Feminine mystique 

Seriously, is a film festival dedicated to movies made by women absolutely necessary? We live in the 21st century, in the Land of Opportunity, for Pete's sake. Why do women need their own film festival?

"Well," says Linda Broker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival, "for instance: In Cannes this year, in the category of documentary, there was a big uproar and protest, because there were no films by women."

At the close of the Cannes Film Festival, the event director said it was a situation that required a closer look. "Women's participation is low in the industry," explains Broker, "and the very nature of having a women's festival creates a different energy than a man-themed festival."

Oh. There's that, yes. And if you also acknowledge the misogynistic political platform plaguing the country, the need looks even greater.

This month, the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival marks its 25th annual appearance in Colorado Springs. From shorts to feature-length movies, most are great films that just happen to be made by women, explains Broker, who's been with the fest for 18 years. "If it's made by a man," she adds, "the subject will always, always, be about women."

According to Cynthia Wade, Academy Award-winning producer of the short film Freeheld, the RMWFF is one of the best festivals in the country. "There are only a few festivals that I attend every year. The Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival is one of those," she says. "It's family-friendly, and it rejuvenates, empowers, strengthens and emboldens the filmmakers."

You won't see a lot of debut films at the RMWFF, as it's not a market festival with films competing for awards. "The festival is more of a curated event," says Broker. "There are some submissions and nominations, but mostly it's by invitation, and the films are exhaustively evaluated before they are selected for inclusion."

Among the highlights from this year's festival:

Friend Request Pending

Friend Request Pending casts Judi Dench (Quantum of Solace, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Penny Ryder (My Week With Marilyn) in a fun look at dating etiquette in the age of the Internet. In 12 minutes, writer-producer Chris Croucher captures the essence of the indecisive path to romance inherent in social media.

Mary and Linda (Dench and Ryder, respectively) navigate through tweets, personal messages and instant messaging to get Trevor (Philip Jackson) to ask Mary to dinner. The resulting frustration is comical and meaningful, showing that however much technology makes our lives easier, interactions between men and women remain wonderfully intricate.

The Wedding Gown Project

Another well-done short is The Wedding Gown Project by RMWFF co-founder, author and playwright Donna Guthrie. The documentary digs into the meaning of the wedding dress, particularly the white one.

In 1840, Queen Victoria wore a white wedding dress, and it started a trend that became the tradition still going strong today. True story. The movie is an opportunity to understand why these spectacular dresses are so important to the concept of marriage, regardless of how traditional or non-traditional that marriage may be.

A Girl Like Her

Of the movies screened by the Indy, Ann Fessler's A Girl Like Her, stands out as one of the most thought-provoking. The movie rolls out this statistic: "Between 1945 and 1973, 1.5 million women lost children to adoption." And in about 47 minutes, 100 women tell the story of what it was like to be young, unmarried and pregnant in pre-1972 America. Statistically, these were mostly white girls from upwardly mobile families; the women tell their stories of forced adoption through a montage of pictures and film clips from the era. This one will hit you in your gut and keep you up at night.

The Hollywood Complex

The Hollywood Complex sheds light on those who seek tweener stardom. Every year, dozens of 7- to 13-year-old kids and their parents converge on the Oakwood Apartments in Hollywood, Calif., where they seek elusive kid roles in television pilots. Directors Dylan Nelson and Dan Sturman capture the highs, lows and just plain odd situations that only the need for the spotlight can really produce.

The 90-minute film follows parents and kids who, like Franktown, Colo.'s own Shanna, are just trying to navigate the confusion of Hollywood. Not surprisingly, there is an entire industry dedicated solely to separating hopeful families from their money. This is not a story of overnight success. In fact, it's just the opposite — a story of hard work, grueling schedules, and dreams that are both made and broken.

Mondays at Racine

Yet another short with impact is the 40-minute Mondays at Racine. "In a marriage, people compromise and things get overlooked, but once a woman loses her hair during cancer treatment, those things become amplified, and things get hard," says Cynthia Wade, the filmmaker. This is a serious yet surprisingly upbeat look at one Long Island hair salon's effort to help women with cancer through their ordeals.

Once a month the salon opens its doors for free to women who have cancer. The result is a community that laughs, cries, and supports one another. "The sisters who own the salon — their mother had cancer. They saw how she became a social pariah," says Wade. "So they created a place to honor their mother and help women."

There are a couple of local connections to Mondays at Racine. First, a special screening will take place at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital on Nov. 1, after which Wade will discuss the film over wine and hors d'oeuvres. (There are still some free tickets left for the event, call the hospital for more information at 776-5052.)

Perhaps more important: After hearing about Mondays at Racine, Veda Salon has decided to do the same thing in its downtown training facility and at Penrose. (For more information on that, call 355-2621.)

"As word gets out about the film, especially after its HBO premiere, the rest of the country will be watching," says Wade. "All the salons that follow will use the Colorado model to set up their own."



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