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Providence Women's Film Festival brings local works to the big screen

Never heard of Alice Guy-Blache, Lea Giunchi or Lois Weber?

That's OK. According to Margaret Hennefeld GS, who is studying modern culture and media, many women filmmakers were "written out of mainstream film histories," even though they were very involved in the early years of cinema.

This is one of the reasons Hennefeld and Matthew Noble-Olsen GS, another MCM student, organized the Providence Women's Film Festival, running Tuesday through Sunday at the Cable Car Cinema with free admission.

This is the first women's film festival to take place in Providence. Many of the films are by Brown and Rhode Island School of Design alums.

Films range from Guy-Blache's "The Cabbage Fairy," released in 1896, the year after the invention of the moving picture, to Cheryl Dunye's "The Owls," released this year.

"We have a lot of popular early films by women directors that no one has really heard of before," Hennefeld said. "And then we have the classical notion of a women's film, which is something like a '40s Hollywood tearjerker or melodrama or screwball comedy that is specifically targeted toward a female audience."

She added that the festival also has "a lot of 1970s and '80s avant-garde experimental films that are specifically about questions of representation, how women are depicted in front of the camera, how women are objectified."

More than 40 films will be screened on the six nights of the festival. The reason so many can be included is that many productions are shorts, Hennefeld said.

"It takes a lot of backing and capital to make a feature-length film," she said, adding that this raises the issue of "economics of film production, the problem about how women are underrepresented as filmmakers in the industry." If the festival only showcased full-length films, many interesting pieces would be neglected, she added.

The festival also includes many foreign films, some of which are rare or difficult to obtain with English subtitles. Noble-Olsen said obtaining screening rights for one of the Chinese films, Jiayin Liu's "Oxhide II" — about the tensions that arise as the director and her family make dumplings — took months of e-mailing.

The festival will also feature question-and-answer sessions with special guests including Yvonne Rainer, a choreographer and director, Yvonne Welbon, a director of eight films and a TV series, and Patricia White, a writer and professor of film and media studies at Swarthmore College.

Films by Rainer and Welbon will also be shown during the festival.

A symposium Friday in Barus and Holley will bring together the guest speakers on a panel moderated by Professor of Modern Culture and Media Mary Ann Doane. The panel will discuss the meaning of women's film and "its implications for feminist filmmaking theory and practice today," according to the MCM department's website.

"Perhaps most important to the festival is the question of what the women's film actually is," Hennefeld said.

She added that the festival will attempt not to answer the question, but rather to spark more discussion and interest in the topic.


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