Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Women's Studies Film Festival at Viterbo University

Viterbo University, located in La Crosse, Wisconsin, will be holding a Women's Studies Film Festival March 30th - April 20th. The descirptions of the films come from the press release:

Mai’s America
Showing in two parts: Wednesday, March 30, and Friday, April 1 at 11–11:50 a.m. in MRC 500
Thursday, March 31: 4:30–5:50 p.m. in MRC 444
Tuesday, April 12: 11 a.m.–12:20 p.m. in RCE 127 and at 12:30–1:50 p.m. in RCE 127

Mai’s America is an intimate portrait of Mai—a spunky, mini-skirted daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s revolution. Fueled by the opportunity for abetter education and enticed by MTV inspired visions of America, Mai travels to the U.S. for her senior year of high school. Nothing in her wildest imagination prepares Mai for her
crash landing in rural Mississippi where her relationships with white Pentecostal and black Baptist host-families, self-proclaimed rednecks, transvestites, and South Vietnamese immigrants challenge her long-held ideas about America, about herself, about freedom, and even about Vietnam.

The Codes of Gender
Tuesday, April 5: 10–11:50 a.m. in RC 233, 1–2:50 p.m. in RC 233, 3–4:50 p.m. in RC 233
Wednesday, April 20: 3:10–4:30 p.m. in MRC 500

Written and directed by MEF Executive Director Sut Jhally, The Codes of Gender applies the late sociologist Erving Goffman’s groundbreaking analysis of advertising to the contemporary commercial landscape, showing how one of American popular culture’s most influential forms communicates normative ideas about masculinity and femininity.

Women of Faith
Thursday, April 7: 12:30–1:50 p.m. in FAC 204B

Individual interviews with seven women explore how rebellion can happen within and outside the Church,
how women in the Church reconcile conflicting religious, personal, and political beliefs, and how
they view official Church positions on contraception, homosexuality, and women’s ordination as priests.
Both timely and insightful, the film provides a rare look at their experiences and current controversies
over tradition, change, and power within the Catholic Church.

I Was a Teenage Feminist
Thursday, April 14: 7–9:30 p.m. in RCE 127
Why is it that some young, independent, progressive women in today’s society feel uncomfortable
identifying with the F-word? Join filmmaker Therese Shechter as she takes a funny, moving, and very
personal journey into the heart of feminism. Armed with a video camera and an irreverent sense of humor,
Shechter talks with feminist superstars, rowdy frat boys, liberated Cosmo girls, and Radical Cheerleaders,
all in her quest to find out whether feminism can still be a source of personal and political power.

Angel in the Village
Showing in two parts Monday, April 18 and Wednesday, April 20: 11–11:50 a.m. in MRC 436

Angel in the Village follows the Chinese-born, Philadelphia-based artist, Lily Yeh, as she works
to create social change through art in distressed urban environments. Her primary canvas is the
Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia, an organization that builds community through
innovative arts-based programs in education, land transformation, and economic development.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT: 'Lake of Fire' Screening at Winona State University

Sounds of Cinema is sponsoring a public screening of the documentary film Lake of Fire on the Winona State University Campus on April 5th at 7pm in the Somsen Auditorium.

Called "an enormous act of social conscience" by Time Out New York, "a significant piece of journalism" by Film Journal International, and "the most prismatic film ever made on the subject" by The A.V. Club, Lake of Fire is a sweeping exploration of the abortion debate. The film includes interviews with such diverse voices as political commentators Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, bioethicist Peter Singer, Roe v. Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey, columnist Nat Hentoff, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, law professor Douglas Kmiec, and attorney Sarah Weddington. Rather than appealing to one side of the issue or the other, the film is a caricature of the abortion debate itself, exploring the vicissitudes of a difficult topic. In the process, Lake of Fire forces its way past familiar and deep-rooted talking points and connects the abortion debate to broader issues such as our regard for the value of human life, conceptions of individual freedom and communal good, the way religious rhetoric impacts discourse, and the appeal of mass movements. By the end, Lake of Fire not only characterizes the abortion debate but also provides a look into what the debate reveals about who we are as a people.

The film is not rated but it does contains footage of a graphic nature. Viewer discretion is advised. Click here for further information about the film.

Friday, March 18, 2011

GLBTA Film Series at Winona State University

Winona State University will be hosting a Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender-Ally film series from March 21 - 31. All events are free and open to the public. The following descriptions of the films come from the press release.

March 21st: Itty Bitty Titty Committee
When: 7:00 PM (87 minutes)
Where: Somsen Auditorium
This latest fabulous movie from Jamie (But I’m a Cheerleader) Babbit is a dynamic, romantic, frequently funny and politically astute movie with a smart script, rocking soundtrack and terrific ensemble cast that includes sexy young Melonie Diaz as the new dyke on the block who falls in with a great gang of Feminist troublemakers called Clits in Action (CiA), and then falls in love with leader of the pack, Nicole Vicius. Unfortunately, Nicole has a girlfriend Melanie Mayron and, as they say, drama ensues.

March 22nd: It Doesn't Define Us
When: 7:00 PM (80 minutes)
Where: Science Lab 120
It Doesn't Define Us is a feature length documentary about gay rights and many of the issues the GLBT community is facing not only in the state of Minnesota but also nationwide. The film introduces same-sex couples who decide to start a family, discusses coming out of the closet, looks into the politics working both for and against the GLBT community, and also touches on media portrayals. Over a year and a half, filmmakers Bruce Meyers and Gordy Severson conducted over 40 interviews featuring FOX 9's Robyne Robinson, KARE-11's Jana Shortal, Minnesota State Senator Scott Dibble and well-known gay activist Mandy Carter. Co-Director Gordon Severson will introduce the film and answer questions at the end.

March 24th: Brother to Brother
When: 7:00 PM
Where: Science Lab 120
Brother to Brother is the story of Perry, a young black artist kicked out of his family home for being gay. Trapped between the worlds of the black community and the gay community, Perry searches for a connection in the real world and embarks on a literal and metaphorical journey to the creative center for the younger, rebellious generation of the Harlem Renaissance. Brother to Brother is a moving testimony to the transformative powers of history, art and storytelling.

March 25th: Out in the Silence
When 7:00 PM (56 minutes)
Where: Science Lab 120
Following the story of a small American town confronting a firestorm of controversy ignited by a same-sex wedding announcement in the local newspaper, this gripping documentary illustrates the challenges of being an outsider in a conservative rural community and the change that is possible when courageous people break the silence and search for common ground.

March 26th: Beautiful Boxer
When: 7:00 PM (118 minutes)
Where: Science Lab 120
Based on the true story of Thailand's famed transgender kickboxer, Beautiful Boxer is a poignant action drama that punches straight into the heart and mind of a boy who fights like a man so he can become a woman. Believing he's a girl trapped in a boy's body since childhood, Parinya Charoenphol (affectionately known as Nong Toom in Thailand) sets out to master the most masculine and lethal sport of Muay Thai (Thai boxing) to earn a living and to achieve his ultimate goal of total femininity.

March 28th: Forever's Gonna Start Tonight
When: 7:50 PM (54 minutes)
Where: Stark Hall 103
Forever's Gonna Start Tonight tells the astounding life story of San Francisco living legend Vicki Marlane, still strutting it onstage at 75. Vicki takes us on the ride of her life — from cross-dressed rollerskating in her youth to working the carnival sideshows circuit in the 1950s, from the wild years of San Francisco in the 1970s, to survival in the 1980s and her legendary performances at Aunt Charlie's, where she continues to perform today.

March 29th: Bi the Way
When: 7:00 PM (85 minutes)
Where: Somsen Auditorium
The iron curtain between gay and straight is crumbling. The Bible belt is being unbuckled. Recent studies suggest that bisexuality is drastically more widespread than we ever thought. And for young people, dating a girl one week and a guy the next is no big deal. Journeying through the changing sexual landscape of America, the directors of Bi the Way investigate the latest scientific reports and social opinions on bisexuality, while following five members of the emerging “whatever” generation—teens and twenty-somethings who seem to be ushering in a whole new sexual revolution.

March 30th: Boy I am
When: 7:00 PM (72 minutes)
Where: Stark Hall 103
While female-to-male transgender visibility has recently exploded in this country, conversations about trans issues in the lesbian community often run into resistance from the many queer women who view transitioning as a "trend" or as an anti-feminist act that taps into male privilege. Boy I Am is a feature-length documentary that begins to break down that barrier and promote dialogue about trans issues through a look at the experiences of three young transitioning FTMs in New York City—Nicco, Norie and Keegan—as they go through major junctures in their transitions, as well as through the voices of lesbians, activists and theorists who raise and address the questions that many people have but few openly discuss.

March 31st: Two Spirits
When: 7:00 PM (60 minutes)
Where: Somsen Auditorium
Two Spirits interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders. Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. But the place where two discriminations meet is a dangerous place to live, and Fred became one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at sixteen. Between tradition and controversy, sex and spirit, and freedom and fear, lives the truth—the bravest choice you can make is to be yourself. A brief reception will be held following the final film screening.

The film series is curated by Dr. Andrea Wood of the WSU English Department and is sponsored by the WSU Foundation, Office of Inclusion and Diversity, GLBTA Faculty Committee, English Department, Women's and Gender Studies, Mass Communications Department, History Department, Social Work, and GLBTA Partnership. Any questions about these events can be sent to Dr. Wood at

Thursday, March 17, 2011

'Bag It' at Winona State

The Winona State University chemistry and environmental clubs are sponsoring a showing of the documentary Bag It at 7 p.m. Friday, March 18th, in Science Laboratory Center 120. The hour-long film addresses the use of disposable plastics and the effects on the community and environment. The screening is free and open to the public.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Commentary on the Academy Awards 2011

As many of you are probably aware, this year’s Academy Awards ceremony was held last week. Regular listeners of this show are familiar with my take on the Oscars, as well as the whole Hollywood awards circuit. In the past I’ve gone to great lengths to criticize the show and its choices. To summarize, I’ve argued that Hollywood’s award circuit is largely a sham. The awards are distributed on a political and capricious basis and the televised ceremonies are little more than three hour commercials for the products of media corporations, masquerading as art appreciation.

I’ve said most of this on the air before and my previous rants on the subject can be found on the website for this show, so I don’t feel compelled to reiterate my complaints in full. Generally I’ve ignored the Oscars altogether, since there is plenty of coverage in the mainstream press and predications of the winners aren’t based on anything other than an educated guess.

However, I’ve had a softening of my opinion about the awards. Most of my criticisms still stand, but looking at the bigger picture there is a way in which these awards actually benefit audiences and even aid filmmakers.

Like most things it life, it comes down to money. The marketing model that has overtaken Hollywood production and distribution over the past three decades puts the emphasis on large event films that are expected to make, at minimum, $150 million in their domestic theatrical run. Ironically, most of the films that are the biggest box office draws are also the costliest to make, and so the profit margins are comparable to lower budgeted films. The highest grossing film of 2010 was Toy Story 3, which made $415 million but cost $200 million to produce. Another animated film, Tangled, was the tenth highest grossing film of the past year with $194 million at the box office but it cost $260 million, making it a net loss. But nevertheless, Hollywood’s behavior seems to be dominated by a belief that bigger is better.

Another important part of Hollywood’s economic model is the emphasis on opening weekends. This is something that has developed over the past decade and it has become a significant impediment to film distribution. As filmmaker Kevin Smith recently noted, the entire judgment of a film’s success or failure is based on its first three days of release. If a film does not premiere at number one on its opening weekend and make a spectacular debut, it is quickly pulled from theaters. There is no room for a film to cultivate an audience based on word of mouth. This is especially true in middle-America where theater space is at a premium. As a result, studios are spending huge amounts of money on advertizing costs, sometimes more than the production cost of the films.

This obsession with opening weekends combined with a bigger-is-better mentality has resulted in an industry that is cannibalizing itself with remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, spinoffs, and rip-offs, making bigger and louder versions of classic movies or remixing franchises that have run their course. It has also created a marketplace in which small films have no chance to compete, at least not in theaters.

This is where the Oscars come in. The best picture winners the past few years, such as The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, and Slumdog Millionaire, and some of the nominees in that category such as Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, Precious, An Education, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Milk, do not fit into the blockbuster standard by which many studio films are now green lit. They’re not special effects driven, they are not derived from a toy line, and they don’t fit into neat genre categories.

But these films don’t tend to do huge business either. In theatrical release, The Kids Are All Right made $20 million, The Hurt Locker made $17 million, and Winter’s Bone only made $6 million. All these films were profitable, at least in comparing theatrical gross to production costs, but they are nowhere near the $300 million box office of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse or the $400 million take of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Hollywood studios need an incentive to make films that are not going to earn hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s important to remember that it’s called show business for a reason. And the Oscars can be that incentive. Films generally receive an economic bump from a nomination and so audiences that might not otherwise have heard of these films have a better chance of seeing them. And there is also an image and morale incentive, as studios earn bragging rights for creating award winning pictures and thereby attract talented actors, producers and directors who want to make those kinds of films.

I’m not letting the Oscars off the hook. Not by a long shot. Nominations are a valuable commodity and the films that get recognized tend to appeal to a lowest common denominator of Academy groupthink. There is a resistance to films that are politically or aesthetically challenging and minority filmmakers and performers are sorely underrepresented. That’s to say nothing of the televised ceremony, which is a nauseating display of wealthy and beautiful people congratulating themselves on being wealthy and beautiful.

The Academy Awards are a part of the culture and a fixture of Hollywood. It’s not going away. As problematic and flawed as the awards are, there is a silver lining. In the current media environment where ownership has been consolidated and the means of production are controlled not by artists but by corporations, these awards not only highlight some of the bright spots of Hollywood’s output each year but actually ensure their existence.