From October 25th through November 5th, Metro Chicago will be hosting the 12th Annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema at theaters in Chicago, Glenview and Skokie. On Wednesday, November 1st, nestled in the midst of this twelve day celebration of Israeli filmmaking, sits the 6th Annual Films By & About Women, showcasing the work of female filmmakers and films with a narrative focus on the female perspective.
Cindy Stern, Executive Director of the festival, sat down with me to share her view on the importance of an evening focused on films by and about women, as well as her take on the role of women in film at large.
Originally brought into the festival in a marketing and publicity capacity, Stern now serves as the Executive Director of the festival and has seen the audience size double over the past six years. Coming from a marketing background, Stern is always looking for new ways to get people “out of their bunny slippers at home and into the theater” and creating the Evening of Films By & About Women was no exception. Since its inception, the special evening dedicated to the work of female filmmakers and films that celebrate the female perspective has had a lot of support from local women’s groups that are excited to celebrate often up and coming female filmmakers.
For Stern, the Evening of Films By & About Women is really about providing a platform for female filmmakers and films that focus on women to be showcased, to demonstrate the variety of the narratives, and to provide the opportunity for work that often goes unnoticed to be given the spotlight. “It’s really important in the film world to support the work of female artists because they often don’t get the recognition they deserve.” And while the evening doesn’t only feature films with female writers and directors, the importance of the female perspective in film, even told by men, is something that Stern hopes to celebrate with the evening.
When choosing which films will be showcased each year, Stern really tries to present a broad sense of the different types of narratives that a “women’s” film can present. “We see that women can make funny films or very serious films. And we see that women can make, like in Hollywood, action films like Wonder Woman” (which of course stars Israeli actress Gal Gadot in the title role). But, for Stern, the importance of these narratives goes deeper than just the variety they demonstrate. “Over the years we’ve shown so many films about unlikely partners, unlikely friends and I think that’s really great for people to see. That understanding is possible. Peace is possible. But we have to start talking to one another.”
In a world where Israel is often defined by its politics and its headlines, Stern hopes that the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema can provide people with a new access point to understand and appreciate Israel as a culture and not just a country. “Artists mirror the culture in a very unique way and we need to see it that way. They have their own personal voice, it doesn’t represent the government, it doesn’t represent necessarily their neighbors, but it’s their point of view and they have a right to express that point of view. If we don’t see it on film, we might not otherwise know it. This is the next best thing to seeing them in person. It’s eye opening.”
And Stern sees the female perspective as paramount in achieving this goal. “I think of women as major conduits of culture.” which, while she admits is a generalization, is an important way of understanding how female made and female centered films tend to to “make an effort to bring together and not divide.” By allowing a new lens with which Israel can be viewed, Stern believes that the festival can “normalize Israel and make people take a second look at it.”
At the end of the day, for Stern, it’s all about promoting “Israeli films in general and women in particular” and the Evening of Films By & About Women during the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema is the perfect synthesis of those goals. The role of women and their stories in the formation of Israeli culture, and the unique perspective they bring on Israeli culture to the rest of the world is a necessary access point for people looking to gain new understanding of Israel outside of its politics. But even more so, as Stern said, “they’re smart and they’re funny and people need to hear them. The guys have had a head start, now the women have to catch up. So we’ll help them, we’ll help them springboard their careers. That’s what we want to do.”
Top Photo: Poster celebrating the 12th Annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema. Click here to read Sneak Peek of this year's CFIC in JUF Online.
Middle Right Photo: Poster for The Women’s Balcony, one of the featured films for 2017's "Evening of Films By & About Women." Screening is 6:15 on Weds 11/1/17. Click here to view 2017 CFIC schedule. Click here to read review of The Woman's Balcony by FF2 Media Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner for JUF Online.
Middle Left Photo: Poster for Dimona Twist, the second film to be showcased during this year’s "Evening of Films By & About Women." Screening is 8:30 on Weds 11/1/17. Click here to view 2017 CFIC schedule.
Bottom Photo: Cindy Stern (with her husband Bob) at the 10th Annual Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.
Photo Credits: Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema