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If you're looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Women's History Month this March, one option is to support films by and about women — not only titles at your local cineplex, but also projects from around the world. Women's Voices Now is making it easy with the launch of its 5th Annual Online Film Festival. Beginning today, International Women's Day, through April 8, you can view and vote for the competing films on the WVN website.
Last year, A Plus highlighted WVN's online archive of feminist films (free to stream to anyone with internet access), as well as its Ambassador Program, which travels around the world organizing screenings and film discussions. The yearly film festival accepts submissions of films in any language, by men and women, which focus on "women's social, economic, and political issues."
"Sometimes watching a story about someone very far away allows us to gently take a look at our own challenging situation, and to deal with it bravely in a way we didn't know we could," WVN Executive Director Heidi Basch-Harod and Creative Director Leila Jarman told A Plus last year. This year, as movements such as #MeToo and Time's Up continue to stand up for women's rights, this idea is perhaps more relevant than ever — and it's reflected in the festival's theme.
"This year's selected films shared the commonality of relationships. Relationships between men and women, between women and women, the relationship of a woman to herself, women and society, women and work, and so on," Basch-Harod told A Plus. "In relationship is where the dynamics of emotions and resulting (re)actions manifest. Many of the films selected expose the efforts to find a voice, to be heard, and to change what is."
This year's theme is "Exposed and Uncovered: The War on Women." Dozens of films from all over the world are competing in four categories: Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Narrative Short, and Experimental Short. Runtimes vary from three minutes to 72 minutes, and both live-action and animation are featured, as well as a virtual reality experience. Subject matter includes domestic violence, mental health, immigration, abortion, and sexual harassment.
"Being that there is so much to change in the status of women and the world, literally, is paying attention, we felt it necessary to declare that we are in the midst of a war being waged against women," Basch-Harod explained. "In some places it is bloody and conspicuously physical, in others it is a war of ideas and mindsets, but everywhere there is a great and hopeful struggle."
"This year, films came from 25 countries, representing all continents," Jarman told A Plus, going on to list the countries of origin as Ghana, Switzerland, the United States, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Iran, India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Democratic Republic of Congo, Korea, Japan, United Kingdom, Thailand, Norway, Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Pakistan, and Israel. She added that this year, the festival saw an increase in submissions from East and Southeast Asia.
Through this year's online event, WVN hopes to add to the "sense of urgency" that accompanies recent campaigns to empower women — which apply to women around the world, not just in Hollywood or the United States. "The #MeToo movement is an international one," Basch-Harod stressed, adding, "This festival and its theme is the call to action from Women's Voices Now. We're asking the world to watch and, in doing so, to not shy away from the truth."
Based on the public's votes on the competing films, a winner will be selected in each main category as the viewer's choice. Judges will also choose a winner in each category, as well as one film to win the Leslie J. Sacks Grand Prize, named after the organization's late founder. Filmmakers have the chance to win cash prizes, as well as an opportunity to be featured in the organization's film archive.
"We have an incredible, talented pool of filmmakers in this year's selection. They truly are filmmaker activists using the vehicle of film to advocate women's rights and provide alternative, HerStory narratives for women's stories," Basch-Harod and Jarman told A Plus. "It is a shame not everyone can win in the festival but everyone's work should certainly be celebrated and respected."
Perhaps the most exciting element of the festival is that, in addition to providing a platform for international filmmakers telling important stories, it allows everyday movie fans to experience those projects from anywhere in the world — and make their voices heard about the ones that touch them most.
Basch-Harod and Jarman encourage viewers to share the films they enjoy with others, including through social media, and suggest they read the directors' statements, which can be found on each film's page. All you need to view the films and vote is a valid email address — no admission price or travel expenses required. Voting is limited to one vote per person, per film.
"Reading the film pages as well as viewing the films is the best way to truly grasp the pivotal moment we find ourselves right now in the global conversation on the status of women," Basch-Harod and Jarman shared. "We are awake, the artists are creating, and it's the people's work to digest what we are seeing and to decide how to be active about these issues that affect us all."