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5 Must-See Feminist Films From Women Directors at the Top of Their Games

From Dunye to Varda, Hammer to Mirré, New York Feminist Film Week offers up a crash course in essential feminist cinema.

Inspired by similar feminist film weeks in London and Berlin, the co-founders of Woman With a Movie Camera are bringing New York Feminist Film Week to the city’s Anthology Film Archives. Designed to illuminate cultural and cinematic approaches to feminism — intersectional, transnational and everything in between — the first annual NYFFW features a hearty slate of films directed by filmmakers both known and rising, but you don’t have to be in attendance to catch up on some of the most seminal screenings on their calendar.

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The inaugural NYFFW has divided its slate into a series of thoughtfully curated programs which tackle topics as wide-ranging as “Dismantling Islamophobia,” “Trans/Action” and “Bodies,” along with a special tribute to Barbara Hammer and an entire program dedicated to “feminist film genealogies.” Animation fans and those who are environmentally-minded will also find programs targeted to those interests, all told through a uniquely feminist lens. Many of the programs also include post-screening panels and roundtables, with talent appearing in person to discuss films and themes. You can check out their full lineup here.

Can’t make it to NYFFW or just eager to hit up the most essential offerings? Here are five must-see feminist films that promise to deliver.

“Black Is Blue,” Cheryl Dunye

“Black Is Blue”

Since seminal feminist filmmaker Cheryl Dunye broke out with her 1996 debut “The Watermelon Woman” (which recently received a very necessary restoration), the multi-hyphenate has continued to explore corners of feminism and sexuality often missing from the mutliplex. Her new short, “Black Is Blue,” is no certainly different. Appropriately screening at NYFWW as part of their “Bodies” program, the short stars transgender actor Kingston Faraday as the eponymous Black (formerly known as Blue), a trans man attempting to carve out a fresh existence in Oakland. That desire is thrown for a serious loop when Black, now working as a security guard, discovers a “stud party” taking place in one of his buildings. Forced to grapple with the intersection of his past and present in a very unexpected location, Black must find a way to still embrace Blue. Dunye is currently developing a feature-length version of the short — also starring Faraday — which is expected to start shooting this summer.

“Nitrate Kisses,” Barbara Hammer

“Nitrate Kisses”

Given NYFWW’s interest in creating bonds and links between feminist work of the past and future, it’s no surprise that Hammer’s work takes center stage in not one, but two different NYFWW programs. As part of their Feminist Film Genealogies slate, Hammer’s 2011 short “Maya Deren’s Sink” will screen, appropriately following a screening of Deren’s own “At Land.” The next day, all eyes will be on Hammer for the Homage to Barbara Hammer series, featuring not just Hammer’s work, but also that of her mentee Joey (formerly known as Gina) Carducci, including films they’ve made together. It’s a crash course in all things Hammer, but it’s hard to argue with the essential value of her 1992 film “Nitrate Kisses,” a characteristically bold and imaginative blend of the personal and the political. Inventively structured around four different gay couples — mostly in various stages of lovemaking — the film also weaves in historical elements that address LGBTQ life through a number of lenses. From life in under the Third Reich to the life (and letters) of Willa Cather, “Nitrate Kisses” uses deeply personal stories to share a startling full look at lesbian life over the decades. Artfully put together and achingly real, it’s Hammer’s best film.

“L’opera-mouffe,” Agnès Varda

“L’opera-mouffe”

At age 88, the indomitable and highly influential Varda shows zero sign of slowing down when it comes to churning out art told through continually experimental means (she’s also remained committed to supporting her work in person, recently popping up at the French Institute Alliance Française for a career-spanning chat, along with contributing a brand new exhibit to this year’s Rendezvous With French Cinema series; we should all be so lucky to be as vital and involved when we’re half Varda’s age). Varda’s contributions to cinema and feminism form the centerpiece of NYFFW’s Feminist Film Genealogies programs, where her “L’opera-mouffe” screens as an important link between early visual diaries and current documentaries. The 1958 short (also known as “Diary of a Pregnant Woman”) examines working-class life in Paris through a then-pregnant Varda’s eyes. Long considered to be prime example of early French New Wave, thanks to the canny meddling of documentary and narrative styles, along with a compulsion to capture life as it is, the short quickly established Varda’s unique vision and way ahead-of-the-curve ambition.

“Rosemary’s Street,” Constanza Mirré

“Rosemary’s Street”

Varda’s short leads directly into Mirré’s 2013 short, which turns its attention to the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, chronicling the lives of a Dominican community on the edge of the rapidly gentrifying borough. As part of UnionDocs’ Living Los Sures project, the film is a compelling entry into the film collective’s ever-growing series of films that chronicle certain pockets of Brooklyn in intimate and educational ways. Mirré is still a rising name in the doc world — her credits also include still photography and indie producing — but “Rosemary’s Street” makes her chops pretty clear to lovers of feminist-leaning documentary cinema. And those Varda influences? They’re easy to see, all translated into a modern environment with contemporary touches. While it’s way to soon to declare Mirré the next Varda, “Rosemary’s Street” seems like the exact sort of first film that will prove to be essential in the decades to come. Catch it early.

“Rocks in My Pockets,” Signe Baumane

“Rocks in My Pockets”

Latvian animator Baumane has often used her own experiences to serve as the bones of her amusingly made films, and there’s perhaps no better example of that marriage than the 2013 short “Rocks in My Pockets.” Baumane’s film uses her signature animation style to tell the story of not just her depression, but the emotional and psychological stories of four other women in her family. Through tongue-in-cheek humor and a firm grasp on the stakes at hand, Baumane explores whether or not she’s destined for the fate that wounded so many (female) members of her family. At turns very funny and deeply sad, Baumane’s fearless storytelling has always been obvious (her “Birth,” also screening as part of NYFFW, addresses similar concepts in this style), but “Rocks” finds new weight within them. You’ve never laughed so hard at something so, so heartbreaking.

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New York Feminist Film Week runs March 7 – 12 at the Anthology Film Archives. You can find out more information about the event right here.

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