PORTLAND, Maine — As a budding filmmaker in the ’90s, Kate Kaminski noticed a disturbing trend. Most top-grossing movies were dominated by men. Those that did feature women were not very serious.
“I intend to be part of a movement. I would like to change that ratio for sure,” said Kaminski, who brings the female-forward Bluestocking Film Series to SPACE Gallery in Portland this weekend.
The two-day film fest, now in its fourth year, screens 14 shorts from directors across the country and as far away as Sweden and Australia. All films are told through the eyes of women.
“Our mission is to promote filmmakers who take the risk of making films about women or girl characters,” said Kaminski.
The entries have something else in common — they pass the Bechdel Test, which measures the presence of women in a film. Kaminski describes the concept as “a joke from a comic strip that has a ridiculous amount of relevance.”
But the test is no laughing matter. A new report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film in San Diego reveals that among the top 100 grossing films of 2013, only 15 percent were carried by a strong female lead.
A film passes the Bechdel Test, named for noted comic artist and writer Alison Bechdel, if it was two or more named female characters who talk to each other about something other than men.
“As a woman filmmaker myself and someone who writes female protagonists I would like to think our voice has a place,” said Kaminski. “I am a small cog in a larger machine.”
This year’s movies range from two to 23 minutes and a half-dozen directors are coming in for a question-and-answer period.
The eclectic series will take viewers through humor, drama and suspense while quietly changing the cinematic landscape.
“It is about the elevation of the importance of women’s conversation,” said the series founder. “The movies are so powerful, we need to understand that this power needs to be distributed more evenly so that other voices are heard.”
On Saturday night, all eyes will be on Chell Stephen, a University of Southern Maine graduate whose film “Crystal” has been heating up the festival circuit this year. The story of a 17-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a dancer while stuck in a two-bit town premiered at South by Southwest in March. Stephen, 29, describes her first narrative as “Napoleon Dynamite” meets a Britney Spears video.
Being part of Bluestocking is crucial for the fledgling filmmaker navigating a male-dominated field.
“There is an amazing dialogue happening about women and film right now,” said Stephen, who lives in Brooklyn. “In the history of Hollywood, changes happen at the independent level.”
For Stephen, who has submitted “Crystal” to Sundance for the chance to turn her 15-minute short into a TV show, gatherings such as Bluestocking are about more than promoting her flick.
“To be in a room with other female filmmakers that have had the same struggles and see all the different things people have cooked up helps build a support network,” she said. “It’s inspiring too.”
Bluestocking is far from an anti-man fest. Several films, including “Cabbie” by Brian C. Miller Richard, are directed by men. To Kaminski, that is key.
“Male directors are extremely important as allies if women are to be better represented,” she says.
Kaminski, who taught film and screenwriting at the University of Southern Maine for 13 years and is now at the Maine College of Art, started making films in the Pine Tree State in the early ’90s when such activity was rare.
Today, that’s hardly the case.
“You throw a rock here and you hit a filmmaker. Portland has become a very filmy city,” she said.
Bluestocking could further solidify that reputation.
The Bluestocking Film Series takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 18-19, at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland. Tickets are $10.