A few years ago, a man working in the film industry told Cressanda Thibodeaux that women didn't make good audio engineers because they had "too much DNA," which, he argued, negatively affected their hearing. That bro–sciency conversation inspired Thibodeaux, executive director at local film nonprofit 14 Pews, to create the Bechdel Film Festival, which opened Thursday night at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston with a screening of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.
The festival gets its name from the Bechdel Test, a three-pronged evaluation first put forth by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. In the strip, one character tells another that she'll only go see a movie if it meets the following three requirements:
1) The movie has to have at least two women in it
2) Who talk to each other
3) About something other than a man.
Bechdel has said the idea was inspired by Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and that her friend Liz Wallace came up with the test. For that reason, the test is sometimes called the Bechdel-Wallace Test.
The test started to gain traction online in the mid-2000s thanks in part to the work of actor Geena Davis, who founded the Institute on Gender in Media, which has funded several studies on gender disparity in Hollywood.
"It's just part of our dialogue now," Thibodeaux says.
For the festival, Thibodeaux solicited submissions of films both written and directed by women. She received more than 400 submissions from across the world. (She also received an official blessing from Bechdel herself for the use of the name.)
In addition to screenings of short films, the festival will include a panel discussion and a workshop with Alicia J. Rose, music video director and creator of the popular web series The Benefits of Gusbandry. Most events will take place at 14 Pews, located at a historic wooden church in the Heights (hence the name).
When it was first announced last year, the Bechdel Film Fest was to be one of the final events for Thibodeaux at the small indie theater in the Heights. In December, Thibodeaux announced that she had taken a job in Portland, Oregon, at Alberta Abbey, an art venue, and that 14 Pews would be sold. Since then, Thibodeaux has been splitting her time between Houston and Portland, and for now, the sale of 14 Pews is off.
"We will be continuing programming through at least August," she says. She's even been inspired to add a new event—a monthly concert series that will be starting soon.
Bechdel Film Festival, thru Feb. 22. 14 Pews, 800 Aurora St. 281-888-9677. More info and tickets at bechdelfilms.com.