Ariella Ben-Dov, Madcat Mastermind

Susan Gerhard September 24, 2007

As the Madcat Women’s International Film Festival heads into its final stretch this coming week in San Francisco, felt it was important to catch up with its chief curator, Ariella Ben-Dov. The “catching” part wasn’t exactly easy. As you read this, Ben-Dov is traveling at warp speed through various neighborhoods of San Francisco, working the last-minute arrangements at an assortment of locations, and creating the illusion that the globe-spanning, genre-busting festival of the people is an operation run by hundreds of hands. It actually comes mostly down to two: Ben-Dov and her very close associate, Rebecca McBride. Throughout the year, they get help from a graphic designer, projectionist, 10-15 volunteers, and a small pre-screening committee. But when you consider the scope of the shows and varieties of venues, you see what they’ve accompolished is no small feat — in fact, it’s not being replicated anywhere else in the world. Wonder why? We did eventually find Ben-Dov, and she offered her thoughts, mid-festival, over the phone.

SF360: I think midway through is probably the best time to ask: What’s the most challenging part of running a film festival like this one?

Ariella Ben-Dov: I wish it were a more interesting answer, but it’s probably the same for any arts organization in the U.S.: money and resources. It’s never about the work. There’s never a dearth of work.

SF360: How big is Madcat?

Ben-Dov: The two main people are myself and Rebecca McBride. We bring on a graphic designer and projectionist. We have 10-15 volunteers throughout the year, and we also have a pre-screening committee of about 10 people. It’s very small, and definitely we rely on interns and volunteers for support throughout the preparations.

SF360: I’m so impressed by the scope and variety of the films this year; can you describe your curatorial process and how it did or didn’t differ from years past?

Ben-Dov: We do send out an open call for submissions. This year we received a bit over 1,400. I’m always seeking out movies, whether it’s filmmakers who’ve shown at Madcat in the past, or filmmakers recommended by other curators. I go to a few other international film festivals each year. The process of reviewing the films and curating is a very long organizing process. There’s of course a few programs each year I have an idea of doing. I knew when Helen Hill passed away this year, I wanted to have an evening dedicated to her films. But most of the films come from submissions. It’s really exciting, because I don’t know what I’m going to get. I know what filmmakers are going to send work, but I don’t know what themes are going to arise. It’s a process of watching and rewatching. There are many films that don’t fit our guidelines…. It’s easy to weed those out. There are many films that could work, but I don’t say ‘Yes’ to until I see it fits our program.

Every year I feel like I hold on to more and more tapes of films I wanted to show but couldn’t find a place for, that’s what makes the shorts programs at Madcat so strong. The body of work is as important as each individual piece in the program. My hope as a curator is that audiences are going to walk away and be talking and thinking about the movies they see — not only that individual film, but how these films play off each other….

Obviously the filmmakers have an intention with their films