The fourth Nevada Women’s Film Festival offered everything from naughty nurses to social activists

Lily Rabe in Leia drag in The Phantom Menace.

At the welcome reception for this year’s Nevada Women’s Film Festival, New York-based director Teddy Schenck marveled at how classy and well-run the festival was in just its fourth year. He wasn’t the only one impressed. Held for the first time at downtown’s Eclipse Theaters, this year’s NWFF feted talented women both in front of and behind the camera.

Schenck’s sharp and funny short film, Six Women, was one of the festival highlights, led by veteran character actress Lisa Banes as a cantankerous celebrity giving a male journalist a hard time. Other standouts among the dozens of shorts included Platypus, a playful and stylish take on kinky sex via baked goods; Final Call, an animated relationship drama about missed opportunities; and Scattered, a dark comedy about two acquaintances scattering a friend’s ashes.

I Got You Babe, which also played at Boulder City’s Dam Short Film Festival in February, won the award for Best Short Film. While it wasn’t a local production, its fact-based story, about a California couple getting married in Vegas in August 1965 right before marriage exemptions for the military draft were eliminated, was a perfect fit for NWFF. Locals Destiny Faith and Renatta Kusko also won awards for their shorts The Trap and Sameness, respectively.

There were local shorts throughout the various programs, and the best that I saw was The Phantom Menace, from husband-and-wife duo Sean Fallon and Charlotte Barrett, who made the 2011 feature Virgin Alexander. As its title implies, Menace has a Star Wars connection, featuring recognizable TV fixtures Lily Rabe and Eric Ladin as a couple who decide to attend a pop-culture convention in full Star Wars cosplay the day after suffering a miscarriage. It’s a sweet and affecting story, with a great performance from American Horror Story mainstay Rabe.

The festival’s Vanguard Award honoree was exploitation filmmaker Stephanie Rothman, who worked with legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman on several movies in the 1970s, including The Student Nurses, which showed before a discussion with Rothman. Nurses is surprisingly layered, tackling social movements, racial inequality, sexual liberation and even abortion with a frankness that in some cases is missing from movies made to this day.

On the documentary side, Peter Bratt’s Dolores, about pioneering Latina labor-rights activist Dolores Huerta, offers a slick and informative overview of its subject’s life. Bratt even allows for some criticism of his subject, tempering what is otherwise a blatant hagiography. Dolores is streaming online via PBS.

The spectrum from nursesploitation to social activism demonstrates how NWFF has developed as a talent showcase, while maintaining its focus on supporting women in filmmaking, especially locally. It’s grown into a worthy addition to Vegas’ diverse film-fest calendar.

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