Girls on film

By - Mar 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Russ Bickerstaff

Once again, winter ends with Women’s History Month, and in recognition of this the UWM Film Department presents its 3rd Annual Women Without Borders Film Festival at the Union Cinema. The festival celebrates film by and about women who have crossed borders of every kind. And as in the past, this year’s festival features a wide range of compelling work. Documentaries cover such disparate subject matter as modern menstruation (with Giovanna Chesler’s Period on March 7), teenage life complicated by tribal culture (with Tracey Deer’ Mohawk Girls on March 11) and the story of the first woman to hijack an airplane (Lina Mackboul’s film about Leila Khaed on March 10). Lots of strange imagelittle experimental bits rush across the screen in a program that should prove to be quite an experience.

One of the most provocative double features of the festival occurs March 9. Therese Shecter’s I Was A Teenage Feminist {Image 3} starts at 7pm, followed at 9pm by Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgartner’s I Had An Abortion {Image 2}. The former details Shecter’s attempts to come to terms with her life as a feminist after a lengthy time away from the movement. Her story begins at the dawn of women’s liberation while she was a teenager and follows the feminist movement through to the present. On the whole, it’s a nice, conversational introduction to the first principals of feminism, though most people already familiar with the movement won’t see much new here unless they find Shecter particularly imageinteresting on her own terms. The brief street interview with the self-proclaimed feminist protesting abortion is a brilliant, yet passing, moment in the film. And as strange as it is that so much of the film is centered around Shecter’s formative feminist experiences watching the children’s TV special Free To Be . . . You And Me, it’s captivating to watch one of its writers tell her that the idealistic children’s program really didn’t promise her anything about gender roles.

I Had An Abortion is more cohesive. Aldrich and Baumgartner put together a well thought-out history of abortion from women over the past several decades and from various socio-cultural backgrounds who have experienced it firsthand. The narratives are placed in chronological order, starting with a compelling account from over half a century ago. image Feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s recounting of her own abortion early on in the film is almost hypnotic, but it’s the most recent narratives that really ground the film. I Had An Abortion draws its strength from its relentlessness. It’s not often that women casually mention the abortion they had. Regardless of how one feels about the issue, it’s profoundly moving to see this many women talking about it so openly.

Possibly the best single documentary in the festival, Diana Ferrero’s They Call Me Muslim {Image 1}, opens yet another stirring double feature on March 10. It’s a piece so brilliantly framed that it’s surprising it hasn’t seen wider distribution at film festivals since its first release in 2005. The film focuses on the hijab, a seemingly innocent Muslim garment commonly known in this country as a headscarf. It is established Muslim tradition that women cover their hair with one so as not to unwittingly tempt men. Ferrero’s lens gazes into the many aspects of this in two drastically different locations. In France, where it’s illegal to wear a hijab, Ferrero focuses on teenage girls who find wearing one liberating, as they feel it allows others to see them as individuals outside of gender classification. In Iran, where it’s illegal not to wear a hijab, Ferrero focuses on a young mother in Tehran who risks prosecution by authorities by stepping out of the house without one. When it’s warm, she wears a gauzy veil that covers her hair without hiding it. In colder months she wears a warm winter cap from the Gap. Both give her unwanted attention from the authorities. At 27 minutes, They Call Me Muslim is a brief lead-in to Lut Vandekeybus’ exhaustive documentary Linda and Ali {Image 4}. The film centers on the life of an American woman who has married a Muslim man and is now living with him and their seven children in Qatar. It’s an extensive, balanced look into the life of a woman in a very non-traditional family. VS

The 3rd Annual Women Without Borders Film Festival runs March 6 – 11 at the UWM Union Theatre. All screenings are Free and open to everyone. For more information, including a complete schedule, visit

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