“I think that in a former life, I must have been a fish,” a woman says in a voiceover.
“Oh, the freedom,” another gushes. “I feel so free.”
“Swimming for me is like a second form of life,” a third adds.
A spacey soundtrack of pool water echoes in the background. Swimmers in one-piece suits and swim caps float and paddle across the screen. They’re members of the Harlem Honeys and Bears, a synchronized water dancing group open to seniors aged 50 and up in New York City. Founded in 1979, the group boasts over 40 members and is the subject of a 2015 award-winning short film by the director and producer Veena Rao.
The film, “The Honeys and Bears,” is one of nine shorts to be shown on the silver screen in Kalispell Jan. 12 as part of the Lunafest film festival at Flathead High School, a venue that hosts similar events like the Banff Film Festival.
The lineup showcases productions by, for, and about women. They all aim to “compel discussion, make you laugh, tug at your heartstrings, and motivate you to make a difference in your community,” as the event’s website reads.
The tour will make a stop in the valley as a fundraiser for Girls on the Run Flathead Valley, a physical activity-based positive youth development program for girls in grades third through eighth. The local chapter of the national program will embark on its inaugural 10-week session in February with teams at Edgerton, Hedges, and Elrod elementary schools in Kalispell, as well as at the Summit Medical Fitness Center.
Board co-chairs Mona Cuthbert and Allison Mitchell hope that physical activity will be a vehicle for finding freedom and learning community-building for their girls, just as it is for the Honeys and Bears. The national program provides a multi-part curriculum with units focusing on self-empowerment, being a team player and a good friend, and giving back to the community.
“Self-esteem and empowerment are two things that are really important,” Mitchell said. “I want my girls to see themselves as active and capable.”
“And healthy — mentally and physically,” Cuthbert added. “Those skills will help them navigate the social stressors of middle and high school, and their adult lives.”
Though the sticker price of the twice-weekly program is $150, Cuthbert and Mitchell say they are committed to including every student who wishes to join; proceeds from the film festival will support program scholarships.
And though designed to aid a program for school-aged girls, Lunafest, now in its 16th year, engages with big themes more commonly the fare of film festivals, including partnership, mental health, and death.
“They are touching, they are unique, they are all very different,” Mitchell said.
The roster also includes “Another Kind of Girl,” produced by 18-year-old Syrian filmmaker Khalidya Jibawi, who uses film as a meditation on how the experience has opened her horizons and helped her find a new sense of courage. Her nine-minute film, which has been shown at Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest (SXSW), and the Cannes Film Festival, also offers insight into everyday life in a Jordan refugee camp. In an interview with NPR, Jibawi said that “when (people) want to judge something, don’t judge it from their own perspective. They should study the subject and look deeper.”
Lunafest also includes “Free to Laugh,” which explores the power of comedy after prison, “Niñera,” which portrays the “bitter irony” faced by nannies who leave their own children to raise those of strangers, and “Family Tale,” an animated film that “rewrites the definition of families” through “love, loss, and determination.”
The film event is expected to run 90 minutes and begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12. Tickets can be purchased online at gotrflathead.org and eventbrite.com. Registration for Girls on the Run spring programs will be open through Jan. 31 at gotrflathead.org.
Mitchell and Cuthbert hope to expand the reach of Girls on the Run Flathead Valley by recruiting more participating schools and coordinating more volunteer coaches. To find additional information about participating as an athlete or volunteer, visit gotrflathead.org.