To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Thoughts on Boston’s celebration of women in film

Every September, the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston host the Boston Women’s Film Festival (BWFF). Only a Brandeis shuttle ride (plus an Uber, unless you’re feeling up to the half-hour walk between the bus stop and museum) away, the four-day event offers 20 film screenings for $5 each with a student ID. As the festival title suggests, these screenings feature different movies from around the world that are directed or edited by women. The films cover a wide variety of genres and topics—from sci-fi fairytales to radical feminist documentaries to psychological thrillers and dark comedies. 

When I first found out about the festival, I thought it seemed like a really cool opportunity to celebrate diversity in cinema and the capability of women in film. Plus, it gives moviegoers the chance to support independent films on the big screen without having to shell out the expenses usually associated with bigger festivals. 

This year, the festival ran through the last weekend of September, kicking off on Friday, Sept. 27. On opening night, my friends and I saw “Knives and Skin” directed by Jennifer Reeder. This one originally caught my eye after I read reviews comparing it to my favorite TV show, “Twin Peaks.” Its plot already seemed very similar, centering on a high school student’s murder and the impact of a sheriff’s subsequent investigation on a small town. Almost every review used the word “surreal,” and I was excited to see how “Knives and Skin” would compare with the unique stylizations of David Lynch.  

With that in mind, I definitely didn’t expect to dislike it as much as I did. Although clearly inspired by “Twin Peaks,” “Knives and Skin” felt more like a cross between spoken word poetry (perhaps an attempted homage to Lynch’s often eccentric dialogue) and a high school play. In terms of style and content, it also reminded me of Rian Johnson’s dramatic high school noir film, “Brick.” There were some interesting moments, however, especially a few scenes involving talking shirts and a nice rendition of “I Melt With You” by Modern English, but I’ll spare the spoilers. This film missed its mark and ended up lost in a sea of aggressively neon-lit, overly poetic fade transitions instead. If you haven’t seen “Twin Peaks,” I doubt you’ll be nearly as disappointed as I was during “Knives and Skin.”

On Saturday, my friends and I saw “Paradise Hills,” directed by Alice Waddington. Put simply, the recognizable cast of this film (Emma Roberts, Awkwafina, Danielle Macdonald) disprove any suggestions that more money and star-power automatically equal better quality. “Paradise Hills” was a young adult novel come to life—with the same tropes and plot design of most poorly realized teenage fantasy films. 

Although the cinematography was undeniably bright and engaging, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off during the movie, that the vibrant aesthetic was really lifeless underneath. This feeling was further strengthened by one of my friends falling asleep about halfway through. Despite all of this, I did kind of have fun with the third act for its action sequences and satisfying conclusion. Writing and plot aside, it felt almost rewarding. 

We finished the weekend with “Swallow,” directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis on Sunday afternoon. This film earned its spot at the BWFF for its cinematographer, Katelin Arizmendi, who did a Q&A session after the screening (which I unfortunately had to miss). In the movie, a newlywed housewife develops a compulsion for swallowing inedible household objects and is forced to deal with the consequences. Although I feel like it could have benefited from being a short film, I genuinely enjoyed “Swallow,” and it is by far my favorite of the three. Arizmendi was amazing in her role as director of photography, and her choice of colors and close shots did wonders to capture the essence of the characters and the emotions of each scene.

As this was the only film I watched from the festival that I would recommend, I don’t want to give away too much except to praise the last scene. Reminiscent of the final shot in “Call Me By Your Name,” the raw humanity shown in the ending sequence of “Swallow” had me feeling surprisingly and deeply emotional in the theater, and stayed with me for a while after.

All in all, I had a lot of fun at the Boston Women’s Film Festival, and I can’t wait to see more next year. I encourage you to support women and independent filmmaking and have fun too!

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