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by Amy Weiner
April 8th, 2014

On Saturday afternoon, I braved the rain and trekked to LaunchPad, a Crown Heights community arts space, to attend the closing day of the 3rd Annual Brooklyn Girl Film Festival. While unassuming, I found this day of shorts and and one evocative feature to be extremely well-programmed and full of social import.

The first block of films consisted of four shorts from the US and Australia, each with a unique female protagonist that struggled with issues that are underrepresented or unheard of in conventional narrative film. “The Lady of the Wheel” by Pheona Donohoe and “Six Letter Word” by Lisanne Sartor (starring Rumer Willis) both featured unlikely mothers trying to raise their children, with varying levels of success. The former was graphic and chilling and painstakingly unsympathetic in revealing how some women are not meant to be mothers; the latter undermined viewer conceptions of a working-girl’s mothering abilities by showing her success communicating with her young son suffering from autism.  “Pedro Pan” by Andrea Puente and “The Kid in the Closet” by Melodie Shen starred girl and boy actors in historical narratives with which most viewers are unfamiliar. Puente’s film told the story of a brother and sister sticking together to talk about a much larger, unknown narrative: the exodus of tens of thousands of Cuban children to the United States in the early 1960s. Shen’s narrative short, which had some gorgeous camera work, depicted a daughter coming to terms with her family’s illegal son under China’s One-Child Policy.

The closing documentary feature, Honor Diaries by Micah Smith, followed nine women’s rights advocates that fight for gender equality in Muslim-majority nations. I found the film to be informative and inspiring and absolutely haunting in the statistics and footage of forced marriages, FGM, and honor killings/mutilations that reveal the true extent of gender disparity in these societies. This feature was screened with a cute Iranian animated short about shoes by filmmaker Elham Sepehrjou, a documentary short following UK Muslim high-fashion designer Barjis Chohan by Nada Al-Hudaid, and a narrative short about a music-obsessed South Asian-American Muslim teenager living in NYC, by Hena Ashraf. The shorts that preceded the documentary were a necessary reminder that, while the human rights violations facing women all over the world are dire, that there are spaces where Muslim women are able to find creative success and self-expression.

I think it is really important that this festival was able to create a space not just for emerging female filmmakers, but for narratives that are relevant and immediate, portraying women that are unglamorous and complex and utterly real. I can’t wait to see what these awesome women select for next year’s festival!

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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