Bechdel Fest, which highlighted only films that pass the “Bechdel Test,” bringing attention to gender inequality in film and fiction, recently wrapped up in Akron.
The five-day event, the first of its kind here, is named after the Bechdel Test, created by Liz Wallace and made famous by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The test is based on a work having at least two female characters who are given names and talk to each other about something other than a man or boy.
Despite the test’s simple criteria, just half of films produced commercially meet these requirements, and media aimed towards children and teens is even bleaker in terms of on-screen females with their own narrative arc, according to Organizer and Founder Brittany Noble Charek. She said she feels that exposing young Akronites to great art featuring women front and center can directly impact gender equality in future generations. She added that the idea is especially important to her because she is mother to two young boys.
“When I look at the type of media that’s designed for them, I know we can do better,” Charek said. “I want my boys to see women– and people of color, those with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community, or really anyone who is different from them in any way– as more than just a token or someone who needs saving.”
Charek said Akron is the perfect place to host the festival annually. “I’m beyond excited to spotlight Akron on a regional, national and even international stage as the inclusive and welcoming community that Akronites already know it to be.”
The five-day festival took place at multiple venues in and around downtown Akron.
Akron’s indie theater, The Nightlight Cinema, whose mission statement is to “advance cinema and community in tandem”, happens to be located on the block that contains the historic marker for Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech, which was delivered at the Women’s Convention in 1851.
The festival kicked off on the 168th anniversary of that notable event: May 28, 2019.
The Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Main Library, the Akron Art Museum, the theater at the Courtyard by Marriott downtown Akron, and the Myers School of Art at the University of Akron also served as venues for the festival.
“We found that many people were so supportive of the festival that finding committed volunteers was not a problem,” said Project Manager Joanna Wilson.
“One volunteer shared with me that upon learning of the festival, she volunteered within minutes. Our volunteers were from all walks of life — professionals, business owners, students, mothers and seniors. I was so pleased to see that women of all different backgrounds were united to ensure that the film festival be a successful one.”
A free screening of A League of their Own was scheduled at Lock 4 park as a free family-friendly event, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Several festival goers gathered to watch the film at the lounge in the back of the Nightlight instead.
The film festival featured over 50 films, including shorts, documentaries and narrative feature-length films. Eighty-one percent of the filmmakers were women, and one identifies as non-binary. FIlms were featured from all over the United States and 14 international countries.
Dozens of filmmakers were in attendance, including some from as far away as New York City, Washington D.C., Canada and even Alaska.
The festival was funded by the Knight Arts Challenge.
Beyond films, the festival included other interactive programming: a tour of all the female works at the Akron Art Museum, a preview of Ohio Shakespeare Company’s “Lady Disdain” Season featuring all female leads, a PechaKucha storytelling event featuring women and non-binary identifying individuals opening up about their experiences with sexism, and a rehearsal of Rubber City Theatre’s “Tame”: a reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew as part of the Shakesqueer project– also a Knight Arts Challenge winner.