The idea and timing for the Hyannis Film Festival’s new month-long film series came about separately and, according to its curator, by chance.
Founding board member Gerald Garnick said he had long wanted to curate a series of films for the fledgling Mid-Cape festival and chose to shine a light on women in film and different types of roles – with a focus on controversial issues – that they have played over the years.
“Profiles in Courage” became the theme, and March was chosen to be the right time after the festival’s successful “Movies on Main” weekend series last fall.
Now, Garnick says, he’s “ashamed” to admit he didn’t initially know March was Women’s History Month. “Ironically, the movies fit right into the month,” he says, “…so it works really well.”
Festival officials “agreed that it was an interesting theme and concept” for the downtown Hyannis series, says festival executive director William Ferrall, “plus because it was ‘curated.’ or programmed by a man”.
The films are screened at 7 p.m. on five Thursdays in March at Hyannis Federated Church, 320 Main St., in a large auditorium organizers say is perfect for social distancing.
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Garnick’s film choices now celebrating Women’s History Month span decades from 1942’s “Now, Voyager,” starring Bette Davis as a Boston bachelor who, with the Helped by Therapy, Becomes an Independent Woman (Presented March 10) to “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” about a female painter from 18th-century France who grows closer to a woman she is tasked with create the wedding portrait (closing of the festival on March 31).
2017’s “Woman Walks Ahead” was chosen for the March 3 opening film, telling the story of a portrait painter in 1890s Brooklyn who travels to Dakota lands to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull and finds himself involved in the struggle of the Lakota peoples for the rights to their land. The other films are 2013’s “Belle,” based on a true story of an illegitimate 18th-century mixed-race daughter of a sea captain whose situation influences the end of slavery in England (March 17); and 1995’s “To Die For,” the fictionalized story of Pamela Smart, a teacher who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder after seducing a young student and convincing him to kill her husband (March 24 ).
“I tried to do different decades, but mostly I wanted to show women in difficult situations, how brave they were,” Garnick says. “I chose films where the performances of the women were honorable and dignified, so…they were really honest. Films that portrayed courageous actions by women.
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When asked as a story based on Smart, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, represented a “profile of courage,” Garnick said with a laugh: “I decided to show that there could be a perverse side in women to balance it all out. … It’s kind of an ironic movie that will give people a lot of fun, as opposed to four heavy movies. … (Smart) wanted to do something and she did it. It shows the strength of women in their situations and it’s such a wonderful portrayal of Nicole Kidman that it really works.
Have women historically gotten good roles in film?
The female-centric theme came about, Garnick says, because he’s long argued that women have had a chance to play key roles in movies over the decades and these five films help show that.
Numerous studies in recent years have shown a disparity between the stories of women and men told in movies, and how men are more often hired than women to work in the film industry. A study by the New York Film Academy, for example, showed that 30.8% of the characters portrayed in the top 500 films released from 2007 to 2012 were women.
Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, told The New York Times in 2014 that the percentage of female speaking roles in Hollywood has remained virtually the same — between 25% and 30% — since then. the 1940s.
The center reported more recently that the percentage of top-grossing films with female leads fell from 40% in 2019 to 29% in 2020. The percentage of major female characters was 37% in 2019 and 38% in 2020.
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Garnick looked at the movies from a different perspective. “I’ve always believed that women have always been able to have big, meaningful, brave roles in movies. I mean, I hear a lot of people say that women don’t get the roles and so on, and it just isn’t.
“The problem is that when you watch a lot of popular movies, that’s true, but when you see some of the best movies being made, the movies with real foresight, you’ll see that happen. If you watch the Les 1940s, when you have Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis, they all did wonderful roles and they carry the movies, so I’ve always believed that women have always played a big role in movies.
Garnick will lead discussions after each film, but he hopes audience members will lead the conversation and chat amongst themselves.
“The whole idea of the film festival and the whole idea of showing film series is to expose audiences and our patrons to films that they may or may not have seen,” he says. “I consider these films as novels. They tell a story, it’s meaningful. Some of them will move you greatly. Some of them will have a real impact on how you view certain situations. That’s really what good give-and-take conversations are (and are) about.
Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll can be contacted at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.