Micah Walker Detroit Free Press
Published 5:52 PM EDT Jul 9, 2019
“Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Those words were spoken by Mitch McConnell in 2017 when attempting to silence Elizabeth Warren during a Senate debate on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to attorney general.
Since then, the phrase has become a part of the feminist movement — and it inspired the title of the inaugural Nevertheless Film Festival. It takes place from Thursday through Sunday at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor and will feature 26 films, including nine features and 17 shorts.
The four-day event will focus on Hollywood’s continuing issue of excluding women from behind the camera by putting a spotlight on films that are made by women.
Festival founder Meredith Finch came up with the idea of the Nevertheless Film Festival last March while working for the San Francisco International Film Festival.
“I bounced around from film festival to film festival working seasonally, and last year, I had a realization that I was really in a good position to take the people I’ve been surrounded with through working at these film festivals — and my own belief on how I wanted to do it myself — and really put it into action,” she said.
Finch, a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan, put together a team of former co-workers and classmates and reached out to her alma mater about securing a space in Ann Arbor for the festival. The university agreed and the Department of Film, Television and Media became one of the official sponsors of the festival.
Finch started accepting film submissions in January. She said her team received between 200 to 300 films.
In order to qualify, films had to prove they had 50% of eight key leadership positions — director, producer, screenwriter, editor, cinematographer, production designer, sound mixer and composer/sound supervisor — filled by women.”People told me, ‘Those are really specific requirements, you’re gonna have a really hard time finding movies that fit those guidelines.’ That was proven completely false. I was overwhelmed by the movies that qualified,” Finch said.
Audiences can expect to see a little bit of everything, such as coming-of-age films, revenge dramas and a documentary on competitive organ playing. Out of the 26 films, 50% feature filmmakers of color, and 20% feature LGBTQ filmmakers.
Finch said having a diverse range of films was the “whole point” of Nevertheless. “The way that I describe Nevertheless is: This is just not a festival that is about women’s stories or only for women. They’re just 26 really good movies that happen to be made primarily by women.”
One of the directors featured in the festival, Bridgette Auger, talked to the Free Press about the documentary she co-directed with Itab Azzam titled, “We Are Not Princesses.” The film follows four Syrian women, who leave their war-torn country for Beirut, Lebanon. As they become adjusted to their new lives, the women participate in a theater workshop, where they perform the classic Greek play “Antigone.”
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
QUESTION: How did you come up with the idea for “We Are Not Princesses”?
ANSWER: We (Auger and Azzam) knew we didn’t want to make a film about the putting on of the play, and when we saw the way the women connected to the script from 2,500 years ago, we saw that the important work was going on behind the scenes and at home in their daily lives. When we first started making this film, I thought of each of these women as heroines. But as I continued to develop the story line, I realized that it’s not a film about exceptional women. It’s a film about how women are exceptional, how humans are exceptional, even at their most ordinary.
Q: Were the four women nervous about being on camera?
A: From the beginning, they were very much wanting to be a part of it. Since I’ve been showing the film, people ask me in the Q-and-A, “What do the women think of the film?” So I asked Mona, who’s one of the characters, what does she want me to say, and she said she is so proud to tell her children that she has done something with her life and that her story is a part of the film. It’s been five years now (since filming), so their lives have changed quite a bit, but they’re all so happy to be a part of it and to speak openly on camera.
Q: What were some challenges while filming?
A: A lot of the other women were terrified of the camera because this was 2014 and no one trusted each other. People were afraid that the camera could be used against them and that we were regime sympathizers. We gradually began to build trust with some of the women and they realized that the camera was an opportunity for them to speak out and share their story.
Some husbands wouldn’t allow the women to be on camera, so we used animation to tell their stories. The animated world is much more spacious, much more dreamlike. The animated world provides a place where they can dream and not be constrained by the thoughts or the judgments of their society.
Q: How did you hear about the Nevertheless Film Festival?
A: My producer Sara Maamouri heard about it. We’re thrilled to be a part of it. I’ve never been to Michigan. I’m excited to come.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
A: We’re hoping this will draw people together and remind audiences of our shared humanity. I’m hoping when the audience sees a film like ours, a space opens up and there’s room for connection and difficult discussions (about topics) such as Islamophobia, racism and all the other issues the film addresses.
Nevertheless Film Festival
6:30-8:20 p.m. Thursday, 5:30-10:05 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 12-8 p.m. Sunday
603 E. Liberty Street, Ann Arbor
Tickets are $10 per movie
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