Festival puts focus on women and their stories

When women get together, their natural story-telling instincts abound.

It’s what attendees of the 10th annual Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival will experience this weekend at the Hollywood 20 in Sarasota. The two-day event, which begins 10 a.m. Friday, features 16 films that span nine countries.

They include tales of woe, war and wonderment.

“When women pick up a camera or do film, they tend to tell stories,” said Diane Mason, festival artistic director. “Not just personal stories, but other stories about women.”

Of the films to be screened are 10 documentaries and six short films featuring everyone from Tibetan nuns to Iranian wives to Muslim comedians. There’s also the southeastern premiere of the award-winning Nancy Porter and Harriet Reisen film, “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women.”

“It shows her difficult childhood to the strange circumstances surrounding her death,” said Jan Holmes, festival spokeswoman.

Reise-n, the film’s writer and producer, has family ties to Longboat Key.

“For a good 30 years, my parents wintered on Longboat Key,” Reisen stated in a press release. “The Sarasota screening of the film I wrote and produced with director/producer Nancy Porter is on Jan. 30, the first anniversary of my mother’s death. This is a wonderful way to celebrate her, since she gave me the book ‘Little Women’ and supported this film project in all ways possible.”

Holmes said other noteworthy films include “Courting Justice,” by Ruth Cowan and “Four Wives — One Man” by Nahid Persson. Cowan’s documentary tells of seven South African female judges and the challenges of working in a legal system dominated by white men. Persson’s film follows the relationships of a polygamist family in a rural Iranian village among four wives, a mother-in-law, and their children and the husband the wives share.

With several countries represented in the festival, Mason said she wants those who attend to feel as if they’ve been on a trip around the world from the comforts of their theater seat.

The film festival has grown slowly over the last decade. When it began, it was held in a classroom at the Ringling College of Art and Design where a crowd of about 100 gathered. That number has since doubled thanks to word of mouth, said Holmes.

It may also be attributed to the interactive portion of the festival, which includes inspiring post-film discussions between the directors and the audience on the backgrounds and issues presented in the films.

Through Women’s Eyes began as a way to raise money for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, which provides support and programs to empower women worldwide. In nine years, the festival has raised $8,600.

Proceeds from this year’s festival will benefit UNIFEM’s Safe Cities Program to end violence against women and girls in Latin America.

Manson said she hopes the festival’s next 10 years will continue to enlighten and inspire women. “Each year we always have something new and different,” Mason said. “That’s always going to happen if women are out there telling stories.”

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald