The CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival returns for a fifth year and its second virtual event Thursday, May 13 through Saturday, May 22, showcasing women-directed films from around the world.
The festival is only one of a handful of women’s film festivals in the country, executive director Cheryl Crooks said, adding that the festival has been upgrading its virtual format since last year’s online event.
“We were one of the first film festivals to go virtual,” Crooks said. “We made mistakes last year but we definitely learned a lot given the short amount of time we had. This time we are coming back more savvy.”
This year’s theme of “connect, engage and inspire” will be brought to life through movies such as “Monkey Beach,” an Indigenous film about a woman with supernatural abilities in Vancouver, B.C. and “The Bomb,” a German short film about a family who evacuates their home so the police can excavate a WWII bomb.
More films were able to be included in the virtual festival, Crooks said. This year, 27 films from 14 countries will include films made by everyone from students and emerging filmmakers to professionals. Comedy, mind-bender and feature films are included in the lineup.
An all-access pass is available for $60; a $35 student pass includes everything but the director’s party; and a $35 three-pack pass includes a selection of any combination of films.
The biggest redesigns to the virtual format are Zoom lobby and Gather Town, an animated space designed as the Pickford Theater, where attendees can virtually meet.
The Zoom lobby is available for anybody with an all-access or student pass and is open all hours of the festival, while Gather Town is available to all-access pass holders.
“It is basically like Zoom, but you have a little avatar where you can move around the space and interact with what is around you. You can interact with movie trailers and posters,” said Scout Powell, who helped organize the festival.
Powell said Gather Town allows for users to speak to people one-on-one, and people in the main space can hear conversations near them.
Ten local restaurants will promote the festival by offering discounts for those who use the code “CASCADIA.” Some restaurants such as Bellingham’s Boundary Bay Brewery will use Gather Town to create virtual restaurants.
Two directors attending the virtual director’s party are North Carolinian filmmakers Hannah Black and Megan Petersen. The pair directed and acted in Drought, a 2020 drama that will be showcased at the festival.
The 84-minute film chronicles a teenager named Carl, who is on the autism spectrum and fascinated with the weather. While their North Carolina town is experiencing a drought, Carl and his siblings steal an ice cream truck and chase a storm that Carl predicted.
“The main message of the film is that there is no such thing as normal,” Black said. “We hope that anyone who watches this realizes that they are so wonderful as they are and everyone else is wonderful as they are.”
Black, who used to teach students with autism, said she was inspired by the relationships her students had with their siblings.
“There is also such a family dynamic throughout the film,” she said. “We hope that after watching the film, people will call their brother or sister or mom and dad and say, ‘I love you, I miss you.’”
Black and Petersen said they wanted to accurately portray someone on the spectrum. Owen Scheid, who has autism, debuted his first acting role as Carl.
“We think it is very important to communicate with the person playing the role to make sure they feel it accurately represents someone’s perspective who is on the autism spectrum,” Petersen said.
Alongside directing, Black and Petersen also act in the film, with Black playing Carl’s younger sister Sam Armstrong and Petersen playing Carl’s older sister Lillian Armstrong. Petersen also had a role in House of Cards.
Petersen and Black said they are glad their film can reach a larger audience in the virtual festival and are excited to be able to make connections with other filmmakers at CASCADIA.
“Now, people can view the films from whatever time zone they are in,” Powell said. “The festival has become so much more accessible, which is amazing.”
Tickets went on sale May 1 on the CASCADIA International Film Festival website, cascadiafilmfest.org.