‘Ladies with Lenses’ shorts capture human struggle

The collection of short films highlights the incredible work of female filmmakers on Vimeo.

This review contains spoilers for “Nevada,” “For Nonna Anna,” “Johnny’s Home,” “Counterfeit Kunkoo,” “Untitled Groping Revenge Fairytale” and “Liberty Hill.”

“Ladies with Lenses,” created by Vimeo staff picks curator Meghan Oretsky, is a channel that highlights the exceptional work done by women on the video platform. The channel hosted a short film event on Nov. 3 at Stephens College’s Citizen Jane Film Festival in Columbia.

The showing featured eight short films by female directors. Each of the films focuses on men and women faced with challenges and relates to timely topics, like disability, family planning, mass incarceration, political resistance, women’s rights and LGBT discrimination. Of the short films, there were a few that stood out the most to me.

“Nevada” is a claymation/animation piece from director Emily Ann Hoffman. It tells the story of Zoe (Chet Siegel) and Eli (Jonathan Randell Silver), who are having sex at an Airbnb while on a romantic getaway before realizing their condom broke. During a run to the store for Plan B, the pair bicker over the cost of the emergency contraceptive and contemplate how to split the cost. Upon returning to the Airbnb, Zoe decides to wait until the next morning to take the pill, which touts effectiveness up to 72 hours after sex, in return for another evening of worry-free intimacy.

In the lead up to the next morning, Eli and Zoe take turns imagining life with a baby. Eli sees himself becoming a stay-at-home father who writes poetry on the side. Zoe, who had first been uncomfortable with the idea of a baby, sees a Nevada poster on the wall while taking a bath and decides it’s the perfect gender-neutral name for their preconceived baby. When the next morning finally arrives, the pair toast to Nevada before Zoe takes the Plan B. Watching the events unfold on screen, it’s easy to get sucked into the emotional panic and curious imaginations of the characters, despite their clay forms.

“For Nonna Anna,” from trans-femme filmmaker Luis De Filippis, is about a transgender girl, named Chris (Maya Henry), taking care of her elderly Italian grandmother. The girl assumes, at the beginning of the piece, that Nonna (Jacqueline Tarne) disapproves of her gender transition. However, while packing up the contents of the elder’s cupboards, Chris encounters several VHS tapes, including one entitled “Chris and Nonna.” The tape shows Nonna encouraging Chris, before transitioning to female, to dress up in her jewelry and clothes. After struggling to get the uncomplacent and urine-soaked Nonna undressed for a shower, Chris strips down to reveal herself. Upon seeing this, Nonna gives in. Together, the pair share a close moment of nude vulnerability that closes the film. Henry and Tarne’s emotional portrayal of acception in the scene took my breath away, despite their lack of dialogue.

“Johnny’s Home,” directed by Anna Bron and Elyse Kelly, comments on mass incarceration in the U.S. The piece, commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union, shares Johnny Perez’s experience of rejoining society after a 13-year prison sentence. “The world is completely different than what you left it,” he says. “You’re really overwhelmed with fear — fear of not being able to live in this new society.” Perez tells of constantly being hindered by his past actions following his release, despite already serving his time and facing the punishment of not being able to see his daughter grow up. “Johnny’s Home” is a work of purposeful art, the vivid orange, blue and red brushstrokes of the city contrasting with the drab grey and green of a prison cell. The emotional narrative details the toll that an unjust system can take on families and their communities.

In Reema Sengupta’s “Counterfeit Kunkoo,” Smita Sunil Nikam (Kani Kusruti) struggles to find housing in Mumbai, India after leaving her abusive husband. Despite having the money necessary, no landlord is interested in renting her an apartment upon learning she is a single woman. Her long search eventually proves successful when she wears kunkoo and lies that her husband is away for work. Kunkoo, also known as sindoor, is a red power that Hindu women wear on their forehead and maang (the parting of their hair) to denote marital status. After Nikam is finally settled in to her new apartment, the film ends with her answering the door to find the landlord asking if her husband is home, an action that would undoubtedly restart the whole cycle. The 15-minute film highlights the hurdles that women escaping domestic abuse must face in India, something that Sengupta’s own mother faced after her husband kicked her out of their home.

Catherine Bisley’s “Untitled Groping Revenge Fairytale” is a play on the average witch fable. A young woman walks through the woods, her blonde, curly hair tied up messily in a bun while wearing a knee-length floral dress and turquoise wedges. She sets up a red tent at the edge of the trees after coming to a stop. She waits until nightfall before letting her hair down and changing into a long fur coat. Every night, she wanders down the road, finds unsuspecting men, who are guilty of groping women, and leads them back to her tent. The men reemerge in the morning in the form of horses, pigs, dogs, chickens, guinea pigs and sheep. The woman collects each of the men before opening up her own petting zoo, where people can pay to fondle them — the ultimate revenge for their crimes. Although the subject matter of the short was quite dark, my fellow audience members and I couldn’t help but find the entire piece amusing.

“Liberty Hill,” directed by Katie Graham, is the story of Karen Collins, a quilter and political activist from Texas. Collins never paid much attention to politics. It wasn’t until the 2016 presidential election that she realized her responsibility as a U.S. citizen. During her retirement, she has attended marches and rallies, organized protests, campaigned for the repeal and replacement of Ted Cruz, formed a neighborhood group of women and embraced her role in “the resistance.” The twist of an older woman from the deep south being a progressive political activist comes as a surprise to most audience members and serves as an inspiration to many who feel that they aren’t capable of taking political action on their own.

While the eight short films span animation, documentary and narrative and feature differing characters and challenges, their subject matter is complementary. “Ladies with Lenses” encompassed issues that women, the LGBT community and those with disabilities face every day in society. Although each of the short films had their own strengths, “Untitled Groping Revenge Fairytale” and “Liberty Hill” were the most memorable in my eyes due to their use of humor to address otherwise serious issues.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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