Gone are the days when female cinema was a few girls watching a Lifetime movie marathon and eating Ben & Jerry’s. Turns out there are characters even easier to identify with than Jennifer Grey from “Dirty Dancing” or Julia Roberts in “My Best Friends Wedding” – and we don’t just mean the snappy heroine of “Juno.”

WHAT Women
WHEN March 7 – 29
WHERE Walker Art Center
TICKETS $8, except when noted otherwise, special ticket packages available through box office, (612) 375-7600

Most real women never grace Hollywood’s A, B, and C list of celebrities, and the Walker Art Center’s 15th annual Women with Vision film festival has compiled just a few of these portraits, directed by women from around the globe.

Curator Sheryl Mousley takes time out of her summers to visit the Cannes Film Festival in France, and from there makes connections with the filmmakers du jour. She’s been tracking lady lens holders for years, and aside from knowing every selection back and front, has a lot to say about what “Women with Vision” means.

“When you see women characters in American media, they get typified as a representation of who we are, but women directors can really broaden that out, until it becomes more like actual life,” Mousley said.

Not only does the festival give insight as to what a second X chromosome brings to film, but it also serves as a telescope to other cultures. With globalization spinning the world ever faster, the festival is a time capsule for what has changed, and what has not.

it happened just before
(Kurz davor ist es passiert)

directed by anya salomonowitz
screening time march 16, 2 p.m. 72 minutes
german with english subtitles

An Austrian import, Anya Salomonowitz’s film takes a fresh look at real women’s stories of exploitation and abuse through a chilling documentary-like narrative. The women’s stories are told through the unexpressive voices of those who were not directly involved in their abuse, but may have played a role in the continuation of these exploitations – the customs official, the neighbor, the brothel owner, the diplomat, the taxi driver. As these people go about their everyday lives, they periodically stop to look directly at the camera and tell the anonymous stories of five different women, examples of how the abuse of women continues in Germany.

Although these people are going about their everyday lives, the film is a haunting look at seemingly innocent actions they perform everyday that may help to continue the sex slave trade, spousal abuse and forced prostitution.

Stephanie Dickrell

operation filmmaker

directed by nina davenport
screening time march 20, 7 p.m. 92 minutes.

Filmmaker Nina Davenport had no idea what she was getting herself into when she agreed to document a young Iraqi filmmaker invited to work on an American film by actor and director Liev Schreiber.

Schreiber saw Muthana Mohmed on an MTV special about people living in Iraq and decided he would give Mohmed his version of the opportunity of a lifetime, an internship on his movie “Everything is Illuminated.”

However, cultural miscommunications, politics, tension, and money all stand in the way of this young Iraqi, and neither the Americans nor Mohmed are sure of how to clear the obstacles.

The documentary is a unique look into what happens when the invisible boundary between filmmaker and subject gets broken down, resulting in an emotional roller coaster of frustration, disappointment, hope and awkwardness.

Stephanie Dickrell

buddha collapsed out of shame

directed by hana makhmalbaf
starring nikbakht noruz, abbas alijome
rating not rated
screens saturday, march 29, 7:30 p.m. 81 minutes.

“Buddha Collapsed out of Shame” breaks from the increasing isolation of the globalized world and focuses on a small town in Afghanistan, where inhabitants live in caves and parents are so busy working that kids are left to raise themselves.

The main character, Baktay, is a chubby-cheeked little girl who hears her neighbor reading a story about a man under a tree and is overcome with a desire to learn to read by herself. Young actress Nikbakht Noruz plays Baktay with effortless sincerity, showing her bravery as she sells eggs in the market, and her fear as local boys ensnare her in their game of “stone the heathen women.” One boy speaks with precocious foreboding when he picks up rubble from a Buddha statue blown up by the Taliban and tells Baktay, “You’re not even worth the Buddha’s toenails.”

At no more than five years old, it would seem that all odds are against her humble goal “to learn funny stories,” and the film succeeds to communicate drastic social conditions as a component of a personal story rather than as a public service announcement.

Becky Lang

faces of a fig tree

directed by kaori momoi
starring kaori momoi, hanako yamada, saburo ishikura
rating not rated
screens saturday, march 15, 7:30 p.m. 94 minutes.

You know the old adage that goes, “you never really know another person.” It probably crosses your mind when your second-grade best friend, the one who liked to trap your cat under a laundry basket, grows up to be an animal rights activist, or when you find out your dad used to be in a punk band. But in “Faces of a Fig Tree,” a film by Kaori Momoi, the characters know all along how mysterious the people around them are.

A wife laughs nervously as her husband drinks too many beers, fidgets with the phone cord when he disappears for two weeks, and orders fancy sushi when he suddenly dies.

The camera never zooms in on faces, but instead plants itself in the grass with the ants, or hovers over a bridge, giving viewers only sidelong glances at the characters. Yet Momoi captures the breakdowns in these distances in original ways, like showing the mother and daughter standing silently on the porch at night, attempting to smoke all of their father’s cigarettes so that they don’t go to waste. As much as the people around them remain enigmas, it becomes even more evident that each character isn’t sure who they are without them.

Becky Lang