The Nevada Women’s Film Festival runs June 22-28
Although the originally scheduled 2020 Nevada Women’s Film Festival was postponed thanks to the coronavirus shut down just days before it was set to begin at UNLV in March, the sixth annual event has shifted to an online edition, with all of its programming now available via nwffest.com. Individual feature films and shorts programs can be viewed anytime between now and June 28, and Q&A sessions with filmmakers will be streaming live June 25-28. I had the chance to preview about three-quarters of the line-up, and below are my picks for the best movies to stream during the festival.
“Ingenue” (Shorts Program 2, Q&A June 25, 6 p.m.)
Probably my favorite short of the ones I watched is this well-acted, surprisingly spooky horror film about an aspiring actress who moves into a Hollywood apartment haunted by the spirit of a long-dead starlet. It’s a basic and fairly predictable premise that’s effectively executed, with a strong lead performance from Nell Nakkan and some genuinely scary images.
“Empty by Design” (Interview and Q&A June 26, 7 p.m.)
UNLV film school graduate Andrea A. Walter will be receiving the festival’s Nevada Woman Filmmaker of the Year award and discussing her debut feature film, a low-key dramedy about two former classmates (played by Rhian Ramos and Osric Chau) who reconnect when they both return home to Manila in the Philippines. With echoes of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy and Kogonada’s “Columbus,” “Empty by Design” is a bittersweet story about feeling like an outsider in a place that was once completely familiar. It’s a confident and promising debut from a filmmaker with a unique perspective.
“Always Remember Me” (Shorts Program 4, Q&A June 26, 8:30 p.m.) and “Pappy Hour” (Shorts Program 9, Q&A June 27, 7 p.m.)
Director Nell Teare has two similarly quirky shorts in this year’s festival, both focused on family dysfunction and denial, with entertaining performances and unexpected sources of humor. In “Always Remember Me,” a family holds a birthday party for a doll that represents a daughter who died long ago, and what starts out as an absurd ritual gains surprising poignancy. The more comedic “Pappy Hour” features squabbling family members at a patriarch’s funeral, with characters who use jokes to deflect genuine pain. Both shorts are clever explorations of the ways that people deal with emotional trauma.
“Knocking Down the Fences” (Shorts Program 6, Q&A June 27, 12 p.m.);
“Blink of an Eye: Photographer Mary Schroeder” (Shorts Program 8, Q&A June 27, 6 p.m.);
“Let the Blonde Sing” (Shorts Program 11, Q&A June 28, 4 p.m.)
These three documentary shorts are all insightful, well-crafted portraits of fascinating women who’ve carved out places for themselves in mostly male-dominated realms. “Knocking Down the Fences” profiles professional softball player AJ Andrews, the first woman to win a Rawlings Golden Glove award, offering a microcosm of the unequal playing field for women in professional sports. “Blink of an Eye” looks back at the career of photographer Mary Schroeder, who spent decades photographing sporting events, pioneering the presence of women journalists in sports. And “Let the Blonde Sing” travels to a remote town in Alaska where onetime touring musician Beverly Sue Waltz now performs for a handful of patrons on the karaoke stage at the only bar open all year.
“The Mustang” (Interview and Q&A June 27, 1 p.m.)
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre will be presented with the festival’s Vanguard Award for this Sundance-awarded drama about a convict played by Matthias Schoenaerts who finds new purpose in life via a prison program for training wild horses. The slow, contemplative drama was shot entirely in Northern Nevada, and the French filmmaker employed numerous local crew to help bring it to life. It can be a bit flat as a narrative, but it’s a great showcase for Nevada on film. The director will join Heather Addison, the chair of UNLV’s film department, to talk about her career and her work on “The Mustang.”
“Possibilities” (Shorts Program 8, Q&A June 27, 6 p.m.) and “Insanity” (Shorts Program 11, Q&A June 28, 4 p.m.)
Among the Nevada shorts programmed throughout the festival, these two were the strongest I watched, a couple of very different pieces from Vegas-based filmmakers. “Possibilities,” from writing and directing duo Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon, is a funny, self-aware story about a man searching for connection after the death of his beloved dog. “Insanity,” from Jemsen Yumico Bollozos (who also co-directed the NWFFest documentary short “I Exist”), is a brief experimental piece combining classical music, dance, and stylized violence in a striking, visually inventive fashion.
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” (Q&A June 28, 1:30 p.m.)
This Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short explores the combination school and skate park Skateistan in Kabul, Afghanistan, where young girls from poor families learn reading, writing, and math, and also learn how to skateboard. Director Carol Dysinger combines some whimsical title cards and lighthearted footage of skateboarding wipeouts with a serious examination of poverty, violence, and gender inequality in the war-torn country. It’s more than just a news report, bringing a distinctive and personalized touch to covering a region that is too often reduced to a political talking point.
The Nevada Women’s Film Festival runs June 22-28 at nwffest.com. Tickets are $7.50 per screening or $20 for a festival pass.