In 2003, 10 Point Park University students earned degrees in filmmaking; Olivia Ciummo was the only woman. Female film- and videomakers are in short supply at every level of the art form, from home movies to Hollywood, but the experience of being in the minority inspired Ciummo. On April 29, she and fellow artist Becky Rothhaar will release The Pageant, a DVD compilation highlighting what local women are doing with moving pictures.
The Pageant (on sale for $15) features eight recent shorts, including Rothhaar's experimental drama "Comatose"; T. Foley's sly social commentary "Hazardous Materials," starring a fully posable action figure; and Jesse McLean's trippy, award-winning "Festival of Lights," shot during holiday season at Hartwood Acres.
In Molly J. Schafer's "Trophy Bucks (Pre-Rut)," two chic young women don horned bicycle helmets on a crisp autumn day. For the entrancing "[sic]," Tara Merenda and Liz Richards rephotographed wall-projections of Super 8 footage of city scenes, with a mysteriously suggestive soundtrack. There's also a video piece by the all-women multimedia performance-art group Sarrogit and Ciummo's own experiemental "poopy winter scraps III," with distressed, layered images of masked, wigged women and a toy-sized industrial-music soundtrack. Rounding out the DVD is Jessica Coen's sharp, witty "Pop Sacred," which asks "Can God help make popcorn?" as its female protagonists take a humorously spiritual journey in a secular world.
Coen, too, has been one of the few women in a film class full of "loud, sarcastic" young men. Taking production classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers (where she now works with Ciummo and several other Pageant contributors), Coen felt compelled to prove herself, and overcame the shyness that might have held her back. "To learn anything I had to be more outgoing," she says. "When I want to make a film, the film matters more than my [in]ability to socialize."
The Pageant's release celebration will feature different shorts by the same artists, including Coen's new comedy "Jesus on a Blind Date" and an "exquisite corpse"-style film assembled out of found footage by Foley, Merenda and Richards. There'll also be a live performance by Sarrogit (consisting of Susannah Mira, Leah McManigle, Alicia Reuter and Heather Mallack) and live music by The La-Z-Boys, Emily Rodgers & Megan Williams, and Curses & Kisses.
Ciummo says the lack of women in filmmaking reflects a larger cultural bias. "Like any field, I just think women in our society aren't encouraged to follow our dreams," she says. Her parents, for instance, refused to fund her education if she studied film. But she's helping make sure women's voices are heard; her own newest video is a comic take on an experience only a female could know. "I don't think a man's going to have that scary morning phone call to his girlfriend: 'I'm pregnant.'"