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Traveling festival takes unique approach to women’s films

February 14, 2007 By Barbara Wolff

Alice Guy Blaché made movie history in 1896 with the release of “La Fee Aux Choux” (“The Cabbage Fairy”), generally acknowledged to be one of the very earliest films to tell a story, and certainly the first film directed by a woman.

Throughout her career, begun in France and transplanted to America, Blaché did not confine her work to “women’s issues.” Her subject matter ranged from opera scenes to some of the world’s first cowboy films to tales of the military to cinematic calls for prison reform.

The films of Blaché’s cinematic descendants comprise the MadCat International Film Festival, brought to UW–Madison by its student-run film society, Cinematheque. The program, dedicated to screening avant-garde films made by women, will run on two consecutive Sundays, Feb. 18 and 25.

A scene from Susan Simpson’s film, “Boll Weevil Days,”

“Boll Weevil Days,” a film by Susan Simpson, is part of the MadCat Women’s Film Festival. A touring package from the San Francisco festival, consisting of short films made by female directors, will be shown at Cinematheque on Feb. 18 and 25.

Courtesy: Cinematheque

“The MadCat Women’s Film Festival gives our audiences a great opportunity to see exciting and innovative work that simply wouldn’t screen anywhere else in Madison,” says Tom Yoshikami, Cinematheque programmer and graduate student in the Department of Communication Arts. “The distribution network for short and experimental films is such that most of them are seen by very few people. We’re happy to give some of those films an audience.”

Begun in San Francisco in 1996, the MadCat Festival sprung from the imagination and vision of Ariella Ben-Dov, herself a filmmaker. She says that, as the festival’s curator, she seeks films that challenge the use of sound and image, and explore the idea of telling a story visually.

“The festival emphasizes work that is original and visionary,” she says, adding that what sets MadCat apart from others of its kind is the fact that the films are not solely about women’s issues.

“This distinct curatorial approach allows audiences to make their own connections between the films. It also allows viewers to look at the vast array of topics that women film- and video-makers are wrestling with and expand the definition of ‘women’s issues,’” Ben-Dov says.

She also promises that the films will invite their audiences to participate fully in the cinematic experience.

“I want my viewers to be active. They will not sit back and wait for the images to wash over them, or for a simple narrative to tell its story,” she says. “I want the audience to struggle and unpack the themes we’re trying to highlight. Whether viewers are watching a documentary, narrative, animated or experimental film, they will be involved in the visual text set before them.”

“There’s a good mix in this year’s show. I think that people will see some interesting experimentation with the medium of film, as well as have a good laugh,” Yoshikami says.

No doubt film pioneer Blaché would have given the MadCat Festival her whole-hearted endorsement.

Both MadCat installments will begin at 4 p.m. in 4070 Vilas Hall. The festival is free and all are welcome. For more information, contact Yoshikami at 262-3627 or

Tags: film