THE SIREN NATION FILM FEST showcases films by and about women. Siren Nation—along with Portland's other annual women's film festival, POW—is an essential part of the local film conversation, dedicated to raising the visibility of female creators in a medium that remains dominated by men. A-plus bona fides aside, the catalog itself is a mixed bag, from insightful documentaries to limp polemics on girl power.
The festival's opening night selection is the uninspired Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, which invokes no shortage of talking heads in its examination of popular representations of powerful women. The doc opens with a cursory introduction to Wonder Woman, and follows up with strong female heroes throughout pop culture, from Sarah Connor to Buffy. The doc's pop-culture lens is narrow and predictable, however, as it retreads familiar narratives of female oppression and empowerment. (I'm as much a fan of Bikini Kill as anyone, but by the time Kathleen Hanna showed up to talk about "grrrl power," it was clear this doc wasn't going anywhere new.)
A better option is Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992, which follows the more profitable formula of focusing on a highly specific and little-known subject: Poet/activist Audre Lorde's connection to Berlin, where she became an influential figure among the city's small African German population. Audre offers both a look at an under-examined facet of German racism and a window into how women's and black movements intersect and conflict.
The best of the pre-festival screeners I watched was the excellent documentary Code of the West, which documents Montana's ongoing battle over marijuana, focusing largely on a lobbyist who describes his belief in medical marijuana's efficacy and importance as "spiritual." Other offerings: The promising Mosquita y Mari documents the relationship between two 15-year-old girls in a Mexican neighborhood of LA; She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column is yet another documentary, this time about the queer/punk band Fifth Column; and Second Best is a quick local short about how IKEA makes monsters of us all.