For the second year in a row, the Nevada Women’s Film Festival was held online, and festival organizers once again rose to the challenge by putting together an impressive program of films for attendees to watch at home. This year the festival was able to hold one in-person mixer, and the hope is for a full in-person return next year. In the meantime, though, there are plenty of advantages to the virtual experience, including the chance to pick and choose individual short films from various programs, to create your own curated version of the festival.
I did that by making sure to catch all of the Nevada-based short films sprinkled throughout the NWFFest programs, and my favorite among those was the goofy comedy “Genie-ous,” from director Jay Hoffman. In a festival full of serious movies that often take on important social issues, “Genie-ous” is a bit of a lark, featuring two friends who discover a magic lamp at a garage sale and summon a surprisingly horny genie. Stars Tina Wallace Carter and Mariam Chirino have lively chemistry as the two friends, and Hoffman fills the movie with amusing background details, although it ends sort of randomly and abruptly.
Among the non-local short films that I particularly enjoyed, there was some appealing humor in both Jaclyn Vogl’s “Savage Breakup” and Bonnie Ryan’s “GraceLand,” along with some serious emotion. “Savage Breakup” is more lighthearted, with a simple premise about a woman confronting the third party in her boyfriend’s infidelity, via a popular call-in advice podcast. It builds to an obvious yet satisfying punchline. “GraceLand” is a bit longer and more complex, although it retains a sense of humor in its story of a kid who identifies as Elvis Presley, to the confusion and frustration of a mother (Anna Camp) who thought she was raising a little girl. It’s partially about trans identity, and partially about parents letting their kids pursue odd interests, even if they seems to invite mockery.
More serious but still elegant and engaging were the French drama “Christine” and the Israeli drama “Fight Back.” Both take on difficult situations for women, but they keep the focus on the characters and their emotions, never getting heavy-handed with their messages. In “Christine,” a woman summons the courage to leave her abusive husband, and directors Katherine Harold and Celtill Jalaber depict both the abuse and the escape with subtlety and grace, leading up to a minimalist but impactful final shot. Loren Trabelsi’s “Fight Back” is a little blunter, positioning its main character as the only woman training in a gym full of male kickboxers. Still, the micro-aggressions and condescending treatment are woven into a story about finding inner strength to back up more obvious outer toughness.
Then there was “I’ve Been Afraid” from cult experimental filmmaker Cecelia Condit (“Possibly in Michigan”). A mix of music video, spoken word poetry, animation and abstract imagery, “I’ve Been Afraid” is strange but mesmerizing. I’m not sure I entirely understood Condit’s message, but I was riveted for seven minutes of unexpected, haunting juxtapositions of the cute and the disturbing.
The handful of narrative features in the festival included the Las Vegas production “Take Out Girl,” from local director Hisonni Johnson, which has been a sensation on the festival circuit over the past year or so (including at the most recent Las Vegas Black Film Festival). Set in LA but shot almost entirely in Las Vegas (with primarily local cast and crew), “Take Out Girl” is inspired in part by the life of star and co-writer Hedy Wong. Wong plays a young woman who starts delivering drugs out of her family’s Chinese restaurant in order to make extra money. Johnson and Wong mix a thriller story with a portrayal of a struggling immigrant family, and that combination has brought them plenty of attention that should translate into future projects.
My favorite narrative feature was the Ukrainian film “Mother of Apostles,” starring Natalka Polovynka as a woman who travels to the frontlines of a war between the government and separatists, determined to find her pilot son after his plane is shot down. It’s a complex portrayal of a conflict that most Americans know very little about, and also a touching story of the strength of a mother’s love, which sometimes goes beyond reason and self-preservation for the sake of a child (even after that child is an adult). The acting is excellent, especially from Polovynka in a difficult lead role. The movie deservedly won the festival’s award for best feature film, and it’s an example of the kind of challenging art that film festivals continue to bring to Las Vegas, whether online or in person.