By Rachel Rascoe
Tacos, experimental film and the power of women artists brought Austinites together Saturday night at the downtown gallery La Peña. The event was the third screening in the Alt Girl Cinema film series hosted by the Women’s Community Center of Central Texas. This month’s installment focused on experimental short films made by female artists of color, including a Q&A with Texas documentary maker Marcela Morán.
The monthly series aims to present realistic, diverse portrayals of female characters through public screenings of contemporary art films at various venues throughout Austin. Local filmmakers Danea Johnson and Andrea Zarate are the Alt Girl Cinema series programmers, along with designer and illustrator Larissa Stephens.
Johnson says they choose films that combat the unrealistic female tropes often seen in mainstream media. “We look for films that are made by women and portray women in a refreshing, historical light or that feature women in ways that challenge us to rethink womanhood,” Johnson says. “We recognize that some of the ways we think about being a woman are limited by our own experience, so sometimes we show things that make us uncomfortable as the programmers.”
Saturday’s screening included “Jornaleras,” Morán’s most recent documentary short. The black-and-white film featured three women’s stories of immigrating from Latin America to the United States to find work. Morán says “Jornaleras” was originally intended to be a larger-scale project on immigration, but working on the film with an all-female crew inspired her to feature exclusively on women’s stories. “It was just women working on a movie about women,” Morán says. “Their stories have really inspired me to take a new direction and to just focus on women and women’s lives.”
Morán changed the title of the project from “Jornaleros,” a Spanish term for day laborers typically used in the masculine form, to the feminized “Jornaleras.” She said her next documentary project will focus on women’s lives living on the border.
The screening also included “Savior Complex” directed by Ontario-based artist Ariel Smith. The short film surrealistically portrayed a young woman’s work in the sex industry. “Hattie McDaniel: Or A Credit To The Motion Picture Industry,” directed by Ina Archer, highlighted racism in the Academy Awards. The final selection of “Yayoi Kusama’s Self-Obliteration,” directed by Jud Yalkut, provided a visual assault of the Japanese artist’s classic polka-dot visuals while exploring themes of sex and nature.
Johnson started Alt Girl Cinema in the fall of last year and now serves as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator at the Women’s Community Center along with Zarate and Stephens, both of whom formerly worked at the center. The series received a grant from the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department, allowing them to hold their first screening last November. The inclusive screenings offer free childcare as well as food and drinks.
Juli Keller, an attendee of the event, found out about Alt Girl Cinema though women’s groups on Facebook. A female filmmaker herself, Keller says that the short films personally brought on emotion, film critiques and an overall appreciation for the women-centered event. “I think getting everyone together in a space and being able to share films about women makes the event itself kind of more impactful than the actual films,” Keller says. “That’s not saying the films weren’t fantastic, because they were.”
Johnson plans to feature films with transgender characters, as well as horror and science fiction films, at future events. Johnson said Alt Girl Cinema will continue to promote diverse female narratives throughout Austin with upcoming screenings at Resistencia Bookstore and BookWoman. “We’d like the public to challenge themselves to think about womanhood and the representation in its dominant form — either the big screen or television series,” Johnson says. “With this change, we can support more women in film and see more stories that reflect our true selves as women.”