Colorado hosts more than 50 film festivals annually. Yet when Carole Woodall arrived in Colorado Springs two years ago, she noticed a niche still missing. The UCCS assistant professor of history and women's and ethnic studies responded by curating a festival entirely of Middle Eastern movies about the lives of women.
The product of her efforts will be unveiled this weekend at the inaugural Intersections Film Festival. The seven films, hailing from seven different countries, are diverse in subject and form, yet share a commitment to portraying women as more than hapless victims of unfortunate circumstances.
The festival opens Friday night with Persepolis, an animated film adapted from the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about her experience growing up in Iran during the '70s. In stark black and white, it follows Iran's descent into tyranny through the eyes of a young girl with an affinity for rock music and Nike sneakers.
Easily the most recognizable title on the festival's bill, the quirky and warm Persepolis earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film in 2008. After it shows at Intersections, Rashna Singh, an English professor at both UCCS and Colorado College, will lead a discussion.
"It is a film about dictatorship," Singh says. "It asks the audience to think about what is oppressive about their own society."
Despite the seriousness of the theme, Singh attributes the success of the film to its levity, a quality rarely associated with Iran. The high-spirited female characters, in particular, challenge the stereotype that Muslim women are, as Singh puts its, "repressed bundles in black clothes."
Saturday's lineup consists of four small films that Woodall inventively describes as "not Netflix-able." The Iraqi documentary Baghdad Days, the Moroccan film L'enfant Endormi, the Turkish film Mutluluk and Iran's The Glass House haven't yet been picked up for distribution in the United States, making them almost entirely unavailable to American audiences. That may be changing soon, though, for The Glass House; it's been making the rounds on the international festival circuit, including Sundance. Director Hamid Rahmanian and producer Melissa Hibbard will be here to conclude Saturday evening with a question-and-answer session.
On Sunday, the venue switches to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center for the final two films. Rana's Wedding and Caramel, from Palestine and Lebanon respectively, perhaps best represent the range in subject matter at Intersections. Rana's Wedding, which depicts a young Palestinian woman frantically trying to track down her boyfriend while navigating the obstacle course of Jerusalem's checkpoints and roadblocks, offers a grim outlook on how politics filter down into everyday frustrations. Caramel, meanwhile, presents a cheeky portrayal of a group of women working in a beauty salon, rendered in a tone flirtatious enough to qualify it as a romantic comedy.
Woodall envisions Intersections becoming a biannual fixture within the Colorado film community, with each installment addressing a different aspect of Middle Eastern life. Women were a clear choice for the inaugural theme because when discussing the lives of Muslim women, Woodall laments, Americans rarely get beyond the veil.