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Preview: High Falls Women's Film Festival

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Irshaad Ally and Monique Rockman in "Number 37," screening as part of the High Falls Film Festival. - PHOTO COURTESY DARK STAR PICTURES
  • Irshaad Ally and Monique Rockman in "Number 37," screening as part of the High Falls Film Festival.
With a brand-new name, the High Falls Film Festival returns for another year of filmic expression and empowerment. Now designated the High Falls Women’s Film Festival, the event continues its commitment to highlighting the contributions of women both in front of and behind the camera.

From Thursday November 1 through Monday, November 5 the festival will screen six narrative features, eight documentary features, and four shorts programs, including a special free Saturday morning program for kids. Additional scheduled events include workshops, coffee talks, and a tribute to Rochester native and award-winning film production designer Thérèse DePrez (see the piece at the end of this preview for more on that).

What follows are just a few highlights from this year’s lineup. For ticket information and the complete schedule of films and events, visit

There have been a number of recent documentaries focused on gender discrimination in Hollywood, and “This Changes Everything” strives to be both the most all-encompassing and the most star-studded film to come out on the subject. It includes talking-head interviews from Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon, Geena Davis (also acting as executive producer on the film), Taraji P. Henson, Cate Blanchett, Tiffany Haddish, Sandra Oh, and Meryl Streep, among dozens of others. Speaking with actors, producers, directors, executives, and journalists, director Tom Donahue delves into questions of what types of stories are told by Hollywood, who gets to tell them, and what the industry’s output says about society’s view of women. A Q&A with Donahue will follow the screening. (Thursday, November 1, 6:30 p.m.)

Using Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” as inspiration, the bloody thriller “Number 37” sees writer-director Nosipho Dumisa transplant the story’s action from NYC to a crime-ridden slum in South Africa. Owing money to a ruthless loan shark, the wheelchair-bound Randal (Irshaad Ally) hatches a blackmail scheme after witnessing a murder in the apartment building across the way through his binoculars. Things don’t go quite as planned, and soon he and his far-too-loyal girlfriend Pam (Monique Rockman) are over their heads in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Dumisa’s taut direction lends the pair’s twisted love story a potent punch. (Thursday, November 1, 7:45 p.m.)

In her eye-opening and mouth-watering documentary “A Fine Line,” director Joanna James focuses on women in the restaurant industry. James combines her mother Valerie’s career journey as a chef and restaurant owner with the perspective of several world-renowned women chefs to learn why it is that women account for less than 7 percent of chef-restaurant owners. A panel discussion will follow the film, with James as well as Robin Banister Swan, owner-executive chef of Ox and Stone and Roux; Ashley Swan (Roux); and Paulina Swan (The Swan Dive). (Saturday, November 3, noon)

Directed by Erika Cohn, the fascinating and inspirational doc “The Judge” follows the life of Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first woman appointed to Palestine’s Shari’a court, which hears family cases and deals with women’s issues in the country. In chronicling the obstacles Al-Faqih faces, Cohn creates a portrait of a truly inspiring woman. A Q&A with Monroe County Family Court Judge Joan S. Kohout will follow the film screening. (Saturday, November 3, 5 p.m.)

Social services investigator Claire (Olivia Thirlby) is tasked with learning the true identity of the victim of a gruesome unsolved murder in the noir-tinged thriller, “White Orchid.” As her investigation continues, Claire finds herself drawn into the mysterious woman’s life in ways that go beyond her professional duties. The plot doesn’t break new ground, but works thanks to Thirlby’s strong lead performance (and an excellent supporting cast, including Jennifer Beals and John Carroll Lynch), which goes a long way in helping us forgive her character’s often questionable actions. A Q&A with the director and Rochester native Steve Anderson is scheduled to follow the film. (Saturday, November 3, 7:30 p.m.)

Morrisa Maltz’s touching “Ingrid” serves as a lovely and thoughtful tribute to septuagenarian artist Ingrid Gipson. A Dallas socialite and fashion designer in the 80’s, Ingrid left it all behind, abandoning her roles as business woman, wife, and mother in favor of a reclusive, entirely self-sufficient — and to her mind, much more meaningful — existence in the wilderness. A panel discussion is scheduled after the screening. (Sunday, November 4, 2 p.m.)

– Adam Lubitow

Festival to honor Thérèse DePrez

The second night's programming at the High Falls Women's Film Festival will include a tribute to Rochester native Thérèse DePrez, an award-winning production designer who died last December at the age of 52.

DePrez's work on more than 40 films earned her numerous film honors, including an Art Directors Guild award for "Black Swan," a Gijón International Film Festival award for "I Shot Andy Warhol," a Sundance Film Festival Special Recognition award, and nominations for CinEuphoria and International Online Cinema awards for "Stoker."

Starting her career with the 1991 comedy horror film "The Refrigerator," DePrez became an in-demand designer, working with some of the biggest names in independent films, including Chan-wook Park (on "Stoker"), Spike Lee (on "Summer of Sam"), and Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan"), who gave a tribute to her at the Sundance festival in January. Actors with whom she worked included Rochester's Phillip Seymour Hoffman ("Jack Goes Boating") and Dustin Hoffman ("Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium").

DePrez was one of the youngest voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which included her in its 2018 Oscar tribute to people in the film industry who had died the previous year.

She was also a much-loved mentor, encouraging and motivating people – students as well as people in the industry. Officials at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, which held a two-weekend retrospective of her films last month, called DePrez was one of the New York film world's "most beloved creative forces." The museum is acquiring some of her materials for its collection, as is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is establishing an archive of her work in its new museum in Los Angeles.

Growing up in Rochester, DePrez attended World of Inquiry, Interim Junior High School, and Monroe High School and, her family says, developed her interest in design and media in those Rochester public schools.

The festival will honor DePrez in an event at 6 p.m. Friday, November 2, in Little Theatre 1. The program will include presentation of the first Thérèse DePrez Award for Outstanding Production Design to one of the films being shown at this year's festival.

– Mary Anna Towler