Women Superstars at the Ethnomusical Film Festival

Tina Turner today

In a year marked by an unprecedented social revolution that sparked widespread difficult conversations about people that the world favors and those it does not, one can’t help but wonder who else throughout history has been left behind and whose work has yet to receive its proper moment in the spotlight. In this spirit of searching out and celebrating those voices too often swept under the rug, the 14th iteration of the Ethnomusical Film Festival’s “Images and Sounds of the World,” focuses its eyes on documentary productions centered on female artists and instrumentalists from around the globe. The festival, titled “Sound Universe of Women,” will be held this October 8 – 10 at Firenze’s Cinema La Compagnia (Via Cavour 50 / R).  The entries will be shown in their original language with English and Italian subtitles.

Friday’s movie marathon finishes with the 9 pm Italian premiere of Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s Tina, an unflinching look from the Oscar winning directors into the life of the Queen of Rock n’ Roll, Tina Turner, through her own eyes. 

Earlier in the day, Colombian anthropologist María Fernanda Carrillo Sánchez’s Cantadoras kicks off the festival at 3 pm, offering an insightful exploration of the Cantadoras, an Afro-Colombian microculture that explores life and death in song through funeral gospels and traditional tunes from the Caribbean and Pacific. Cantadoras is followed at 5 pm by India-focused Sakthi Vibrations, a inspiring documentary by American ethnomusicologist Zoe Sherinian about Tamil Nadu based center where dance and music is taught to “untouchable” women as a medium for developing them into economically self-sufficient, confident, and well rounded individuals. Pushpendra Singh’s gripping production The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs is the evening’s penultimate screening at 7 pm, exploring the Bakarwal people’s multi-song story of Laila, a young Kashmiri nomad navigating the endless conflict in her region as she seeks a life of freedom and peace from the instability around her. 

The festival returns Saturday, October 9, with a focus on women in jazz and show business, led off at 3 pm by Yoruba Richen’s How It Feels to be Free, a powerful portrait of black artistic revolutionaries Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier, who in braving the political and social winds of their times laid the groundwork for other public faces to champion social causes like Black Lives Matter. Carol Bash’s biopic Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band follows at 5 pm and discusses how Mary Lou William’s creative chaos helped shape the sound of 20th Century American music. The Girls in the Band, Judy Chaikins touching review of underappreciated women instrumentalists in jazz from the 30’s to present day, comes after at 7 pm. Leslie Woodhead’s comprehensive documentary Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things closes the evening with a 9:00PM premiere, navigating six decades of the jazz heavyweight’s life and her ability to draw soul-touching songs from her own troubles through a collection of various audio and visual media and interviews. 

Sunday’s slate begins at 3 pm with a familiar film from the festival’s past: Lisa and Rob Fruchtman’s Sweet Dreams, a beautiful story about Tutsi and Hutu reconciliation as a group of Rwandan women from both sides combine music with economic inspiration to start Rwanda’s first ice cream store. Sonita, Iranian filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s Best World Cinema Documentary at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, follows at 5 pm with a vivaciously inspiring capture of a 18 year old Afghan refugee who raps against the abuse Afghani women endure in her homeland. Following Sonita is Indian director Deepti Gupta’s long-gestating documentary Shut Up Sona at 7 pm, a powerful tale of resilience of #MeToo activist and Indian singer Sona Mahopatra as she battles for three years against entrenched societal gender norms, online abuse, and music industry juggernauts who shun her voice and activism for equality. The festival’s final film, Argentina (Zonda – Argentine Folklore) by Carlos Saura, begins at 9 pm and explores the different journeys of music through the country’s history. Sunday, and the festival at large, ends with the 10:30 pm premiere of “Bienvenida Argentina” by singer Ginevra Di Marco, a tribute to Argentinian music with a special focus on Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa. 

With prices of € 5  for each afternoon film, € 7 for each evening film, €15 for the package of Argentina + Bienvenida Argentina, or a daily pass of €10 for three afternoon screenings + 1 evening film, “Sounds Universe of Women” is a truly special celebration that you won’t want to miss. Advance ticket sales will be available at the cinema cash desk and on www.cinemalacompagnia.it.  (ashutosh ajay shah)