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In 1992, Brattleboro reporter Judith Hart Fournier was stabbed to death by her jealous boyfriend. The tragedy moved the Women's Film Festival in Brattleboro, then in its second year, to explore raw issues such as domestic abuse. This year's edition, which runs each weekend from March 3 through 19, was preceded by a disturbing reminder of the original inspiration: Fournier's killer, Robert Sawyer, recently filed a motion to overturn his 40-year-to-life sentence.

The fest is an all-volunteer operation -- unspooling at two theaters, the Latchis and the Sanctuary: Hooker-Dunham -- that once again benefits the Women's Crisis Center of Windham County. Last year's event raised $16,000.

The opening night selection, appropriately, is V-Day: Until the Violence Stops by Abby Epstein. This documentary chronicles performances of Eve Ensler's tragicomic play, The Vagina Monologues, in 800 places throughout the world on a single day in 2002.

Rape in a Small Town: The Florence Holway Story hits geographically close to home. It's about how a 76-year-old New Hampshire resident, now 89, confronted the state's criminal justice system after being sexually assaulted. Filmmakers Charlene and Jeffrey Chapman are expected to attend.

Several of the 20 films are from other countries. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, for example, depicts the true saga of a Munich college student who forms an underground organization to oppose the Nazis in 1943. The German feature, directed by Marc Rothemund, is an Oscar nominee that just opened in New York.

How did a little cinematic endeavor in Vermont achieve this programming coup? It seems the early bird got the proverbial worm.

"We have a 10-member committee that does research on the Internet beginning in September," Publicity Coordinator Pamela Mandell says. "They look at 50 or 60 films, then winnow it down."

Yesterday, a South African drama by Darrell Roodt, centers on a Zulu mother who contracts AIDS from her straying husband. But she cares for him when he falls ill, while also seeking a better future for their young daughter.

From the same troubled nation, Nikiwe is Ingrid Gavshon's nonfiction profile of an orphaned adolescent girl struggling to raise her two little brothers.

Hineini: Coming Out at a Jewish High School traces the attempts of a lesbian teenager in Boston to establish a gay/straight alliance among her peers. Director Irene Fayngold will be on hand to answer questions.

Seen in archival footage, archaeologist Theresa Goell faces another sort of hurdle in Queen of the Mountain by Martha Goell Lubell, presumably a relative. The documentary's hearing-impaired Jewish divorcee defies social conventions to work with a crew of Muslim Kurds on an ambitious 1930s excavation in Turkey.

Sisters of '77, crafted by former Vermonters Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell, looks back at a landmark feminist conference in Texas, with sage commentaries by Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

Some contemporary sisters make a statement by jumping rope in Nicole Franklin's Double Dutch Divas! These New York ladies of all ages have been defying gravity for two decades as they entertain crowds around the globe.

For more information: http://www. or 348-9902.


Devoted fans of Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden or Paul Rudd might be thinking about a drive to Middlebury College's Dana Auditorium on Saturday to see P.S. Both screenings -- 3 and 8 p.m. -- are free. But be forewarned: Great cast. Gorgeous Manhattan cityscapes. Disappointing movie.

Dylan Kidd, whose 2002 directorial debut with Roger Dodger was an indie treasure, has now fashioned a tale of misguided passion that lobs misery at its protagonist for laughs.

A lonely 39-year-old admissions officer at Columbia University's School of Fine Arts, Louise (Linney) feels stuck. She's platonically dependent on her ex-husband (Byrne), a professor and serial philanderer. He may not be the ideal confidante. Louise is also tormented by a bitter sibling rivalry with her recovering-addict brother (Rudd).

Louise's messy life becomes ridiculously improbable when she leaps into a romantic entanglement with a prospective grad student (Grace), then later approves his application. This academic no-no is never examined in a plot that's overly preoccupied with bizarre coincidences.

Seems the kid is a dead ringer for a long-dead lover from Louise's teen years, and has the same pretentiously offbeat name, F. Scott Feinstadt. After learning about the eerie coincidence, her best friend (Harden) says: "It's all too fucking mystical for me." Amen.

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