Connecting with Women’s Stories Through Lunafest

Betty-Anne Heggie

bettyann.pngIn the small Saskatchewan town where I grew up my highlight was attending movies at our local theatre each weekend. I remember standing in front of the Hollywood posters not only excited about the show I was about to see but also eagerly anticipating those that were to come. It didn’t matter to me that the movies were at least a full two years behind those that were being shown in the city of Regina, only 60 miles away. That love of different people’s stories from around the world cemented my commitment to film and I have maintained that appreciation to this day. I have also come to recognize that the stories we tell help us make sense of our world. Movies are a shared experience that transform us and create our culture so they play an important role in our society.

This inherent love made it an easy sell when one of our Womentorship members approached me in 2011 to say that she had access to the film ‘Miss Representation’ that could be shown to our group. It was a documentary about women’s portrayal in the media and how that creates gender stereotypes. We considered having a film night at a U of S conference room but the number of women who wanted to attend quickly grew large enough for us to rent the Broadway Theatre.

There was a huge blizzard the night of our screening and many hockey games were cancelled around the city, yet we still filled all the seats. Following the film we had a panel discussion, and the jubilant women left the theatre totally energized. There is nothing like seeing those who look and talk like you on the silver screen -it is very validating (and unfortunately for women not that common). On their way out a few said, “Can we make this an annual event?” and in my euphoria I quickly agreed.

Then the hard work began- I was looking for a film that represented women’s issues- that was as compelling as the one we had screened and couldn’t find anything that measured up. After a few false starts where I ordered and watched disappointing DVD’s I started getting concerned. I knew there was a serious shortage of films made by and for women but the lack of product available was really driving home the point. By Dec 26 I knew I had to get serious…I had committed a film night to celebrate International Women’s Day the beginning of March so it was time to dig in and find something. That was when my search turned up Lunafest women’s film festival comprised of short films made by women from all over the world. After checking a few very positive references, we ordered the package sight unseen, booked the theatre, and set up our panel. At the time, there were only three Lunafest showings in Canada and we were the only one west of Hamilton, Ontario.

We had no trouble selling it out - it was rewarding to not only see multi-generational women together in the audience but also to see fathers bringing daughters. Attendees watched films about a Maori woman finding her confidence after discovering her husband unfaithful; a couple of young Romanian gymnasts who were struggling with friendship whilst being competitors; a woman from Mexico who opened a taco stand with her daughter and a woman who finally came to terms with her large nose only to date a plastic surgeon and wonder if he always wanted to fix her.

All this variety made great gist for our panel discussion afterwards. I’ll always remember a politician who shared that she developed Bell's Palsy just as she was to begin door-knocking for her campaign. Her frozen facial muscles made it impossible to smile and unfortunately she knew that women need to smile to be considered likeable. Not a woman stirred in the theatre with this brave admission of vulnerability. Each considered the pressure they feel to smile and look pretty, and this was only one of the many ‘Aha’ moments that evening.

That was 2012 and we have been enjoying Lunafest ever since. This year, on the 10th anniversary of our women’s film festival we will be seeing the films virtually, from our own homes.  While we won’t be able to network in person, we can still connect by using technology as we celebrate women's stories. Movies are a powerful medium and women need to see their stories through their own lens. Currently, 70 percent of our movies are made by men, and women only have 35 percent of the speaking parts. Women filmmakers often have trouble raising the funds to finance feature length films so Lunafest provides the occasion to view a collection of short films with women both behind and in front of the camera. 

All proceeds from our evening’s admission will be directed to tuition fees for protégés from the non-profit sector to attend the Betty-Ann Heggie Womentorship Program at the Edwards School of Business. Film connects women, their stories, and their causes through film. We have found that Lunafest compels discussion, makes us laugh, tugs at our heartstrings, and motivates us to make a difference in our communities.

Be sure to share Lunafest with us this year on March 10- be united by a common thread of exceptional storytelling and the experience of being a multi-faceted woman in today’s world.

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