The trials and triumphs of Anita Hill are chronicled in the new documentary Anita, to be showcased Saturday, March 8 at the Family of Woman Film Festival at the Sun Valley Opera House.
Family of Woman Film Festival
March 6-10, single screening $15, all films $60. Film screenings are at Sun Valley Opera House, 1 Sun Valley Road; talks are at the Community Library, 415 Spruce Ave., Ketchum. Tickets available at Chapter One Bookstore, 340 E. Second St., Ketchum, 208-726-5425. Visit familyofwomanfilmfestival.org for complete schedule.
The voice on the phone message was cheerful, but direct: "I would love you to consider an apology sometime, and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband."
After a few more sentences, the caller signed off amiably: "Have a good day."
It was the voice of Ginni Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and the message was for Anita Hill, a professor at Brandeis University.
Hill received the message 19 years after her 1991 bombshell testimony at Thomas' Capitol Hill confirmation hearing, during which Hill alleged that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her boss.
The message is the first thing heard in Anita, the latest documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, Best Feature Documentary, 1996). Anita--Mock's look back at the controversial hearing and what has happened to Hill since--is one of five films featured at the seventh annual Family of Woman Film Festival in Sun Valley.
The Saturday, March 8, screening of Anita is a chance for festival-goers to see the documentary before it opens commercially in New York City Friday, March 21. It's also an opportunity to hear from Mock, whose family has been visiting Sun Valley for more than 25 years.
"We're very excited about finally bringing this to the public at large," she told Boise Weekly. "It's a pretty amazing story, sort of a David and Goliath story in one sense."
[ Video is no longer available. ]
The subtitle of the 77-minute Anita is "Speaking Truth to Power," also the title of Anita Hill's autobiography. The film includes ample television clips from the now-infamous grilling that Hill received from an all-white, all-male panel of U.S. senators.
But Mock said her film isn't about proving whether Hill was telling the truth.
"It's up to you to believe her or not to believe her," Mock said. "That's not the purpose of the film. For me, it was just an opportunity to tell her story that I think was lost in the sensationalism of the hearings."
We learn, for instance, that Hill is the youngest of 13 children whose parents left behind the Jim Crow laws of the South to raise their children on a farm in Oklahoma; that Hill has a wry sense of humor; and that her life was threatened many times after the hearing.
The documentary also considers the changes that have occurred in U.S. workplaces since Hill's testimony and the people she inspired to speak up about sexual harassment, many of whom wrote to her. Their letters are among the estimated 25,000 she has received and saved.
"It's really a story of gender equality and empowerment of girls and women," Mock told BW. "And I think men have benefited just as much as women have from that testimony 20 years ago."
For festival co-chair Peggy Elliott Goldwyn, Anita also mirrors this year's theme: women and education.
"It addresses education in many different ways, starting with the fact that when Anita Hill went to that hearing just feeling she was doing the right thing, oh boy, did she get an education," Goldwyn told BW. "And because of what happened to her, the rest of America got an education about what women faced in the workplace every day."
Goldwyn, board member emeritus of the Friends of the United Nations Population Fund, began the Family of Woman Film Festival in 2008 as a way to draw attention to the mission of the fund, which works around the world to improve access to family planning services and reduce maternal mortality.
Goldwyn calls herself a "reformed sitcom writer" and is the ex-wife of Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., son of the famous movie mogul. For 20 years, she was a vice president of Samuel Goldwyn Films and as such, she's able to use her connections in the industry to secure some of the films for the festival: Anita, for instance, is being distributed by Goldwyn Films. But others she finds on her own, including this year's Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame, a feature by a young Iranian filmmaker, Hana Makhmalbaf.
"I had seen it when it first came out in French with subtitles and it just bowled me over and it haunted me," said Goldwyn. "So... I tracked it down. I like to bring films that may never been seen."
This year, the festival requested funding from the Sun Valley City Council for advertising but was turned down after several council members said they viewed the festival as a partisan political event. It was a surprising characterization for Goldwyn, a full-time resident of the community.
"This was a very political attack that came out of left field that was shocking to me," she said. "There is nothing political about educating women and girls. There is nothing political about trying to lower maternal mortality. There is nothing political about any of the things UNFPA does."
Festival-goers will also hear from Meagan Carnahan Fallone of the Barefoot College in India, Anzaira Roxas, a nurse-midwife from the Philippines, and Idaho's own Barbara Morgan, former astronaut and distinguished educator in residence at Boise State University.