'Our Bodies, Our Stories': Women Speak Out at HIFF

Anne Chaisson, Melissa Silverstein, Cait Cortelyou, Sontenish Myers, and Nancy Schwartzman before the talk Durell Godfrey

On Friday, as the United States Senate neared a final vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as early as Saturday, four women filmmakers gathered at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton to share their stories of rage, healing, and activism one year after the beginning of the #MeToo movement.

A year ago this weekend, the first stories about Harvey Weinstein emerged as the Hamptons International Film Festival was celebrating its 25th anniversary. The news created a prism for viewing many of the films at the festival last year and those released in the year to follow.

It was only fitting that the festival brought together Cait Cortelyou, Sontenish Myers, and Nancy Schwartzman with Melissa Silverstein as moderator at Rowdy Hall on Friday morning for a talk called "Our Bodies, Our Stories."

The stories they tell are about women who have been violated in some way and those who have risen up to address circumstances that threaten women's rights. Ms. Myers's short film "Cross My Heart" is about "when someone you love hurts someone you love" and how "to be a warrior for them." It also addresses the downside of women keeping secrets for other women, and why that might not be the right thing after all.

Ms. Cortelyou's "Ask for Jane" is showing in a sold-out screening on Sunday in Southampton. It is about a group of women in Chicago in the late 1960s called the Jane Collective who learned how to give safe but illegal abortions to more than 11,000 women who had no other options for the procedure. "The thing is, there are pockets all over the United States where this is happening right now in 2018," Ms. Cortelyou said. "There are women performing underground abortions safely and illegally" in states were the laws are restrictive or where providers are scarce.

"It's devastating that it's come to that but also encouraging that where there is a need for this, women will step up and make it happen," she said.

Ms. Schwartzman's film "Roll Red Roll" is about Steubenville, Ohio, and a blogger who published disturbing evidence of a sexual assault of a teenage girl by members of the town's high school football team. It will be screened on Friday at 3:30 p.m. in East Hampton and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center. 

She noted that some of those who show her film say, "Oh, it's about rape, so all the ladies should come. Uh, no, we've already lived these stories." 

Instead, she said, she likes making space for people to share their viewpoints and begin discussing the issues. "I"ve had really surprising and affirming experiences in terms of who is in the room." Like the Traverse City, Mich., football-loving crowd she said was enraged by the film. "That was great."

With so much political backtracking, these women were surprisingly positive about where the culture goes next. Some of that has to do with increasing parity in the film business, including an initiative called 50/50 by 2020 that aims to have half of Hollywood films made with women in high positions by that date. Anne Chaisson, the director of the festival, said that HIFF was at 45 percent this year. That means their voices are being expressed and also beginning to be heard.

Other films in the festival dealing with themes related to #MeToo include "This Changes Everything," showing on Saturday at 10 a.m. in East Hampton and on Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center; "Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes," showing on Friday at 3:15 p.m. in East Hampton and on Saturday at 7:45 p.m. in Southampton, and "All Good (Alles Ist Gut)," a German film showing on Friday at 3:45 p.m. and on Saturday at 8:45 p.m. in East Hampton. 

A more detailed article on this talk and some of the films will be in the Oct. 11 edition of The Star.


Sharing a cell phone momentDurell Godfrey