The Bechdel Test, as influential as it’s become, sets the bar for films ridiculously, absurdly low. Like, Division 1 college athlete academic standards low. To pass the test, all a movie has to do is:
—Feature two female characters (who have names).
—Have those two characters speak to each other for any length of time.
—And their conversation can’t be about a man.
It’s not a lot to ask, and most movies flunk. Hard.
Developed by writer/graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, the test is intended to show how unbalanced is the representation of men and women in film. So, does that mean a movie that fails the test (“12 Angry Men” comes to mind) is terrible?
“The Bechdel Test doesn’t measure quality,” explains Kate Kaminski, filmmaker and founder of the Bluestocking Film Series. “It’s really meant to say that characters in films need their own story arcs—women characters shouldn’t always be tied to the male’s story arc. If you have a character, why waste the character?”
Since 2011, the Bluestocking Film Series has set out to right that imbalance, featuring short films with complex female protagonists and stories that allow those characters a voice. This year’s lineup continues the mission, and introduces some new elements to Bluestocking. The 2014 lineup has been expanded to two nights, has moved to Portland’s SPACE Gallery from the Maine College of Art (“We wanted to move it out of a more academic setting,” explains Kaminski), and, for the first time, includes a film from a male director.
“This is the first year we’ve taken directors from both genders,” says Kaminski. “Alex [Kyo Won Lee] from New Zealand directed a beautiful short film called ‘Kimbap.’ It’s the story of a little girl and her mother emigrating to New Zealand and it’s beautifully nuanced, with stunning photography, and a great performance from the little girl.” In addition to “Kimbap,” Kaminski touts the shorts “The Run” and “Gretchen,” each of which features older female protagonists. “It’s like trying to choose among your children,” laughs Kaminski, “But it’s exciting because these films help support our mission of trying to bring better representation of all kinds of otherness. These characters don’t fit into the 25-year-old white female star. You don’t see enough stories about older women with inner lives.”
The Bechdel Test gained additional notoriety this year when theaters in Sweden started placing an “A” rating on films that passed it. This year’s Bluestocking Film Festival is the first American film event to get the “A” rating, thanks to the participation of Swedish cinema director Ellen Tejle, who founded the Swedish program. That, and the compelling roster of films in this year’s two-day festival, makes Kamiski proud of her ongoing involvement.
“What we hope to do more than anything is entertain the hell out of people,” says Kaminski. “To prove that when there’s a woman driving the action of a film, it’s the same kind of entertainment as when there’s a guy doing it. It’s to point out that what we need are better characters.”
This year’s Bluestocking Film Festival will screen in two parts on Friday and Saturday July 18 and 19 at SPACE Gallery (www.space538.com). Admission is $10, $8 for SPACE members and students with ID.
Hanna: A hardworking businesswoman gets promoted to her dream job: a place on the company’s board. At the same time she finds out she’s pregnant.
Dear Santa: When Ann asks Santa Claus to turn her into a boy for Christmas, her request throws her conservative mother into a tailspin. Dear Santa is a lighthearted look at the complicated, funny, and sometimes dysfunctional ties that bind a family together.
The Run: Grieving the loss of her daughter, a woman takes a not-so-routine run, re-awakening to the life around her.
Countertransference: Dark comedy about a shy woman with assertiveness issues who finds her problems multiplied in therapy.
Grace: In spite of her letter being returned, Grace won’t give up on meeting her birth mother.
The Rapture and Gammy Gwen: At the stern request of Great Grandma Gwen, Regan must spend the day with her overbearing family as they await the rapture.
Crystal: Cursed with a real crumby attitude and a boring-ass hometown, 17-year-old Crystal relies on her passion for dance to escape the mundane life of rural Ontario and pursue her out-sized dream of being a pop superstar.
Sticks and Stones: A true story about a 14-year-old girl who’s being bullied by those she once thought were her friends.
Gretchen: Gretchen is a retired lady on a pension who, after seeing an ex-con on TV extolling the quality of food in prison, decides she wants to go to jail. But first she has to become a prisoner.
Rawhead and Bloody Bones: Lily tells her parents there’s a monster in the house. And there is.
Cabbie: An aspiring writer who has become stuck behind the wheel of a cab picks up a fare that changes her life forever.
Kimbap: A clash of cultures shatters the fragile existence of an isolated Korean immigrant and her daughter living in Auckland, New Zealand.
MENSK SUMMER FILM SERIES
Sunday: “The Birds.” Head out to Congress Square Park as soon as the sun goes down for some free classic scares under the stars with this 1963 Hitchcock classic about our feathered friends going bananas. I’m sure downtown’s pigeons and seagulls will behave themselves.
MAINE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Thursday-Sunday. Don’t forget you can still catch the last four days of this year’s festival, a bountiful grab bag of movies from Maine and around the world, and plenty of films featuring this year’s MIFF guest of honor, screen legend Glenn Close.