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MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Review: !Women Art Revolution

Quick! Can you name three women artists?

I’m taking a brief break from my immersion in SIFF films to talk to you about !Women Art Revolution, a compelling documentary that opens today in NYC, which explores the dawning of the feminist art movement through archival footage and spontaneous interviews gathered by director Lynn Hersham Leeson over 40 or so years. And even if you think you know everything there is to know about feminism and art, I can pretty much guarantee you will learn something you didn’t know watching this film.

This film is timely and relevant, not only to women in art and film, but in the way those issues cross-pollinate to other areas of women’s lives; in fact, I would argue that there are very few areas in which gender relations do not impact your life, and yours, and yes, even yours. Even if you’re a feminist studies professor, even if you’re a female artist or film director or writer. Even if — perhaps especially if — you are a conservative fundamentalist Christian wife and mother and “helpmeet” living out a traditional, patriarchal gender role in the heart of the Republican Midwest.

The feminist art movement — and the women at the center of it — challenged assumptions about gender roles and the place of women in the world of art, which was (and still is to a large extent) controlled and determined by men. Leeson captures the rise of the feminist art movement in the United States, which was birthed, not coincidentally, with the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, Berkeley, Kent State, Vietnam War protests, free love, Roe Vs. Wade, and a rising divorce rate. Because, as many of the women interviewed herein attest, as they became more enlightened into the role gender plays in determining societal place, it often became necessary for them to end their marriages in order to reinvent themselves as feminist women.

With conservative politicians, preachers and pundits deriding the feminist movement as a significant cause of the rise in divorce rate and subsequent “decline of the American family,” it’s absolutely imperative that positive messages about female empowerment and gender disparity are seen and heard.

Gender issues affect everything from how much women are paid in comparison to men for doing the same work; to whether a woman with children will get passed over for a job in favor of a male colleague; to whether your daughter will receive the same attention and subtle messages of disempowerment from the teachers who will have charge over her for a significant percentage of her waking hours throughout her childhood; to bullying in schools and on playgrounds; to human sex trafficking; to the harrowing statistics for rape both her in the US, where (according to the Department of Justice) a woman is raped every TWO MINUTES; to rape as a weapon of war throughout the world.

Gender equality and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s are the cornerstone out of which the feminist art movement grew; unfortunately, the issues raised through the history traced in !Women Art Revolution are as relevant in 2011 as they were in 1970. We may have come a long way, baby … but we’ve not come nearly far enough.

!Women Art Revolution has the distinction of having played at Toronto, Sundance and Berlin and opens today at New York City, with screenings nationwide coming your way. Check it out — it’s even coming to Oklahoma City (no doubt thanks to my friend Brian Hearn, who curates at the OKC Museum of Art). If it’s coming to your town, go, go, GO and see it. Bring your teenage daughters and sons, or get together with a pack of smart, creative types and get inspired.

This doc is real gem — as relevant to the feminist art movement as Exit Through the Gift Shop was for street art, albeit less flashy in its composition. If you love art, or have any interest at all in film, art, and the place women have in those disciplines, you don’t want to miss this.

Upcoming screenings:

June 1-7 IFC Center New York, NY

June 10 The Screen at Studio 2 Santa Fe, NM

June 15-19 Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA

June 17-23 Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 Los Angeles, CA

June 17-23 Northwest Film Forum Seattle, WA

June 23-26 Oklahoma City Museum of Art Oklahoma City, OK

June 24-30 Denver Film Society Denver, CO

June 24-27 Northwest Film Center Portland, OR

July 1 Real Art Ways Hartford, CT

October 5 International House of Philadelphia Philadelphia, PA

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“Chad Harbach spent ten years writing his novel. It was his avocation, for which he was paid nothing, with no guarantee he’d ever be paid anything, while he supported himself doing freelance work, for which I don’t think he ever made $30,000 a year. I sold his book for an advance that equated to $65,000 a year—before taxes and commission—for each of the years of work he’d put in. The law schools in this country churn out first-year associates at white-shoe firms that pay them $250,000 a year, when they’re twenty-five years of age, to sit at a desk doing meaningless bullshit to grease the wheels of the corporatocracy, and people get upset about an excellent author getting $65,000 a year? Give me a fucking break.”
~ Book Agent Chris Parris-Lamb On The State Of The Publishing Industry

INTERVIEWER
Do you think this anxiety of yours has something to do with being a woman? Do you have to work harder than a male writer, just to create work that isn’t dismissed as being “for women”? Is there a difference between male and female writing?

FERRANTE
I’ll answer with my own story. As a girl—twelve, thirteen years old—I was absolutely certain that a good book had to have a man as its hero, and that depressed me. That phase ended after a couple of years. At fifteen I began to write stories about brave girls who were in serious trouble. But the idea remained—indeed, it grew stronger—that the greatest narrators were men and that one had to learn to narrate like them. I devoured books at that age, and there’s no getting around it, my models were masculine. So even when I wrote stories about girls, I wanted to give the heroine a wealth of experiences, a freedom, a determination that I tried to imitate from the great novels written by men. I didn’t want to write like Madame de La Fayette or Jane Austen or the Brontës—at the time I knew very little about contemporary literature—but like Defoe or Fielding or Flaubert or Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or even Hugo. While the models offered by women novelists were few and seemed to me for the most part thin, those of male novelists were numerous and almost always dazzling. That phase lasted a long time, until I was in my early twenties, and it left profound effects.
~ Elena Ferrante, Paris Review Art Of Fiction No. 228

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