Women, Weddings and War Canoes

Center Screen, widely-known for its yearly series of films by independent film-makers, is now serving up a new series. Project
By Talli S. Nauman

Center Screen, widely-known for its yearly series of films by independent film-makers, is now serving up a new series. Project director Barry Levine calls it a split series, half independent feature films and half personal films.

The first course in the personal films spread will be brought out at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday. Entitled "New Portraits of Women," it consists of four specialties: Wedding in the Family," "Woman of a Thousand Fires," "Love It Like a Fool," and "Liz Swados: The Girl with the Incredible Feeling." This entree helps define the meaning of "personal films;" they are films which accentuate an individual style or deal with a single individual.

Taken together "New Portraits" give a pronounced feeling for the differences between films made by women and those made by men. They show women in strong and positive roles and women who don't depend on men for personal success. They show different kinds of women living their lives. More strikingly they are deeply concerned with the sense among women for continuity of life--where you came from and where you're going. Kitchens and negliges are a matter of course here. If you can survive overuse of family pictures--which any film-maker should already know are a bore to anyone but their subjects--you'll find these films a refreshing approach to cinema.

"Woman of a Thousand Fires" by Chick Stand is the most poetic and difficult to understand. It requires the viewer to have some prior knowledge of its subject, and that knowledge is hard to come by: the topic is the repetitive and ritualized daily tasks of Latin American women. Images of a woman trapped, seeking freedom, swinging a chicken madly around in circles, cutting its entrails out, require more than one viewing, even though the first may keep the viewer trapped for some time.

At first sight, "A Wedding in the Family" looks like "Oh God, another film about the family." It gives Boston film-maker Debra Franco a crack at every visual artist's secret desire--taking classic wedding pictures--and it forces an objective look at the American family. This one eventually pulls through as a questioning of traditional values: Are women accepted as mature human beings if they remain unmarried? Is the security of marriage worth the sacrifice of career and individuality? Franco asks the questions and doesn't fall into the pea soup of trying to answer them.

"Love It Like A Fool" is an unexpected surprise from Susan Wengraff about singer/songwriter Malvina Reynolds, a cohort of Pete Seger's (who appears in the flick) and composer of the old hit "Little Boxes." This film also examines a tradition in this country--the tradition of ignoring old people.

Linda Feferman's "Liz Swados: The Girl with the Incredible Feeling" is the most dramatic of the films, owing largely to the personality of Swados, composer/director of the hit play "Nightclub Cantata," recently presented by the Boston Repertory Theatre. Swados is a sorcerer, she is a bird, she is a little girl, and she is a demon. Her originality and vitality make the film. At one point, Feferman craftily slides into an animated version of the Swados book with the same title as the film. The film suffers only because it is not as experimental as its subject.

This collection does not merely ride the current wave of interest in women's films. Center Screen has maintained its quality control in this presentation of highly professional explorations. It is one of the best anthologies of women's films around.

It seems somehow anachronous to speak in one breath of these four contemporary women's films and in the next about "In the Land of the War Canoes," but it is actually quite in line with Center Screen's arrempt to offer films to more varied audiences. "Canoes" made by Edward S. Curtis in 1914, is the first course in Center Screen's independent feature film spread. It was lost for years and has never been shown in Boston before.

"In the Land of the War Canoes" is amazing because Curtis was able to direct members of the Kwakiutl tribe in Vancouver, B.C., to re-enact the story of a quest for a vision and its results in the time before the Indians had been assimilated into white culture. From the anthropological standpoint this film is invaluable. From the cinematic stabdpoint, the framing, lighting, and composition are every bit as classic as the stills of the period which Curtis is more famous for. The film has the added excitement of light and water leaks apparently left from the original footage.

George Stoney's "You are on Indian Land" (1969, 39 minutes) will be shown along with "Canoes." In combining the women's portraits, all done since 1976, and Stoney's politically conscious work with Curtis' cultural fruit, Center Screen is to be congratulated for its thoughtful presentation of art and politics.