By Jayliegh Lewis
As the days grew shorter and colder this November, Red Tent movie screenings created havens of warmth and community. Isadora, the filmmaker, attended screenings of Things We Don’t Talk About in venues from New York City to the Deep South, while the film premiered in six new locations (Michigan, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Mexico).
The first ten days of the month saw Isadora traveling through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for a series of cozy screenings in small towns and small spaces. Although the Red Tent movie had already premiered in New York City, this November 1st was Isadora’s first time attending a screening there. The local Red Tent Temple hosted; the space filled with community members, and a post-screening discussion focused on the topic of self-esteem.
A yoga studio in Nyack, New York was the next stop, on November 2nd, for a screening and Red Tent gathering which Isadora described as “radiant, ethereal, and moving.” Nyack is a small-town northern suburb of New York City, located in the Hudson River Valley; fall foliage was at its peak there at the beginning of November. Nyack Yoga, already a grand space, with high ceilings and beautiful lighting, was transformed into a Red Tent for the occasion, providing a gathering space for at least 60 people. Attendees were a mix of women from the local Red Tent community and women from northeast Pennsylvania’s yearly women’s spiritual festival, Where Womyn Gather. (A Red Tent movie screening was part of the festival last spring, quite appropriate since the film features the northeast PA Red Tent community!) Some festival goers who had seen the movie were so inspired by it that they wanted to bring it back to their hometown.
One woman brought her brother to see the film, which caused a bit of controversy in what is often a woman-only space. Isadora made an announcement addressing this: she has always maintained that men are welcome at screenings. Men come from the wombs of their mothers just as women do, and in order to create lasting change in our world we need more men to come out in support of women’s empowerment. When this particular man left the space prior to the woman-only Red Tent portion of the event, everyone in the room clapped for him and thanked him for coming. He, too, said he was glad he came.
Isadora attended two more screenings in the area the next week: one in Hawthorne, New Jersey (hosted by a woman, Zena, who Isadora’s mother had synchronistically met a week and a half prior while the two were exhibiting next to each other at an art show), and one in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (hosted by Khrys Exposito, whose story is featured in the film). Both were small and intimate; the Hawthorne screening attracted friends of Zena’s who were of Russian ancestry (accessing this community for the first time), while the red decorations at the Bethlehem screening inspired women to view the event as their own woman-centric celebration of the season, paralleling the Christmas decorations the town was putting up outside.
November 14th marked the beginning of the filmmaker’s tour through the Deep South. She had been initially invited to the area by a professor of social work at Arkansas State University, Dr. Kat (an attendee of the Red Tent at Where Womyn Gather), but confessed to feeling nervous before embarking for some very conservative places in states she had never visited before.
Isadora’s first taste of the beauty and joy she would experience throughout her time in the South came in Memphis, Tennessee (home of Graceland), when she arrived at sunset to the First Congregational Church. The screening that evening was well-attended by a group of women representing many kinds of diversity. Afterwards, a Red Tent talking circle discussed early feminism and changes that have taken place since. The evening included celebrations in song: one woman, a disability rights advocate who said she doesn’t normally speak in front of crowds, sang a beautiful gospel song for the group, followed by members of the Jewish community singing songs in Hebrew, and a woman singing “Happy Birthday” in Dutch.
Arkansas State University, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, hosted two screenings the next day. An afternoon screening was attended by deans and professors at the school, while an evening screening at a different location, which also included a Red Tent, drew a larger audience. The evening was leisurely and relaxing, including lots of time for talking and foot rubs! During the last hour, a playlist of empowering women’s top 40 music Isadora had created began to play; the women got into the spirit and began dancing with veils and scarves. The filmmaker reports that everyone had a lot of fun; many women who had never heard of Red Tents before said they wanted more women’s community like this.
Another impromptu dance party broke out the following day at a screening in Tupelo, Mississippi (birthplace of Elvis), as women assisted with takedown after the event. This screening was hosted by a young woman named Zola, who offers Red Tents in the area. Her community remains small but strong thanks to her passion for bringing concepts of women’s empowerment and community to a population for which these ideas are often new.
Isadora wrapped up her tour of the South by speaking at a small Unitarian Universalist church in Tupelo on November 17th. In response to a man who shared that he wished his daughters could have the type of community featured in the film, and that he was glad screenings were going ahead even in this very religiously and ideologically conservative region, she spoke about the Red Tent movement being compatible with religion and spirituality even though the movement itself is not spiritual or religious. Anita Diamant’s novel, The Red Tent, which inspired the movement, was initially promoted within churches and synagogues because of its Biblical roots. The Red Tent movement is a grassroots movement which continues to grow because it speaks to women (and men) of many different lifestyles and beliefs.
Overall, November 2013’s Red Tent movie screenings were full of joy: each gathering moved women to access the radiance of their spirits, in their own unique and brilliant ways.