8th International SWAN Day

Today is the 8th annual International SWAN Day! Perhaps you have already planned something to do this weekend to Support Women Artists Now. If not there is still time!

WhiteSWANClick HERE to look for events close to you. If there’s nothing convenient, don’t give up!

There are several new films written &/or directed by women filmmakers at art houses and multiplexes. Perhaps there are exhibits at local museums and art galleries. Perhaps you can see a play or dance or other performance.

And if you just want to stay home, there are a huge number of films by women filmmakers that you can watch on DVD, cable, and video on demand. Reviews of hundreds of films by women filmmakers are already on this blog.

So be a SWAN this weekend: Do something to Support Women Artists Now :-)

Click HERE read a short history of International SWAN Day on the WomenArts website.

Click HERE for more of my reviews of films by women filmmakers on the WomenArts website.

Click HERE to “look inside” my book Penny’s Picks for a fuller explanation of the who, what, when, where & how of International SWAN Day.

Follow this link to read my timeline 10 Years in the Pond: 10YearsInThePond


International SWAN Day planning session with co-founder Martha Richards on May 15, 2010 in San Francisco. (Photo Credit: Melissa Wilks)


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Meet Activist Kylie Angell

NYC Shout-Out: Kylie Angell will be in NYC on March 29 (Sunday) for a Q&A after a special screening of It Happened Here sponsored by AAUW’s Empire State Virtual Branch.

Screening is open to all. Student rates available. Click HERE for more information including a detailed map with travel information.

Download eVite as a pdf here: 15Mar29eViteIHH

PosterScanExclusive Interview with University of Connecticut Alumna and Activist Kylie Angell by FF2 Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky


BKP: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with It Happened Here?

KA: I started working with fellow activists at the end of my fifth year at UConn on the Title IX complaint and we were asked if we would be interested in being filmed for a documentary. I had no idea what an amazing experience I would have! The film’s producer Marjorie Nielsen and director Lisa F. Jackson are two incredibly talented and inspired women and they quickly became two of my dearest mentors. We filmed together over the course of a year, from filing the complaint and the federal and civil lawsuits to testifying in front of the legislature. At one point I was faced with the choice of starting to work on The Hunting Ground as well, but chose to stay 100% committed with It Happened Here because I trusted that Marjorie and Lisa had taken this extremely sensitive, complex issue and captured it with a depth and clarity that would not be outdone anywhere else.

BKP: Were you surprised at how certain women initially reacted to your story?

KA: I think some women that I told reacted initially in a “I’m not listening, I’m not listening,” plug-your-ears kind of way and ignored what I was telling them. They seemed to want to shut my story out and keep it from infecting their world. I will never forget when, a few months after being raped, I told my roommate and best friend of seven years that my PTSD was making it hard to sleep and would appreciate it if she studied in a study lounge past a certain hour. One night, she discretely placed a blindfold and earplugs on my bed in a little white baggie. I saw this gesture as a very clear symbol – keep this problem of yours to yourself and deal with it…..in silence. This made me feel even more invisible, all but instructing me to bury my story deep inside and shrug it off as a “bad experience.”

KylieThroughout my healing process, I have researched and interacted with many fellow victim-survivors, and realized that my friend’s actions, as callous as they seemed to me at the time, were, in fact, just a defense mechanism. In a woman like my former friend that had (thankfully) never been assaulted, it was easier for her to distance herself from me and my situation, rejecting the notion that she, too, could become a statistic; that rape actually happens to “people like us,” and at epidemic levels.

Often times I have found that telling my story to women who have been assaulted sends this unspoken signal that it is a safe space to share her story, too. I have had the bittersweet honor of listening to tens of hundreds of women’s stories. However, there has also been quite the opposite reaction from some women – those who have firmly denied the gravity of my story, telling me not to go to the police, to stop pursuing the case with my school, etc. Looking back, I realize this could have been a way to keep their old scars from breaking open or perhaps even to confront the notion that perhaps their “bad experience” was an assault or rape in the first place.

BKP: With that said, did the victim-blaming response ever make you doubt yourself?

KA: Absolutely. Any form of victim-blaming made me weary to come forward and tell my story, at least, at first. In the initial period after the rape, I didn’t even allow myself to entertain the notion that it was rape, because…he was my friend; I was drinking; maybe I hadn’t said the right things to get him to stop; maybe I had been weak or vulnerable at the time because I just really wanted to be liked by a guy. But then, slowly but surely, as I started both individual and group therapy, I realized that, even if ANY of these things were hypothetically true, they did NOT change the fact that a man had chosen to become a rapist. That’s when all of the blame, shame, and self-doubt shifted from my shoulders to his.

BKP: Do you believe your attitude towards men is different now than it was before the incident?

KA: Directly following the incident, I feared being in the presence of men, so much so that when I went to my first therapy appointment with a male therapist, I starting trembling and shaking in his presence and felt extremely uneasy being alone in his presence. This took a few sessions to wear off and now he is one of my closest confidants. In terms of dating, I actually wrote men off altogether for the entire year following the rape and went in and out of phases where I vowed never to date another man again. However, I understand that not all men are rapists…in fact, thankfully, most men are not rapists; the vast minority of men are rapists. I also realized that men are victims, too; something of which I was not as aware of as I am today.

Slutwalk Hits Melbourne's StreetsBKP: Can you talk about your experience with Take Back the Night and Slutwalk?

KA: In the summer of 2010, myself and a group of fellow activists got together and brainstormed ways to bring about reform to what we perceived to be a very rampant rape culture at UConn. We came up with the idea to hold our own SlutWalk, held in the image of the recent SlutWalk Toronto, inspired after a Toronto police officer told a group of people that women should “should ‘avoid dressing like sluts’ to avoid being assaulted.” Therefore the event’s main goal was to illustrate how choice of clothing does not mean that they were “asking for it.” Rather, the event demands accountability of perpetrators as well as lawmakers and law enforcement officers. That fall I was one of two victim-survivor keynote speakers.

BKP: You have been on this journey and telling your story for four years: How would you describe your accomplishments?

KA: I would say my biggest accomplishment was graduating college amidst a turbulent undergraduate career. I was nursing class president as well as a recipient of numerous nursing awards, including the Humanitarian Achievement Award for my work with RAR and Slutwalk. I look back and wonder, “HOW did I EVER thrive, let alone survive?” And I think the answer to that was by sheer perseverance and determination; I was absolutely set on becoming the first generation in my family to graduate from college and was not going to allow the hostile environment from which I had suffered to intercept my dreams.

BKP: What were your feelings about The University of Connecticut settling for $1.28 million rather than going to trial?

KA: I think that the way things panned out benefited both sides and that it was the much-needed end to that chapter in my life. I felt that justice, in most respects, was finally served and that I could start moving forward with my life. I would not have changed the outcome.

I heard some rumblings to the effect that “those who settle” in cases like these are putting their “own personal interests” in front of the cause. My answer to that is: I lived “the cause” for four years, and now it was time to be compensated for that. The settlement would never take the activist out of me.


BKP: Being a nurse and seeing patients who went through your similar situation, do you make a point of telling them your story?

KA: I recently transferred to the Emergency Department, so I come into contact with this patient population more often than my former cardiac unit. If the timing and feel is right, I do let them know that I was raped. However, I do not go into detail, unless they ask. More often than not, they ask for details, especially on how I recovered and how I moved, or rather, am still moving, on with life. I have sat there listening to stories that I have just wanted to go and find the perpetrator and punch his brains out. I have had tears welling up in my eyes while comforting this patient, and then have to go and treat a wide array of other patients in the chaos of the ER. It’s emotionally draining, but I feel that listening and providing emotional support at such a low time in a victim’s life is critical and worth the energy.

BKP: What is the main thing you want people to take away from It Happened Here?

KA: First, I want all survivors to know that they are never, ever at fault. Ever. Really. I mean ever. Second, I want those in the audience to understand that not every victim has to go public with their story; it is all personal and whatever promotes the most healing path for them is what really matters. Third, although there are many things in this world we cannot change, we CAN change how we react when a survivor comes forward with their story we CAN change how we act in a crowd when a rape joke is told; we CAN change this rape culture that we live in, one attitude at a time.

Exclusive Interview with UConn Activist Kylie Angell © Brigid K. Presecky (3/26/15)

Top and Bottom Photos: Kylie Angell (with Erica Daniels, Carolyn Luby and Rosemary Richi) in Hartford for their lawsuit against the University of Connecticut.

Photo Credits: Jessica Hill/Associated Press

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Chelsea Gallery Crawl

Nicole2014NYC Shout-Out: Join us on Saturday (3/28) for our second annual International SWAN Day Gallery Crawl coordinated–once again–by fabulous Nicole Casamento!

Last year, we went to three different galleries on the Upper East Side. This year we are heading southwest to Chelsea.

Meet-up is 11:45 AM at the Jack Shainman Gallery (513 W 20th St). Reservations are required so please send your RSVP today to Nicole Casamento: swandaynyc@gmail.com

Message from Nicole: “Our plan is to check out three solo shows. Each artist on the crawl–Roz Chast, Alice Neel & Hayv Kahraman–delved into her immediate surroundings, memories and cultural histories to craft a distinct aesthetic. The results are both deeply personal and profoundly universal at once.”


Top Photo: Robin Cembalest (left) with Nicole Casamento (right) at the Dominique Lévy Gallery where we began our 2014 Upper East Side Gallery Crawl.

Click HERE for the full International SWAN Day calendar.

Click HERE for a brief history of International SWAN Day.

Click HERE for my book Penny’s Picks which contains a detailed account of the who, what, when & why of International SWAN Day, as well as my timeline “Ten Years in the Pond.”


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POSH Directed by Lone SherfigTiny group of “posh” young men–all students at Oxford University–try to live up to legacy of privileged debauchery, but alas, they live in the wrong era.

Directed by Lone Scherfig. Screenplay by Laura Wade based on her own play Posh. (JLH: 4/5)


The Riot Club is a very sad film about a group of young men who have been told all their lives that “boys will be boys.” Now in college, they know that manhood brings responsibility, so they intend to do as much carousing as possible while they still can.

The problem is that even they know their behavior is boorish. So they drink too much and take too many drugs, and they basically challenge one another to see who can be the most excessive guy in the room. And their behavior grows more and more desperate until–finally–something terrible finally happens…


Top Photo: “Alistair” (Sam Clafin) faces the music.

Middle Photo: “Miles” (Max Irons) in a quiet moment with “Lauren” (Holliday Grainger).

Bottom Photo: “Harry” (Douglas Booth) at his peak of ecstasy.

Photo Credits: Nicola Dove/IFC Films

Q: Does The Riot Club pass the Bechdel Test?


There are only three female speaking roles in The Riot Club, and in each case a beautiful young woman is speaking either to one man or a group of men. But you can hear what they would say to one another if they ever did happened to speak face-to-face: “These boys are cute, but they are so tedious!”

Special shout-out to Natalie Dormer who plays the difficult role of “Charlie.” Charlie is a sex worker with a strong sense of self-worth. When the guys push her, she pushes back. It’s a relatively short but very powerful scene, and Dormer hits a home run. Kudos to director Lone Scherfig for knowing how important it was to invest in the right actress. Natalie Dormer cut her teeth playing Anne Boleyn in The Tutors!

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Opens Fri in NYC. Review coming soon…

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SERENA_D11-2819.CR2New drama directed by Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier stars Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper. Opens in NYC on 3/27. Already available on VOD.


Review of Serena by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s third go-around takes them outside of the ballroom and seedy politics and inside a North Carolina lumber camp. The duo’s chemistry is the only element, however, that saves this long-awaited, Depression-era romance. (BKP: 2.5/5)

Based on the 2008 best-selling novel by Ron Rash, Serena tells the story of timber-operations worker “George Pemberton,” (Bradley Cooper) as he deals with personal and professional struggles. Already in a financial deficit, George faces the local government and their opposition of his work, wanting the Smoky Mountain trees to be protected as a national forest. To make matters worse, George wants nothing to do with the poor townswoman he’s gotten pregnant. But when tough beauty “Serena Shaw” (Jennifer Lawrence) – an orphan whose family died in a fire – comes galloping George’s way, he happily declares he wants to marry her and he does.

Without any exposition of their relationship, the film thrusts George and Serena into married life, chock full of sex scenes and love exclamations that do not feel realistic or earned. Although Cooper and Lawrence exude immense talent, especially together, their 1920s accents weave in and out of old-Hollywood and modern cadence. The Susanne Bier-directed film is doused in melodrama and violence, with each blood-stained plot point worse than the next. From eagle-taming and mythical panthers to throat-slitting and bastard children, any remaining simplicity vanishes from Serena.

The story of this husband-wife team is an unfortunate victim of distractions, from the dialogue and editing to the cliché costumes and stereotypes of “life on the frontier.” The main highlight is, of course, the lead actors. In a heartbreaking scene, as George holds distraught Serena in his arms, the close-up of Lawrence breaking down crying is powerful, moving, and impressive. The chemistry between the two is obvious, despite the material they are given. Although all three of their film roles have been vastly different, Cooper plays a good straight-man to Lawrence’s loony tune.

Had it not been for their familiar on-screen presence, the relationship between George and Serena would have felt completely forced. With the film’s production sandwiched in between their Oscar-nominated hits Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Cooper and Lawrence have proven that they are better off sticking with David O. Russell.


Review © Brigid K. Presecky (3/23/15)

Top Photo: Jennifer Lawrence stars as “Serena.”

Bottom Photo: Lawrence & Bradley Cooper as “Pemberton.”

Photo Credits: Larry D. Horricks courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Q: Does Serena pass the Bechdel Test?

If it does, it’s on the edges. There are scenes between Serena and “Rachel,” (Ana Ularu) the woman carrying the illegitimate child, but the purpose revolves around George.

However, there are strong feminist themes throughout the film. George insists on his co-workers and local government thinking of Serena as his partner, not his wife. When she suggests importing an eagle (to thin out the rattle snake population), Serena insists on taming the animal herself – to prove a woman can do the job. With that being said, however, I cannot recommend Serena.

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3/29: NYC eVite

PosterScanNYC SHOUT-OUT: Please join us at Quad Cinema on Sunday March 29th for a special International SWAN Day screening of Lisa F. Jackson’s important new documentary It Happened Here.



In her compelling new documentary, It Happened Here, director Lisa F. Jackson explores the issue of sexual assault on America’s college campuses by chronicling the personal testimonies of five survivors.

These brave young women describe surviving sexual assault only to be met with apathy, disbelief, blame and retaliation from the authorities – college administrators, local police departments and the courts. While trying to report the crime, while trying to get justice, they were ignored, belittled and shamed, while their attackers remained on campus with impunity.

Instead of hiding away in shame, these five terrific young women–Kylie Angell, Erica Daniels, Anglie Epifano, Carolyn Luby, and Sarah O’Brien–chose to speak out and find a way to force institutional change.


This special screening is sponsored by the Empire State Virtual Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), in collaboration with Cinedigm and Quad Cinema.

The screening will begin at 11 AM, and it will be followed by a Q&A with student activists Kylie Angell (University of Connecticut) and Kyndall Clark (University of Pennsylvania).

The Q&A will be moderated by Jan Lisa Huttner co-founder of International SWAN Day and Director of College/University Relations for Empire State Virtual Branch AAUW.

Click HERE to reserve your tickets now :-)

Quad Cinema is located at 34 West 13th Street (at the southwest edge of Union Square). Follow link for complete details include a map with travel information: 15Mar29eViteIHH



Click HERE to “like” the Empire State Virtual Branch AAUW page on Facebook.

Click HERE to read more about Jan Lisa Huttner’s recent presentation at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on International Women’s Day.


The acronym “SWAN” stands for Support Women Artists Now! SwanLogo

2015 is the 8th annual celebration of International SWAN Day (which is always held on or around the last Saturday of March as part of Women’s History Month programming).

Click HERE to learn more about International SWAN Day, including a calendar of related events planned all around the USA (& more countries as well).

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BatYamElderly Jewish woman living in Jaffa with her married daughter remembers her childhood in Morocco. Poignant dramedy seasoned with a dash of magical realism. Written and directed by beloved Israeli actress Hanna Azoulay Hasfari. Hebrew Title = Anashim Ketumim (JLH: 4/5)

2015 Sephardi Film Festival: Spotlight Morocco

A poignant journey contrasting the lives of four generations of Jewish women through space and time from rural Morocco to urban Israel.

Zohara is barely a teenager when her mother marries her off to a much older man who immediately impregnates her. But when the baby arrives and he sees it is a girl, Zohara’s husband divorces her and she flees… leaving the infant in the arms of her mother (played by Majda Aznag).

Decades pass and “Zohara” (now played by Rita Shukron) is living in Jaffa with her daughter “Simone” (Esty Yerushalmy), Simone’s husband “Jackie” (Yoram Toledano), and Simone’s daughter “Zohar” (Meytal Gal Suissa). In the interim, Zohara has developed magic powers as a “dreamer.” Give her a piece of clothing–preferably intimate clothing worn close to the skin like a bra or panties–and Zohara will predict your future. She also makes potent batches of couscous sprinkled with finely ground gold dust.

But suddenly Zohara’s dreams start turning inward and when she looks at the wall, she sees her shadow shrinking. Feeling death imminent, she tries to convince Simone to follow in her footsteps as a dreamer. Will Simone obey, or will she run from her own mother’s demands just as Zohara once did?

Beloved Israeli actress Hanna Azoulay Hasfari makes her behind-the-scenes debut as writer/director, and also co-stars as the mysteriously seductive “Fanny.”

Hasfari artfully depicts old and new, powerfully contrasting Zohara’s options as a girl with the life options of Simone’s Israeli-born daughter Zohar (which could hardly be more different).

Humorous street scenes set in Simone’s restaurant (where Simone serves ubiquitous Israeli schnitzel) are counterpointed with sensuous scenes of Simone and Fanny cooking together (as Fanny subversively urges Simone to start offering gourmet fare like Osso Bucco).

Seasoned with a dash of magical realism, this historically-wrenching dramedy is served up as a savory cinematic stew!


Top Photo: Rita Shukron (bottom left in turquoise) as “Zohara” surrounded by her family. Clockwise from top left: Esty Yerushalmy as “Simone,”  Yoram Toledano as “Jackie,” and Meytal Gal Suissa as “Zohar.”

Bottom Photo: Actress/Filmmaker Hanna Azoulay Hasfari (left) as “Fanny” with Meytal Gal Suissa as “Zohar.”

Photo Credits: Green Productions (Israel)

Q: Does Orange People pass the Bechdel Test? RedA


Although Simone’s husband “Jackie” is an important character, he has very little control over Simone and must await her decision as to their future.

All of the critical conversations in Orange People are woman-to-woman, and these conversations are always about options, they are never about men. The relationship Zohara has with Zohar is particularly touching, echoing Holocaust films like Pesya’s Necklace in which grandparents who have kept secrets from their children for decades are finally able to confide in their grandchildren.

BONUS: Where does this film take place?

The family home–where Zohara’s customers come seeking her advice–is in Yafo (aka Jaffa) on the southern tip of Metro Tel Aviv. Simone’s restaurant is in Bat Yam (which is the town just south of Jaffa). At one point, Jackie and Fanny also travel to Ashdod, which is the large port city to the south which absorbed many Jews from Morocco when they first arrived in Israel.

Jewish immigration from Morocco to Israel (which began as a trickle after Israel became a nation in 1948) intensified in 1956 when Nasser visited Morocco after the Suez Crisis and peaked immediately after the Six Day War in 1967. The Jewish population of Morocco–which was once estimated at 250,000–is now estimated at under 5,000. According to the producers, the scenes set in rural Morocco were actually filmed in Morocco.



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SThe cast of AMOUR FOU. Courtesy of Film Movementoporific account of a famous Double Suicide in 1811. With Europe in upheaval, a poet looks for a partner to end it all on his chosen schedule.

Written & directed by Jessica Hausner (JLH: 2/5)


Contemporary retelling of the suicide pact that lead to the deaths of Heinrich von Kleist and Henrietta Vogel in 1811.

With Napoleon in control of most of Europe and the Continent in upheaval, von Kleist looks for a partner to end it all on his own chosen schedule. And even though she barely knows him, Vogel decides to join von Kleist after learning she has a fatal illness (thereby deliberately choosing her own time of death as well).

Heinrich von Kleist was almost as famous in his time as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) who created the template for romantic suffering with the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774.

Although I am usually just the right audience for this kind of period drama, I am sorry to say I found Jessica Hausner’s take sopororific. The dialogue is stilted and the look is far too stylized. Moment by moment, it felt as if a vampire has drained all the blood from the actors (Birte Schnöink as “Henrietta Vogel,” Christian Friedel as “Heinrich von Kleist,” and Stephan Grossmann as Henrietta’s husband “Friedrich Louis Vogel”), leaving them to walk through their parts in a fog.

What remains is a lovely Goethe poem called Das Veilchen (The Violet) which was set to music by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Hausner plays it through three times in her film, and each time is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Birte Schoeink and Christian Friedel in AMOUR FOU. Courtesy of F

But luckily for us, we can listen to The Violet courtesy of Wikipedia without having to suffer through the folly of Amour Fou on screen. Here is an English translation of the German lyrics:

A violet in the meadow stood,
with humble brow, demure and good,
it was the sweetest violet.
There came along a shepherdess
with youthful step and happiness,
who sang, who sang
along the way this song.

Oh! thought the violet, how I pine
for nature’s beauty to be mine,
if only for a moment.
for then my love might notice me
and on her bosom fasten me,
I wish, I wish
if but a moment long.

But, cruel fate! The maiden came,
without a glance or care for him,
she trampled down the violet.
He sank and died, but happily:
and so I die then let me die
for her, for her,
beneath her darling feet.

Note that Mozart himself added the following line to Goethe’s poem at the end of his setting:

“Poor little violet! It was the sweetest violet.”

Birte Schnoeink and Christian Friedel in AMOUR FOU. Courtesy of

Top Photo: Birte Schnoeink as “Henrietta Vogel.”

Middle Photo: Schnoeink with Christian Friedel as “Heinrich von Kleist.”

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Film Movement

Q: Does Amour Fou pass the Bechdel Test?


Henrietta has brief interactions with her daughter, her maid, and some of her society friends, but no real “conversations” with any of them. Even her conversations with von Kleist and her husband Friedrich are perfunctory.

There is some interesting social commentary in the film, with well-dressed men talking to other well-dressed men about the potential implications of the French Revolution on the German aristocracy. Women are in the room during these conversations, but they do not participate, they only listen.

Gorgeously-costumed women provide the aesthetic decoration and also the music. The Violet is sung three times, first by a woman Henrietta describes as a famous singer, once by Henrietta herself, and once by Henrietta’s teenage daughter.

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