Resilience and transformation are common themes in the Second Annual Detroit Women of Color International Film Festival taking place this weekend at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Documentaries make up the bulk of the schedule, but two powerful narrative films set the tone: Deepa Mehta's controversial Water (2005) is set in a Hindu widow house in 1938 India, with the movement for political independence inspiring these exiled women; and the seriocomic slice of contemporary Lebanese life, Caramel (2007), written, directed, and starring Nadine Labaki as the owner of Beirut beauty salon.
The Indian-born, Canadian-based Mehta was forced to shut down filming of Water in the holy city of Varanasi on the Ganges River because of violent protests by fundamentalists in 2000, regrouping in Sri Lanka four years later. It was worth the wait. As staggeringly beautiful as it is emotionally devastating, Water follows a group of widows, wrapped in white muslin, who greet their newest arrival, an 8-year-old, her head newly shaved in shame, who barely understands that she'd been married, let alone that the remainder of her life will be spent in chaste poverty, shunned by family and society.
Much lighter in spirit, but just as insightful, Caramel follows a group of women confronting romantic entanglements and familial expectations. From the seamstress who has devoted herself to caring for a mentally challenged sister and the actress of a certain age afraid to embrace her maturity, to the salon's staff — one of whom is unnerved by an attractive regular client, the other who sees a doctor in order to make the proper impression on her wedding night — and the owner, who conspires to meet her elusive lover's wife, all the women are in a state of transition, and relying on each other for guidance.
Detroiter Dara Frazier wrote and produced Sweeter Than Sugar, about an ambitious Manhattan casting agent (Michelle Joan Papillion) who learns she has diabetes. Taking the lessons she learned baking desserts with her beloved grandmother, she makes some all-important life changes to guarantee a vital future.
The Shape of Water is a global survey of women responding to destructive Third World development, and determined to tackle their individual problems with innovative solutions. Director Kum-Kum Bhavnani profiles women confronting environmental devastation and social justice issues in Brazil, India, Israel and Palestine, and Senegal in this eye-opening documentary.
In American Red and Black, Alicia Woods explores the permutations of racism in the lives of six people whose ancestry is both African and Native American, while Daphne Valerius listens to Regina King, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gwen Ifill and Michaela Angela Davis to reveal The Souls of Black Girls. Gloria Rolando travels to Havana to profile Assanta Shakur, the Black Panther and Black Liberation Army leader who was granted political asylum in Cuba, in Eyes of the Rainbow, and Laura L. Rahman explores the work of influential documentarian, activist, writer and educator Toni Cade Bambara in A Journey Shared, a title that exemplifies the spirit of this diverse festival.
Showing at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (315 East Warren Ave., Detroit) from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday, July 11, and from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 12. Tickets are $15 for one day, $25 for both days. Call 313-544-8493 or visit www.dwcfilmfest.tripod.com for more information.