‘Lunafest’ showcases inspiring films made by women and about women

UConn’s Women’s Center hosted its annual screening of Lunafest, a traveling film festival of short films by, for and about women, on Thursday evening in Oak Hall. The films screened were inspiring, emotional and featured a diverse group of women. They dealt with a variety of topics from grieving loss to breaking barriers.

Lunafest, which began in 2000, aims to support and showcase the efforts of female filmmakers who convey experiences of women from diverse identities. The films featured a variety of women from many countries around the world including Korea, Nigeria and India. Women have struggled to be represented in the media, both as actresses and filmmakers, so Lunafest exists to acknowledge they’re out there and put a spotlight on all of their hard work.

“Being able to showcase a diverse group of women in the media is very important,” Alex Dutro-Maeda, graduate assistant of the Women’s Center, said. “With today’s political climate, it’s more important than ever to showcase their work.”

“We need women more than ever in these spaces after everything that has happened with women in the film industry in the past year,” Steph Goebel, a sixth-semester political science and human rights major, said.

The short films screened were “Yours Sincerely, Lois Weber,” directed by Svetlana Cvetko; “Girls Level Up,” directed by Anne Edgar; Sundance Film Festival’s own “Waiting for Hassana,” directed by Ifunanya Maduka; “Last Summer in the Garden,” a film composed entirely of watercolor paintings, directed and illustrated by Bekky O’Neil; “Fanny Pack,” directed by Uttera Singh; “Joy Joy Nails,” directed by Joey Ally; “Toys,” based on a poem by Peggy Pope and directed by Amanda Quaid; “Buttercup,” directed by Megan Brotherton and “Jesszilla,” directed by Emily Sheskin.

Many films showed the struggles that people of color face. “Fanny Pack,” which showed the relationship between an Indian-American man and his daughter Priya, was lighthearted but still exposed racism towards people of color in America. As Priya’s dad went through security in an airport, he had a string of floss hanging from his fanny pack and was accused of it being the wire of a bomb, causing him to be stopped by TSA. The film was directed by Uttera Singh, who also plays Priya. The film is very comical, but also still has deeper implications of how people of color are treated.

“At a time when there is so much hate around us, I wanted to use humor to change
perception and create a sense of unity —we’re all in this craziness together. We all dream of
co-existing in love and freedom, in a safe world,” Singh said of her film during a press release.

“Waiting for Hassana,” another film that deals with racism, had a much more somber tone but was extremely powerful. Filmed in Nigeria, it told the true story of over 200 girls kidnapped from their boarding school by an extremist group. The narrator of the story is a girl who escaped and had to leave behind her best friend in the process. The film was extremely emotional, and it was heartbreaking to watch a young girl explain how she has lost her best friend due to a senseless act of violence and terrorism.  

Several films celebrated the accomplishments of women who are breaking barriers, such as “Girls Level Up” and “Jesszilla.” “Girls Level Up” tells the true story of Laila Shabir, an MIT graduate and United Arab Emirates immigrant who has founded the summer camp Girls Make Games, which allows girls to create their own video game, something that is typically thought of as a masculine hobby. The camp has expanded to 38 cities around the U.S. and Shabir is now bringing it to her hometown in UAE. “Jesszilla” introduces viewers to Jesselyn Silva, a 10-year-old female boxer. She is one of very few young female boxers and has aspirations to compete in the 2024 Olympics and to become a professional.

“I want to show everyone who’s doubting me that I can do it,” Silva said in the film. “I never think that anything is too hard for me.”

“Joy Joy Nails” was one of the most emotional films screened. It told the stories of Korean and Chinese women working at a nail salon. When one employee was sexually assaulted, her boss who had originally been hostile towards her stood up against the assaulter and helped her buy Plan B. It not only exposed some of the harsh conditions nail salon employees are forced to work under, but it showed how traumatizing sexual assault in the workplace can be.

The films covered a wide variety of topics, but each one had their own interesting perspective of life as a woman. They were all very enjoyable and very well made. Lunafest serves as a great platform to recognize diverse women and their work.

“Two of the films I was most excited to see were “Fanny Pack” and “Joy Joy Nails.” It’s so important to see more Asians represented in the media and to see their stories,” Michelle San Pedro, a graduate student studying anthropology said. “It was great to see so many different parts of the country and the world represented on such a large platform.”


Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at melissa.scrivani@uconn.edu.