Women in Film: Bluestocking Films and the Exploration of Female Driven Narratives

Ariel Dougherty, director, speaks at Women Make Movies Make History, July 2016.

Ariel Dougherty, director, speaks at Women Make Movies Make History, July 2016.

In a room filled with ambitious women: filmgoers, filmmakers, actresses and lovers of cinema there is only one word – electric. This is the most accurate description of the Bluestocking Film Series that took place July 15th & 16th, now in its 6th year. This series, helmed by artistic director and filmmaker Kate Kaminski, is unique from other festivals and film exhibitions that have come before it. Set against the picturesque backdrop of Portland, Maine the series attracts women from all aspects of filmmaking: from writing and directing to production design, acting and even film critique. The films shown over the two-days are damn good, but there’s one twist – each film has to pass the Bechdel test. If you’re not familiar with what the Bechdel test is, it’s a set of criteria that must be met in order to pass. (1) It has to have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

The series kicked off with its first event: a screening and Q&A with Ariel Dougherty, a veteran filmmaker, activist and the founder of Women Make Movies, whose work pushed the boundaries of film and helped create a space for what was dubbed feminist cinema in the 1970s. At the Maine College of Art, I sat in a room filled with women and men of all ages and backgrounds during the screening of Harriet Kriegal’s film Domestic Tranquility and Dougherty’s Sweet Bananas. The screening, totaling 45 minutes in length, showed a range of complex female characters toying with motifs of repression and liberation as they pertained to women’s identity during that era. In Domestic Tranquility, through a series of visceral images and deliberate framing we get a sense that the main character is experiencing the emotional and psychological tug that is motherhood, marriage and the aspiration for self-fulfilled potential. In Sweet Bananas, a play on the phrase “Tough Bananas,” a weaver, Go-Go dancer, puppet maker and vagabond come together through kismet, each character so distinct in voice and motivation that it’s almost like each of the woman have a full-fledged life beyond the frames of the film.

The intricacies of Dougherty’s Sweet Bananas are in large part due to her decision to use a set of prompts for her actresses in lieu of a cold set script which allowed us to see in these characters a vibrancy that spilled out of each celluloid frame. She valued open-ended scripts and non-professional actors and this resulted in some really compelling characters on screen. When going into depth on the needs for women in film she emphasized how essential it was for visions, fantasies, hopes and fears for women characters and female-led narratives in film in order for women to have a bright future in the world of cinema.

I whole-heartedly agree. 

—Che Grayson (https://vimeo.com/radiantchild)