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Highfalls fest focuses on achievements of women in the industry

A winner of 13 Australian “Oscars,” a French thriller that played in the prestigious closing night slot at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, and the latest documentary from the woman who took the doc form into the mainstream are among the more than 50 narrative, documentary and short films to be screened at the 2005 HIGH FALLS FILM FESTIVAL, which takes place in Rochester, NY, November 9-13.

High Falls is a festival with a difference – its mission. Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, as did George Eastman. It was logical that the founders of the festival chose to honor the founders of the women’s movement and filmmaking with a program that presents a wide variety of movies, while focusing on the achievements of women in the industry, to do something (as Susan B might have) to help correct the imbalance of employment for women in so many areas.

Artistic Director Catherine Wyler and Managing Director/Co-Programmer Ruth Cowing have traveled across the country and around the world in their search for the most dynamic work by women to emerge this year. “This year’s festival will feature films from France, West Africa, Israel, Central America, Eastern Europe, China, as well as the best of American independents,” said Wyler.

The Festival presents Audience Awards in each of the film programs, and also presents career awards to special guests: The Susan B. Anthony “Failure is Impossible” Award and the “Web of Life Award.” This year, the “Failure is Impossible” Award will be presented to five dynamic women who work both behind and in front of the camera….Angela Bassett, Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, Norma Heyman, Diane Ladd and Christine Lahti. Actor/Director/Activist/Artistic Czar/Mother Jane Alexander will receive the “Web of Life” Award. Among the presenters expected is Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

The Festival also presents seminars, panels and other special events throughout its five days and nights. Among them are panels on screenwriting, acting, documentaries, and one on the future of movies called “Movies in the 21st Century: Visions of the Future” with panelists Bingham Ray, Krysanne Katsoolis, Joana Vicente and Tony Safford.

The festival invites a lively mix of emerging and well-established talent. Candice Bergen, Mira Nair, Campbell Scott, Joan Allen, Celeste Holm, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Publicity Guru Lois Smith, Sally Kellerman, Tony Goldwyn and SHREK co-director Vicky Jensen are all recent guests who have cheered the experience.

Festival venues include two state-of-the-art locations for independent film: the Dryden Theatre at the renowned George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, and the historic Little Theatre. Top New York film photographer Robin Holland will have her photographs of actors and directors displayed at both venues.

This year the Festival opens with MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS (UK) directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench as Laura Henderson who buys an old London theater and opens it up as the Windmill, a performance hall which goes down in history for, among other things, its all-nude revues. The Closing Night film will be Roger Donaldson’s THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN (New Zealand), the life story of New Zealander Burt Munro, who spent years building a 1920 Indian motorcycle -- a bike which helped him set the land-speed world record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967, starring Anthony Hopkins and 2005 Susan B. Anthony Award recipient Diane Ladd.

A special presentation this year will be drawn from the series Screening Women: Recent Films From The New Europe which includes features by highly talented women directors from Central Europe and Russia. Among them will be SOME SECRETS (Czech Republic) by Alice Nellis and HOW I KILLED A SAINT (Macedonia/Slovenia/France) by Teona Strugar Mitevska. Each film portrays personal stories of contemporary life, family relations, romance, a little history and politics – often with wit and a touch of irony, made with impressive intelligence and affection for the lives of their characters. Following the festival, Red Diaper Productions will tour the series nationally.

Among the more than 20 narrative films expected to screen at the High Falls Film Festival are: A wife and mother begins a downward emotional spiral, as her husband avoids their collapsing marriage by immersing himself in his 11 year-old daughter's quest to become a spelling bee champion in BEE SEASON (US) directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel (THE DEEP END), based on the national best-seller by Myla Goldberg, with a screenplay by 2005 Susan B. Anthony Award recipient Naomi Fonor Gyllenhaal and starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche; Like watching a train wreck in slow motion, Matt Mulhern’s bittersweet, psychologically savvy feature, starring David Schwimmer and Janeane Garofolo, DUANE HOPWOOD (US), will have you whispering, “oh no”, at almost every turn. Producer Lemore Syvan is one of the film’s women behind the camera; DUCK SEASON (Mexico) a knockout feature film debut by Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke, who transforms an ordinary apartment into an expanding universe of emotions and experience. Writer Paula Markovitch is the featured woman behind the camera; ELLIE PARKER (US) Scott Coffey’s wryly humorous, cautionary tale stars Naomi Watts (who also produced) as a talented actress struggling to make it in Hollywood; HIDDEN (France) is Michael Haneke’s most restrained and involving film, and deals with the relationship between personal and political responsibility, starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil; Lucrecia Martel’s THE HOLY GIRL (Argentina/Italy/Netherlands/Spain) is the work of a filmmaker bent on remaking traditional cinematic language to reflect the interaction of the mind and the senses and to discover, amid the fragments and chaos of everyday life, if not evidence of the Divine Plan, then at least the possibility of a perfect form; LIVE-IN MAID (Argentina/Spain) is a bittersweet, occasionally hilarious social comedy directed by Jorge Gaggero, Produced by Verónica Cura and with Art Direction from Marcela Bazzano; Director/Writer Karin Albou and Producers Isabelle Pragier and Laurent Lavole’s vivid and intelligent feature LITTLE JERUSALEM (France) is set on the outskirts of Paris in a bleak neighborhood with a large Jewish immigrant population and featuresoutstanding performances by Fanny Vallette, Elsa Zylberstein and Aurora Clement; SOMERSAULT (Australia) an erotic, lyrical depiction of a young girl’s sexual awakening, is a breakthrough debut for director Cate Shortland, and the winner of 13 Australian Film Institute awards; Li Shaohong is one of the only female directors among China's famed “Fifth Generation” filmmakers. Like THE GREEN HAT (shown at HFFF 2004), STOLEN LIFE (China) reflects the difficulties and confusions of young adults trying to find their way in the rapidly changing economic and cultural landscape of the new China; The specter of sex, drugs and rock and roll has never been so powerfully epitomized as by The Rolling Stones in their early heyday. Tales of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards abound to this day. Their once equally iconic band mate Brian Jones, however, has slowly been relegated to a footnote. In his directorial debut, STONED (UK), Neil Jordan’s longtime producer Stephen Woolley reproduces both the glory of the free-wheeling sixties, and the price Jones paid by flying just a bit too close to the sun. Producer Finola Dwyer is our woman behind the camera; TRANSAMERICA (US) stars Felicity Huffman (who won the Best Actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival for this skillful and sensitive portrayal), and was edited by Pam Wise.

Among the 15 documentaries screening at the 2005 High Falls Film Festival are: AFTER INNOCENCE (US), directed by Jessica Sanders is the first documentary to focus on what happens in the aftermath of injustice; Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller’s magical documentary traces the rise and fall of the three companies that went by the legendary name, BALLET RUSSES (US); BEARING WITNESS (US) the new film by Barbara Kopple, the director who brought documentary film into the mainstream, intimately examines the personal and professional lives of five female journalists as they attempt to put a human face on otherwise impersonal tragedies; Feature debut directors Leanne Allison and Diana Wilson bring the story of caribou migration to the White House to make a case against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in BEING CARIBOU (US); First time feature directors Renée Sotile and Mary Jo Godges bring us a portrait of an immensely vibrant, generous, intelligent woman in

CHRISTA MCAULIFFE: REACH FOR THE STARS (US); In CZECH DREAM (Czech Republic) Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda are two smart and wryly humorous Czech film students who decide to create an elaborate ad campaign for an imaginary new “hyper” market, co-produced by Irena Taskovski; THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX (US) from filmmakers Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, follows teenaged Shelby Knox, a heroine for our times: a brilliant, clear-spoken, principled political activist, who in 30 years may well be President of the United States; THE FUTURE OF FOOD (US) by GRATEFUL DAWG collaborator Deborah Koons Garcia offers an in-depth investigation into the disturbing trends behind the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have quietly filled U.S. grocery store shelves for the past decade; In THE GRACE LEE PROJECT (US), filmmaker Grace Lee decided to track down some Grace Lees to find out the relation between their name and their identity; INTO THE FIRE: AMERICAN WOMEN IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR (US) is the result of filmmaker Julia Newman’s eleven year journey to track down some of the 80 women who volunteered to assist in the fight for democracy as war broke out in Spain between the newly elected democratic government and a fascist military wing led by General Francisco Franco (supported by Hitler and Mussolini); Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnik’s ON THE OUTS (US) follows the choices made by three young women - one a drug dealer, one an addict, one a pregnant teen - in Jersey City; PUNK: ATTITUDE (US) Don Letts's exhilarating, oddly tender history of punk rock; and, there is no mention of the war in Iraq in David Zeiger’s documentary (co-produced by woman behind the camera Evangeline Griego and narrated by Jane Fonda), SIR! NO SIR! (US), which tells the story of the war in Vietnam from the point of view of the veterans and active duty military who became the strongest and most courageous voices of the peace movement. Still, this is obviously a timely cautionary tale.

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Chatelin Bruno
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