Year after year, studies continue to reveal gender inequality as a problem that plagues the film industry at almost every level: be it the pay gap between actresses and actors, a startling lack of female protagonists on film, or the fact that female hires in film production have remained stagnant for nearly two decades, there is an abundance of proof that women are underserved by a movie industry that they purchase over half of the tickets for. How to combat such a pervasive problem, then? For local film critic Andrea Thompson, the answer came while attending a panel led by women in the industry at the Chicago International Film Festival. “Near the end (of the panel), they asked the audience to think about what they were doing for women’s equality,” says Thompson. “And then a light bulb went on: a couple of friends were setting up their own horror film festival (the recently minted Twisted Dreams Film Festival), so why couldn’t I do the same and make a women’s film festival? After a few months of research, I just decided to do it.”
We’ll see the fruits of her labor this weekend, Aug. 19-21, as the first edition of the Milwaukee Women’s Film Festival makes its bow at the Underground Collaborative (161 West Wisconsin Avenue, under the Grand Avenue Mall) for three days of film made by or about women. Thompson admits that the dispiriting disparity of stories told by and about women is “an odd situation” where “if a movie led by women flops, it’s taken as a signal that investing in women’s cinema is a bad idea,” but “if a movie with all-male cast is a box office bomb, it never means that making films led by men is a bad idea.” Recognizing the only means to combat this notion is to provide an outlet for female cinematic voices; the MWFF will host a wonderful diversity of films over the course of its three days.
The opening night celebration that includes “a short, a film, live music provided by Boom Boom Klap, a VR simulation (placing you in the shoes of someone trying to enter a health center to obtain a safe and legal abortion) and pizza,” a series of events that Thompson considers “one of my proudest achievements of the festival.” On Saturday night, the “first shorts block has this dark film starring Mark Borchardt and a really funny one about a deaf woman living in the U.K. who’s told she has to lose weight to get a juicy acting role.” Also included that evening is “a free networking event for women involved in the Milwaukee film scene” as well as a shorts block entitled ‘Bitchin’ Shorts’ with “a collection of unusual and sometimes downright weird stories.” And Sunday brings the closing film, Women Outward Bound, “a really fun and uplifting” story about the first women to participate in the U.S. Outward Bound Program.
As for how she sees the festival developing in the future, Thompson is proud of this first year where “every accomplishment has felt so hard-fought” and hopes that her festival “can help create more unity and communication in Milwaukee, so people can come to the festival, meet other film fans and see the kinds of stories they’re not used to seeing. I mean, in the end it is just a film festival, but hopefully it can be at least a small part of making some positive changes.” Thanks to Thompson’s hard work, the MWFF may just be the first step in broadening the local film scene’s horizons.