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Film Review: Films from and about women highlighted in the Women + Film Festival

This is a close up of several young teenage girls sitting at a table lined up from in focus to out of focus, laughing.
A still from the documentary film, 'GIRL TALK,' which examines a group of young girls on a debate team at a high-ranking high school where they hope to become the best debaters in the country.

Denver has an extraordinary line up of films about women and created by women hitting the screens at the Women + Film Festival at the Sie Film Center. The festival runs from April 13-16th and features two of the films featured here.

For the first few minutes of Lucia Small’s 'GIRL TALK,' I wondered what was the fuss? The documentary shows mostly girls on the debate team at South Newton High School outside of Boston. For a moment, the film feels and sounds like a lot of teen chatter, but pretty quickly it comes clear that these kids are not the ordinary teens you see in movies – they’re smart, articulate, informed, concerned about the world they live in, and fun to see and hear for an hour and a half.

It’s like watching a bunch of revved-up sports cars zipping around a track. The girls mostly come from prosperous homes, but several from immigrant families. They’re incredibly wound-up kids, furious about achievement and learning how to be ever-better debaters. You wonder what it’s like to be at home with them – do they ever slow down or stop? But they have a big task. For a long time, high school debate has been a boy’s game, and these girls learn that they have to be as loud and fast-talking as the boys, and they also have to contend with the biases of the judges against girl debaters. In an activity that values fast, incessant talk, judges still report that girls are too aggressive twice as often as they do boys.

'GIRL TALK' shows the South Newton kids coaching each other because they don’t have a full-time adult coach.

A still from the film GIRL TALK showing two female students studying together while sitting on a bench surrounded by male students on computers.
A still from 'GIRL TALK' where the work of girl debaters are highlighted.

'GIRL TALK' is a distinguished picture. Director Lucia Small, who died last November, films with feeling and a smart, understanding eye that finds telling details and gestures.

A still from the film The Eternal Memory showing a man and woman sitting together on a large brown couch reading together.
A still from the film 'The Eternal Memory' featuring a husband and wife who struggle with Alzheimer's.

The other distinguished film is the Chilean documentary 'The Eternal Memory,' directed byMaite Alberdi. Is about a man suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease, but unlike most Alzheimer’s stories, 'The Eternal Memory' reaches beyond a simple chronicle of the life of a person descending into misery. The movie is sad enough, but the question of memory engages the history and political life of the country.

Augusto Góngora was a famous journalist who covered the 1973 coup that toppled and murdered Salvatore Allende, and under the control of Augusto Pinochet, disappeared thousands of Chileans. Like many Chilean survivors of his generation, Góngora spent his career in a crusade to preserve the fading memory of those terrible events. He wrote a book called 'Chile, the Forbidden Memory,' and the irony that this man who fought so hard for his country’s memory is now losing his, runs deep throughout 'The Eternal Memory.'

Góngora’s wife, Paulina Urrutia, has been an actress, head of a trade union and in 2006 was appointed president of Chile’s National Council of Culture and the Arts. They’re a serious power couple. But 'The Eternal Memory' is also a touching love story. Urrutia is gentle and loving with Góngora. She plays with him, teases out his memories. Their conversation is a graceful, gentle dance.

With her help and encouragement, they take walks together and talk; they exercise together and then they actually dance. She helps him remember the hated name of Pinochet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more intimate film. A breakfast table scene about him no longer knowing her breaks your heart.

But the personal life of this remarkable couple always comes wrapped in the story of Chile and the great fight not to lose the memory of what happened.

Some extraordinary films are playing at theWomen + Film Festival at the Sie Film Center. Check out the line up and film times here.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.