Celebrating women filmmakers

Women in Film Festival offers a weekend that embraces the talents and storytelling in women-driven films.

Remember 2010 when Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director for her film “The Hurt Locker”? Since then things have gotten slightly better; two women were nominated in that category in 2021, and one, Chloe Zhao, won for “Nomadland.” Zhao was the first woman of color to win and only the second woman to win best director ever. Only seven women have been nominated in that category in the almost 100-year history of the Oscars.

This lopsided factoid is not lost on Richard Paradise, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society. The M.V. Film Center is gearing up to host its third annual Women in Film Festival the weekend of Oct. 15 to 17, celebrating some of the best women-centric films in the industry. Paradise attended a forum on women in film a few years ago and learned that only a very small percentage of directors and producers in the industry are women.

“For the most part, women are underrepresented both as storytellers and in the mechanisms behind making the films,” Paradise said. “I felt that doing a festival on Martha’s Vineyard where we focus on women storytellers, directors, and producers would lend one little additional level of exposure and discussion — and an opportunity for these films to be seen by our community.”

He said that women are making films across all genres — science fiction, action films, and thrillers, as well as documentaries and dramas. Paradise promises each film in the festival offers a different type of cinematic experience.

Documentarian Jamila Wignot’s “Ailey” appeals to the Island community’s love of dance, Paradise explained. Kate Tseng directed and wrote “Marvelous and the Black Hole,” a coming-of-age film also playing at the festival. The film “Sisters” is about three sisters who lost their brother when their father moved from Algeria to France and took his son with him. “Asia,” a 2020 Israeli drama directed by Ruthy Pribar, is about mother-daughter relationships.

“All of the films will appeal to certain people,” Paradise said. “Some of the topics might be of more interest to women, but that doesn’t mean they will not appeal to men as well. They should appeal to men.”

The weekend also includes a Ladies Only Psychic Party hosted by Jon Stetson, a mentalist and mind reader, on Sunday, Oct. 17, from 1 to 3 pm. Paradise brought Stetson to the Film Center last month and said the audience really enjoyed his presentation, so he was invited back.

“He’s just amazing,” Paradise said. “People who came the last time were blown away. It’s amazing how he can read into people. You sort of scratch your head and wonder how he does it.”

“The Ladies Only Psychic Party will empower you to understand and further develop your own psychic skills,” Stetson reports. “Participants will, indeed, amaze themselves and discover their unlimited potential.”

Paradise said that when he puts together programming for the Film Center, he keeps the Island community in mind. “We like to do special events and screenings that make sense for Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “We’ve added the Environmental Film Festival because our community is so focused on the environment. We added a festival like Spectrum to give voice to underrepresented communities and to individual viewpoints. These ideas have come about because of our community.”

He said the Film Society strives to add special content like the Women in Film Festival, saying it makes for a “great, focused weekend.”

With Covid variants still a possibility, the festivals have pivoted a bit.

“Our festivals are a little more tempered these days,” Paradise admitted. “We don’t expect full houses or filmmakers coming to talk and present films; because of Covid, people aren’t traveling much. I’m hoping this autumn we can get back to ‘mask optional,’ which we did have in June and July and we did see an uptick in numbers. We’ll see.”

Find the safety protocols in place at the M.V. Film Center, as well as more information about the Women in Film Festival, at mvfilmsociety.com.