The last time encore spoke with local filmmaker Shannon Silva in 2018, the UNCW film studies instructor had just won the NC Arts Council Fellowship and was prepping to work on her next summer project, a short film called “Shoot the Duck.”
“It seems like ages ago!” she says. Now she’ll screen the flick at this year’s WilmFFilm’s third annual Cinema Sisters International Film Festival, which will take place March 1-2 at Jengo’s Playhouse.
“Shoot the Duck” is mostly autobiographical from Silva’s Saturdays spent at the local skating rink in 5th and 6th grades. She lived for its shoot-the-duck contest, wherein skaters bend all the way down to the floor and glide on one foot while kicking with the other.
“I was queen [of shoot the duck],” she reminisced. “I had a very good friend who was also very good at the competition and we were always pushing each other to win. It was a fun, innocent time and the competition wasn’t mean. It was challenging and encouraging. . . . From there I just knew I wanted to capture this young girl whose real competition was herself—just being the best she could be. I get so tired of the ‘mean girls’ story. I want something that showed positive friendships and healthy, supportive, competition among the girls.”
With a majority female cast of characters—and as a female director/producer and film professor—Silva sees a need for more stories about, as well as created and told by, women. With her filmmaking partner and producer Tiffany Albright, they approached casting and crew hiring with that goal in mind. “My work generally focuses on women’s stories,” Silva continues, “and ‘Shoot the Duck’ provided such a fun space for collaboration and exploration for the women involved.”
Along with Wilmington-based filmmakers like Silva, Cinema Sisters will feature short films created by female filmmakers from across the country and globe. From Argentina to France, the UK to Turkey, India and beyond, genres include drama, comedy, documentary, horror and more.
The festival will kick off Friday, March 1 at 5 p.m., with a local film block of WilmFFilm shorts, including Silva’s “Shoot the Duck” and “He Who Hurls Themselves Once More Upon a Rosebush” by one of her students, Lily Frame.
“I’m excited for all of the films,” Silva notes, “but I have been looking forward to Rebecca Busch and Christen Christian’s ‘Five Minutes With Bucky Love.’ . . . I’m honored to be screening with all of these amazing women.”
Friday night will continue with a Pre-Feature Shorts and Feature Film block at 6:15, featuring “Half the Picture” by director Amy Adrion, which also premiered at Sundance. The evening will conclude with a Southern-style shrimparoo after party at 8 p.m., with local musician Delia Stanley and beer from Bill’s Front Porch Brewery.
Saturday picks back up at 9 a.m. with Film Block One, followed by a free “Inside a Scene” workshop and brunch from 10:15 a.m. to noon with award-winning filmmaker Erica Dunton.
“It will be an empowering couple of days,” filmmaker Kristin Gates observes. Hers and Jeremy LàZelle’s “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” will close Block 3 (3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.) on Saturday.
“The Sacred Place…” documentary follows life at the Arctic Refuge and the Gwich’in Nation trying to protect it (particularly led by women) from big oil companies. They, along with powerful government actions, threaten essential habitat for polar bears, Porcupine Caribou and migrating birds.
“The leasing process for the coastal plain is underway and it needs to be stopped now,” Gates adds with urgency.
Gates has lived in Alaska’s Arctic and sub-Arctic for the last 10 years. She literally bushwhacked across Alaska’s Arctic from the Canadian Border to the Chukchi Sea on a 1,000-mile route on her own. She trekked through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where she has experienced the land’s majesty intimately.
“I ran into a corner of the Porcupine Caribou migration,” she remembers. “It amazes me that this, the longest land mammal migration on earth, goes through our country. It amazes me 40,000 caribou are born on the coastal plain every single year. It is also the thickest polar bear denning area in all of Alaska and an important stop for migrating birds coming from almost every continent and as far as Antarctica.
“Most importantly,” she continues, “this is sacred land to the Gwich’in Nation. I have to believe if anyone were to spend time with the Gwich’in and in the Refuge, they would immediately see the value in protecting this place. . . . That is why we set out on this project, to bring the Arctic Refuge and the voices of the Gwich’in to the world.”
Festival-goers also will learn about a wave of political change happening in Nepal in “6,743 Count My Voice!” Director Shrist Joshi provides a glimpse of the Constitution of Nepal 2015, which guarantees representation of women and marginalized groups in government; and the Local Level Election Act that mandates compulsory representation of two women at the local level council—one of which must be a Dalit (a marginalized community) woman—across 6,743 wards in Nepal.
“As a woman myself, the provision ensuring two women at the ward level council was quite interesting to me,” Shristi explains. “I would talk to women elected under the very provision of how this has been empowering to them. One of such women representatives, who comes from the Dalit community, shared her story of struggle.”
Shristi is new to the festival, and while she won’t be able to make the trip from her home in Nepal, she values the opportunity to share femme-focused stories not often a part of mainstream cinema. Cinema Sisters has been an added boost to her confidence as a filmmaker and storyteller.
“Given the reality that film-festival culture is still new to Nepal,” she adds, “I would definitely like to see something like WilmFFilm Fest happening in here, too.”
WilmFFilm Fest also is an opportunity to network and learn from other independent filmmakers, as well as change the status quo through diverse voices, communities, stories and perspectives that will, ultimately, usher in a whole new medium, according to “Main Blessings” director Abigail Bruley.
“Events that specifically celebrate the female voice give the motivation, support and community we all need on our climb to be seen,” Bruley says. “WilmFFilm Fest is revolutionary, [and] their work is beyond the scope of a film fest; it is a radical push for change.”
“Main Blessings” is one of a dozen films showing in the final block on Saturday from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. This is a comedic short film about ex-alcoholic Lars’ attempt to become a priest and convince Father Ted (played by indie-rock musician Ted Leo) of his spiritual dedication. After he invites Father Ted to his home, Lars is mortified when a friend, Main, from his past is there. In a short amount of time, we see Lars and Main share an almost odd couple rapport.
“Main is definitely a character Lars would have liked to shed in his new life and the connection is not a welcome one,” Bruley explains. “Just as he is having trouble assimilating to a world that kept on progressing without him, she is oblivious anything has changed.”
Bruley, a former comedian who struggled to re-enter the world after coming out of a coma, wanted to write about someone being stripped of their identity and the struggle to find a new one. For Lars, according to Bruley, the concept of surrendering to God is the way to go.
“Once back in society, his first inclination is to join the priesthood as a path that will surely accept him and grant him esteem,” she continues. “Father Ted has seen this character time and time again and he’s not impressed: The stint in AA, the staged apartment [and] the hokey religious paraphernalia; it was clear that Lars wasn’t so much devoted to the religious life as confused and looking for the antidote to his old persona.”