The three gems below—all of which date back to the early part of the 20th century in one way or another--weren't easy to unearth. The Latest Variety Sensation, I tracked down at Woman With a Movie Camera: Female Film Directors Before 1950 film series at Anthology Film Archives; The Little Match Girl, I discovered after poking around the Internet Archive and A Jury of Her Peers was something I chanced upon via good old-fashion Youtube. All of which has made it infinitely clear to me that more opportunity—such as the Filmette Film Festival—are vital in raising awareness of female talent in the world of the 30-to-60 minute films.
The Latest Variety Sensation (1917, 32min) Rosa Porten & Franz Eckstein
This swashbuckling comedy is written and co-directed by its star, Rosa Porten, who plays a spirited variety show performer trying to “lightly” con her way into marriage despite resistance from her bourgeois would-be mother-in-law. Porten’s performance is consummate—from the way she jostles her pet chihuahua to her perfectly timed facial expressions to her mean left hook. The only noise heard at the screening I attended was the sound of the audience snickering with pleasure. (It's a silent movie!)
The Little Match Girl (1928, 32min) Jean Renoir
This silent rendition of the Hans Christian Andersen tale features Catherine Hessing as Karen, a young woman who attempts to sell matches on an ostensibly cold New Year’s Eve. Towards the end of the night, she wearily seeks shelter in a wintry nook where she uses her own wares to keep warm. Cue my favorite intertitle: “Cold and hungry, she is stymied by hallucinations.” With Renoir’s attention to fantastical design and choreography, the heroine dances through her dreamscape all the way to the filmette's sobering conclusion.
A Jury of Her Peers (1980, 30min), Sally Heckel
An adaptation of Susan Glaspell's one-act from 1916, this Oscar-nominated filmette centers around a dreary farmstead where a man has been murdered. The prime suspect? His wife! Two women—a neighbor and the sheriff’s wife—discuss vengeance and the shared experiences of womanhood as they carefully review the crime scene. Wonderfully small details like a hint of birdsong and a haphazard stitch in a quilt tug at your heartstrings even as a feminist justice comes into play. In brief, this short (which boasts a 90% female crew) deserves its hype.
By Genevieve Wollenbecker