our stories and images are not there, it is so easy to dismiss us from history, politics, and from our own future in America.”

An Open Secret follows five child actors who fell victim to sexual predators and convicted sex offenders, and examines how they could be betrayed by a system that provides little oversight and few safety measures. It documents these boys’ experiences and personal triumphs. Joining Valentinas in conversation will be Melanie Matson, director of the Emerson Violence Prevention and Response team, and a representative from the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

Circus Without Borders features two friends and acrobats from opposite corners of the world (Arctic Canada and West Africa) who each use the circus arts to transform their struggling communities. It’s being shown as part of a tour supported by the Pulitzer Foundation, and the two main subjects of the film will attend.

The film also has Emerson connections: VMA faculty Harlan Bosmajian shot some of the slow-motion footage of circus performers for the film, and Feder helped with fundraising for the project.

The majority of films in the Women Take the Reel Festival are documentaries, a fact that underscores women’s extreme underrepresentation in narrative filmmaking.

Feder said more women may be drawn to documentary film because more of them tend to be independently produced than narrative films. But there could be more to it, she said.

“I think there’s an advantage that women have in documentary in terms of relationship-building with subjects,” Feder said.

Emerson has made a push in recent years to get more recognition for women filmmakers. The College has been using a film rating system for all its screenings, which points out when a film has a feminist theme or is made by a woman.

Earlier this semester, Feder took a group of women VMA graduate students to the Sundance Film Festival so they could learn about the industry and the festival circuit, and last semester, filmmaker and VMA Professor Cristina Kotz Cornejo led a Women in Film & Media Summit, which brought together women filmmakers to talk about their experiences and ways to create more opportunities for female directors, producers, actors, and crews.

Feder, who directs the Bright Lights Film Series, said her goal is to get to the point where 50 percent of the films she screens are made by women.

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