There's an angry little hornet's nest of women in Dallas who have clung together and stung together for 20 years. At this point in their life cycles, the frenzy is about to peak, and no amount of swatting or spraying can get rid of them. Like their counterparts in the insect world, theirs is a productive hostility. They're on a mission, they're busy and God help you if you get in their way.
The buzz around Dallas this weekend should be both the precedents and the potential of the 250 two-legged worker bees who make up Women in Film.Dallas. A film showcase featuring the work of six local directors will be held Saturday and Sunday at Fair Park to launch a year-long fund- and awareness-raising effort to establish an annual WIF Fair Park Film Festival beginning next November. The film showcase coincides with the 14th edition of WIF.Dallas' Topaz Awards, recognizing local contributors to the film arts. Proceeds from the Topaz event provide scholarships to promising young women filmmakers, many of whom study at the University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University.
Films by Julia Dyer, Kelli Herd, Melinda Levin, Claudia Loewenstein, Ginny Martin and Cynthia Mondell will be featured during the free two-day festival. The style and subject matter of the chosen works are diverse, freewheeling, even far-fetched. Mondell's The Ladies Room, a gossipy, potty documentary, debuted here in 1998. Loewenstein's Salsa Caliente tells the interesting if implausible story of a deaf woman who's hot to trot on the dance floor. Martin's Frozen Music documents the building of Dallas' Meyerson Symphony Center.
Two featured films focus on lesbian love, a recurring theme among some women directors that certainly could limit mainstream distribution and mass appeal. Herd's film, In the Water, reveals sexual awakenings between women, while Dyer's Late Bloomers explores the evolution of a midlife romantic relationship of two women in a way that, perhaps, only a woman could understand.
The local WIF faces two uphill battles in filmmaking--Dallas has never quite made it as the "third coast," and successful movie-makers are mainly men. "And Dallas is not even supportive of men in film," Janelle Ellis, managing director of the film festival, says. "This has not been a good time for anyone because the filmmakers have flocked to Austin and Canada." The reason, she says, is "charm and cheap." With the promise of Las Colinas all but petered out, Ellis points to KD Studios, whose president, Kathy Tyner, also co-founded KD Studio Actors Conservatory, and Mark and Brad Beasley's Trinity Studios as examples of Dallas' vigorous climate of commercial production. "A lot of people can continue in filmmaking because they make their living wages from commercials," Ellis says. Tyner will be honored with a Topaz award, along with WFAA-Channel 8's movie critic Gary Cogill, who broke into the biz any way he could, including voice talent work for local radio commercials.
Ellis hopes you'll do two arts- and civic-minded things this weekend. Follow the swarm to the film festival, at the very least, and cough up some cash for the Topaz Gala, at the very most. Talk up Dallas' agitated activist women of film, and you may single-handedly keep some promising, local young woman from having to direct an arm-flapping used-car salesman by day in order to create a work of art by night.