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Preview: High Falls Film Festival 2017 

When it comes to the treatment of women in Hollywood, hopefully the tides are finally beginning to change. In the wake of explosive stories earlier this month from the New York Times and the New Yorker that investigated decades of sexual assault accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein, the systemic sexism of the film industry and the toxic “boys club” culture it birthed has dominated the cultural conversation.

That Weinstein’s behavior was such an open secret and lasted as long as it did with no repercussions speaks to the staggering power imbalance in Hollywood (and just about everywhere else, frankly). But the swift reaction and righteous anger that followed those initial stories suggests there may be some real momentum to finally do something about the systems that have made such predatory behavior possible.

With change in the air, this year’s High Falls Film Festival feels more vital than ever. “Beyond the scandals, statistics are clear that women filmmakers — above and below the line — encounter significant challenges in a historically sexist industry,” says Nora Brown, High Falls artistic director. “We will continue the mission that we began in 2001: to support and to celebrate women filmmakers, in front of and behind the camera and at the heart of the storylines.”

Highlighting and honoring the contributions of women in film the festival marks its 16th year on Thursday, November 2, through Monday, November 6.

The 2017 lineup includes nine narrative features, seven documentary features, and five shorts programs (including one devoted to locally-produced projects), as well as a free Saturday morning program for kids. Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber will be this year’s recipient of the festival’s Susan B. Anthony “Failure is Impossible” Award in recognition of her contributions to the art of filmmaking.

Below is a preview of five film highlights. All screenings will be held at The Little Theatre (in either theater 1 or 5, so check listings). Each screening is $10 general, and $8 for students and those 65 and older — the award ceremony and opening night film are $15. All-access passes to films and events are $80; film-only passes are $55. For a full schedule, ticket information, and list of events, visit highfallsfilmfestival.com

Starting the festival is the crowd-pleasing drama “The Divine Order.” In the film, a young housewife gets caught up in the women’s lib movement as the counterculture makes its way to Switzerland in the early 1970’s. A growing dissatisfaction with domestic life drives Nora (an excellent Marie Leuenberger) to start campaigning for an upcoming ballot initiative set to determine whether Swiss women will gain the right to vote. She and her friends face an uphill battle changing hearts and minds in their conservative village, but find power in the new community they form. (Thursday, November 2; 7 p.m.; Little 1)

The inspiring documentary “Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct” finds actress-turned-director Cady McClain interviewing some of her fellow working female directors, delving into their experiences as women in a male-dominated industry. It’s a film that speaks directly to the mission of High Falls and offers a fascinating look into the careers of several talented women. A Q&A with McClain will follow. (Thursday, November 2; 8:30 p.m.; Little 5)

In “It’s Criminal,” a class of Dartmouth College students and a group of incarcerated women work together to create and perform an original play inspired by the experiences that led the women to be behind bars. At first, the sheltered students express apprehension and fear about interacting with convicted criminals, but as they spend more time together, the two groups of women forge a powerful connection. A Q&A with director Signe Taylor will follow the screening. (Saturday, November 4; 5 p.m.; Little 5)

A horror-obsessed preteen upends her older sister’s nuptials in the good-natured indie comedy “Zilla and Zoe.” Attempting to give his daughter something to focus her camera on other than her uniquely homemade gore effects, Zoe’s father suggests she document her sister Zilla and her girlfriend as they plan their upcoming wedding. But determined to meet the deadline for a horror movie competition, Zoe decides that the solution is to inject a bit of horror into the process and film the results — with some unintended consequences. The film sometimes goes a bit overboard with the forced wackiness of its premise, but it’s ultimately a sweet story about familial love and acceptance. (Sunday, November 5; 2:15 p.m.; Little 1)

A deeply emotional character study, “The Light of the Moon” follows Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz of “Brooklyn 99” and “Short Term 12”), a young woman dealing with the aftermath of her rape at the hands of a stranger. With her first feature, writer-director Jessica M. Thompson deals sensitively and honestly with an intensely difficult subject, without ever feeling exploitative. Rather than dwelling on the criminal investigation, Thompson focuses on the painful process Bonnie faces in repairing her life and attempting to find some way back to normalcy. She’s alternately helped and hindered by her boyfriend (Michael Stahl-David), who overcompensates for his feelings of guilt over leaving her on her own that night. Beatriz is fantastic portraying Bonnie’s swirling feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt, and frustration as the assault colors every aspect of her personal relationships. Empathetic and insightful, Thompson’s film powerfully illustrates that there’s no set path in recovering from trauma. (Sunday, November 5; 7:30 p.m.; Little 5)

Check back beginning Friday and through next week for more film coverage, including interviews with High Falls participating filmmakers Cady McClain, Signe Taylor, and Jessica Scalise.

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