Movies Made by Women

IN a recent article, I discussed the prominence some female filmmakers have gained in recent years, not in male-dominated Hollywood but on the independent scene where movies can more directly express the personalities of their makers. I cited ``Daughters of the Dust,'' an ambitious drama by Julie Dash that had its world premi`ere at the Sundance Film Festival. Several movies in the Sundance lineup illustrated other approaches that female filmmakers have been taking lately - approaches quite different from that of Ms. Dash, whose new picture has a turn of the century setting and a fairly loose narrative line. But they are equally committed to reflecting a feminine perspective on human experience.

An austere yet compelling visual style is central to ``The Juniper Tree,'' directed in Iceland by Nietzchka Keene, a new Los Angeles filmmaker. Loosely based on a resonant Brothers Grimm fairy tale, and taking lines from T.S. Eliot's poem ``Ash Wednesday'' as its starting point, this drama probes sexual and family tensions through the story of a medieval woman who escapes persecution for witchcraft by marrying a young man and becoming an unwanted stepmother for his little boy.

The film suggests the complex roots of misogyny while avoiding sentimentality via the rigor of Ms. Keene's shooting and editing. It is a demanding but impressive achievement that seems to mirror a distinctively female sensibility in its concern with the psychological and historical perceptions of women.

``Little Noises,'' directed by Jane Spencer, uses a more conventional New York City background for its very unconventional look at young, disaffected urbanites. The main characters are male - the only significant woman, played by Tatum O'Neal, stays on the margins of the story - but the theme is a problem faced by many women, including filmmakers: the difficulty of making one's voice heard in the crowded, competitive, highly stratified modern world.

One key figure in the movie is literally mute, and must express his rich feelings in scribbled poems. Another, played with fierce audacity by Crispin Glover, is a would-be author who's convinced he could write the Great American Novel if only an idea would pop into his head. The filmmaker and performers fold an awesome variety of emotions into the movie with a freewheeling boldness that few male filmmakers could surpass. ``Little Noises'' stamps Ms. Spencer as a director of special promise.

OTHER female directors in the Sundance lineup included Nina Menkes, whose ``Queen of Diamonds'' transforms the story of a young woman on the loose in Las Vegas into what the festival competition director Alberto Garcia calls ``a postpop X-ray'' of the United States; and Yvonne Rainer, a veteran avant-gardist whose ``Privilege'' connects a wide range of women's issues to considerations of age, race, and class. Barbara Kopple's ``American Dream'' opens new vistas in documentary filmmaking with its incisiv e account of a strike against a Midwest meatpacking plant.

Lest anyone think women's issues are the province of American films alone, a look at Maria Novaro's poignant Mexican drama ``Lola,'' shown in a special ``Images of Mexico and Latin America'' series, instantly dispels the notion. And if anyone thought Sundance had discovered women's issues only recently, retrospective screenings of Eugene Corr's ``Desert Bloom'' and Jill Godmilow's ``Waiting for the Moon'' proved otherwise. Women's issues and female filmmakers have high visibility on the independent scen e. I hope Hollywood will follow its lead more vigorously.

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