Women’s Film Fest debuts in Berkeley

The acclaim for Sally Potter’s “Orlando” and best picture/director Oscar noms for “The Piano” and Jane Campion provide an upbeat background to Behind the Camera, a showcase hosted by the Berkeley Women’s Film Festival.

Its 26 programs of doc/fiction features and shorts run Feb. 24-March 2 at Berkeley’s UC Theatre, with hopes for an annual reprise.

Program director Jan Klingelhofer was a founder of Northern California Women in Film, which ran its own yearly On Screen fete from 1984 until bankruptcy struck at decade’s end. The festival will focus strictly on work by women helmers. Selections for this first sked were scouted from various fest/filmmaker sources; fest may open itself up to direct submissions in the future.

“It’s definitely very exciting, because we’ve seen more films directed by women reach a broader U.S. audience,” Klingelhofer said. “Women will always make films. … As artists they’ll do whatever they have to do to realize their work. But it’s easier for the whole group of women to succeed if there is some sense of financial commitment from the industry. And that, I think, is something we’ll see slowly but continually increasing.”

Directors represented in the fest — all by programs of early short works — include Diane Kurys (with Isabelle Huppert vehicle “Love After Love”) and Lina Wertmuller (Sophia Loren starrer “Saturday, Sunday and Monday”), Potter, Campion , Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust”) and Mira Nair (“Mississippi Masala”).

Pop star Kate Bush’s helming debut, “The Line, the Cross and the Curve,” is billed with surprise hit German featurette “Makin’ Up.” Other fiction features include Aussie “She Sat in a Glass House Throwing Stones” and recent Sundance screener “Risk.”

Vanessa Redgrave toplines Lita Stantic’s Argentine political drama “A Wall of Silence” on opening night. “Simeon,” a musical by Martinique director Euzhan Palcy’s (“Sugar Cane Alley,””A Dry White Season”), is on the closing sked. Other opening and closing screenings are expected to be announced.

Among docs slated are the first two installments of Canada’s “Talk 16/19” series — likened to the “7 Up” series — plus views of apartheid, women with AIDS, Native American issues, female circumcision customs, breast cancer, lesbian weddings and human rights abuses in Cambodia and Tibet. Animation, experimental and children-targeted works complete the roll call.

Fest proceeds will benefit local non-profit the Women’s Foundation, which funds projects for homeless, drug-addicted, minority and other underserved female populations.

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