CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival gears up for its fourth year

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CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival is returning April 16 to 19 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S.

The Bellingham festival debuted in 2017 to give a platform to women, who are underrepresented in the film industry, by showcasing films produced by women, along with events like panel discussions and script readings with directors and actors.

It is only one of a few women’s film festivals in the world, said Cheryl Crooks, the executive director of the festival.

This year’s feature is Iron Jawed Angels, an award-winning HBO movie from 2004 chronicling the work of Alice Paul and other women activists leading to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. The festival departed from its tradition of honoring one woman for her recent contribution to film, instead featuring an older film that encapsulates the festival’s 2020 theme of women’s suffrage.

Iron Jawed Angels is slated to be the centerpiece of the festival’s annual gala on Friday, April 17 at Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham. The gala will sell one hundred tickets for $100 per ticket as a fundraiser for the festival. The film’s director, Katja von Garnier, is traveling from Germany to attend the event, and the film’s cinematographer, Robbie Greenberg, who lives in Bellingham, will also be in attendance.

Crooks said she can’t yet confirm what actors will attend the gala, but the cast of Iron Jawed Angels includes award-winning actors like Hilary Swank, Frances O’Connor and Anjelica Huston. A free screening of the movie will be held in the 1,509-seat Main Stage after the gala in the adjacent Walton Theatre.

CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival shows films each year at the Mount Baker Theatre, Pickford Film Center and Western Washington University.

In celebration of the centennial for women’s suffrage, the festival will pair up with the Bellingham/Whatcom County chapter of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization formed in 1920 to encourage the participation of women in government. Crooks said she also hopes to invite Washington state officials to talk about the state’s legacy regarding women’s suffrage. Washington was the fifth state to allow women the right to vote, 10 years prior to the Constitutional amendment. These events are still being planned, but more information will appear on the festival’s website (cascadiafilmfest.org) once confirmed.

Festivalgoers will be able to purchase a pack of six tickets for six films to be reserved in advance, which can include the feature film gala. The festival is still finalizing what movies will be shown, but Crooks said there will be at least two documentaries and three Indigenous films.

“One of our goals as a women’s film festival is to show underrepresented viewpoints on a platform that Hollywood doesn’t represent,” said Tara Nelson, the communications coordinator for the film festival.

A 20-to-1 ratio of male to female directors was found in the top 1,300 movies between 2007 and 2019, according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. That means 4.8 percent of the directors were female over 13 years.

Jules Koostachin, a four-year veteran of the festival and a member of the Attawapiskat First Nation, will have her film OshKiKiShiKaw: A New Day featured in the Indigenous film series. The 2019 film follows 12-year-old twins Tapwewin (“Truth”) and Pawaken (“Totem”) as they embark on a sacred Cree ceremony to cut their hair for the first time. The coming-of-age ceremony takes place in the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario where the boys’ hair, considered a sacred connection to Earth, is cut as they transition away from childhood.

“For me, it’s creating dialogue about reconciliation – how we can respect the diversity that exists in our communities and respecting the different cultural practices,” Koostachin said.

Koostachin said the professionalism of the festival makes her come back every year. A lot of big festivals are easy to get lost in, Koostachin said, but the CASCADIA staff prioritize spending time with filmmakers and helping them network.

Crooks said her favorite part of the festival is watching directors receive recognition for their work and build friendships among themselves that outlast the multi-day festival. “This is more than just showing movies,” Crooks said.

Four short film scripts submitted in January are now in the final rounds of being selected to be read aloud by actors and industry professionals on Sunday, April 19. Reading scripts aloud allows the audience to learn about the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking, while giving writers a chance to receive critical feedback before they start shooting their films. The festival received four times the number of scripts compared to last year. Crooks attributed this, in part, to the growing recognition of the festival in cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“The quality of the short films is a notch above last year’s,” Crooks said. Thirty-six short films from 12 countries including Iran, Finland and Greece were submitted this year.

The festival gives Whatcom County residents unique access to directors from across the world who are excited to talk about their films with audiences, Crooks said. The festival has grown over the past few years, as more people have become aware of the festival and how it supports the local economy, Crooks said.

More information about the CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival is available online at cascadiafilmfest.org.

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