March 28, 2011
The Hollywood Exclusive by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith
A remarkable gathering of female filmmakers from the Muslim world that took place in Los Angeles last week may have concluded, but its impact is bound to live on. Not only was the event itself filmed, reports Women’s Voices Now Short-Film Festival Executive Director, Catinca Tabacaru. There was also a film team on hand at the house where 10 of the international women auteurs stayed together, documenting their interactions, their trips out to Rodeo Drive and Hollywood, their appearances at parties and panels, their personal accounts.
Sounds like a reality show, except meaningful.
“These filmmakers had never met before,” Tabacaru notes of the directors, who came from Lebanon, Iran, Qatar, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and other far-flung locales. “There was always a little group of people at the end of the night, hanging out, talking about their experiences and their films. We had very different people with very different ideas talking to one another. So many times, you have right wingers doing their thing and left wingers doing theirs, and they don’t have these kinds of exchanges,” she observes. In fact, the week was not without its arguments.
Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran author Roxana Saberi, the American journalist imprisoned in Iran for four months in 2009 on espionage charges, was among the event’s honorees. (Actress Shoreh Agdashloo and CBS correspondent Lara Logan, along with the Egyptian women who intervened to rescue her when she was being assaulted by a mob in Cairo, were honored as well. So was Iranian political martyr Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death was seen around the world via Twitter when she was shot amid protests following that country’s disputed 2009 election.)
Saberi was one of the festival judges, and says she found viewing films from other countries enlightening and inspiring. (The films may be viewed at http://womensvoicesnow.org.)
“My time in prison was very difficult, but I also see so many who have suffered as much or more,” she tells us. Yet Saberi is optimistic. Despite such severe limitations as their courtroom testimony being considered worth half that of a man’s, she says, “Women have made a lot of progress in Iran’s society. They were more involved in the 2009 political campaigns.” And the subsequent protests. “Sometimes it was the women in the front lines, encouraging the less courageous men on,” she observes. “Even though women face a lot of obstacles in Iran, there is great potential for change and democracy. Sixty-five per cent of entrants into university are women. They get exposed to new ideas, technology, travel outside their world and learn about things like universal human rights.”