There IS film in Lansing! And some of it is directed by women!

I had the rare opportunity to view the line up of films from the Directing Workshop for
Women (DWW) Showcase for this year’s Capital City Film Festival over the last few weeks and saying that I was impressed is an understatement.

According to the Celluloid Ceiling 2007 Report, women accounted for only 6% of directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films released in 2007, a decline of 1% since 2006. This figure is approximately half the percentage of women directors working in 2000 when women accounted for 11% of all directors. While these statistics are dated by a few years, it is apparent that the role of women as directors is on the decline. Women in roles of leadership in general are scarce; just look to the role of women in U.S. Congress for example, where they hold approximately 17% of the elected seats, according to the Center for Women in Politics, yet make up about 51% of the United States population as of the 2010 U.S. Census. It is obvious that women are underrepresented, but what can be done about it? In my opinion the first step is to support the women who do take on leadership roles.

What is so amazing about these films are not just that they are directed by women, which is a rarity within itself,  but the films depict female characters in a very empowering way.

The way in which individuals are represented in media shapes our cultural norms and attitudes, we all know that. Mainstream media typically reinforces gender stereotypes and normalizes sexism. I mean, how many more romcoms can be made where a woman is obsessed with finding a partner, is willing to turn against her female “friends” to get the man, and lives” happily ever after” by giving up her own autonomy, passions, hobbies, (well, hobbies other than shopping, getting her nails done, and adding wedding themed pins to her pinterest board!) to shack up with the man of her dreams? (Not to hate on shopping and mani/pedis, because I am a gal who loves her occassional mani/pedi, but there is SO much more to life not necessarily portrayed in your typical romantic comedy female lead…) Not only are many women depicted as dependent on males in order to live a fulfilling life, but they are objectified as sex objects, which reinforces a culture of misogyny and violence against women. This has an affect not only on the dynamics of a healthy relationship, but these gender norms then limit women and girls socially, as well as politically.

I know. I sound cynical. And I am. But I do recognize that there are films out there that empower women. Depict realistic relationships. Encourage women to defy traditional gender roles and follow their own dreams, which will then lead to living happily ever after, with no expectations of what that “happily ever after” has to be. And the block of shorts directed by women for this year’s festival does just that.

Watching “Oowiewanna” by Bridget Palardy made my heart very happy. It leaves you with a message that we are all beautiful, regardless of whether we meet traditional standards of beauty or not. And we get to be a part of a young girl’s journey as she comes to discover this, and learns to accept herself, flaws and all, and embrace her individuality over conformity.

“Hold for Laughs” by Amy French takes you on a voyage with Margaret, as she shares her experiences as an awkward 13 year old high school freshman at all girls Catholic high school, where she does not necessarily fit in. We get to see her transform from this shy teenager to a confident stand up comedian where she takes her life experiences and enlightens the audience with them.

I was moved by the relationship portrayed in “Neighbors” by Rachel Goldberg, as the life of Maggie, a shut in with overwhelming social anxieties is examined. She has crippling fears, which prohibit her from leaving the house, yet she is able to form a life-changing relationship with a neighbor, which allows us all to recognize the power of human connection.

“The Death of Toys” by Lisa Gold shares the struggle of a woman as she deals with the fact that her young son is growing up and life is changing. As she faces loss in her life head on, she must also recognize that her son is growing up and the life they have been living the past decade is about to change. And that can be okay. She must learn to let go in order to let her son become the person he is going to be, which leads to personal growth on her part in ways of which she did not see coming.

“Megafauna” by Kaz Phillips gives us a very raw look into a relationship between Anna and Milo. We see the struggle of two people putting it all out there, discussing the intensity and pain of love, and are left feeling uncomfortable, because just like real life, this movie portrays the fact that relationships are not easy. That sometimes, love is hard.

I laughed harder than I have in some time while watching “Overdrawn” by Sylvia Sether, as you relate to Emma, a young woman who has reached her limit and is forced to re-examine her life. I feel that so many of us reach a breaking point and are overwhelmed by the fact that we yearn to find a path in life that best suits us- career-wise, relationship-wise, etc., yet often times cannot decide what it is that we want. This movie takes that breaking point and adds a comedic aspect to it, letting us laugh along with Emma as she faces her life hurdles  head on and re-creates her life path.

Finally, there was my absolute favorite short film, “Losing Ferguson” by Trisha Gum. This film was cute. And quirky. And shared such a significant story of loss, learning to cope with that loss, and accepting a life of independence. The young woman in the film must come to terms with the fact that her imaginary friend, whom she has relied on to get her through some very tough times, is breaking up with her. That it is time for her to live a life on her own, relying on herself for comfort and happiness. The woman is empowered to live a life that is best for her and recognizes that she is able to make that happen on her own. And it is amazing.

So, there you have it. A brief summary of the short films, from my perspecitve, in this year’s AFI Directing Workshop for Women Showcase, which will be held on Sunday, April 15th from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

I encourage you all to check it out, experience the beauty that is each and every one of the films, and support the amazing women who are taking on leadership roles in the world of filmmaking.

Festival Details:

Capital City Film Festival– Thursday, April 12th through Sunday, April 15th.

Festival pass: $50 (the best deal in my opinion!) which gets you into all four days of film, all four nights of concerts, admission into all festival parties and the Media Sandbox Capstone Series, and finally admission and lunch for TEDx Lansing on Friday, April 13th.

Individual film tickets: $5 for any film block and $10-13 for music shows.

All film summaries and additional information found at