When we get up from our seats and we walk away, we’re changed a little bit and hopefully for the better.
– Kit Crawford, CEO and co-founder of CLIF Bar and Company
In the past several weeks, I have been thinking a lot about violence against women in our communities, in various societies and countries, and everywhere, really. Of course, this has been going on forever, but my despair over the recent cases in New Delhi and South Africa seemed to demand a response from me, for which I had none. What else could I do as a person, a woman, and a mother beyond raising my son to respect women and raising my daughter to be empowered and have healthy self-esteem so that no person would ever take advantage of her and no situation would be beyond overcoming?
A few weekends ago, as I was walking my dog Rex, I came across a poster on a local storefront and read about Lunafest. I recalled receiving annual e-mails from the mom of my daughter’s classmate. Being overwhelmed and stressed during my busy work seasons, I never opened the e-mails, I’m embarrassed to say. What’s done is done, but I thought to myself, I would definitely go this year. In fact, in a serendipitous moment, I declared that this was my first response to my question to myself of how to respond to violence against women: Celebrate women and their creativity and achievements.
Lunafest: short films by, for and about women was established in 2000 by LUNA, makers of the nutrition bar for women, to connect women, their stories, and their causes through film. The traveling film festival also serves as a fundraiser for the many communities that host it across the country. Lunafest’s main beneficiary is the Breast Cancer Fund, whose goal is to eliminate the environmental causes of cancer. The selected beneficiaries of El Cerrito’s Lunafest showing were the El Cerrito High School’s Information Technology Academy (ITA) and World Neighbors, an international development organization established to eliminate hunger, poverty, and disease in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. ITA, a small learning community within El Cerrito High School, prepares students for post-secondary education and careers in networking, database management, digital art, and web design.
Reception before the show
The East Bay Lunafast Organizing Committee held a VIP reception prior to the film screening at one of the committee members’ homes, which was just around the corner from the high school auditorium, where the films were going to be shown. I had the pleasure of meeting the evening’s emcee, Karen Grassle, whom many of my contemporaries will recognize as Caroline Ingalls, the mother on the television series Little House on the Prairie (1974-1982). I also met two of the featured film directors, who were slated to participate in a panel discussion with Grassle after the screenings. It energized me to hear them talk about their passion for their art.
Jisoo Kim, who studied animation in her native South Korea, is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts MFA program and currently works as an artist for Disney Interactive. Her animated short, The Bathhouse, is a beautiful and lush audiovisual experience in which the bathhouse is the transformative venue for women of all shapes and sizes to achieve this uninhibited state of serenity. I appreciated her ability to move us all in our theater seats from feelings of exhaustion and stress to calmness and then vigor. I also appreciated the cultural reference for this transformation. It’s the same transformation I undergo when I lie down on my acupuncturist’s table, falling asleep while listening to soothing music in a warm room with a lavender pillow over my eyes and then waking up refreshed and ready to tackle the world again.
Sharon Arteaga hails from Austin, where she earned her bachelors in film at the University of Texas. Her short film, When I Grow Up, chronicles a morning in the life of a Latina mother and daughter who sell tacos on a route that takes them through refineries in Corpus Christie and ends at the girl’s school. In the panel discussion, Arteaga revealed that the film was an homage to her mother. As a daughter of immigrants, I very much appreciated how she depicted the conflicting views of the two generations without judgment or bias but with quiet generosity, and her understanding of how the immigrants’ dream enables their children’s dreams to be much grander and yet attainable.
Honoring nine films
The nine screened films, which were chosen from more than 900 entries around the world, were as diverse as they were impressive. You can see the trailer and more information on the films here. I enjoyed all of the films, but the one that was close to my heart was Canadian filmmaker Andrea Dorfman’s Flawed, which told in drawings the story of a woman who has a big nose and feels conflicted when she falls in love with a plastic surgeon. It reminded me of my own perceived flaws and the teasing I endured as a child for having a flat nose and full lips, which are typical Filipino traits. I recalled the times when one of the boys in elementary school taunted me by saying, “I’m going to hit you and give you a big nose. Oh wait, you already have a big nose,” or “I’m going to trip you and give you a fat lip. Oh wait, you already have a fat lip.” Never mind that he had pretty full lips, too. I contemplated, as the protagonist did, having a nose job as an adult. It also made me think of the time when I found my sister in the bathroom rubbing lemon juice and pulp into her face to lighten her skin, which she had learned from watching Jan Brady in the television show The Brady Bunch, who was trying to lighten her freckles. I was horrified because even as a child I understood that she was trying to erase who she was. In the same way the film’s protagonist learned to accept her big nose, I came to embrace my dark skin, my big nose, and my full lips as part of who I am, as part of my heritage.
I also enjoyed Amanda Zackem’s short film about Georgena Terry, who triumphed over childhood polio (I wanted to know more about this) and whose curiosity and tenacity led her to build bicycles that are custom-fit for women. Rebecca Dreyfus’s short film, Self-Portrait with Cows Going Home and Other Works, peeked into the life of Sylvia Plachy, a well-respected contemporary photographer whose Academy Award-winning son Adrien Brody wrote the original music for the film. Plachy has an amazing eye, and thus, an amazing portfolio of black-and-white photographs. New Zealander Louise Leitch’s Whakatiki – A Spirit Rising chronicled the rebirth of a silenced and disenfranchised wife after she takes a plunge into the waters of her youth. I was moved by the woman’s transformation toward emancipation. As she emerged, water dripping from the thick folds of her skin, she shed more than her clothes and regained a lightness of being in exchange.
The other films included Sarah Berkovich’s Blank Canvas, Sasha Collington’s Lunch Date (Great Britain), and Martina Amati’s Chalk (Italy). Blank Canvas celebrates a uterine cancer survivor’s decision to have her bald head beautifully decorated with henna. The humorous Lunch Date pairs an unlikely couple – a young woman who gets dumped by her boyfriend, who uses his 14-year-old brother Wilbur as the messenger – for an unexpected picnic in the park. Chalk chronicles the rites of passage of a young gymnast.
I came away feeling a rebirth of sorts myself. I was definitely invigorated. How can you not stand up and be excited to determine one’s next steps in addressing women’s issues after being empowered by the beauty conceived by nine amazing women filmmakers? All women, go forth and create beautiful things, and let us all celebrate all of our achievements. Only then can we all be uplifted.
P.S. If there is a Lunafest event in your community, get a bunch of girlfriends together and make it a fun, celebratory evening.