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The charming small town of Paducah, KY – with a population just shy of 25,000 people – is known for two unexpected things: the largest quilting show in North America and the world’s only film festival for lesbians.
Held annually over Memorial Day Weekend, Cinema Systers Film Festival offers a mix of film screenings, creative workshops, performances and social mixers over four days. Cinema Systers founder Laura Petrie was a longtime attendee of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, an annual event that ran for 40 years before closing in 2015.
Petrie says she was inspired to create Cinema Systers during the last year that Michigan event was held, when organizers handed each attendee an acorn to remind them why spaces for lesbians are important to the development of our culture. Each person was charged with planting that acorn in their home cities to help grow opportunities for lesbians around the world.
“When they asked us to sprout our acorns,” she explains, “I knew mine would develop into a film festival for lesbians – and for lesbian filmmakers in particular.”
In an age where spaces and events for lesbians are decreasing, Cinema Systers aims to “uplift the visions and voices of women filmmakers” and provide a public outlet for their art. In turn, organizers hope to strengthen connections in the lesbian community and build bridges among the festival’s audiences, filmmakers and the community at large through the exhibition of lesbian-produced films and other events planned throughout the weekend.
Each year, Cinema Systers brings together nearly 70 films to compete for awards reviewed by a panel of judges from around the country. Many of the judges are filmmakers themselves, who have previously submitted works to the festival. Films are judged based on a series of criteria that includes categories for cinematography, screenplay, lighting and a variety of other considerations.
Featured films include a diverse selection of comedies, dramas and documentaries focusing on a wide range of themes that are not exclusively centered around coming out, as is the case with many mainstream television and film depictions of lesbians.
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The festival also offers opportunities for lesbians to attend creative workshops and explore filmmaking as a medium themselves. A workshop with B.D Watkins brings together first-time and experienced filmmakers for a two-day intensive session covering the basics of screenwriting, filming and a crash course in editing.
Attendees can select among shorter three-hour intensive workshops in screenwriting, attend an open mic night, hear poetry from acclaimed spoken-word artist e nina jay, experience lesbian feminist works of art, join a meet-and-greet to connect with filmmakers, and participate in Q&A panels with several producers and creators.
Additional opportunities to connect at the festival include evening dance parties and performances by comedians, musicians and poets throughout the weekend. Set in the beautiful Founder’s Room at the River Discovery Center overlooking the Ohio River, a brunch on that Saturday lets women bond with one another as well.
The festival is produced by My Syster’s Art, a 501c3 non-profit organization, and is sustained through proceeds from a silent auction, along with contributions and grants from groups like the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For more information on festival films, events, accommodations and tickets, visit www.cinemasysters.com.
Written by Meg Ten Eyck