Turning seventeen 

Womens Film Festival grown up and going strong

click to enlarge Control Room showing Sat., Nov. 13 at 1:30 p.m. at the - Fine Arts Center is possibly the most important film in - this years festival.
  • Control Room showing Sat., Nov. 13 at 1:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center is possibly the most important film in this years festival.

When the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival opens its 17th annual weekend of films next week at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, it will officially be the longest continually running women's film festival in the world. Not bad for a group of local volunteers who screen videos of entries in their living rooms, determined to continue the founders' mission of "celebrating the drive, spirit and diversity of women."

This year's festival will feature fewer short films than in years past, focusing instead on longer films (an hour or more), most addressing serious social issues. This is a reflection of both what documentary filmmakers are currently focusing on and the type of films available for the screening committee to preview (over 250 films). Of those, 19 were chosen for the festival.

As in years past, the festival will feature a Filmmakers Forum at lunch on Saturday, where visiting filmmakers will talk about the process of documentary filmmaking and interact with audience members.

The following are highlights of the festival films previewed by the Independent. For a complete weekend schedule, visit www.rmwfilmfest.org.

Every Mother's Son
Co-directed and produced by Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson

Showing Saturday, Nov. 13, 1:30 p.m., Armstrong Theater

Filmmaker Tami Gold attending

This is the disturbing but inspirational story of three New York women who stand up against excessive police violence among the city's police department after their sons are killed by cops. Iris Baez, whose son died of asphyxiation when choked to death by a New York City policeman for hitting his squad car with a football, demands that the policeman be prosecuted and creates a grass-roots movement that questions the tactics of the Street Crimes Unit, formed under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The offender is not convicted, but when Amadou Diallo, a young West African immigrant is shot to death in a high-profile police assault, his mother comes to the United States from Guinea and eventually joins Iris Baez in her quest for justice. When Gary Busch, a young Hasidic Jew with a history of emotional problems, is shot and killed by policemen outside his Brooklyn apartment, his mother joins the cause as well. Though none of these women has seen justice in court for their sons' deaths, the city's Street Crimes Unit was disbanded as a result of their persistent protests.

The film explores the legal barriers to holding police accountable for their actions, the denial of complicity within the system, and the need for citizens' oversight. It is a moving cry for justice. Baez, one of the mothers highlighted in the film, will be on hand at the festival to tell her story. (52 minutes)

Be Good, Smile Pretty
Directed by Tracey Droz Tragos

Showing Saturday, Nov. 13, 10:25 a.m., Armstrong Theater

Filmmaker attending

A film about fathers who died during the Vietnam War and the children they left behind, Be Good, Smile Pretty tells the story of Tracy Droz Tragos, whose father Don died when she was an infant and who felt that she had been denied an important part of her identity as memories of her father were tucked away by family members trying to avoid the pain of his loss. Camera running, Tracy enlists her mother, her grandmother, her father's cousin, her uncle and her father's Army buddies to put together a picture of who he was, so that she can finally experience his presence and properly mourn his loss.

Of particular interest is a scene with Sen. John Kerry, not yet a presidential candidate when Tracy, her mother and grandmother travel to Washington to visit the Vietnam Memorial. In his Senate office, Kerry warmly trades stories with the three women and is reminded by Don's mother that he once sent her a rubbing of her son's name from the memorial.

This is powerful testimony to how life affirming remembering a lost life can be, and it provides a strong argument against generational silence. (56 minutes)

Out of the Shadow
Directed by Susan Smiley

Showing Sunday, Nov. 14, 11 a.m., Fine Arts Center

click to enlarge Be Good, Smile Pretty showing Sat., Nov. 13 at 10:25 - a.m. in Armstrong Theater.
  • Be Good, Smile Pretty showing Sat., Nov. 13 at 10:25 a.m. in Armstrong Theater.

Filmmaker attending

Filmmaker Susan Smiley starts her documentary with images of homeless people sitting on benches on city streets. "We've all seen these people," says Smiley in voice-over. "Every time I pass one of these people, I think, 'That could be my mother.'"

Smiley's mother Millie is a paranoid schizophrenic who raised two daughters in a time when ignorance over mental illness prevented anyone from helping either her daughters or herself. Now, her grown-up daughters do the best they can to help her through the maze of social and psychiatric services available to a severely mentally ill woman on public assistance, approaching old age.

Smiley provides us "brief glimpses into [her mother's] sweet soul" as well as startling images of her mother in psychotic rage. The result is a document of the agony and difficulties of family members, both those who are sick and those who are not. Smiley honors her mother's "resilient spirit" and refuses to hide the part of her life that caused her great shame as a child and young woman.

Out of the Shadow is a much needed reminder that there are real people behind the statistics that say there are 60 million people in the world with schizophrenia, 3 million of those in the United States, and it is an affecting mother-daughter saga. (67 minutes)

Control Room
Showing Saturday, Nov. 13, 1:30 p.m., Fine Arts Center

Directed by Jehane Noujaim

Quite possibly the most important film of this year's festival, Control Room is an insider's look at Al Jazeera, the independent news network that provides coverage of events in the Arab world to the Arab world.

The film opens with scenes just prior to the war with the United States and strongly suggests that along with human casualties come the decimation and casual tossing out of journalistic objectivity. Al Jazeera's program director listens patiently at first when he is visited by the U.S. military forces' public relations representative, a soldier who spins exactly what the occupying government wants the people of Iraq to hear on the television news.

Later in the film, as the casualty numbers rise, his patience turns to disdain and anger as Al Jazeera is repeatedly accused of being nothing more than a propaganda machine by Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking Americans, while stories are suppressed and, at home, the American press dutifully follows the military party line.

Control Room is an urgent reminder that with every story, there are many different perspectives, and to suppress any of them is to disguise the truth. In the age of Fox News, it resonates with high-pitched warnings about the dangers of agenda-driven media, and it is a cautionary tale about the minefield of war and politics. (86 minutes with some subtitles)

-- Kathryn Eastburn


The 17th annual Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival

Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St. and CC's Armstron Hall, 14 E. Cache La Poudre St.

Friday, Nov. 12, Saturday, Nov. 13 and Sunday, Nov. 14

Tickets at the Fine Arts Center box office; order by phone at 634-5583

$85 three-day ticket. $40 Friday night only, $30 Saturday only, $30 Sunday only, $50 Saturday and Sunday

For full schedule, visit www.rmwfilmfest.org

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