Despite temporarily closing its physical theater space near Harvard Square due to COVID-19, The Brattle Theatre has been keeping film fans entertained for the past year with virtual screenings of movie premieres and old favorites. Most recently, The Brattle offered viewers “Grrl Haus: Let’s Have a Party!,” an eight-day-long program featuring films and videos by female, nonbinary, transgender and genderqueer creators.
This year’s Grrl Haus marks The Brattle’s eighth edition of the program; in 2014, Grrl Haus was founded at The Brattle, and has since gone on to screen short films internationally. While this is the first year that The Brattle has been forced to host the program virtually, the program still contains the immersive fun and bold experimentation present in past years. The program is captivating in its constant oscillation; in the span of approximately an hour and a half, viewers experience documentary narratives, experimental animation, music videos and short narrative films. As long as you like media that is bold, creative and sometimes just plain weird, there will be something for you in Grrl Haus.
One particular gem from “Let’s Have A Party!” is Heather María Ács’ “Flourish,” a captivating, intimate short following two queer couples as they navigate their respective relationships. The visual universe of the film beautifully frames the narratives. In a party scene, everyone is decked out in flashy, kitschy-glam outfits (an entire paragraph of this review alone could be dedicated to the incredibly stylish, gem-bedecked gown and headpiece worn by Cristal, a drag performer around whom the story is centered). But beyond the stunning sets and costumes lies a masterfully crafted narrative about queer love. While the film doesn’t depict perfect relationships — in fact, much of the film focuses on the relationship struggles experienced by Cristal and their partner — its focus on queer joy, and specifically the joy of queer people of color, is refreshing, especially given that it is woefully underrepresented, even in queer narratives. Additionally, Ács manages to draw the viewer into the world of these couples in just under 15 minutes; despite the film’s brevity, the viewer feels that they personally know the characters and their relationship histories.
Another narrative piece that stands out is the opening short, the wryly titled “Oh Sh*t!” The short, which follows a woman as she experiences a menstrual mishap in the bathroom of her date’s house, is a bit of a slow burn. While this comedy bursts with energy and comical moments throughout, it is the punchline in the film’s final shot when the rest of the film’s antics pay off. Created by filmmaker Elsa van Damke, the short benefits from a dynamic performance by German actress Jane Chirwa. As the only character in the majority of the film, Chirwa’s lively performance manages to masterfully capture the multiple threads of her character’s inner monologue without any cheesy overacting.
On the more experimental side, Oona Taper’s “The Sound of Sinking Ships” is a mesmerizing exploration in 16 mm and 8 mm film. While the piece is relatively devoid of any narrative — we see just a woman dancing alone in a room, switching back and forth between live action and animation — it is still a sensory delight. Ambient drone music accompanies the piece, which Taper describes as “clarity and obfuscation, entropy and order- explored through movement, music, video and film.”
A notable feature of this year’s program is its emphasis on music videos. At the intersection of animation and music is “Tequila Acid Party,” an animated music video by Liesbeth Eeckman and Joel Rabijns for a Dutch song of the same title, as well as the playful, minimalist animation piece for Nunofyrbeeswax’s infectious “Tormento.” There is also Guerrilla Davis’ concept music video for Sammay’s “Blood,” which centers around a “young brown girl … [who is] a descendent of balyana (priestesses) … and re-emerges from the shadows to lead her people into the reckoning for collective liberation.” Much like “The Sound of Sinking Ships,” “Blood” thrives in its immersive visuals. However, the visual world of the former is far more expressive and colorful than that of the latter.
The program closes with “Appetite” by Xuemeng Li and Katrin Larissa Kasper, a delightfully playful narrative short centering on a serial dine-and-dasher. The protagonist is a young woman who delights in ordering expensive and lavish meals while on Tinder dates and with each new partner she adopts a new personality. Beyond the sheer comedy, the elusiveness of the protagonist’s true self makes the film exceptionally fun. Even when at home with her husband, we never see who the real person is behind all the personalities, which gives the audience room to speculate and imagine who the “real” protagonist is at heart.
As a whole, the program is an exhilarating roller coaster ride of fresh, innovative talent. While the program is no longer streaming through The Brattle, audiences can find many of the featured individual shorts online. Additionally, Grrl Haus continually hosts virtual events, ranging from animation exhibitions to politically oriented shorts.