If there is one takeaway from the films by women and about women at the 31st Hamptons International Film festival, it is that you ignore your intuition at your own peril. Since the beginning of time our intuition has helped alert us to danger and keep us safe, from “Wow that Mastodon looks hungry” to “I knew that olive sweater didn’t compliment my complexion.” How many times have you looked back and said, “I knew something wasn’t right, but I did it anyway.” Like any other muscle, intuition gets stronger the more it is used and serves as the best defense from misinformation to manipulation. There is a reason “gaslighting” was the word of the year.
In the tour de force “Fresh Kills” from writer/director, actress Jennifer Esposito, winner of the Audience Award, we see a quiet but inquisitive young girl, Rose, come the realization her father is a mafia kingpin. Raised in a culture of family loyalty above all else, her questioning leads her on an alienating and dangerous path. She learns to believe what she sees with her own eyes over the inherit lies and limitations the women in the mafia world cover over, even to their immense personal pain. Like an animal that needs to chew off a leg to escape the snare of the trap, Rose’s desire to escape her fate foretold leads to a thrilling drama supported by extraordinary performances of the entire cast.
Director Anna Hints masterfully uses an intimate lens, both cinematically and thematically to explore the multigenerational rituals of women in Estonia in the documentary “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.” A darkened hut in the forest near a lake embodies the smoke sauna tradition where women gather in a protective space to share their interior stories of pain, abuse and suffering while cleansing the exterior of their bodies. Shot mostly in close up without revealing the women’s faces, the stories take on a universal quality of generational trauma. Trapped in a male dominated culture, the women reveal their inner truths and intuitions which led to dire consequences when they ignored them to capitulate to those around them, lacking support from men but often other women. The viewer can only hope that this spirit of honesty and intuition will survive in the light upon leaving the darkness.
In a ground breaking format using both documentary footage and actors playing the roles of the subjects, “Four Daughters” from director/screenwriter Kaouther Ben Hania explores the power of sisterhood and matrilineal lines alongside rebellion and male domination. The story follows a family of a mother and four daughters, two of whom were radicalized by Islamic extremists. The power and sorrow of a journey from innocence and trust to horror and betrayal makes the unthinkable thinkable, exploring, “How could this happen?” We see behind the scenes the emotional effect the story has even on the actresses portraying the real-life roles. As women who give life, how can it be possible to destroy it? In times of conflict this is an even more important portrait.
The documentary “The Disappearance of Shere Hite” from director/screenwriter Nicole Newnham gives us a reminder of a woman who absolutely did follow her intuition and speak her truth even though it led to controversy and exile. Shere Hite, who wrote “The Hite Report” in 1976, was a groundbreaker to discuss women’s sexuality and desire. Ahead of her time, Hite did original research in an anonymous fashion to give women their sexual voice without any judgement or shame. Her presentation of female autonomy and pleasure sent sensational shock waves through the world-wide publication, revealing liberating truths while threatening the male autocracy. The documentary portrays the meteoric rise and fall of this feminist trailblazer but a woman who not only embraced her own intuition but encouraged women all over the world to embrace theirs.