The inaugural Chicago Feminist Film Festival begins this Thursday, April 21, following in the tradition of other long-standing festivals, such as Women in the Director’s Chair. The two-day event will feature 42 short films, as well as the opening feature “The Fits,” a 2015 psychological drama that premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
The festival, composed of mostly short films, features a range of genres from a diverse collective of people. According to festival co-director and co-founder Michelle Yates, this was the intention from the very beginning.
“There are so many underrepresented people in mainstream cinema. [And here] they have a public space where these communities can come together around film.”
That served as one of the main purposes for the festival. The submission process was simple—the film itself needed to deal with some element of social justice, and the filmmaker needed to be part of a group that has traditionally been ignored by Hollywood.
“We were looking for interesting films,” said co-director and co-founder Susan Kerns. “But we also wanted to show a range of what ‘feminist’ films encompass. I have talked with people who think we are only showing social issues documentaries, because that is the range of what they imagine feminist films to be. But we have horror films, musicals, experimental comedies – and yes, sock puppets. During our submissions process, we kind of let people self-select their brand of feminism, in that we assumed people would not submit their films if they did not see them as in some way feminist. I think this openness to the word allowed for the variety of submissions that you’ll see on screen.”
The submissions came from filmmakers throughout Chicago, as well as abroad, with directors from Ireland, Iceland, India, and more, and they address issues such as immigration, race, LGBT rights, and other areas of social inclusion or exclusion.
There is an experimental nature to a number of these shorts, such as “Across the Line,” a virtual reality film that enables audience members to experience life as a patient trying to access reproductive health care after facing anti-abortion activists. The short film uses a blend of documented footage from a reproductive health clinic and the technology as a tool to engage the audience.
“I’m ecstatic that we are including ‘Across the Line’ [a] virtual reality film about crossing a protest line to get an abortion. Filmmakers partnered with Planned Parenthood to create the empathy experience, and not only do I hope people will find it powerful, but I also want people to understand that feminism has a place at the forefront of new technologies,” said Kerns.
While the majority of these films are shorts, “The Fits” is a feature directed by Anna Rose Holmer that follows the story of an 11-year-old girl named Toni and her struggle to join a dance group in Cincinnati’s West End. After the Chicago premiere on Thursday, Holmer will engage in a question-and-answer session to address topics in her film.
“’The Fits’ is this super compelling, really amazing, and also really weird film,” said Yates. “It has an all-black cast, and the actors and actresses in the film are really incredible. The film is a coming-of-age story and it’s the kind of coming-of-age story that can be read in a multitude of different ways…The film is really different from the kind of stories that we traditionally see coming out of Hollywood, and it’s worthy of talking about.”
The festival serves as a platform for a number of different voices to be heard on topics that address every issue.
“When you have a diversity of films and people offering their perspective and voice, you get really interesting films,” said Yates.
The Chicago Feminist Film Festival debuts Thursday at Columbia College Chicago and it is free and open to the public.