Geneva Anderson digs into art

Two important new films by Bay Area filmmakers about women show how pervasive sexism still is—one tackles mass media; the other the art world—screening this weekend at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21-May 5, 2011

What exactly is it about our society and women?  Despite the fact that women are a majority of our population, and they have made and continue to make vital contributions to our society that equal if not exceed those of the male population, sexism still exists.   That’s the well-argued point of two powerful new documentaries by Bay Area filmmakers Jennifer Siebel  Newsom and Lynn Hershman Leeson screening this weekend at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival  (SFIFF54).   Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Miss Representation, one of the most buzzed about films at this year’s Sundance festival, explores the mass media’s deplorable impact on our society’s perception of women and how that limits what women even strive for.  Bay Area artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson’s !Women Art Revolution (WAR) turns the camera on women artists who are underrepresented in leading museums and profiles the all out war feminist women have waged from the 1960’s on for recognition in the establishment art world.  Hershman Lesson is the first person to ever document this important history that has broader consequences for the way women are treated in our society.  The film has hit a rare trifecta in the film festival circuit too—screening to rave reviews at the prestigious Berlin, Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.  Below are capsule reviews:

Miss Representation  (Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, USA, 2011, 85 min, Documentary)

After watching this eye-opening documentary, I found myself keenly tuned in to and sickened by the way women are depicted on television, especially in advertising.  San Francisco filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom has turned the camera on mainstream media itself and examines its deplorable impact on our society’s perception of women.  Through in-depth interviews with leading academics, newsmakers (including Katie Couric, Lisa Ling and Rachel Maddow) and politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Condoleezza Rice) and actors (Geena Davis, Jane Fonda, Margaret Cho) and youth—basically women in all walks of life—-Newsom shows that we are all being sold (year after year) dated, limited and detrimental stereotypes of what it means to be a powerful woman.   The collective message that penetrates our subconscious is that women’s value lies primarily in youth, beauty and sexuality.  The impact: both men and women have a limited understanding of who women are and what women can be, leading to the under-representation of women in key leadership positions in the U.S. and to unprecedented levels of eating disorders, sexual violence, cosmetic enhancement, and demeaning pornography.  Siebel Newsom, mother of toddler Montana, made this film while pregnant with her second child and makes it very clear that she and other parents ought to be concerned about the messages their daughters in particular are receiving about their options in life.  Oprah liked this important film so much that her OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) snapped it up in February for their OWN Documentary Film Club that plans to do for film what Oprah has done for books.  After painting a bleak picture, the film includes some very positive calls for action, has an extensive social outreach campaign and gives some concrete ways our society can empower women.  (Screens: Friday, April 22, 6 p.m., Sundance Kabuki Theatre and Wednesday, May 4, 5:45 p.m. New People. Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom will attend both screenings.)

!Women Art Revolution (Director: Lynn Hershman Leeson, USA/Canada, 2010, 83 min, Documentary)

“!Women Art Revolution” “WAR” is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary about women artists who spearheaded the feminist art movement and a shocking visual primer  for the oft-repeated statement “Well behaved women seldom make history.”  “WAR” tracks early feminist artists like Judy Chicago, Nancy Spero, and the Guerilla Girls through a montage of archival footage, much of it taken by Hershman Leeson herself over the past 35 years.  The conclusion: women artists have been doing important work all along but they have been ignored, underrepresented, sidetracked and underpaid in the art world’s male-dominated upper echelons.   Impact:  marginalization, no one knows much about the pioneering women artists who decided to challenge the system.   Hershman Leeson, who spoke to me from her San Francisco studio, said she made the film “to show a history that’s never been written or documented, that makes the known history obsolete.”   The film establishes the importance of this movement in contemporary art but is really addressing the broader cultural history of America, the history of freedom of expression and equality starting with late 1960’s and going forward—it really shows the prejudices that fuel discrimination.”

The film isn’t angry or bitter in its approach—it instead profiles a determined and very intelligent group of women who love what they do and used their resources shrewdly to get attention.  History isn’t what happened in the past; it is what later generations choose to remember.  Thanks to Hershman Leeson for this vital work documenting women’s candid stories of WAR.  Hershman Leeson, whose works are in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, chairs the Film Department at the San Francisco Art Institute and is internationally acclaimed for her pioneering work in new media technology. (Screens, Saturday, April 23, SFMOMA and Monday April 25, 8:40 p.m., Pacific Film Archive)

 SFIFF 54 Details:
Complete program information:  

Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, New People, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Pacific Film Archive

When: April 21 to May 5, 2011

Tickets: $8 to $13 regular screenings, Purchase

April 21, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment