This weekend, the second annual Bowery Film Festival kicked off with its Female Gaze screening block, remaining true to its Bowery roots and foraging ahead into new territory – exactly what the festival’s namesake neighborhood is known for. The first screening block of the festival, on Friday April 12th, was housed in the historic firehouse of Engine Company 31 on Lafayette Street. This official New York City Landmark is currently occupied by the Downtown Community Television Center and embodies the exact “local flavor” that the film fest aims to preserve. The location itself makes a radical statement: a chateau-style building with flaming red doors that houses intimate projection rooms presents the perfect setting to debut the Female Gaze’s transgressive lineup.
The first of ten films on display was the LEX Requiem, directed by Bruno Palma and Alexis Karl. Shot in a labyrinth of cobblestones in Italy, the LEX Requiem is a dance of mourning performed to the music of Alexis Karl herself. Haunting and enigmatic, the performers dance in the world of the ethereal, until they “emerge from the shadows in a celebration of their immortality in the fading light of a summer sun”, in the words of the director. The black and white film is a celebration and unveiling of feminine resilience, sexuality, and enchanting power.
Next, the triad of women who screened the films selected Jones, directed by Stacey Maltin, that opens with a shot of graffiti commanding: “Move your phone out of the way.” With this entree, the raw film exposes the life of a young alcoholic, even laying bare glimpses of her obsessive fantasies about alcohol. These harsh realities are cut by moments of near hilarity, notably a shot of the drunk protagonist in a pleather skirt biking on the sidewalk. The protagonist herself first ruins her life and then attempts to repair it, seizing agency in her story for better or for worse.
After we see the protagonist of Jones struggling to pilot her bike, the next film focused a male lead with no trouble bossing around anyone who sets foot in his Uber. Uber Prize Ride presents a brutally modern revamp of the famous reality show Cash Cab, except the host of the show is an entitled and overly assertive millennial instead of a relaxed banterer. The film takes the format of footage caught on the camera of the host, and its three vignettes painfully illustrate his obliviousness through the lens of those who enter his car. Witty, tongue-in-cheek, and painfully accurate, Uber Prize Ride is a satire of a not-to-be-named but very similar Uber reality show.
Another overbearing man dominates the screen of Walter Treppiedi, directed by Elena Bouryka, about an unpleasant show business middleman who lives in his old station wagon. The station wagon houses not only Walter but his dying dog Rockie and the “dirt and scraps of a lifetime”. Walter, seemingly uncontrollably, refers to the women in his car – women seeking career advice – as sluts and will do anything if he’s compensated with a bribe. While the audience finds Walter unpalatable and even downright repulsive, Rockie protects the man, reviving his own life by saving Walter’s.
After displaying two films with male protagonists who provide little vision into their inner life, the audience was immersed in the life of Leda, the main character of the film Shadow Puppet by Daniel James McCabe. Daniel describes the film as an insight into the trials of a sexual assault survivor who, like many, has to “support the people who love [her] through how it affected them.” Leda’s relationship teeters on the brink of collapse as she tries to navigate the tidal wave of her own trauma and manage the splashes in the life of her loved ones.
Next in the lineup came 3 Days, the work of Julie Sharbutt who wanted to push back against the “Dead Girl Show”, as she terms it, which is the exploitation of “a woman’s dead body as a vehicle for men’s film”. In 3 Days, three women sense danger on a camping trip but manage to support each other using laughter until a horrifying twist solidifies their isolation. On the heels of this film came An Aspirational Space, which embodies the loneliness of a Marie Kondo-esque lifestyle. After an abrupt breakup, a woman sequesters herself in a new apartment, attempting to declutter her life to rebuild it. The attainment of her aspirational space, however, comes at the price of relationships and perhaps mental stability.
The last three films of the Female Gaze block capture an absurdity in everyday life unique to women. Don’t Be a Baby by Emmi Shcokley tracks the pregnancy scare of Billie, a young painter trying to make it in New York City. She calls her best friend long-distance for support and clarity that she is unable to find in the hazy lines of a pregnancy test. Georgica, too, engages with the theme of pregnancy, instead following the desperate attempts at pregnancy that its main character Sophie obsesses over. She secretly tries to impregnate herself with the leftover condoms from late-night lifeguard trysts, but the audience becomes sympathetic to her mission after learning about her past trials. Director Kim DeLise directly confronts this absurdity by including a stunning animation of the car crash that changed Sophie’s life and sent her on her impregnation mission.
Wrapping up the package of ludicracy in the lives of women was the film Sac de Merde by Greg Chwerchak, based on the true story of its main actress. The film character, Mazel Mankewicz, is an unlucky-in-love, yet belligerently optimistic New York artist who thinks she has finally caught a change of luck in love. To capture it’s true essence and hilarity, the film has to be watched in person, but a sexual encounter proves that even the man of Mazel’s dreams is – or has – a sack of shit.
After an incredible night of groundbreaking, heartbreaking, and hilarious films, the Bowery Film Festival’s co-founder Geoffrey Guerrero asked the filmmakers and actors in the audience to participate in a Q&A. In the intimate setting of the firehouse, this discussion was a great way to emphasize and gain insight to the directors’ take on the theme of the Female Gaze, a term adapted from Laura Mulvey’s article criticizing the exclusion of women from film in acting, directing, and viewing. Geoffrey also explained a bit about the birth of the Bowery Film Festival from its now sibling film event, the Katra Film Series. The series is dedicated to “discovery, exhibition and promotion of quality emerging cinema, providing a platform for independent filmmakers to showcase their work in front of a live audience and to network with like-minded industry professionals”, showcasing a monthly selection of films in the Bowery.
With two years of supporting independent film under its belt, the Bowery Film Festival is still looking to grow and provide a space for radical filmmakers to showcase their craft and for the radically minded of NYC to gather with a forward-looking gaze.