How the other half gazes

The Walker screens films by women directors.

Tom Horgen

Near the end of “In the Company of Women,” a new documentary about female directors, filmmaker Nancy Savoca delivers a lucid summary of the past, present and future of the female voice in cinema.

“There’s such fertile ground for women to tell stories with female characters, just because it’s just not done. The definition of what female characters are allowed to do on screen is so narrow and I think boring. I think it’s changing some. But boy, I’m very greedy; we could go for more,” Savoca says in the film.

The Walker’s 11th annual Women with Vision film festival emphatically follows through on Savoca’s sentiments with 27 features, documentaries and shorts, all by emerging female directors.

The festival opens with “In the Company of Women” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the General Mills Auditorium. The edifying documentary looks at the luminary female figures that continually provide challenging portrayals of women in the contemporary U.S. cinema. Most importantly, though, it highlights the recent surge of female directors, led by Rebecca Miller (“Personal Velocity”), Nicole Holofcener (“Lovely & Amazing”) and Lisa Cholodenko (“Laurel Canyon”), among others.

Of the 27 films in the festival, several are international, coming from such diverse countries as Israel, Germany, Iran and New Zealand.

But without a doubt, the U.S. premiere of Samira Makhmalbaf’s new feature, “At Five in the Afternoon,” is the festival’s centerpiece attraction. It plays 7:30 p.m. May 6 at Oak Street Cinema. The 23-year-old Makhmalbaf is the daughter of Iranian master, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who directed “Kandahar” in 2002. Both films deal with women’s rights in post-Taliban Afghanistan, but “At Five in the Afternoon” is a more complex treatment of the subject.

With the fall of the Taliban, women can again attend school in Afghanistan. Makhmalbaf’s film follows a young woman who dreams of becoming her country’s first female president. As we witness the horrors of her life, it’s apparent that her dream will remain unfulfilled. Regardless, the film makes a strong statement about complacency and the will to get involved in the politics that shape our lives. At every turn, the film’s heroine encounters people who simply go with the flow – her sexist father, a pathetic French soldier and her classmates. But these encounters fuel her drive to rise above the dismal life others have made for her.

“At Five in the Afternoon” is exactly what Savoca is asking for in “In the Company of Women.” Come bear witness.