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Through Women's Eyes International Film Festival asserts its identity

By going solo, organizers have been able to add events, emphasize message

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  • | 4:00 a.m. March 4, 2020
Chris Serio Martin, left, and Scott Osborne, organizers for UN Women USA Gulf Coast Chapter's annual Through Women's Eyes International Film Festival, are excited about the festival exerting its identity as a standalone event.
Chris Serio Martin, left, and Scott Osborne, organizers for UN Women USA Gulf Coast Chapter's annual Through Women's Eyes International Film Festival, are excited about the festival exerting its identity as a standalone event.
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For the past 10 years, the Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival has run in conjunction with the Sarasota Film Festival.

This year, TWE organizers decided the time had come to part ways with the larger festival. In movie terms, how would this move be described? It’s not a sequel or a reboot because both festivals are continuing, just on their own respective paths.

A spinoff? No, because that would imply TWE originated at the Sarasota Film Festival.

“This is our 21st year, actually,” says Scott Osborne, president of U.N. Women USA Gulf Coast Chapter, the organization behind the Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival.

TWE existed for 10 years prior to its affiliation with SFF, Osborne says. It started small; the first year it was just a single film shown on one afternoon at New College. Of course it grew from there, and eventually, the decision was made to bring it over to run in tandem with SFF.

"A Chance," asks whether the past is ever really past. (Courtesy image)

“I think the people who were involved at the time really felt that would bring new audiences to us,” Osborne says — not to mention that it helped defray the logistical burden. The strategy worked. For the next decade, Through Women’s Eyes got the chance to grow and to become recognized.

“Working with SFF, it was a great partnership,” Osborne says. But at this point, Sarasota looks to be capable of supporting two film festivals, she says, and for TWE to do and be everything it can and should be, it needs to stand alone.

“We’re part of U.N. Women Global, and we translate their message at the local level,” Osborne says. In the briefest of terms, the main focus of that message is right there in the name. “The time is now to recognize the importance of a women-focused film festival.”

So this year, Through Women’s Eyes is stepping out on its own and will take place Friday, March 6 through Sunday, March 8 with 37 films from six countries — the largest selection the festival has offered.


Movies with a message

The festival is really two showcases in one: the medium and the message, explains Chris Serio Martin, communications director for both U.N. Women USA Gulf Coast Chapter and for the TWE festival. Each film is either made by women or it features inspiring women, and in some cases both.

“When you go to the mainstream movies, you see movies most of the time about men saving women,” she says. “And I think what I love about our festival is that the women are heroes, and they’re inspiring and brave.”

Even when the film isn’t about women, the fact that this diverse, international collection of artfully made films were made by women is a message in itself, Martin says. And with a stand-alone festival, it’s easier to emphasis these points.

When TWE was tied to the Sarasota Film Festival, opening night belonged to SFF. This year, TWE will kick off with a reception at 6 p.m. Friday at Burns Court Cinema.

"Medicating Normal" will be screened at the opening reception. (Courtesy image)

It’s an important addition, Martin says, because it’s the shared experience, the interaction that makes any film festival special. “I would say it’s almost a sensory experience,” she says. “There are lot of creative people in Sarasota. They get to meet and talk shop.”

Opening night will also be where the first few films will be screened, including the award-winning documentary feature “Medicating Normal.” Directed by Lynn Cunningham and Wendy Ractliffe, the film examines how millions of Americans become dependent on commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs and the long-term harm they cause.

That’s hardly a gender-specific issue, and in that sense, the film serves as an example of one of the messages of the festival: Women can direct more than “women’s films.”


Wide screen views

That will be abundantly clear Saturday and Sunday. The heart of the festival will take place at the Hollywood 11 Cinemas, with screenings throughout both days.

"Sema" documents the ongoing violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Courtesy image)

Part of the U.N. Women USA’s mission is to raise awareness of gender issues worldwide.

The festival lineup will include films from Canada, Australia and Switzerland. There’s a film out of Iran — “How often do you see a film from Iran?” Osborne asks, much less a film from Iran by a woman. There’s another called “Sema,” out of the Democratic Republic of Congo dealing with violence toward women in that country. Same question.

Not all the films are international, nor are they heavy.

“I Am Not My Hair” examines the importance women have traditionally placed on hair as a beauty standard and what happens to that thinking when women are bald. Not the heaviest topic in the world, but an interesting conversation.

"Sensei Fran Kicks Ass" profiles 80-something martial arts instructor Fran Vall. (courtesy image)

On a lighter, inspirational note, “Sensei Fran Kicks Ass” profiles 81-year-old martial arts instructor Fran Vall. The film is as much about octogenarian empowerment as it is about female empowerment.

For anyone who is a film buff, Martin says, ask yourself how often you get a chance to venture this far out of the mainstream and see this many high-quality films. That might the most important thing people need to know about the festival, Martin says, in case they have any misconceptions that this is some feminist rally.

Yes, it’s a women’s film festival, and yes, there is an emphasis on multiculturalism, but the point is that even if you set those issues aside, it’s an impressive collection of films.

"Funnel of Dreams" follows a Sarasota family's move to England. (Courtesy image)

Of course, if you do set those issues aside, you need to swing back around to it because it is after all a film festival for films by and about women and to promote female filmmakers.

Another addition to this year’s festival will be an Emerging Filmmakers Showcase. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, nine films by student filmmakers will be shown, followed by a panel discussion.

This an important addition, Osborne says. So much of the meaning behind TWE is to encourage young, female filmmakers, and this showcase is something it couldn’t have done if it had remained affiliated with the Sarasota Film Festival.


The bigger picture

Closing night will be another big gathering and a cultural experience. When it was decided that TWE would be a stand-alone festival, the first question was when it would be.

"Luz" is an animated short about a little girl who always has an answer for all her mother's problems. (Courtesy)

It wasn’t really much of a question, Martin says; it was an opportunity. The festival was scheduled to incorporate International Women’s Day into a “Fabulous Filmmakers Reception” at 6 p.m. Sunday at Sarasota City Center.

Held March 8 every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated in more than 100 countries around the world. “People take off work; they have parades,” Martin says. But she adds that somehow the holiday has eluded the U.S.

U.N. Women USA Gulf Coast is one of the few organizations in town that celebrates the holiday, Martin says. “We do have a huge international following in the community. It’s a fun celebration.”

It’s also a perfect fit for the festival “because our film festival is so international,” Osborne says. “It’s just a very nice kind of celebration of all things international.

“We’re an advocacy organization, but we’re fun. We try to do a really good balance of work in the community that’s informative, that’s full of advocacy, but we also want people to know we’re welcoming.”

For a schedule and ticket options to the Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival, visit


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