Akron’s Inaugural Bechdel Film Festival Celebrates Diversity, Women Filmmakers

Wed 5/29-Sun 6/2

Hollywood has been flunking equality and diversity tests for more than a century.

Regarding women in film, the casting couch culture was first put on notice with Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip, which presented three rules of The Bechdel Test — at least two female characters who are given names and talk to each other about something other than a man or boy.

While it’s no surprise to learn Hollywood continues to flunk the test, local organizer and school teacher Brit Charek is hoping to change the narrative — at least in — with the inaugural and aptly titled Bechdel Film Festival, which takes place May 29-June 2 around the Rubber City (The Nightlight Cinema, Akron Summit County Main Branch Library and the Trolley Barn).

CoolCleveland talked to Charek about the unique festival — which is a winner of the Akron Knight Arts Challenge — that is attempting to bring attention to gender inequality in film and fiction.

CoolCleveland: What’s the origin of the Bechdel Film Festival?

Brit Charek: The mission is just to be showing stories of women and people of color and other unrepresented groups, making sure that we have that kind of representation. I won the Akron Knight Arts Challenge. One of the cities the Knight Foundation is based in is Akron. They have this matching grant that they do every so many years. So in 2017, I won $48,0000, but I had to raise matching funds, which we did through the help of the GAR Foundation, as well as a Kickstarter campaign. So we were able to get some money behind this to provide it as a mix of some ticketed events but a lot of free events as well.

CC: With the Bechdel Test in mind, how did you go about programming the Bechdel Film Festival?

BC: The idea was to have a Bechdel Film Fest based on the Bechdel Test, which basically means all of these stories have to have multiple women who have to have conversations with each other. And conversations that are not about the boy or the man in the room as well. It’s just that simple criteria, but there are not a lot of commercial films that pass that test. It’s just trying to draw attention. At that time we started this — I did my initial pitch in early 2017 — it was way before the #MeToo or #Timesup movements. So it’s really interesting to kind of see how this has some cultural relevance.

CC: How pathetic is it that not only do we have to have a Bechdel Test but Hollywood continues to fail representing women as well as minority voices.

BC: What’s interesting is I want to include so many other underrepresented groups. One thing that’s really close to me is I have two sons on the autism spectrum. I thought it would be really cool to show people with those types of special needs, but all of the movies I found that featured people like that didn’t pass the Bechdel Test. So it’s interesting you have all of these spaces that like don’t quite coexist yet, but hopefully someday will especially if we keep bringing attention to it.

CC: As far as the schedule and programming, what do you have planned?

BC: The festival is going to be six days of films with some live performances and social hours. We’re showing more than 50 films. We include short films, of course. Submitted films had to be created within the last two years, but then we’re also showing some classic cult films that draw attention to underrepresented groups. So it’s kind of a combo. It’s really just about celebrating the story of people who don’t always get their stories told.

CC: The one unexpected screening is commercial film The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.

BC: It’s been really cool because even in the last year and a half it seems like all of the kids’ movies coming out really do have strong female characters. It’s really neat to see and good for me because even though I have boys, I want them to see look at people who aren’t like them and think of them as equals, think about their stories and what they deal with. It’s important. We need representation from a young age so we have allies. Also, we’re going to have some films that are a little more typical art house. We were really careful about putting together the program to make sure we don’t have too many depressing things or too many silly things together. We’re really proud of that too. And, I’m excited because a lot of the filmmakers are actually coming.

CC: Some events take off with small steps. It seems as though you’re taking a big leap with Bechdel Film Festival.

BC: Oh yeah, we have money, so we’re going hard. I could have done the festival last year, but I didn’t want to rush anything. I really wanted to try to get all of the right people in the room and try to make this as cool as it could. We have money left over, and we’ll use it for next year, but it’s not guaranteed we’ll get another grant that big again. So we figured we’d go crazy this year and get as much as attention as we could and then hopefully we’ll get some help carrying out the work in the future.






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