Women Writing the Language of Cinema / by KirstenStudio

A week into the Women's Film Preservation Fund's (WFPF)Carte Blanche series at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), brings to mind how much has been accomplished by the Fund, as well as us how much work there is yet to be done.  I've been on the WFPF committee for just around 5 years now and continue to be amazed by the women behind the Fund and all that's been achieved to save these works for future generations. And although WFPF screens most everything it has a hand in preserving, it is a rare opportunity to see so many of these films in an expansive series like this. As the title of the series, Carte Blanche: Women's Film Preservation Fund, Women Writing the Language of Cinema, suggests, the focus is on the women who have contributed to cinema's heritage, and given a strong female voice to its history. It is also WFPF's 20th anniversary celebration. (Promo Produced by Barbara Moss & cut by Suzanne Pancrazi)

With over 30 films already screened (most works preserved by WFPF) and another 5 days left in the series, almost every genre in film and many eras are represented, from silents, to animation, experimental, documentary, and even sex exploitation, the vast selections inhabit a most fascinating melting pot of creative vision. In my mind, what this series reinforces is how women have excelled in this craft, even if not always encouraged, and are natural storytellers.

Opening night brought Desperately Seeking Susan, a 1985 film by Susan Seidelman, (pictured here introducing her film) to a full house, despite the challenging weather. Shot in New York City, much of the crew, including Seidelman, were New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) members (NYWIFT is the organization which co-founded WFPF in conjunction with MoMA in 1995).

Seidelman reminisced on her time directing Desperately Seeking Susan and named many soon-to-be well known actors featured in her film, including one or two that are now household names. She also spoke eloquently about film preservation and its importance. She referred to a print she owned of her indy, Smithereens, which unbeknownst to her was, as she put it, "pickled" from poor storage and from this experience advocated for filmmakers to be aware of the importance of preservation. Desperately Seeking Susan, however, was in great shape and its vibrant colors and great performances have stood the test of time, while the retro fashions and old school tracks were terrific fun.

Thursday's program, Orphan Preservation Stories, offered an interesting variety of works from 1916 to 2005. WFPF Co-Chair, Ina Archer presented, with Moving Image Archiving & Preservation (MIAP) Associate Professor/Director and Orphan Film Symposium leader, Dan Streible, (pictured) along with other presenters including, Kim Tarr, Madeline Schwartzman, Carmel Curtis, Julia Kim (pictured below), Candace Ming and Kara Van Malssen.

Excerpts from orphaned films My Lady of the Lilacs, Raisin' Cotton, Barnard College Film Collection, The Movie Queen film series: The Movie Queen and The Movie Queen of BelfastMona's Candle Light and the Helen Hill Home Movies were screened and discussed, as well as put into context for why these kinds of works are considered orphaned and why they are relevant. Orphans such as the well known Helen Hill Home Movies might be obvious choices for preservation in that Helen Hill was a significant voice in experimental film and community activism, but works such as The Movie Queen films might appear less so to some. The Movie Queen films were produced in small towns where the townspeople were the stars and the local businesses, the sponsors. They were often screened, unedited, for the communities where they were shot and acted as a big local event with ticket sales and sometimes accompanied by live entertainment. Although these are considered "amateur" productions, and may not appear important on the surface, they document cultural history and are really pretty delightful to watch. As Archer pointed out on Thursday, the Movie Queen film credits, running more than 10 minutes in length, included details from the extras, down to the model of the cars featured, seem to remind us all that literally everyone is important.

Thursday evening showcased surrealism in film with the beautiful, Homage to Magritte (1975) (pictured) by Anita Thacher and When Pigs Fly (1993) by Sara Driver. Both filmmakers were in attendance and Driver spoke about the ratio of German women filmmakers to American. Not so surprisingly, and unfortunately, the numbers were not in our favor.

Tonight's program will honor WFPF co-founder and filmmaker, Barbara Moss with a MoMA's Modern Mondays event. The screening of  the documentary,  A Crime To Fit The Punishment (1982) will be followed by a discussion with co-directors Barbara Moss and Stephen Mack, along with Narrator, Lee Grant and Associate Curator of MoMA Film, Anne Morra. The evening will celebrate Barbara and her accomplishments, but will also celebrate the Women's Film Preservation Fund's 20 years, and counting, of preserving women's legacy in cinema. Hope to see you there.