From April 13-16, The Sie FilmCenter celebrated its 14th year of the Women + Film Festival, where a variety of films with diverse narratives—produced by and primarily starring women—took to the big screen.
The festival supports the work of women filmmakers from Denver and around the world to ensure ways for them to succeed as storytellers. This local event continues to introduce new boundaries to the film community of Denver to expand and represent women of all backgrounds.
“You know, you can say women plus film, but women are not a monolith,” said Ambriehl Turrentine, programming manager of the Sie FilmCenter and emcee of the weekend’s premieres. “They experience a variety of experiences and come from different backgrounds and cultures. So we’re making sure that we approach this festival with a global lens.”
The festival featured films ranging in topics from the first Black Barbie which took 12 years to make, access to reproductive rights in Brazil, and how women fall victim to beauty standards. The festival highlighted the importance of women in the film industry as it reflected many experiences those in the audience have faced and felt.
Through laughs shared among the audiences to the moments of silence where familiar issues were mirrored on-screen, the bond between women took its seat in the cinema. As one film—Lucia Small’s “Girl Talk,” a documentary following a high school debate team in Massachusetts and the gender bias they face—came to an end, a row of young girls raved about how they would like to become a part of debate when they enter high school.
Producers Dia Sokol Savage and Stephanie Sunata continued the conversation in a Q&A, which led to a powerful discussion on Small’s intent in creating this film. Small unfortunately passed away from cancer, but Savage continues the conversation Small began.
“Debate is a pipeline to help women get into politics. If girls are being discouraged to be debaters it cuts off a large investment of women being leaders,” she said.
Savage shared her excitement to be included in the film and the festival. But she was most enthusiastic about being able to share the story of these girls in a meaningful way.
“It’s all about the amazing things girls are doing in front of the camera and on debate it felt so perfect to be able to share it. When you have the perfect film that goes with this film festival it’s so awesome .”
Turrentine expressed her optimism regarding more women participating in the film industry. She said she has seen more progress on that front, but it’s an ongoing crusade.
“I think it’s also kind of always an ongoing conversation on how to uplift these filmmakers, and what exactly are we able to provide them with, and how they can take what we’ve given them, or the aid that we provided, and move on to bigger and better things,” Turrentine said.
According to a study from Celluloid Ceiling Report, Forbes reported that only 24% of directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers were women among the top 250 grossing films in 2022. There are still walls to be torn down in order for women in the film industry to be recognized and represented the same as men.
Women + Film’s variety of narratives and styles allow for more doors to open for women and queer and trans people in the industry. The film “Blue Jean” captures the experience of a lesbian living under the oppressive government of Margaret Thatcher in 1980s England. “Monica” presents the riveting perspective of a trans-women coming to terms with the hardships of family, relationships and reconnecting to her own self. The film is set to release in May 2023, and the lead actress of “Monica,” Trace Lysette was able to sit down with the audience and discuss what she anticipates to come from the film.
“I hope it puts me as a leading lady, not just as a trans woman,” she said. “ I hope that it also allows me to get to a place in my career for more films and opens the door for other trans folk.”
As years go by, it is anticipated that the torch will be passed to more women with more diverse stories to share and visualize with the community. But the battle is still yet to be won, as Simone D. Ross, a board member of the Colorado Women Chamber of Commerce, said before the screening of “Black Barbie.”
“We have to keep pushing the question of how we can ensure we’re making space and passing the mic down the line for women.”