Manhattanville’s International Film Festival 2014: Women in the Celluloid World


     The second annual International Film Festival at Manhattanville College with the theme of “Women in Global Context: Then and Now” will bring into focus women’s issues on a global scale.

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“Foreign films helped open students up to all kinds of cultures and traditions,” Professor Binita Mehta, one of the event’s organizers, said. “In this particular case, it would be interesting for them to see how women face different challenges in other countries that are not part of their experience here,” said Mehta. The festival which takes place from March 17 to April 10 features films made in several geographical areas ranging from rural China to Bosnia-Herzegovinia. Moreover, these movies also deal with a variety of local and international women’s issues such as education, domestic violence and rape. Mehta shared that faculty from multiple departments came together to ensure an eclectic breadth to the program. The seven films featured in the festival are “English-Vinglish” (2012), “Grbavica” (2005), “Zuzu Angel” (2006), “Fireworks Wednesday, (2006), “Molaade” (2004), “Take My Eyes” (2003) and “Story of Qui Ju” (1992). As March is also Women’s History Month, Mehta hoped that the festival will call attention to female representations in global cinemas.
The portrayal of women in media has always been a much researched topic in the U.S. over the years. The Center for the Study of Women in Television reveals in its Celluloid Ceiling 2012 report that in the top 250 domestic grossing films, women accounted for 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors. This marks a 2% increase from 2012 and a 1% increase from 1998.       Additionally, female characters occupy around 30% screen time while women buy 50% of the tickets.           Professor David Lugowski, Director of the Film Studies program at Manhattanville College, cited economics as one of the main reasons for the lack of women’s presence both onscreen and behind the scenes. “Woman filmmakers have always had more opportunities in the avant-garde, in documentary, even in certain fields of animation and all kinds of independent cinemas,” … “However, in countries with film industries, once movies became business, it turned into a sort of men’s club,” said Lugowski.
As a result, out of seven features shown throughout the festival, fours are made by woman directors. Professor Van Hartmann, instructor of the Women’s Films course at Manhattanville, emphasized the importance of examining movies made by women, “to watch women’s films is to be given a cultural and aesthetic construction of gender that is controlled by women as opposed to a male-dominated, patriarchal studio system or history,” said Hartmann. “So it’s very important to study how women present themselves when they have the resources and power to do it.”
Mehta also agreed that the festival should be a learning experience for the Manhattanville community. This year, the preparation for the event began early in the fall semester so that faculty can incorporate the screenings into their syllabi. The festival also established collaboration with the Duchesne Center so that students can earn two Duchesne hours for each showing they attend.
For Manhattanville undergraduates, Monique Mitchell’14 had a similar view of the event educational benefits. “Art at its best tells the truth and since cinema is audio-visual we can learn a lot about people that we may not have known, if they are represented correctly,” said Mitchell. However, Khanh Nguyen’16 expressed other concerns, “I personally enjoy seeing foreign films, but my friends have sometimes found reading subtitles to be quite distracting.”
All screenings from the International Film Festival will be held in the Berman Student Center at 7 p.m. Each film is accompanied by light refreshments matching its country, an introduction and a Q&A afterwards. The admission is free and open to everyone.

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