“Dear Daughters”

A scene from Adelle MacDowell’s film “Dear Daughters.”

What is beauty? John Keats tells us that “truth is beauty, beauty truth,” while William Shakespeare argued that “beauty is bought by judgment of the eye, not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues.”

For Adelle MacDowell, a 10th-grader at Lamoille Union High School, the idea of beauty — and specifically, the issue of self-image as it relates to young women — deserved exploring in a short film, which will be screened this weekend as part of the MountainTop Films Series in Waitsfield.

“What we wanted to do was talk about body image and how girls see themselves, and also have conversations with adults to talk about how things have changed,” said MacDowell, a 16-year-old from Johnson.

“Dear Daughters” is a seven-minute movie that MacDowell made in collaboration with other student filmmakers; it highlights conversations between mothers and daughters as they talk about body image, insecurity and acceptance.

The film can be viewed online at bit.ly/deardaughtersfilm.

MacDowell acknowledged that girls and young women have long been presented with unrealistic depictions of beauty by way of movies, television and glossy magazines; however, in the age of social media, that messaging is constant, she said.

“I think that in the old days, you could turn the messages off,” MacDowell said. “You could close the magazine. But today, everyone has their phones and everyone is on social media and it’s this constant message that girls are receiving that they have to look a certain way.”

MacDowell made the film in 2018 as part of What’s the Story, a yearlong class open to all secondary students in Vermont. The program itself is an outgrowth of the Breadloaf School of English — the graduate school at Middlebury College. There is no cost to enroll, and students receive credits for either English or social studies.

Students are split into groups, depending on their common interests, and assigned to create a film. In MacDowell’s case, her fellow filmmakers included Rae Kanarick and Sasha Miller, both of Shelburne Community School, and Anna McIntosh of Middlebury Union High School.

“We ask them to create the film, but also to take their film and their learning public,” said Erik Remsen, a program instructor with What’s the Story. “We want them to go out and connect with their audience. That could be presenting to other students or to lawmakers.”

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, the MountainTop Films Series will present five short student films made though What’s the Story; other films tackle subjects ranging from foster care to sexual orientation. The screenings will be followed by question-and-answer sessions with the student filmmakers.

Now in its 17th year, the MountainTop Film Festival offers a slate of socially conscious films in a multiday event that coincides every year with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which this year falls on Monday, Jan. 20.

Other films in the series include “Advocate” about an Israeli lawyer who defends Palestinians; “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” about humans’ effect on the planet; and “Fantastic Fungi” about the healing powers of mushrooms.

All screenings are at the Big Picture Theater and Café in Waitsfield. Information: bigpicturetheater.info.

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