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Indie Short Film Series turns lens on women's projects, processes

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Early in her film “Orphan Doll,” Healy Lange explores a distraught 16-year-old character’s moment of anticipatory grief.

The director had no idea during filming how differently men and women in the audience would view what was unfolding in front of them.

“The reaction I get from men is, ‘Is she crazy?’ ‘Does she have multiple personality disorder?’” Lange said. “The reaction from the women is, ‘Bless her heart.’”

When “Women in Film,” the eighth installment of the Indie Short Film Series, begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Vinegar Hill Theatre, audience members can make up their own minds about what is happening when the teen starts role-playing in imaginary telephone conversations.

It’s her attempt to regain her bearings while struggling to answer her father’s question about visiting her ailing mother.

“She’s coping, and not in the best way,” Lange said of the teen character played by Celine Alva. “She’s trying to avoid this extremely painful conversation that’s going to change her life at 16.

“At 16, you have no power. You have to do whatever you’re told. You can’t tell your father, ‘No, I don’t want to see my mother in a nursing home.’ She’s finding a way to cope with the grief. The minute she says, ‘I’ll be right there,’ everything changes.”

Saturday’s “Women in Film” program will screen up to eight short films by national and international filmmakers. A panel discussion with women filmmakers will follow the screening, offering time to learn more about their processes and approaches.

Lange, who’ll be making her first Charlottesville appearance, chose to use color sequences to depict her character’s painful present and black-and-white segments to explore her phone conversations.

“The color is brutal, because the reality of her life in this moment is brutal,” Lange said. “Life is not black and white. There are many different shades of gray, and there are different ways of coping.”

And no generalizations are absolute. Lange said that she spoke with a man in one of her screening audiences who totally grasped what the character was going through. He told her his own mother had died while he was in high school.

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“Grief does not look the same [to everyone]. If you’re in the first, most difficult loss of your life, it’s a lot of change,” Lange said.

The scene can remind audiences that just because a grieving person is emotionally overwhelmed, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is mentally ill.

“It’s not a linear film,” Lange said. “It’s not super clear in the movie what’s happening at first.”

“Orphan Doll” allows room for individual interpretations because “grief is not a formula. I feel like people should have permission to grieve and not be ‘normal’ to anyone else, and get help if they need it,” Lange said.

For folks who haven’t walked with grief and need another way to relate to the character, Lange pointed to the common experience of coming up with an appropriate response today for a conversation you fumbled last night.

“You get in the car, and you have the conversations you wish you’d had,” Lange said. “She’s just having her moment in her room, which is a safe place.”

Indie Short Film Series founder Ty Cooper invites filmmakers who bring diverse viewpoints in short films that local audiences otherwise might not get to see outside a festival setting.

Film fans viewing the “Women in Film” program will be able to glimpse different cinematic approaches to universal moments.

Lange penned “Orphan Doll” at a time when pain in her own world was sweeping her back to the turmoil of teenhood.

“At the time that I wrote it, my mother had dementia,” she said. “I felt kind of frustrated and kind of powerless, and I was afraid I might never see her again.

“I feel like this [film] kind of exorcised a lot of things for me.”

Doors will open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20; get them in advance online at https://isfswomeninfilm.eventbrite.com, and bring your photo ID to pick them up at the door.

Filmmakers who’d like to submit their work for future events in the series can go to www.filmfreeway.com/indieshortfilmseries.

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