How GRRL HAUS CINEMA Is Advocating For Women In Film, One Indie Short At A Time

by Shardae Jobson

Anastasia Cazabon undoubtedly understands the plight and hard-won triumphs of women creators in the film industry. Though her name is not (yet) associated with big-budget umbrellas such as 20th Century Fox or post-indie juggernauts like A24, her commendable pursuits as a filmmaker, historian, and curator of underground films were challenged, almost from the start, by the overwhelming feeling that women voices were limited, or worse, upended behind the scenes. “I had gone to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and I would say that there were five women to every man,” she tells BUST. “So how was it possible that in the video/design/photo/film communities, these industries were [still] so male-dominated?”

Cazabon has been impassioned about filmmaking since she was a teen. Her ability to recognize the beauty and hard work in the projects of other undiscovered women talents motivated her, along with her own experiences, to establish GRRL HAUS CINEMA.

GRRL HAUS CINEMA is a “labor of love” film festival held at least twice a year. The submissions span the visual textures of animation, stop-motion, documentary, and live action, with the only creative caveat being that the films be presented as shorts. The final selections are showcased back-to-back during a screening.

GRRL HAUS CINEMA began in 2014. “I had been making films for the past five years [at that point], and working in film/video production in Boston,” Cazabon explains. “After working on various video production projects, I was feeling that my voice wasn’t being heard. And I was constantly being talked over or not getting credit for my ideas. It was incredibly frustrating. This was when I decided to actively pursue projects lead by women. I instantly felt relief and, most importantly, respected.”

posterexample newPoster for the GRRL HAUS CINEMA December 2016 screening

When GRRL HAUS premiered, there was little curation of films, because there weren’t yet many participants. The first festival consisted of two of Cazabon’s own movies, as well as music videos she directed for local Boston bands, in addition to work by Cazabon’s friend Jenny Plante, a performance by Gracie Jackie, and a booth by Amy Plante, who sold merchandise from her line of clothes, art, and flair.

In 2015, word of mouth brought curiosity toward the festival, and the GRRL HAUS roster grew to include more shorts by female artists who weren’t former classmates, acquaintances, or friends of Cazabon’s. As she now had a full palette to curate a festival from, Cazabon was able to, as she puts it, “[think] about more unconventional ways of utilizing the space and wanting people to interact with space in a different way. I had just come back from a summer in Berlin, Germany, and really enjoyed the way art spaces and theaters there presented work in unconventional ways. I wanted to bring some of those ideas into GRRL HAUS and [begin] highlighting video art too.”

I first heard of GRRL HAUS CINEMA through The Brattle Theatre’s official Facebook page. The Brattle is the festival’s home; Cambridge, Massachusetts’ only repertory art house; and Cazabon’s former employer.

For GRRL HAUS CINEMA’S final showcase of 2016, on December 19, there was a packed house. The festival received triple the submissions as it did in 2015, and Cazabon collaborated with Under the Underground, another independent Boston enterprise that promotes intersectional, feminist work, to fine-tune selections.

I was one of the newbies in the Brattle audience and can attest that the hour and half of shorts were confrontational and chimerical.

Screen Shot 2016 11 15 at 6.08.07 PM“Battalion to My Beat”

In Battalion to My Beat, Eimi Imanishi communicates the story of a young Algerian refugee who believes her calling is to fight against occupation.

In Tippi at Squam Lake, by Alison Folland, Daphna Mero, and Jenny Plante, the trio examines the effect of the male gaze through re-imagined moments of Tippi Hedren, with real audio of her and director Alfred Hitchcock in conversation. The short illuminates the pressure and sexism Hedren endured as a Hollywood muse (she was later cast in two Hitchcock films, The Birds and Marnie, and became the most famous “Hitchcock blonde.” Their working relationship was further inspected in the 2012 HBO original film, The Girl, starring Sienna Miller).

Screen Shot 2016 12 04 at 2.06.40 PM“From The Skin In, From The Skin Out”

Jessica Renzelman’s From The Skin In, From The Skin Out is a documentary of a young woman outlining the growing pains of her sexuality and gender identification, spliced with archival footage and quotes about how the media has policed women’s bodies.

Samantha Adler de Oliveira’s Palace 2011 is a tender response to the influence of corporate takeover, showing a historical, beautiful building of 1920s Jerusalem that is bought and set to be destroyed and modeled as a Waldorf Astoria.

Lastly, as an example of the fearless shorts shown, is “Bluebeard.” The short, by Rachel Garber Cole and Kimberlee Venable, is an adaptation of a French fairy tale of the same name, depicting a woman discovering her live-in boyfriend’s nocturnal double-life.

After the December screening, it was important and sensitive to Cazabon to reflect on how GRRL HAUS CINEMA has been an advocate for artists (and of course, female artists) and a necessary outlet for idiosyncratic and honest content to be exhibited in Boston, joining the likes of the Roxbury International Film Festival, the Boston Underground Film Festival, and the newly formed Boston Hassle. She hopes that all these initiatives will give rise to a more artistically rewarding city, or at best, a more accessible art scene.

“The second year of the festival was really well-received, and the first thing I noticed was how the audience wasn’t primarily our friends and family,” Cazabon says. “I was thrilled that people I didn’t know personally came out to support our work. This was when I realized how important an event like this [was] to a city such as Boston.” 

She adds, “Even though [the city] is filled with students and universities, there really aren’t that many creative outlets available for people, especially for women. Unfortunately, the city seems to be more and more interested in making money and less interested in the arts and creating spaces and events for creative people.”

What’s next for GRRL HAUS CINEMA is an expansion into the international. This summer, the fest will have its first 2017 showing in Berlin, where Cazabon currently resides. She was personally invited by “an art residency called Picture Berlin” to “curate an event as a part of their program,” and it’ll involve GRRL HAUS.

Having already asked a few filmmakers to join, she is “excited to support more conceptual, experimental films and video art.” GRRL HAUS will return to The Brattle in either late 2017 or 2018.

And who is Anastasia Cazabon? The woman behind the growl of GRRL HAUS? In between curating film festivals, brainstorming film concepts, and taking freelance photography gigs, she’s also a video editor. She still views as many films as she can, and is a fan of progressive work such as Vera Chytilova’s Daisies, Agnes Varda’s Vagabond and Cleo from 5 to 7, and the films of Dario Argento. To her credit, she equally adores comedy classics of the 1990s, such as Clueless and Dazed and Confused.

photos courtesy GRRL Haus Cinema
Published January 11, 2017; updated October 15, 2018

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