Women’s Visionary Film Syllabus

Women’s Visionary Film: Magic, Myth, and Mystery

UNITS: Two  Semester: Spring. LEVEL OF INSTRUCTION: B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
INSTRUCTORS: Professor Mary Mackey, Ph.D. and Professor Mara Keller, Ph.D.

Women’s sacred experience and beliefs are increasingly finding expression in the contemporary art of film.  Among the many types of film, a new genre is emerging:  Women’s Visionary Film. The mystical vision of many of these works is embodied in the daily lives and sacred stories of ordinary persons as well as legendary or mythical beings.  These films illuminate women’s spiritual sensibilities, skills, arts, and leadership among culturally diverse groups of women (i.e. Mexican and Indigenous; European and Euro-American; African-American; (East) Indian; and Pacific Island women).  Select films written and/or directed by women from diverse cultures of our global community will be viewed for discussion of sacred themes including some of the following: Frida; Like Water for Chocolate; Blossoms of Fire; Signs Out of Time: The Story of Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas; Goddess Remembered; The Burning Times; The Sorceress; Monsoon Wedding; Fire; Mistress of Spices; Daughters of the Dust; The Secret Life of Bees; Whale Rider; and Rabbit Proof Fence.

When this course is complete, the student will be able to:
1.  Appreciate more perceptively the art of filmmaking as a medium for spiritual experience and insight
2.  Write creatively about the sacred themes of these films, in diverse cultural contexts, and women’s self-reflective use of the arts to convey greater insight into the colors, shapes, emotions, and spirituality of women’s lives—women’s imagination, suffering, hopes, beliefs, and dreams.
3.  Identify and discuss issues arising from the successful or unsuccessful translation of women’s visionary narratives
from book form to the screen
4.  Identify the special challenges women filmmakers have faced in expressing spiritual experience in their films both in the past and at present

  Lecture & Discussion:  35%
  Experiential:  Viewing of Films:  65%

ASSIGNMENTS:                Percentage toward Final Grade
1. Précis of final paper                     20%
2. Final paper                                    70%
3. Attendance and participation     10%

Final Paper:  In your paper, please include a discussion of the newly emergent film genre of Women’s Visionary Film and its spiritual themes; the adaptation of novels to films; and two movie reviews, including some comparison with other films.  BA 10 pages. MA 14 pages. PhD 20 pages.

Julie Dash. Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film.
Mary Mackey. The Horses at the Gate OR The Year the Horses Came. Also Recommended: Mackey’s The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale (Prequel to The Year The Horses Came).
Laura Esquival. Like Water for Chocolate
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees.
Devikaruna, Chitra Banerjee.  The Mistress of Spices.
George Bluestone. Novels into Film.
Women’s Visionary Film Reader
Shohini Chaudhuri, “Indian Cinema” in Contemporary World Cinema (focus on Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta’s Fire).
Vivian Sobchack, “The Passion of the Material: Toward a Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity” in Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles (2004.)
Starhawk.  “The Burning Times” from Dreaming the Dark
 Susan Eleanor Swift. “Film, Feminism, And The Sacred: The Tension Of Gender and Mythology in Popular Film,” California Institute of Integral Studies DSS, 2000. (excerpt)
Hayden Herrera. Frida (biography) (excerpt)
Hayden Herrera, Julie Taymor, Selma Hayek,  Frida (Preface and Introduction)
Aurora Levins Morales, Remedios.Bisabuelas.” Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1996, 2001.
Valerie Miner, “An Imagined Collectivity of Writers and Readers”
_____. “The Feminist Reviewer”


April 2, Saturday.    Introductions. Like Water for Chocolate, Frida, Blossoms of Fire
What is Women’s Visionary Film?
FILM: Like Water for Chocolate – produced and directed by Alfonso Arau; screenplay by Laura Equivel, based on the novel by Laura  Esquivel (113 min.; 1993)    
                 Reading:  Carol P.  Christ. “Women’s Stories, Women’s Quest,”
                 “Toward Wholeness: A Vision of Women’s Culture.”
                   George Bluestone, Novels into Film, “The Limits of Novels, the Limits of Film”
FILM: Frida —Director Julie Taymor (123 min. 2002)   
FILM: Blossoms of Fire — directors/writer Maureen Gosling, Ellen Osborne. (75 min.)
                       Reading:  Hayden Herrera. Frida  (biography) “Childhood in Coyoacán”
                       Hayden Herrera, Julie Taymor, Selma Hayek, Frida (Preface and Introduction)

April 3, Sunday.   Daughter of the Dust, The Secret Life of Bees
FILM: Daughters of the Dust – Julie Dash, director/writer (1991, 113 min.)  
              Reading:  Julie Dash. Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film 
FILM: The Secret Life of Bees – Gina Prince-Blythewood, director/writer.; based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd  (1 hour 50 min.; 2008)  
               Reading:  Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees.  
               Susan Swift, “Film, Feminism, and the Sacred: The Tension of Gender and Spirituality in Film.” (ch. 7)
               Valerie Miner, “The Feminist Reviewer” 

April 16, Saturday. Goddess Remembered, Burning Times, Signs Out of Time. Creative Writing Exercises
FILM: Goddess Remembered –Donna Read and Starhawk (55 min)
FILM: Burning Times –Donna Read and Starhawk  (57 min)
FILM: Signs Out of Time:  The Story of Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas –Donna Read &  Starhawk (58:40 min.)
                  Reading: Mary Mackey. The Earthsong Trilogy: Horses at the Gate OR The Year the Horses Came.
FILM: Whale Rider – Niki Caro, director, writer, producer. Based on the book by Witi Ihimaera (101 min.)
April 17, Sunday. Mistress of Spices, The Widow’s War, Fire, Monsoon Wedding
Mistress of Spices, based on the novel by Chitra Banerjee Devikaruni  (2005, 96 min.)
     Reading:  Chitra Banerjee Devikaruna, The Mistress of Spices
Ceremony in the Quilombo: Mary Mackey, “Ceremony in the Quilombo” from Mary Mackey’s novel, The Widow‘s War
Reading: The Widow’s War, Mary Mackey, Chapter Three
      Recommended: Aurora Levins Morales, Remedios. “Bisabuelas.”
 FILM: Fire – Deepa Mehta (108 min)
 FILM: Monsoon Wedding–Mira Nair (114 min.)
Reading:  Alpana Sharma, “Body Matters: The Politics of Provocation in Mira Nair’s Film.”
 Chakrabarty, “Female Bonding/Female Desire: Deepa Mehta’s Fire
 Sobchack. “The Passion of the Material: Toward a Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity”
 Valerie Miner, “An Imagined Collectivity of Writers and Readers”
  Recommended: Chaudhuri, “Indian Cinema” (focus on Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta’s Fire)
Précis of final paper:  due April 22        
Final paper: due May 9    

Required Films:

Blossoms of Fire: The People of Juchitan Oaxaca. Maureen Gosling, Ellen Osborne, directors/writer. (documentary, 2006, 74 min.; in
    Spanish and Zapotec with English subtitles)
Daughters of the Dust.  Julie Nash.
Fire, Deepa Mehta (subtitles in English)
Frida.  Julie Taymor, director, produced by Selma Hayak (biography by Hayden Herrera)        
Like Water for Chocolate.  Alfonso Arau, director/producer. Based on the book by Laura Esquivel (113 min.; 1993; Spanish w/English subtitles)
Mistress of Spices.
Monsoon Wedding. Mira Mair, producer/director.  
Signs out of Time:  The Story of Marija Gimbutas. Donna Read & Starhawk director, producers, screenwriter.  
The Secret Life of Bees.  Gina Prince-Blythewood, director/writer. Based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd. ( 1 hr. 50 min.; 2008)
Whale Rider.  Niki Caro, director. Based on the book by Ihimaera.
Women’s Spirituality Trilogy:  Goddess Remembered, The Burning Times, Full Circle. Donna Read & Starhawk, director/screenwriter.  
    The Burning Times/ http://www.nfb.ca/film/burning_times/
     The Goddess Remembered/ http://www.nfb.ca/film/goddess_remembered/

Recommended Films:
Water. Deepa Mehta
 Earth. Deepa Mehta
Sorceress (Le Moine et la Sorciere), Suzanne Schiffman, director; screenplay by Ann Barstow.  (France, 97 min. 1987)
Chocolat. Lasse Hallstron, director. Written by Robert Nelson Jaccobs.  Based on the novel by Joanne Harris (121 min., 2000)
The Color Purple. Stephen Spielberg, director. ?Screenplay  Based on a book by  Alice Walker.
The Secret of Roan Innish.  John Sales, Dirctor, screenwriter. Based on novel by Rosalie K. Fry
Yentl.  Barbara Streisand.
Hester Street.
House of the Spirits.  Based on a book by Isabelle Allende,
Fried Green Tomatoes. screenplay by Fannie Flagg, based on the novel by Fannie Flagg (1992)
Joy Luck Club.  Based on the novel by Amy Tan.
Rabbit Proof Fence.  Phillip Noyce, director. Based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara (2002, 130 min.)
Antonia’s Line. Marleen Goris, director, writer.
My Brilliant Career.  1993. Based on book by
Orlando.  Sally Potter.

Mary Mackey, Earthsong Trilogy: (available from Amazon.com or iUniverse.  Trilogy includes:
         The Year the Horses Came
.  San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco; (1993). Available as e-book.
         The Horses at the Gate. New York: Onyx Books; (1996). Available as e-book.
         The Fires of Spring New York: Onyx Books (1998). Available as e-book.
_____ “Ceremony in the Quilombo” from Mary Mackey, The Widow ‘s War (ch.3) . Available as e-book.
 _____.  The Last Warrior Queen. (Putnam, 1983; available from Amazon.com or iUniverse.com). Available
                  as e-book.
______. The Village of  Bones: Sabalah’s Tale. Prequel to The Earthsong Trilogy (see above). In press.
Chitra Banerjee  Devikaruna, Mistress of Spices
Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Laura Esquival. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies.
    New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1992.
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees.  (Penguin Books, 2002)
Valerie Miner, “An Imagined Collectivity of Writers and Readers”
_____. “The Feminist Reviewer”
Morales, Aurora Levins. Remedios. “Bisabuelas.” Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1996, 2001.

Film Scripts, Theory, Analysis, Reviews:
Berger, Pamela.  “The Story and Scripting of the Film Sorceress.” In Sorceress, Tcheky Karyo, Christine Boisson, Jean Carmet, with interview in Grence with Suzanne Schiffman, by Marc Chevrie.
Bluestone, George. Novels into Film. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, [1957] 2003.
Codell, Julie F. ed. Genre, Gender, Race and World Cinema. (MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
Chaudhuri, Shohini.  Contemporary World Cinema: Europe, Middle East, East Asia, South Asia. Edingurgh: Edinburgh University
    Press, 2005.
Dash, Julie. Daughters of the Dust: The Making of An African American Woman’s Film. New
    York: New Press, 1992)
Haskell, Molly. From Reverence to Rape. (1974)
Herrera, Hayden.  Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. Perennial/ HarperCollins Publishers, 1983.
Herrera, Hayden, Julie Taymor, and Selma Hayuk; , Frida: Bringing Frida Kahlo’s Life and Art to Film.: with Illustrated
    Screenplay. New Market, New York: New Market Press, 2002
Jain, Jasbir, author & ed.  Film, Literature and Culture: Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy.  Jaipur, New Delhi: Rawat
    Publications, 2007.
Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. Feminism and Film. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Sobchack, Vivian. The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience. Princeton, New Jersey:  Princeton University  
    Press, 1992.
_____. Beyond the Gaze: Recent Approaches to Film Feminisms [special issue of Signs: Journal of
    Women in Culture and Society] Vol. 30: no.1 (Autumn 2004), Co-editor with Kathleen McHugh.
_____. “The Active Eye: A Phenomenology of Cinematic Vision,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 12, no. 3 (1990): 21-36.
_____. “The Scene of the Screen: Envisioning Cinematic and Electronic ‘Presence,” in Materialities of Communication, ed.
    Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 83-106.
_____.  “The Passion of the Material: Toward a Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity” in Carnal Thoughts:
     Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles (2004)
Schiffman, Suzanne. The Sorceress (interview)
Swift, Susan Eleanor. Film, Feminism, And The Sacred: The Tension Of Gender And Mythology In Popular Film. San
    Francisco:  California Institute of Integral Studies DSS, 2000.
Sharma, Alpana.  “Body Matters:  The Politics of Provocation in Mira Nair’s Films.” In Genre, Gender, Race and World Cinema.
     Julie F. Codell, ed. (MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
Walker, Alice. The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult. New York: Scribner, 1996.
Walker, Alice.  The Color Purple (screenplay)
Wartenberg, Thomas.  “Philosophy of Film” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Film. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/film/
    2004, 2008.
IMDbPro.com: Internet Media Database Pro
Feminist film reviews:  http://www.mith2.umd.edu/WomensStudies/FilmReviews/
Roger Ebert film reviews: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com

Women’s Spirituality Perspectives:
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts. Pandora/HarperCollinsPublishers, 1994.
Christ, Carol P. Diving Deep and Surfacing:  Women’s Spiritual Quest. Boston: Beacon Press, 1980.
Keller, Mara. “Women’s Art and Feminist Aesthetics,” book review of Gisela Ecker, ed., Feminist Aesthetics.  Harriet
    Anderson, tr., (Boston, Beacon Press, 1986); Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Spring, 1989.


Mary Mackey (B.A. Harvard; Ph.D. Comparative Literature, University of Michigan) is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Sacramento, where she taught film, creative writing, and Women’s Studies courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level; and was nominated four times for the University’s Outstanding Teaching Award. Mary is the author of  twelve screenplays and seven collections of poetry including Sugar Zone, winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and finalist for the Northern California Book Reviewers Award. She is also the author of thirteen novels, including The Year The Horses Came, The Horses At the Gate, and The Fires of Spring, a trilogy which recreates the earth-centered, matriarchal cultures of Old Europe based on the research of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. She is presently writing a prequel to The Year The Horses Came entitled The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale, which is scheduled for publication in 2015.

Mackey’s works have been translated into twelve foreign languages and have sold over a million and a half copies. Her poetry has been featured several times on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac; and her novels have appeared on both The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists. She is Past President of PEN American Center, West; former member of the Governing Board of PEN Oakland; one of the founders of the Feminist Writers Guild, and a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of the International Editorial Board of OCHRE: Journal of Women’s Spirituality, and is particularly interested in helping her students find deeply personal, authentic voices in which to express their spirituality, imagination, hopes, beliefs, thoughts, and dreams.  In Spring 2009, the San Francisco Branch of the National League of American Pen Women established the Mary Mackey Short Story Prize to encourage writers who may not have previously been published. You can learn more about her and sample her work by visiting her webpage at https://marymackey.com/.

Mara Lynn Keller (Ph.D. Philosophy, Yale University) is a Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and the former director of the Women’s Spirituality MA and PhD program at CIIS.  She is a philosopher, thealogian, and a specialist on the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, Mother and Daughter Goddesses of Ancient Greece.  Her articles include: “The Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone:  Fertility, Sexuality and Rebirth,” “The Ritual Path of Initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries,” “Crete of the Mother Goddess: Communal Rituals and Sacred Art, “Goddesses around the World,” and “Violence against Women and Children in Religious Scriptures and in the Home.”  As director of the CIIS Women’s Spirituality program from 1998-2008, she produced dozens of special events on women’s sacred arts and scholarship, most recently, a joint art exhibition with CERES Gallery in New York on Ineffable/Woman. She serves on the Editorial Council of OCHRE: Journal of Women’s Spirituality.  Previously, she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of California at Riverside and at San Francisco State University, where she also co-founded and coordinated the Global Peace Studies program.

 [Click on the following course titles to view or sample syllabi for Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Poetry, Introduction To Composition, and Advanced Composition.]