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Cinema Femme Short Film Festival Preview

The sixth annual Cinema Femme Short Film Festival will celebrate its second year of in-person events and screenings from April 25th to May 2nd. The festival’s ethos centers on uplifting up-and-coming female and non-binary filmmakers by platforming their work and facilitating connections with industry professionals. 

Hosted at Chicago’s beloved Music Box Theatre, twenty short films have been selected for screening and will be viewed across three programs. Program 1, "Dear Body," examines the intersection of self and body. Program 2, "Sincerely Yours," is a collection of films reflecting personal history and biography. And "P.S.", the final program, is an assemblage of diverse genre films, from the bone-chilling to the absolutely hilarious.

The fest will kick off with live Q&A events with filmmakers Haroula Rose and Lori Felker, as well as the Chicago premiere of Estonian filmmaker Anna Hints’ documentary, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood,” which premiered at Sundance earlier this year. There will also be a wealth of virtual events over the course of the fest, including a producer panel that will be streamed live via Cinema Femme’s YouTube channel. Below is an interview with Cinema Femme founder and editor Rebecca Fagerholm about the festival’s inception, community, and future. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Can you discuss the inception of the Cinema Femme Festival and the central tenets of its creation?

In 2018, Cinema Femme started as a magazine, and we were actually print and online. The whole thing of our magazine was elevating underrepresented voices, specifically women and non-binary people's voices. So, we had essays written about films, as well as interviews with women and non-binary people in the industry. We noticed that our audience was mostly emerging filmmakers in the community, and I was fortunate to be able to speak to some top filmmakers in the industry. I saw that these emerging artists are craving our content because they're not seeing it anywhere else. It made me think that it would be amazing to have something where I could connect these emerging artists to seasoned professionals, and that’s what started the idea of the mentorship program. And then I was like, maybe we could do a festival where we screened those artists’ films and have the mentorship be the grand prize. 

Many festivals include shorts programs, but so much publicity and attention in the film sphere is feature-length focused. What made you decide to center the festival on shorts?

I think short films are so special. When I started the festival, I thought this is a great showcase for emerging artists to show their style. They're putting their creative voice out there to get heard in a short period of time so if people want to mentor or support them, they can see their calling card. But then, over time, I've realized how powerful the short film medium is. 

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” was a film we both really loved out of Sundance this year. This will be its Chicago premiere! Why was it important to you to platform it in this year’s festival? 

I was just like, 'People have to see this film.' It was my favorite film of last year and it's so personable and joyful and emotional. It’s a communal thing, which I think is very connected to Cinema Femme. I think it's a special film that will stay with people. In fact, I asked Anna Hints to do an intro video we could play before the film, and she sang us an Estonian song! I’m so excited to play it. Cinema Femme has always had an international reach as well, so I think it’s special to bring something from another country here.

The variety of seasoned professionals on the roster is exciting. You’re in contact with other filmmakers, but this year, you’re also introducing a producer panel. What will that look like? 

It’s really exciting. It's like one of those things where, again, I am fortunate to talk to some of the top people in the industry, and I hear all these filmmakers saying, “I wish I could find a female producer or non-binary person producer” because there are so many men. So I was like, you know what? We need a panel where we can elevate these producers and also talk about the realities that we're in right now with the film industry, the scrappiness of being a producer, and also how these emerging filmmakers can get connected. I'm excited! We’ll have Rhiannon Jones ("Shiva Baby," "Palm Trees and Power Lines," "Tendaberry"), Natalie Metzger ("Greener Grass," "Thunder Road"), and Oluwaseun Babalola ("Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches," "United Shades of America"). So it's a really good mix of different genres and types of film producers, so it should be interesting!

It’s cool how the Cinema Femme Fest is as much about the work of the creatives as it is about networking. It's all very community-oriented, and I'm curious how you've seen the festival impact the Cinema Femme community over time.

If we want to go back to the mentorship program, one of our first mentee winners, Gabriela Ortega, got matched with Laura Moss, a horror director who did "birth/rebirth" last year. And Gabriela has been skyrocketing. She's been at Sundance now and Tribeca and doing stuff for Disney Plus, and she screened her first show at our festival. To see her rise like that and have the people in our community elevating her as she goes on her journey … that's really exciting! That's been my motivation from the beginning with this festival: to get these emerging artists to have sustainable careers and have the community behind them.

This year, the mentorship program is a retreat. How is this different from years past, and what will this change look like? 

In past years, it was the mentor meeting the mentee in person or via Zoomfor 30 minutes minimum a month for six months. They could decide where they want to take it. The mentor could read over scripts of the mentee, give feedback, or get involved as much as they want. Like Haroula Rose, who we’re highlighting this year as our tribute filmmaker, she was a mentor for our first year and she actually went to London to visit her mentee, which I think is so cool. The retreat was recommended by Melora Walters, one of our mentors for the last two years, and I thought it was a great idea. 

Galena, Illinois is a place I love, and it's a great place to reboot, you know? If we could have a weekend where the mentors and the mentees could get together, they could get to know each other more. There’s a workshop element, but we can also do outdoor activities together, like hiking with goats! It’s so cool, and I think it's good because we're getting back to in-person now, and it's better, I think, to have something more contained in a short period of time rather than like a half-hour minimum once a month for six months. This gives the mentors a chance to concentrate more with the mentee because we'll all be in the same place.

It’s admirable that Cinema Femme covers the bases from idea conception through final criticism through this festival, the mentorship programs, and the publication itself. What goals do you have for Cinema Femme moving forward?

I would like to do more community, in-person events. There was a period of time when I thought we should have Cinema Femme filmmaker meetups in all the cities around the world. Filmmakers from L.A. and New York come here, and I hear, “We don't have this kind of community,” so I feel like having spinoffs of our Cinema Femme-type spirit events and maybe even screenings in other cities.

It's a long-term dream of mine to have an artist retreat where filmmakers in Chicago can get away and work on their artistic process. I’ve learned in my life that it's important to have that space for rebooting and working on your process, whether it's personal or artistic. Nature is such a big part of that. So I want that's why I'm bringing that retreat space into our community.

Tickets to the Cinema Femme Short Film Festival are available to purchase via the Music Box Theater website. For more details on the schedule for the festival’s virtual and in-person events, visit the official page

Peyton Robinson

Peyton Robinson is a freelance film writer based in Chicago, IL. 

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