Women With Vision: Confronting Silence
Thursday 09 March @ 15:34:10
by Dwight Hobbes
Continuing through March 18, Walker Art Center offers a compelling installment of its annual Women with Vision Festival: if you can’t get down and see everything on the schedule, do some judicious picking and choosing, but by all means go. “Women with Vision 2006: Confronting Silence” duly acknowledges and profoundly celebrates women in cinema, from McCarthy-era blacklisted actors and writers (i.e. Minnesota-born actor Gale Sondergaard, screenwriter Norma Barzman) to contemporary directors in India, Iran, Chile, Tibet, Kenya, Cameroon, Europe and the U.S. It’s an international revue of females who refuse to see their voices languish in obscurity or, still worse, be outright denied.
you’ve got time constraints (money might not be much of a problem, since
everything’s either $8 or free), you probably want to get a schedule of
the in-person appearances. A heads-up: one of the special sections, Blacklisted,
has Barzman on hand to introduce “The Locket” (3/18), which she
wrote without getting a credit (book-signing afterward). The series also screens
Lillian Hellman’s “These Three,” based on her stage classic
“The Children’s Hour.” The tribute “Films Directed by
Abigail Child” (continuing through March 31 and free of charge) runs “Cake
and Steak” and “Dark Dark” daily during gallery hours.
As for the main event, if you can only make it to one showing, make it to “Sisters
in Law” (3/9, free). In Africa, there’s a town called Kumba in a
country called Cameroon. There was no such thing as a conviction for spousal
abuse—not in one trial for 17 years. State prosecutor Vera Ngassa and
court president Beatrice Ntuba put a stop to that. You don’t have to be
a woman to enjoy watching these two put their foot in convention’s ass.
Anyone who appreciates autonomy in action will be fascinated as Ngassa and Ntuba
take no shorts in disabusing fathers, husbands and boyfriends of their entrenched
sense of entitlement. Beautifully, there’s neither shrewish harping nor
avenging attitude: They just come correct, quite directly, and all they ask
of the men that stand before them is that they come correct, too. Time after
time, this simple task proves more than the men can bear. We get some of the
lamest excuses in the book that are supposed to explain away, for instance,
beating a wife or kidnapping a child. And pathetic foundering—including,
in one case, streaming tears—when they don’t receive the expected,
customary back-up from the court. It’s nice to see justice done. Directed
by Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto, the documentary won Prix Art et Essai
at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. There’s a discussion afterward led by
Minnesota African Women’s Association executive director Nyango Melissa
Karimi, switching gears from her career as one of Tehran’s top actors,
directs the stark, existential gem “Yek hab” (One Night) on 3/11.
Negar comes home at the end of her day as an office worker—dog-tired and
ready to relax—only to find out her mom is about to get lucky and, therefore,
Negar has to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Halfway through the ensuing
argument, she throws up her hands and, despite having no place to go, storms
out and just starts walking. That’s when what began as a normal evening
increasingly grows taxed and frighteningly strange. First, she gets a ride down
the highway from a business man, a run-of-the-mill type with, as it turns out,
run-of-the-mill ideas about ducking his wife to rip off a piece with Negar.
He is surprised when she doesn’t go for it and genuinely dumbfounded when
Negar tells him off and demands to be let out of the car. She gets out in front
of a restaurant and, as she goes inside, he calls, “I’ll wait here
for you.” A bit later, back on the road, she encounters a nice enough
fellow who, once she’s in the car, decides he’s found an ear for
his angst over the tragedy of true love unrequited, not to mention someone to
help get over the girl who just dumped him. Negar is sympathetic, not stupid,
and, after duly commiserating, takes her leave of the whining loser. Her next
ride proves to be fateful. He’s a betrayed lover who tells a dramatic
tale of being unable to walk out on someone he knows doesn’t give a damn
about him. Happens everyday, but he comes up with a not-so-common solution.
And Negar’s flight into the night takes a twist that leaves a cold feeling
in your gut.
“Sky Burial” (3/11), directed by Ellen Bruno is a quick flick of
some 12 very interesting minutes. In New Orleans, there is the tradition of
having a parade when someone dies. In Scotland, the playing of pipes at the
funeral. And, of course, there’s the common practice of paying respects
by gathering to quietly mourn in black. In Tibet, it goes quite a bit differently.
Shot at the Drigung Monastery, “Sky Burial” follows the ritual of
jha-tor, the giving of alms to birds in a northern Tibetan monastery where the
bodies of the dead are offered to the vultures as a final act of kindness to
living beings. Lamas chant to call the consciousness from the body. Juniper
incense is burned to draw the birds. Talk about cultural diversity. Bruno does
a fine, respectful job. She captures the solemnity, nuanced humanity and weaves
in religious Tibetan texts. The lone misstep is that we go from monks holding
a flock of vultures at bay to the vultures suddenly doing that for which they
were summoned. Detailed foreshadowing and subtle build-up make it all the more
a choppy jump when we don’t see the vultures converge. Still, it’s
well worth a look-see. ||
“Women with Vision 2006: Confronting Silence” continues
through Sun., Mar. 19 at Walker Art Center. 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. 612-375-7600.
For full schedule, visit WalkerArt.org.