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The obvious question raised by this month-long, eye-opening retrospective of films by Mexican women directors every Thursday night throughout October at the Dobie Theatre is: Why don't we know more about these talented women filmmakers? But that only begs the larger question: Why don't we know more about Mexican filmmaking - period? Why is that? If Mexico's were an anemic cinema with an erratic output, that would be one thing, but the history of Mexican cinema celebrates its centennial next year. And for much of this century, Mexico has been the leading producer of Spanish-language films in the world.

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The obvious question raised by this month-long, eye-opening retrospective of films by Mexican women directors every Thursday night throughout October at the Dobie Theatre is: Why don't we know more about these talented women filmmakers? But that only begs the larger question: Why don't we know more about Mexican filmmaking - period?

Why is that? If Mexico's were an anemic cinema with an erratic output, that would be one thing, but the history of Mexican cinema celebrates its centennial next year. And for much of this century, Mexico has been the leading producer of Spanish-language films in the world. During the s and into the '50s, the output of the Mexican film industry numbered over films per year.

If its filmmaking was unoriginal and uninspired, there would be little reason for the Mexican cinema to be known or appreciated, despite its wide circulation. But anyone familiar with this national industry knows that Mexico's cinematic tradition encompasses a rich treasury of films made by world-class filmmakers of whom Alfonso Arau Like Water for Chocolate is only the most recent example.

Naturally, most Mexican-Americans of my parents' generation knew Mexican cinema intimately and follow it passionately they would have made a perfect score on the above Mexican film quiz. But apart from them, how could it be that most American moviegoers - even the rabid ones - know more about Japanese, Italian, and Swedish film than about the national cinema of our next-door neighbor?

If you will allow me a brief, three-paragraph rant on the subject, the answer is, in two words, ethnocentrism and Eurocentrism. To begin with, we Americans like our movie entertainment home-grown. By and large, foreign films are shunned.

This is an easy out - no subtitles to read, no awkward dubbing to contend with. If, however, there manages to be a popular foreign most likely Western European film with a marketable story line, then Hollywood does for Hollywood the next most sensible thing: It produces a remake which corrects the film's major flaw - the fact that none of the actors speak their lines in English.

There is one more way for a foreign film to gain attention in this country, and that is to garner solid critical approval. But for that to happen, the film must be anointed by media critics who are based in New York and Los Angeles and have little or no exposure to Mexican cinema. Thanks, I feel better now.

To answer my original question, the reason we don't know Mexican women filmmakers is because we don't know Mexican film. The series receives its name from the title of pioneering actor-director Adela Sequeyro's film, Nobody's Woman , which opens the series Oct. Interestingly, that title can be understood in two ways. First, "nobody's woman" could refer, at best, to an unattached woman, at worst, to a woman alone in the world, an orphan or outcast.

But secondly - and importantly because it sets the tone for this series - it also means an independent woman who doesn't feel the incessant need to be some man's woman.

The films in this series, then, are products of women filmmakers who were determined and talented enough to go it alone in Mexican cinema's male-dominated world. The films span the work of Mexicana directors from the s to the present, and include both features and shorts. Actually, women's participation in Mexican film goes all the way back to the origins of the nation's narrative cinema.

The indefatigable Derba went on to write, co-produce, sometimes direct, and usually star in four other films that same year. Unfortunately, all of those films are lost, so the "Nobody's Women" series begins in the mids, when another iconoclastic writer-actress-director, Adela Sequeyro, came on the scene. Nobody's Woman , Sequeyro's second film, is the story of a young woman played by Sequeyro who escapes her abusive father and is found and taken in by three artists a poet, a musician, and a painter who all proceed to fall in love with her.

On the one hand, it's a charming, guileless piece of filmmaking and, in its opening sequences, a powerful indictment of abusive machismo. On the other, it's a sort of feminist fantasy which finds the positive side of Mexican maledom to be peopled by sensitive - if childlike - artists. Angustias the Black , the second feature in the series Oct.

It tells the story of Angustias, who defies tradition and becomes a colonel in the revolutionary army. Her distinguished films include Cananea , a historical drama that relates the tragic events of a miners' strike in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico in the early years of this century, and Misterio Mystery , , an eerie psychological thriller about a soap opera actor who can't find his way out of his role and back to his real life.

Stroke of Luck , Violante's sixth feature film and her most successful and popular one, is the third film of the series Oct. It's an ironic tale of a middle-class government worker, Jeronimo, whose stroke of good fortune - getting a loan to buy a house - turns into a disaster. It is paired with Violante's Frida Kahlo , her fascinating, award-winning short only 13 minutes long on the life of the Mexican artist.

The final program Oct. Ana's Steps , directed by Marisa Sistach, is the story of Ana, a year-old divorced mother of two who is committed to media. She works as an assistant director by day, and video-records her encounters with men by night. Eva Lopez Sanchez's short, Lost Objects ends the series.

It tells of the meeting of two travelers, Pilar and Juan, whose relationship takes an interesting turn when they discover that each is mistakenly in possession of the other's luggage.

What viewers of the series of women's films will discover is not so much a different, oppositional, or difficult cinema. Rather, they will see women directors who, for the most part, use a traditional narrative style to look at things from a feminine perspective. In so doing, they will linger on themes and images felt to be unimportant by male filmmakers.

But the other, sharper side to the films in this series results from the fact that these filmmakers can't help but investigate machismo. As they do so, they reveal - sometimes playfully, sometimes caustically - machismo's underlying contradictions, inanities, and inconsistencies. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. Support the Chronicle. Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.

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