A newspaper reporter got a restraining order against an abusive ex-boyfriend, a radio disc jockey who nonetheless stabbed her to death at midday in their small town. That may sound like the premise of some TV cop show, but the murder was local, and a key motivation for organizers of the Brattleboro Women's Film Festival, which debuted in 1992. (It also led to Vermont's 1993 anti-stalking law.) The fest's 14th annual edition will take place on three consecutive weekends beginning March 4.
Initially a memorial for that victim of domestic violence, the event has grown beyond the original inspiration even though it continues to benefit the Women's Crisis Center of Windham County. "The festival has really taken on a life of its own," says Cathy Mizgerd, a member of the publicity committee. "It's really amazing how much work folks put into this."
For starters, each year they raise the $20,000 budget, half from cash contributions or grants, the rest through in-kind donations. The festival staff is comprised entirely of about 25 volunteers. All box office proceeds go directly to the crisis center -- last year that came to $15,000 thanks to sales of more than 1800 tickets. "The community is so receptive to our efforts," Mizgerd suggests.
The 2005 festival is slated to screen 22 films from eight countries in two venues: the downtown Hooker-Dunham and Latchis theaters. Many of the selections, predominantly nonfiction fare, will focus on youth.
One of the few features, Caterina in the Big City is an Italian comedy-drama about an adolescent girl struggling to adjust after her family moves from the Tuscan seaside to Rome. This will be a U.S. sneak preview of a picture that was a big hit back in its home country. It's due to open commercially in early April.
Stay Until Tomorrow, set in Rhode Island, is the tale of a twentysomething soap-opera star questioning what the future holds when she returns to her hometown.
Norwich resident Nora Jacobson's Nothing Like Dreaming concerns a troubled Vermont teen who befriends an older man with problems of his own. Burlington folksinger Rachel Bissex, who passed away last week, plays the girl's mother.
The disease that plagues so many women -- breast cancer -- is the subject of One in Eight: Janice's Journey. It follows someone who has been diagnosed and treated as she searches for possible environmental causes.
Brattleboro's geographic location means films -- and audiences -- often come from New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. "We do feel like a tri-state festival," Mizgerd notes. In Downside Up, for example, director Nancy Kelly examines the transformation of an abandoned North Adams factory, where her parents and grandparents once worked, into the nation's largest contemporary art museum, called Mass MOCA.
From elsewhere in America, Ferry Tales is a glimpse of the women who contribute to a curious subculture on the boats bringing commuters from Staten Island to Manhattan and back again. The 40-minute documentary by Katja Esson, unspooling on the festival's opening night, was an Oscar nominee last year in the Best Documentary Short category.
Paola di Florio's Home of the Brave, which premiered at Sundance in 2004, chronicles the life and 1965 assassination of civil-rights activist Viola Liuzzo. She was killed in Selma, Alabama. Stockard Channing of "The West Wing" narrates.
From Israel, Watermarks looks back at the Nazi era with the story of champion Jewish swimmers in Austria who fled certain persecution or extermination. Now in their eighties, they reunite for the first time since the Holocaust.
The Middle East takes center stage as well in Return to Kandahar, about an Afghani-Canadian journalist who searches for a childhood friend after the fall of the Taliban. For a Place Under the Heavens tackles the tension between Islamic fundamentalists and more liberal thinkers in Pakistan.
Africa is the setting of Roots of Change by Marlboro filmmakers Alan Dater and Lisa Merton. They began shooting this doc about Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai before she won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. It's a work in progress, so the festival will only show clips.
La Cueca Sola explores the bloody consequences of the 1973 coup in Chile. Novelist Isabel Allende goes on camera to remember the county's numerous "disappeared."
For more information on the Brattleboro Women's Film Festival, which includes panel discussions and an art auction, call 258-9100, or visit http://www.womensfilmfestival.org.