Women’s film festival offers unique screenings of diverse films


It’s not too late to buy tickets for a Bellingham-based film festival that showcases movies made by female directors.

Next month, the Cascadia International Women’s Film Festival returns to Bellingham for its seventh year. The festival’s program includes 31 short films and six feature films created by women filmmakers from 15 countries. There will also be free panel discussions, a workshop for screenwriters, and evening parties where attendees can meet the directors, festival organizers and fellow movie buffs.

Screenings will take place at the Pickford Film Center Thursday, May 4 through Sunday, May 7. Those coming from out of town can receive a discounted rate from the festival’s hotel partners, Hotel Leo and Four Points by Sheraton. For those who prefer the comfort of their armchair or sofa, an online version of the festival will run May 11-21.

“The primary reason to come is because the films are so good,” said Cheryl Crooks, Cascadia’s executive director. “The films entertain, they educate, they engage, they inspire. They certainly do this year.”

While they are all directed by people who identify as women, the festival’s films do not necessarily focus on issues related to womanhood. This year’s films touch on a wide variety of themes including the environment, society, politics, relationships, Indigenous experiences, immigration and elder issues. Many of the films are family-friendly.

One documentary film, “Call Me Dancer,” tells the story of a young man from Mumbai who trains to become a dancer, despite opposition from relatives who want him to pursue a more typical career path. “Dancing is a hobby for rich kids,” his father tells him. But under the tutelage of a tough ballet master from Israel, the young man dares to pursue his dream of dancing professionally.

“This is a beautiful hero’s journey story,” said Leslie Shampaine, co-director of “Call Me Dancer.” “It’s a positive look at India and Indian youth. I think it will resonate a lot with Indo-Americans.”

This is the first film directed by Washington, D.C.-based Shampaine, a former professional ballerina herself. She has been a documentary producer for 30 years for networks including PBS and the Discovery Channel. Film festivals like Cascadia help give new directors like her exposure to bigger audiences in an industry still dominated by big studios and male workers.

According to research from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, “the percentage of women working as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers increased a scant seven percentage points from 17 percent in 1998 to 24 percent in 2022.”

By role, women comprised 18 percent of directors, 19 percent of writers, 25 percent of executive producers, 31 percent of producers, 21 percent of editors and 7 percent of cinematographers last year, according to SDSU’s research. The research covers the 250 top-grossing U.S. films each year.

“There are only a handful of film festivals in the U.S. that do what we do, which is to exclusively showcase films directed by women,” said Crooks. “It’s a very special niche festival, so we’re carving out a real place for ourselves among film festivals. We are trying to create an awareness and appreciation for films directed by women.”

Centered in Bellingham’s arts district, the Cascadia festival will feature public panel discussions where directors will talk about their movies, how they were made and what it took to finish them. No ticket is required, and film students are encouraged to attend and ask questions.

Also free of charge is the Script Studio Workshop, where four pre-selected scripts will be read by an ensemble of actors and projected overhead for the audience to follow along. The scripts will be critiqued by a panel of film professionals in a high-level discussion of what works, what doesn’t and why.

Following some of the screenings, there will also be a few ticketed parties featuring drinks, appetizers and DJs. There will also be a ticketed event featuring honored guest Barbara Kopple. Every year, Cascadia honors a prolific female director with a special event, and Kopple will be celebrated this year for her notable and Academy Award-winning films such as “Harlan County, USA” and “American Dream.”

The Cascadia International Women’s Film Festival, which debuted in 2017, is supported by more than 100 staff, many of them on a seasonal or volunteer basis. They range from venue coordinators, box office managers and film screeners to interns, communications staff and a board of directors.

To learn more about the full line-up of screenings and events, visit cascadiafilmfest.org.


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