The West Virginia Women’s Commission in collaboration with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History will present a screening of the feature documentary Lioness, a film about a group of female Army support soldiers who were part of the first program in American history to send women into direct ground combat. The film will be shown on the big screen at 6 p.m., on Wednesday, March 18, in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater at the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex in Charleston. The screening is timed to coincide with Women’s History Month. All activities are free and the public is invited to attend.
The evening event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a reception to meet one of the directors and producers of the film, Daria Sommers, in the Great Hall. The film, which runs 82 minutes, will be followed by a question and answer session with Sommers and a reception in the Great Hall.
Lioness is told through intimate accounts, journal excerpts, archival footage, and interviews with military commanders. The film follows five women who served together for a year in Iraq. Without the same training as their male counterparts but with a commitment to serve as needed, these young women fought in some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq war and returned home as part of this country’s first generation of female combat veterans.
The documentary reveals the unexpected consequences that began by using these Army women to defuse tensions with local civilians, but resulted in their fighting alongside Marine combat units in the streets of Ramadi. The women’s candid narratives describing their experiences in Iraq and scenes from their lives back home paint a portrait of the emotional and psychological effects of war from a female point of view.
Sommers and her co-director/producer Meg McLagan became interested in filming the project five years ago when it became clear that it wasn’t just young men who were fighting, it was young women too–wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. It became clear that a turning point had been reached. The rise of the insurgency had obliterated the notion of a front line and the support units in which women serve were increasingly in the line of fire. As a result, the official U.S. policy of banning female soldiers from serving in direct ground combat was being severely tested, and violated on a regular basis. After doing some research, McLagan and Sommers learned about a group of female support soldiers, members of “Team Lioness,” who by any reckoning were breaking new ground and rewriting the rules.
McLagan is a documentary filmmaker and cultural anthropologist. She graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology from New York University. Her work has been supported by the Sundance Documentary Fund, Fledgling Fund, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Pacific Pioneer Fund, SONY Corporation and the Wenner Gren Foundation. She began her career as a producer of the film Paris Is Burning which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics Circle Award for Best Documentary. She also co-directed Tibet in Exile with Barbara Banks which aired on public television and was screened at festivals and museums in the U.S. and Europe. In addition to her film work, McLagan is co-editor of Visual Cultures of Nongovernmental Politics, forthcoming from Zone Books.
Sommers is a New York City-based filmmaker whose work includes both documentaries and narrative fiction. Her other films include Eastern Spirit Western World, a portrait of Chinese artist Diana Kan, which was broadcast by PBS, BBC and CBC and premiered at the Smithsonian and the half-hour drama Ready to Burn for which she received Panavision’s New Director’s Award. She began her career at PBS and her work has garnered support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fledgling Fund, Chicken & Egg Pictures, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sundance Documentary Fund and NYSCA. She recently completed Sawadika American Girl, a screenplay about Americans living in Thailand in the shadow of the Vietnam War. Sommers graduated from Oberlin College.
Lioness is a Room 11 Productions film. It was broadcast nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens in November of 2008 in honor of Veterans Day and will receive a Congressional screening in late March 2009. The film won the Center for Documentary Studies Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in 2008.
For more information about the screening of the film, Lioness and the Question and Answer session to follow, contact Tara Martinez-Toney, Interim Executive Director of the West Virginia Women’s Commission, at (304) 558-0070. For more information about the film or to view a trailer, visit the Web site www.lionessthefilm.com.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Its administrative offices are located at the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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Media Note: Daria Sommers can be reached at (917) 733-8311.