Roxie Theater series features women filmmakers

San Francisco’s Roxie Theater is taking aim at gender bias in the film industry with its new Ms. Direction series, as the independent film house will highlight past or present day films directed by women. 

Sam Fragoso, director of programming for the Roxie, told SFBay that even though there have been so many great films made by women, many remain less well known than those made by men. Fragoso said part of the Roxie’s response to that disparity is the Ms. Direction program, which will feature a Q&A after each film with Fragoso and writer Marya E. Gates:

“It’s an event where we can have a conversation. It aims to illuminate these movies and talk about the issue of fewer women in the movie industry.”

The first installment in the series will be Susan Seidelman’s 1982 debut film Smithereens. Seidelman herself will be joining the program via Skype to introduce the show.  

Set in New York during the late ’70s to early ’80s, Smithereens follows a wannabe artist-musician, Wren, who moves to New York City to join the punk scene. Unfortunately for Wren, the punk scene has moved on to Los Angeles, but, desperate to promote herself and start her career, she fights to make her name and find a way to California. 

Seidelman shot Smithereens gradually as money became available, and the film is lauded as one of the first truly independent American films from the ’80s. Not only was it her first feature film, but Smithereens also became one of the first independent American films to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival and invited to compete for the coveted Palm d’Or. 

Gates helped pick Smithereens for the series. She told SFBay that discovering Seidelman’s work prompted her to consider how so many films by women exist but aren’t being exposed to a wide audience:

“As a film goer you don’t have much control over what films are made available to you. The concept behind Ms. Direction is to highlight women who are currently making films and also show that women have been making them for a long time but haven’t necessarily been recognized for it.”

By starting off the series with a film from the ’80s, Gates hopes to provide a program that is accessible to the average moviegoer and also historically significant to get the audience hooked.

Smithereens will be screened Tuesday at 7 p.m.  Fragoso says he plans to continue Ms. Direction as a regular program each month at the Roxie:

“I guess the end of the series will be when women filmmakers no longer need a spotlight.”