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High Falls Women’s Film Festival shifts to monthly showings

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After nearly two decades of shining the klieg lights on women both in front of and behind the camera, Rochester’s High Falls Women’s Film Festival is making an abrupt turn.

Sometime this fall, the yearly festival will evolve into a monthly series shown at The Little Theatre, 240 East Ave. The theater is operated by WXXI.

Along with the films, directors and actors will be brought in to preserve the festival's connection between the audiences and the filmmakers. Previous guests have included Lynn Redgrave, Diane Ladd and Leslie Stahl.

“It’s certainly something that we, before the pandemic, we had had conversations with the festival board about what the future of film festivals would be,” said Kate Herrmann. She will be stepping down as executive director of the festival, which will be operated by The Little Theatre.

“So it’s not something that is just pandemic-driven. There has been a thought of deciding what would be the next right move for quite a long time.”

In a city of film history, with a calendar of festivals ranging from young-adult works to slasher films, it’s estimated the High Falls Women’s Film Festival has screened more than 800 films since 2001; there was no festival last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival has seen a few name changes and identity evolutions. And while it is one of about 40 film festivals worldwide dedicated to the work of women in cinema, that's not its sole focus. Actor Bill Pullman, director James Ivory and Rochester natives Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Forster have made appearances as well.

The subject matter is often tough. The last year that the event was held, 2019, opened with the documentary “We Are Not Princesses,” in which a woman who has fled her native Syria matter-of-factly describes wild dogs feeding on dead bodies in the streets.

“We really are committed to the mission of seeing women filmmakers promoted,” Herrmann said. “And there have been so many changes within the film industry with the rise of streaming platforms and the pandemic really just exaggerated that. So we really felt that female directors, in getting their work out there, would be best served by a model that brought films to the public more often, than just a one-time-a-year festival.”

No films have been booked yet for the new monthly series, but organizers plan on keeping the content in line with the High Falls Women’s Film Festival.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.