With the #metoo and Time’s Up movements gaining steam and igniting a nationwide conversation about the role of women in Hollywood, the eighth annual Women + Film Festival from the Denver Film Society may be more pertinent than ever. To be held April 10–15 at the Sie FilmCenter, the event features documentaries, narratives and shorts, for, by and about women, and also celebrates the contributions women are making within the film industry. Nearly 20 films, Q&A sessions with filmmakers and a discussion at the opening night reception, as well as the Women + Film Festival Brunch on April 15, are all on the agenda. We spoke with festival director Britta Erickson about what guests can expect from this year’s festival.
What are the origins of the Women + Film Festival?
“The Women + Film Festival was the brainchild of one of the Denver Film Society’s major donors and supporters Barbara Bridges. It started initially as a once-monthly program, wherein we would show a film by, for or about women, which remains the mission and vision of the program. Once monthly we would bring in a director and present a film with filmmakers in person along with a Q&A reception. Through that, we saw that there was a lot of audience interest in the program and we felt that as an organization which runs multiple festivals, including our largest, the Denver Film Festival, that this whole idea of film for, by and about women deserved a concentrated look over a period of days in what we call a ‘mini festival.’ So, this was one of our first mini-festivals and it’s evolved into this five-day festival which occurs annually in April.
How are films selected for the festival?
“Our programming team, which includes our artistic director Brit Withey, our programmer Matthew Campbell, Barbara Bridges and myself, are out there attending other festivals such as Sundance, as well as looking at other festival programs and tracking alumni filmmakers to come up with the right balance of documentaries, narratives and shorts for the festival. We are always looking with an eye towards great storytelling from female directors primarily, although, sometimes there are some films that end up in the festival that aren’t necessarily directed by women but deal with issues pertinent to women.”
What does the attendance look like for the festival? Do you see a lot of men attending?
“The attendance for the festival is around 2,000 over the course of the five days. We certainly do see some gentlemen showing up for the films, although it’s predominantly a female audience coming for the festival. It’s probably about 70 percent female, which is the reverse of what is actually happening in the film industry: 30 percent of women have speaking roles in movies, which hasn’t changed in 50 years, and only 33 percent of people working behind the scenes in film are women. It is inspiring to see all these women come out and the Women + Film Festival does create, embody and support the #MeToo and Times’ Up movements. Even though it’s the eighth year of doing this festival, maybe this is the year that we actually see things start to change in terms of the demographics within women in Hollywood. Even though the conversation about the underrepresentation of women in the film industry has been around for a while, there hasn’t been any real change. So, obviously, as a film organization, we are hopeful that our efforts help to move that needle.
What are you excited about for this year’s festival?
“Within this year’s program, you see a good balance between documentary and narrative. I think in the past we’ve been pretty documentary heavy, particularly because I think our primarily female audience tends to be very engaged with social issues and they tend to come out for documentaries that speak to them regarding a social issue they are interested in and to learn how they can take action. In the eight years we have been doing this we have seen the rise of women being represented in the field of documentary filmmaking; it hasn’t happened as much in narrative. But this year the Women + Film Festival has more of that balance. We have five narratives, four new ones with a retrospective title called ‘Blue Sky’ which isn’t directed by a female but stars Jessica Lange and is being introduced by Dr. Melinda Barlow who does film studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. This year there was a shift in the representation of women in narratives. We saw it at the Denver Film Festival with our red carpet presentations including, ‘I Tonya,’ ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’ and ‘Molly’s Game.’ So, I think we are seeing that women are starting to be recognized for their work in the narrative sphere and that female protagonists can be something that carries a film.”
Can you tell us a bit about some of the filmmakers that will be at the festival?
“For the opening night film ‘RBG’ about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we have one of the co-directors, Julie Cohen who will be in-person for an introduction and Q&A. Then we have ‘Kim Swims,’ which is a documentary about an accomplished open-water swimmer who attempted to become the first woman to swim 30 miles through the shark-inhabited and very cold waters off the San Francisco coast. Kate Webber, who directed that documentary, will be in person for that screening. We have director Jordana Spiro coming in for ‘Night Comes On,’ as well as producer Danielle Renfrew. We have some of the short filmmakers coming in too, which is exciting. The director of ‘Lily N’ Rose,’ Sheryl Glubok, will be premiering her new narrative short about friendship and coming of age, which was shot here in Colorado. Then, director Mary-Lynn Chambers will be here with her narrative short, ‘The Plural of Blood,’ which looks at issues within police brutality through the eyes of an African-American woman wrestling with her husband’s role as a police officer and the violence that occurs in her community.
What is your favorite aspect of the festival?
“What I really love about the Women + Film Festival is this gathering of women who love cinema and also love to have important conversations. It seems that out of our battery of festivals we do throughout the year, this one tends to attract an audience that really commits to the five days and being around the scene as much as they can. There is a lot of sharing and discussion that happens with this specific audience centered around the things they have been inspired by through the films. On April 15, we have a festival brunch, where the audience can mingle with the filmmakers. It’s always a great way to bring people together, primarily women, to break bread and have some coffee or a mimosa and talk about what has inspired them from the previous days’ screenings.”
What should guests know before attending the festival?
“The one thing I always say for attending, really, any film festival is that guests should try out a shorts package. At the Women + Film Festival we have one shorts package but it’s really robust. There is really no other place to see shorts on a big screen and it’s a way to explore several different stories in a 90-minute time period and get some perspective on different subjects. Shorts packages are a nice little perk of festivals and I think people should take advantage of that.
“And then, you definitely want to pick stuff out that speaks to you based on the description we’ve given, but I think that to really immerse yourself in a festival, you have to leave some open time in your schedule to see a film even though you might not think it appeals to you. Take a chance because festivals are about discovery and you may find a subject matter that you didn’t think you were interested in to be something of interest to you, or you may discover a new voice or a new filmmaker you weren’t aware of before. Festivals truly are about that discovery and discussion.
“A final thing to know about the Women + Film Festival is that it’s not like Cannes—you don’t have to put on a ball gown, it’s really open and inclusive and a place where we want people to feel comfortable, where they can come on down to the film center and engage with what we are doing.”
A full schedule of events and tickets can be found here.