The Bluestocking Film Series, back for its seventh season Saturday at the University of Southern Maine’s Talbot Auditorium, champions what’s perpetually been Hollywood’s rarest element: the complex female protagonist.
Founded in 2011 by Portland filmmaker, educator and Bluestocking artistic director Kate Kaminski, the festival sends out a call each year for the best short films from around the world. All are welcome to submit — as long as their film passes the Bechdel Test.
As most know by now, the Bechdel Test (coined by cartoonist Alison Bechdel) sets an exceptionally low bar for a film to clear. Still, when you think about your favorite movies, it’s a shock how many can’t go even that far in treating its female characters as equal participants. What’s this set of stringent guidelines, you ask?
A movie must have more than one female character. The female characters must have names. The female characters have to speak to each other — for essentially any length of time — about something other than a man.
As a lot of (usually male) critics of the Bechdel Test miss the point, deliberately or otherwise, the test isn’t saying that movies that flunk are bad movies. (I mean, “Twelve Angry Men” is pretty great, right?) The Bechdel Test is more a tool to make you aware of the historically imbalanced opportunities women have had, both in front of and behind the camera.
Not that the complex female protagonists featured in the eight short films that make up this year’s Bluestocking are all women you’d want to hang out with. “All the characters on this year’s roster really present all kinds of possibilities to the audience for understanding how we operate in the world as females,” said Kaminski, who, along with Betsy Carson, runs Maine-based Gitgo Productions (gitgoproductions.weebly.com) when she’s not masterminding the annual Bluestocking series. “After seven years, that’s one of the reasons I keep doing it. I want to see that on screen, and if I don’t bring it, I won’t get to see it.”
Bluestocking, which Kaminski cites as the only women’s film event in Maine, has cemented its place in the always-evolving Maine festival scene — even if, like most festivals, the obstacles are always there. “I’ll do it as long as there’s breath in my body,” laughed Kaminski, citing the constant difficulty of securing funding, grants and venues.
As testament to her dedication, Kaminski turned a possible disaster for Bluestocking into expanded reach and opportunity, when she teamed up this season with the nonprofit women’s film organization Cinefemme (cinefemme.net) after a previous sponsor moved on. Looking at the possibilities afforded by the California-based Cinefemme, Kaminski took this year’s Bluestocking all the way to Los Angeles for a sold-out screening at the legendary Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood back in June.
“It was a blast!” Kaminski said. “We had a great audience, with a lot of filmmakers in attendance, which made for a lot of great discussions at the after-party.”
As part of the Hollywood trip, Bluestocking was able to present its first-ever “Best Gender Swap” award to acclaimed director Paul Feig for his work on last year’s all-women “Ghostbusters” reboot. “Since Paul is an advisory member of Cinefemme, we had the idea to give him an award,” Kaminski said. “I loved that gender swap in ‘Ghostbusters’ and thought it was a lot of fun. In my own, small way, I wanted to encourage and acknowledge that.”
As for this year’s Bluestocking films, Kaminski is loath to pick any favorites out of the eight movies, although she does single out returning Bluestocking filmmakers Daina Pusic (“Rhonna and Donna”) and Chell Stephen (“Shauna Is a Liar”) as testament to the festival’s enduring attraction for female directors. “One thing we do well is make space for filmmakers,” said Kaminski. “We’re filmmakers, and we’re always excited to create this space for other filmmakers to return.”
So, for a typically entertaining, challenging night of strikingly different, female-centric cinema, head over to USM’s Talbot Auditorium at Luther Bonney Hall in Portland on Saturday. The screening starts at 7 p.m., tickets are free and, Kaminski promises, this year’s eight shorts “live up to our reputation for bringing the edge,” she said. For more details, as well as coming information about future screenings around the state, check out the Bluestocking Film Series site at bluestockingfilms.com.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Starting Friday: “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” Hey, remember how Al Gore warned us about climate change 10 years ago? Well, here’s the sequel to his first documentary on the subject, where he shows how right he was about our disastrous effects on the environment without just yelling, “I told you so!” for 90 minutes.
Wednesday, Aug. 9: “Get Out.” Funnyman-turned-horror master Jordan Peele wrote and directed this outstanding “social horror” film about a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) whose visit to his white girlfriend’s seemingly liberal, wealthy parents goes far beyond awkward dinner table conversation. Part of the Bayside Bowl Summer Rooftop Film Series.