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Oct. 22, 2006

Surfing the Third Wave
BY Danielle Devereaux

The theme of this year's Women's Film Festival is 'made by a woman, for everyone.' Like the circular saw held by the Debbie Travis look-a-like on this year's WFF poster (invented by one Ms. Tabitha Babbitt in 1812). But the feminist-focused theme of Sunday afternoon's screenings - Riding the Third Wave - may lead one to believe the afternoon line-up is just for the girls, more specifically a hairy-legged bunch of girls that call themselves feminists. Well the films featured Sunday afternoon are for those girls, but they're for everyone else too!

Filmmaker Therese Shechter lets us know from the start that she was, without doubt, a feminist in her early years, yet she opens I was a Teenage Feminist with the following: ''I'm turning 40 this year and I've realized that I haven't thought about feminism in years? What happened to my feminism and the power it gave me? Did I lose it or did it lose me? And what can I do to find it again??

Begun as a personal journey, the film becomes a broader search for feminism in North America today. One that involves talking to many people about what, if anything, the movement means to them. To name only a few, interviewees include Shecter's mom, Gloria Steinman, a group of young Radical Cheerleaders from NY and the editors of BUST magazine. These discussions - with people deeply committed to feminism, people invited to think about it for the first time in front of Shecter's camera, and those somewhere in between - explore how feminism became the other F-word, and ask: what's so threatening about a social movement built around ideals of equality?

As the film points out, mass media have been making proclamations and asking questions about feminism for years. ''The Feminist Mistake,'' an article written in 1971 for Esquire magazine, calls the movement 'a hair-raising emotional orgy of hatred led by neurotic inadequate women who are not normal but rather freaks, incapable of coming to terms with their own nature as females.' In the summer of 1998, the cover of TIME magazine asked ''Is feminism dead?'' The cover design featured headshots of four women: Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinman (all in black and white) and fictional television character Ally McBeal (in full color).

Is it dead? If this documentary is any indication 'hell no!' Feminism has made
and continues to make life better, fairer and more interesting for women, children and men. I Was a Teenage Feminist is shot over a number of years and by the end of the film, Shecter seems to have gotten her feminist groove back. This doesn't mean she finds and presents her audience with a neat little package called 'Feminism', all wrapped up and ready to go. Shecter's quest to find feminism reveals that social movements, like identities, are never simple. As a social movement, feminism is so caught up in identity that it can't help but be complex and dynamic, which means, like this film, things can be a little messy sometimes, frustrating even, but also fun and profound.

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