Expecting a theater full of women, braless and dogmatic, I set off to the “Show and Tell” event at the Women of Cinefamily Weekend, four days of films curated by women, to see the effects of a woman's perspective on the craft. Featured filmmaker, Lily Baldwin, guided me through her take on film, art, woman, and everything in-between.
The “Show & Tell” is a signature Cinefamily event. The Women of Cinefamily curators invited their cultural hero, Chris Kraus, a filmmaker and the author of the seminal novel, I Love Dick, to curate the night. I spent the evening with Baldwin, who reached out to Kraus via email earlier this year and within minutes received a welcome reply. The two women have since remained late-night confidants, leading Kraus to include Baldwin’s latest work, Swallowed, in her "Show & Tell" programming. It also happened to be their first in-person meeting.
Women of Cinefamily, this year presented by BB Dakota, was founded in 2012 in response to a membership base that fell to be less than 50% women. Cinefamily programmer, Kate Rouhandeh, explains, “It is our belief that diversity among programmers begets diversity of perspectives in films, in roles, and among audience members, with positive repercussions throughout the industry.” Fittingly, the room was diverse in gender and scope. The evening unfolded into a disparate array of films and mediums. Kraus introduced Baldwin’s film—Swallowed is a part of the omnibus film, collective:unconscious, in which five filmmakers interpreted each other’s dreams. Baldwin's film features a suburban mother’s world unraveling at the tendrils of a parasite growing inside of her.
In her films, Baldwin uses body movement and choreography to push the narrative. Prior to filmmaking, she worked as a professional dancer, touring with The Metropolitan Opera Ballet and David Byrne’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today world tour. In Swallowed, she uses choreography to embody the movement of the parasite traveling through the woman’s body. She says, “I wanted dance to be more vulgar and this idea of underbellies is very important to me.”
Having a baby has a certain cultural cache, but Baldwin wanted to understand the integral pressures that the mother is feeling. She questions, "What does it mean to settle down? What does it mean to not be creative?" These are the “the things that we just don’t get out and we just swallow,” she explains.
Between screenings, Kraus reads an excerpt from her upcoming book about the late author Kathy Acker, and screens a documentary about a small town in Mexico that used art as a method to revive the community. The only apparent relationship one piece has to the next, is Kraus’ desire to share it with her audience. Many of her stories fall somewhere between fiction and memoir, touching on narratives of marriage, sexuality, and the frustrating career path of a female artist.
I am especially moved by Elisabeth Subrin’s Shulie, a shot-by-shot remake of an unreleased 1967 documentary about Shulamith Firestone. In the film, Firestone, a 22-year-old art student, struggles to justify her art against the scrutiny of her all-male professors. These are the same circumstances that made the work of Firestone and Kraus possible. But, I think to myself, are those circumstances really any different today?
Swallowed film still by DP Dagmar Weaver-Madsen
The film portion of the evening comes to an end, and I want to understand the curatorial impact on the audience—but before I even have the chance to ask Baldwin, she asks me: “Who are you? And, more importantly, how do you like to be introduced?”
I work as a journalist, but this is my chance. “I am a filmmaker,” I say. It's as though the films have given me a sudden surge of inspiration and confidence. Over flurries of conversation and glasses of Chardonnay, Baldwin introduces me to her friends and network, and we discuss the truths that we all swallow. The curation of films gives us a reason to come together in shared experience.
“What do you want to do that you have not done? Where do you want to grow? Let’s go there,” Baldwin asks each person that joins the conversation. She seems to deeply care for the community of women and, ignoring the repetition, makes sure to introduce everyone as soon as they join in.
Baldwin says, “What does it mean to get something done? We need to lean into our womanhood, what can we capitalize on and how can we support our community?”
The Women of Cinefamily weekend brings more female voices to the exhibition space and gives a platform for: old friends to discuss new works, the potential for collaborative projects, a male actor to vie for the attention of a female director, and an aspiring female photographer to find a muse in a young female journalist and filmmaker.
I leave feeling much less a spectator than a participant. Throughout the night, Baldwin reads my apprehension about taking myself seriously as a filmmaker, a sentiment that she sees in many young women.
“Thinking you have to know something before you do it is kind of bullshit,” she reassures. “You already know it, because you are passionate about it. You have a perspective. The sooner the better.”
Click here to learn more about Women of Cinefamily Weekend.