An Art Center of One's Own

Last year, during the Walker Art Center's "Women in the Director's Chair" series, Barbara Hammer's documentary The Female Closet posed a provocative question about gender, sexuality, and artistic exhibition: "Is the museum a closet?" In so doing, the film seemed to underline the affirmative-action principle behind the Walker's "Women" program--which, to extend the metaphor, creates a room of one's own within a limited space. In other words, if marketplace sexism too often keeps women's cinema out of sight, this rare forum literally allows it to come out. At the same time, what's especially worthy about this year's month-long program--the first assembled by the Walker's recently installed assistant curator of film/video, Sheryl Mousley--is that it isn't just a token package of marginalized "films by women" but a carefully arranged set of works that swirls around a central theme, that of the strategic blurring of boundaries between documentary and fiction.

The series's opening feature, Samira Makhmalbaf's The Apple (screening Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.), tells a true story through reenactment, using nonprofessional actors who play themselves; moreover, its purpose brilliantly mirrors "Women"'s own liberating agenda. Makhmalbaf, daughter of the renowned Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Gabbeh), came upon the case of 12-year-old twin sisters in Tehran who'd been locked inside their elderly father's home since birth, owing to his fundamentalist views of females as property. Then just 17 years old, the first-time director arranged to shoot a subtly muckraking docudrama of the situation with 35mm film stock belonging to her father--essentially using one master's tools to tear down another's house. Ingeniously, the young Makhmalbaf's narrative conceit of having the girls freed by a social worker to enjoy an eye-opening adventure on the streets of Tehran allowed such emancipation to occur in real life--at least for the length of The Apple's amazingly speedy 11-day shoot. Even aside from its formal finesse and humanitarian ambition, the film is beautifully rendered, with each of its vivid details lending metaphoric heft to the real events.

A similar rescue-operation effort informs the local Witness, a documentary exposé of purported improprieties at the District 202 center for queer youth in Minneapolis. Directed by 19-year-old Joanna Kohler, who claims to have suffered anonymous harassment for her efforts, the film screens in a 10-minute version as part of the series's "Junior Home Girls: Teenagers in the Director's Chair" installment (Saturday at 3:30 p.m.), preceding its hourlong premiere on Monday evening at Intermedia Arts

The investigative thrust of the Walker series culminates March 20 at 8 p.m. with "Fakes/Remakes: Stretching the Truth," a propitious panel discussion of cinematic authenticity featuring filmmakers Cheryl Dunye, Elisabeth Surbin, Michelle Citron, and Susan Robeson, led by the esteemed critic B. Ruby Rich. That all but the last two of these have films in the series would seem to fulfill Rich's wish, as expressed in her recently published Chick Flicks, "that the link between the personal and the public, between the woman and her text, be acknowledged.

 

Walker Art Center's "Women in the Director's Chair" series starts with two screenings ofThe Apple on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and continues through March 27; (612) 375-7622.

 
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