Bobi Wood

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Have you ever had the experience of sitting in a movie theatre and when the movie starts to play, you have a feeling you’ve already seen it? The lack of diversity in Hollywood movies can leave audiences feeling a sense of ennui as pictures are filled from start to finish with an astonishing sameness, despite the presence of big-name stars.

Reel Sisters Film Festival and Lecture Series, on the other hand, presents films exclusively written, directed, or filmed by women of color that portray much more intimacy, personality and verve than the bland staple fare put out by the big name, commercial studios.

Changing Same: A film still from The Changing Same by Michele Stephenson

The festival kicks off on Saturday, October 5, at the Dywer Cultural Center in Harlem, and winds its way through several New York City venues before the main event at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn on the weekend of October 19-20. A feature-length film will be shown at Long Island University’s Kumble Theatre. Bushwick’s own Rosie Perez will present an award at the October 11 awards ceremony at the SVA Theatre.

Founder Carolyn Butts started the festival in 1997 to provide a venue for women of color to show their films. She also wanted to encourage and promote the stories being told by women of the African Diaspora through the medium of film.

Since the early years, the festival has expanded to include all women of color, furthering the aim to introduce audiences to perspectives and stories that they simply wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Each year’s Reel Sisters festival is organized around an overarching thematic concern. This year’s theme is #IGotYourBack: A Time for Holding Space & Healing. More than 40 films dedicated to looking out for one another will be showcased over the festival season, which culminates in a two-day 22nd anniversary event in Brooklyn.

Each filmmaker explores issues around holding space and healing in her own, highly personal way.

A film still from Brooklyn to Benin by Regine Romain

The short film “Backwards God” — written, directed, and produced by Natalie Cook — is an experimental, invited film. The 5-minute movie is a spoken word piece expressing a woman’s response to an assault, set to poignant moving images by the artist. Exploring spirituality, gender and ecology, Cook connects the dots between our culture’s abuse of mother Earth and the ongoing, everyday street harassment and abuse women endure in our violent and patriarchal culture.

Idyllic moving images of a row of black women, dressed all in white, standing in a field of waving grass under a sheltering blue sky are juxtaposed with shots of a man taking out the trash. The camera’s roving eye sweeps over the debris which ends up on the city sidewalk.

“I can’t ask God why gender exists,” the narrator states powerfully, “because God isn’t the one who created it.”

This is just the sort of frank, real talk, balls to the wall freedom of expression which cinemagoers crave more of, and which they can’t find much of, in mainstream features.

The films shown at the Festival will vary widely in subject matter, tone and style. Cinematographers submit films in a variety of categories, which allows audiences to view a wide range of artistic voices and visions from women of color around the world, and right here at home in Brooklyn. Rounding out the bill are invited films, such as this year’s” Backwards God.”

The categories include experimental films, shorts, documentaries and web series.

All photo’s courtesy of Reel Sisters

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