En garde

Festival challenges perception and patience.

A MINORITY WITHIN a minority, MadCat isn't just a women's film festival, it's an arty showcase of avant-garde experimental shorts and videos that veer far from the traditional modes of storytelling. Although some of the MadCat titles could teach Mr. Madonna (a.k.a. Snatch director Guy Ritchie) a thing or two about nonlinear filmmaking, the five-year-old fest has stayed true to its name: It's often maddening, skittish, and tiresome. A few works are readily comprehensible, but many pass up dialogue and plot in favor of repeating certain images and sounds via loops and collages. Despite curator Ariella Ben-Dov's attempts to organize the films under cohesive themes, an 80-minute collection is difficult to sit through; nevertheless, some gems are sprinkled throughout.


runs February 8-11 at Little Theatre

Part I, "Can't Seem to Find the Right Words," features 11 works from Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United States. (Part II, "World Travelers of the Mind," collects seven shorts from America, Korea, and the Czech Republic.) A standout of Part I is Naomi Uman's Removed, a 16mm short that's a literal example of women reclaiming pornography. Using nail polish and bleach, Uman has erased the image of a woman from a '70s porn flick. The star's exaggerated groans of pleasure are rendered absurd as her glowing, whited-out figure mingles like Casper the Friendly Ghost with her hairy-chested seducer.

Another highlight is Kerry Laitala and Isabel Reichert's 10-minute The Escapades of Madame X, which recasts a Parisian socialite as an Esther Williams-type bathing beauty. While there's much to appreciate about this 16mm work—luminous black-and-white shots of a woman's milky back, her sandaled feet paddling in the waters of a swimming pool, and an unforgettable scene of her smoking a cigarette—its meaning is about as clear as a Rorschach inkblot.

Speaking by phone from the Sundance Film Festival (where she serves as a program coordinator), Ben-Dov explains that while MadCat is "notorious for challenging audiences, it also lets viewers become an active participant. We don't give you the stories on a plate. You grapple with the images and unpack what's happening." Not a bad thing to do once in a while, especially if you've recently sat through the tediously overexplained Cast Away. And believe it or not, MadCat is highly competitive, as Ben-Dov turned down more than 300 entries for this year's traveling festival. Having made educational documentaries including the PBS staples It's Elementary and That's a Family!, Ben-Dov cheerfully admits that her own work wouldn't even meet MadCat's criteria. "The documentaries that I produce do not challenge the use of sound and image. I would reject me."


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