Film Festivals | Interviews | Vermont

The Women’s Festival: Raising Awareness Through Film

28 Feb , 2011  

Written by K. Correia | Posted by:

As a completely volunteer-run organization, The Women’s Film Festival of Brattleboro, Vermont shows how film and the power of community work together to make a difference.

Celebrating its 20th year, The Women’s Film Festival (WFF) is the longest-running women’s film festival in New England and one of the oldest in the country. Founded in 1992 in reaction to the murder of a local Brattleboro reporter, the Festival “is dedicated to never experiencing that kind of violence again,” says WFF Coordinator Marilyn Buhlmann.

The WFF strives to bring women’s issues to the forefront of society by showcasing films that not only deal with women’s struggles, but also their accomplishments. All proceeds of the WFF benefit the Women’s Freedom Center (formerly Women’s Crisis Center), an outreach center and shelter dedicated to helping women and children escape domestic violence and to educating the community on ending acts of violence.

Initially, the Festival started as “a program done by the Latchis Theatre for the Women’s Crisis Center,” says Buhlmann, who is also the Chairperson of the Center. As the number of volunteers grew, the WFF took on its own life force. Currently, there are over 100 volunteers contributing to the WFF in areas ranging from social media campaigning to film selection. The Festival, which is held annually during Women’s History Month, is taking place from March 11th through March 20th. It is scheduled to present 39 films from countries around the world.

While predominately featuring new films, the WFF is also taking the opportunity to highlight its 20th anniversary by showcasing popular films of Festivals past. “Many of these films are not available… they are very limited release films and we’re really excited about bringing them back,” says Buhlmann. Among this list is the musical drama from Germany, Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia. The film tells the story of a group of female musicians who start a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, end up on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, and are eventually taken hostage by a Mongolian Empress vacationing in the desert. It is perhaps one of the most beloved films ever to be screened at the WFF, so much so that its image is featured on the Festival poster.

The WFF is also hosting several panel discussions with visiting filmmakers, authors, and political representatives. One such panel will be a post-film discussion with Vermont Senator and diplomat Peter Galbraith on the documentary film Bhutto. A Grand Jury Prize nominee at the Sundance Film Festival, Bhutto is the story of the life and death of Pakistani politician, Benazir Bhutto. The film also speaks on Bhutto’s legacy and the impact of her assassination on Middle-Eastern politics, which the post-film discussion will reflect upon.

In addition to post-film discussion panels, the WFF is hosting its first ever listening forum titled “Stand Up and Be Heard!” The WFF was approached by the Vermont Commission on Women, a state agency dedicated to ending discrimination and promoting opportunities for women, to help create a special forum in which local and state officials, community organizers, and the public can discuss not only topics raised by the films shown during the festival, but also address relevant concerns regarding women today.

In terms of the overall film selection process, committee members normally begin their search towards the end of summer. Members will screen between 70 and 150 films, “looking for the cream of the crop,” says Buhlmann. They draw upon relationships that have been fostered over the years with filmmakers and film distributors in addition to researching both national and international film festivals to come up with the finalized list of films they intend to present. “We don’t have a theme,” says Buhlmann. “We are looking for a broad representation of films about women… films that represent issues across the life cycle.”

In an effort to further expand breadth of films eligible for the final lineup, the WFF has also recently started to accept film submissions. This year, the WFF received 45 submissions from filmmakers from across the country. Of the total 39 films being shown at this year’s Festival, four of them will be submission films. “The movies don’t have to be by women, but they need to be about women,” says Buhlmann. The WFF also does not limit itself to documentary or fiction films, but embraces all forms of film and genres.

By accepting such variations in film, the WFF is able to address a broader audience. Reaching out to an audience, to people, is a main objective of the WFF and the Women’s Freedom Center in combating the stereotypes of women and in helping to educate society about the struggles and the violence women and their families face today. In the hopes of promoting awareness among a younger demographic, the WFF, in conjunction with the Vermont Center for Digital Art, has initiated a High School Video Competition. The competition asks students to create a 120 seconds or less video for YouTube in response to the topic of ‘Woman.’ Winners of the competition will receive a cash prize and have their video shown during the WFF’s closing reception.

With 20 years to its credit, the WFF has not only caught the eyes of officials in Vermont, but also those nationally. Knowing that film can change how people view each other and the world, and realizing that the WFF has faithfully promoted communication and the betterment of society, the WFF was awarded a grant from The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences in 2010. The grant has allowed the WFF to further diversify its audience and continue its work in changing how women are perceived in the media.

By using film to raise awareness of women’s issues, and doing so with a strong community of volunteers, the WFF shows that only in working together can we truly make a difference.

To find out more about the festival, visit

To find out more about the festival, visit