As a mental exercise, the Bechdel Test is the sort of thing that, once you start thinking about it, colors your moviegoing experience forever. As those in the know know, the test (also called the Bechdel-Wallace Test) simply asks if a piece of entertainment fulfills three easy requirements. Does it feature at least two women? Do those women talk to each other? If so, do they talk about something other than a man? (If you want to get really choosy, you can also ask if the women are given names.)
Go ahead and pick your favorite movie. Think about it.
It flunked didn’t it?
The Bechdel Test is a valuable tool to inspire discussion about sexism and inclusion in entertainment. It’s also the organizing principle behind Maine’s own Bluestocking Film Series, the annual short film festival where complex female protagonists are the rule, not the exception.
Taking place Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4 at the University of Southern Maine’s Talbot Auditorium, the Portland-based festival is embarking on its eighth season with two separate 89-minute programs made up of 15 short films from around the world. I talked to Bluestocking founder, artistic director, filmmaker and USM professor Kate Kaminski about this year’s festival, how the Bluestocking has evolved and the state of women in film.
Q: What can you tell us about this year’s Bluestocking lineup?
A: We’ve got 15 films this year, divided into each night’s 89-minute screening. On Friday and Saturday, both screenings consist of one longer film and a lot of 6- to 10-minute shorter ones. It wasn’t a goal to have shorter films this year; I think maybe people are finally realizing it’s harder to program longer films, so “nice and short” is what I’d say. It’s a really interesting year.
Q: In addition to the films, what else does Bluestocking have going on this year?
A: Well, for one thing, I’m super psyched that USM has an all-new projector, screen and sound system. That, plus our amazing tech person Matt Fletcher is going to make things look so good for us. Same goes for (female and non-binary supporting arts organization) Cinefemme, who’s a sponsor, along with USM and our business sponsors, like Coffee By Design. In addition to the films, we’ve got Saturday workshops from crowdfunding platform Seed & Spark, one on fundraising and one on pitching. Also on Saturday, there’s a women director’s panel at (Maine College of Art’s) Osher Auditorium with some of the amazing directors from this year’s films.
Q: As ever, you’ve got films from all over the world. Has Bluestocking’s mission evolved at all in your eight years?
A: We got more than 100 submissions this year, which is not a huge amount, but a good amount. And, apart from a few that simply didn’t meet our submission guidelines – like, can you count? You don’t even have two women in your film! – our amazing judges had a particularly hard time selecting this year. There were a lot of really wonderful films, and we had to drop some great films off the list.
Unlike, say, 2011, we’re less concerned now with whether we’ll have enough quality films to show and can concentrate on films that we know the audience expects to see. At this point, people come with some expectation that they’ll see something they can’t see anywhere else, and we’re always thinking of that when we’re programming. We want to give them that show where they say, “Wow, that lineup of female protagonists really took me on a journey.” That’s my goal. So, to answer the question, I think I feel a little more confident now that this is going to be great. I hope I’m right. (Laughs.)
Q: As always, I’m interested in your assessment of how, if at all, the movie business has changed for women in the past year.
A: In the big world, nothing has changed. Me Too is a really good thing, but for every article you see, it’s just one small thing. The needle isn’t moving. That said, I think anybody who wants to be a filmmaker has that urge, and, if they do, they can find a community. Do it locally and then it will happen globally is the idea. Recently, I got invited to join a Maine female filmmakers Facebook group and thought, “What the hell? This is a lot of women. I need to meet them.” The hope is that the opportunities – and the money – will percolate up. For now, it’s enough to think that all of these women are moving here to Maine and making films themselves.
The eighth Bluestocking Film Series will be held on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4 at USM’s Talbot Auditorium on the Portland campus. Screenings begin at 7 p.m. each night. For tickets, descriptions, event times and more, check out the festival’s website, bluestockingfilms.com.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Thursday: “Deconstructing the Beatles: The Birth of the Beatles.” In this ongoing series, musicologist and Beatles expert Scott Freiman continues his mission to break down scientifically just what made the band so darn catchy.
Wednesday, Aug. 1: “Shaun of the Dead.” As part of their plan to make summer in Portland that much more delightful, SPACE Gallery and Bayside Bowl present a free rooftop showing of Edgar Wright’s 2004 horror-comedy classic. If there’s a perfect film in the world, it might be this one, people.