Tag Archives: female directors

SXSW: Signature Move

Zaynab is a Pakistani-American immigration lawyer who is a) learning wresting moves from a former pro wrestler who went by the name Jolt and b) keeping a new relationship with Alma secret from her conservative Muslim mother who doesn’t know she’s gay.

“Mothers and daughters aren’t friends in our culture,” Zaynab tells Alma. “That’s a very American concept.” Zaynab’s father is dead and her mother lives with her, almost claustrophobically, obsessed with SIG-MOVE-2-1024x683TV and spying on the neighbours but unwilling to leave the house. She’s particularly keen on spotting eligible men with her not-inconspicuous binoculars.

Zaynab, meanwhile, is just trying to find herself, in “life, love, and lady wrestling,” as the subtitle suggests. Signature Move, directed by Jennifer Reeder, is a mixture of culture and possibility, with Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) wishing she could could live her life confidently out but juggling the reality of her mother’s disapproval and the pain the secrecy causes her new girlfriend. I particularly love seeing the generational difference between Zaynab and her mother (Shabana Azmi), how the mother will speak in her native tongue, and the daughter will respond in English as if this is the most natural thing in the world. Alma (Sari Sanchez), meanwhile, is perhaps her opposite, but she draws her out of the darkness while also having her own notions of identity and sexuality challenged. It’s an interesting little slice of life indie film that brings a refreshing twist on the tired romcom format to the screen.

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SXSW: Bill Frisell, A Portrait

Bill Frisell’s discography is incomparable. He’s worked with the best of the best, all of whom consider HIM to be The Best. He’s an actual guitar hero, his influence widespread, his sound envied and copies and admired. But Bill remains an unsung guitar hero, his name not well-known to those outside the business, and he’s pretty content to keep it that way. This documentary, however, is a character portrait of this very interesting man, and very influential musician.

MV5BM2Y1N2I1OTktMGIxYy00N2I1LTljOTMtZjBjM2IzNDRiNjg4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzMwNzMyMjk@._V1_The good thing about this documentary is that so many people line up to talk about Frisell: director Emma Franz assembles the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, and more, and the amazing thing is that all of the people have nothing but glowing things to say about the man. The GREAT thing about this documentary, though, is that it contains plenty of live music to love and appreciate, and gosh he’s got a lot.

Bill Frisell seems reluctant to talk about himself (he is however, inclined to sing the praises of other artists), so every nugget teased out feels like a treasure. This documentary will look at the very things that shaped his sound, with particular time spent peering into his brilliant mind and trying to understand music the way he does. There’s lots of great insight here, an intimacy I hardly dared hope for.

His guitar collection is impressive, but not as impressive as his genuine love for each one. It’s so endearing. What a great documentary to have stumbled upon, and I sincerely hope that it’ll be available for your perusal also.

 

SXSW: Pornocracy

In 2006-2008, the porn industry suffered a great crash; as the economy tanked, internet piracy soared. The DVD market for porn virtually disappeared and the traditional porn studios became obsolete. Porn consumption, however, has never been higher – 100 BILLION porn videos are viewed every year, 90-95%  from free streaming sites. This has meant very bad things for the women making porn – less money (like, 10 times less), and less safety.

Director Ovidie was herself  the star of pornographic films for 17 years. Today her videos are being streamed for free without her consent, meaning they are much more easily accessed by everyone and anyone – including colleagues and relatives. Porn stars like Ovidie don’t really exist anymore. You may remember a time not so long ago when porn stars were worshiped. Today a woman’s name is rarely attached to her videos. Instead, she’s reduced to a series of tags and keywords, usually related to how many cocks are stuffed into her various holes – and yes, that number is going up and up.

Ovidie’s film Pornocracy explores the consequences of this:

  1. If everything is available for free, who is making any money?
  2. When everything is so easily accessible on the internet, children are seeing it from younger and younger ages (the average is 11). This is actually changing what boys expect from girls when they’re dating and starting to have sex.
  3. The porn industry’s reliance on drugs is rampant. Guys inject their penises to stay hard for 5 hours straight. Women are given child birth drugs to dilate muscles so their assholes can accommodate the 3 cocks expected of them. Then they’re flooded with lidocaine so she can’t feel herself being torn to shreds by the act – she will later though, and she will never completely heal.

This is not appetizing food for thought, but this is the world we live in, regardless of whether you yourself are watching porn or not. Everyone else is, apparently. Ovidie, known as the “porn star intellectual,” manages to investigate this phenomenon very thoroughly, uncovering the kingpin behind all these seemingly independent streaming sites. They’re nearly all owned by the same multinational corporation which is so seedy and shadowy with offshore accounts and empty offices. Fabian Thylmann is the guy behind the monopoly, exploiting performers while also boldly, shamelessly stealing from them. Ovidie makes sure he doesn’t get to hide behind his anonymity. This is an important, revealing documentary about the porn industry – but also about how it affects us all.

 

SXSW: Unrest

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), commonly referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It’s a debilitating chronic disease as often misunderstood as it is misdiagnosed. People like to call it “the lazy disease” or “the I don’t want to go to work” disease. Doctors often diagnose a mental disorder rather than the autoimmune disease it actually is, telling patients “it’s all in their heads.” But to the 1-2.4 million people who suffer with it in the United States alone, it’s a disease that leaves you drained, sensitive to light and noise and possibly much else, perhaps unable to stand and walk. Permanently housebound and bedridden, they feel they’ve gone missing from their lives – it passes them by while they lie in bed, sometimes with cognitive impairments that make them feel like they’re not truly living.

Director Jennifer Brea is one such person. She was a happy newlywed when suddenly she just got hit with a disease she didn’t even know about. Robbed of the things she once loved doing, this film documents her daily struggles, the constant tug of war that must be waged against her body. She also reaches out to people around the world suffering the same thing, and together they try every supposed miracle cure on the market. When none work exactly as they hope, they stage a protest most are unable to attend. It’s really sad to see such vibrant people struck down by such sweeping disability. It is no wonder that despite serious medical symptoms, one of the most common causes of death for ME sufferers is suicide.

I am moved personally by this film because as you may know, I too have an autoimmune disorder. There are tonnes of autoimmune disorders and all but a handful are practically unknown, even to doctors. I admit to a small bit of jealousy when Brea complains about ME being the least-funded of the major diseases because my disease doesn’t even rate – we call it an “orphan disease”  – nobody’s even trying to cure it. There is no funding. There is no ribbon. There is no textbook. I’ve visited approximately 100 doctors and I’ve had to educate all but 2. The lives this disease ruins are too few for anyone to care. So in that way I understand perfectly what she’s going through; you have a terrible disease and you have no hope of cure. You have no hope, period. And on top of having no hope for yourself, you also have this huge burden of guilt because like her, I’ve dragged someone else into the equation. And while Sean is not sick, his life is also disabled by my disease. If I’m too riddled with pain to leave the house, he stays home with me. He cares with me. He deals with my terrible moods when I’m in pain, and my pushing him away when I’m in despair. He has brought me around the world to different doctors, and he feels the same low when I leave another appointment hopeless. In order to live our lives, I push myself out of bed and out of the house too often, and we both know I’ll pay the price. I’ve cried in anguish in Paris, outside the Centre Pompidou. I’ve bled across the Miami boardwalk. Even right now, in Austin, Texas for the South By SouthWest Conference and Festival, my suitcase is bursting with pills, gauze, and needles (that Sean has had to learn to inject me with) just to get me through, and I’ve limped along in secret pain, unable to even bring one of my most depended-upon medications with me because it’s illegal in this country.

So you’ll understand why I think a film like Unrest is so important. It sheds light in a dark corner of the medical community. It’s important to remember the real people who live their lives in this dark corner. They have voices. They have families who love them. They have friends who miss them. And if we cannot contribute to the cure, we can become allies. We can be witnesses and sympathizers and believers, so that nobody needs to hear from a doctor that “it’s all in your head.”

It’s screening at SXSW March 14 at the Vimeo Theatre and March 16 at Alamo Lamar, which serves great pretzels.

SXSW: Catherine (Short)

This short animated film requires a huge suspension of disbelief: that cats are anything but awful, awful creatures. That said, if you can stomach the premise, you might find Catherine to be quite endearing.

Catherine is a little girl well on her way to becoming a crazy cat lady. It would seem the only prerequisite to being a crazy cat lady is accidentally killing everything else (or driving CATH_A3_poster_v006them to suicide) and that seems about right to me. Even though Catherine’s a bit of a hazard, you can’t help but root for her, root for her happiness. I am completely drawn in by the animation by Creative Conspiracy studios – it looks very picture-book friendly, yet the humour within is surprisingly dark. The colours are like candy and used thoughtfully throughout. I always admire short films because to tell a story well they must be economical and equally strong visually and narratively. Catherine (the film) is all of these things wrapped up in a cutesy little package. Catherine (the character) is not so perfect, nor, it turns out, so cute: Catherine grows up. Into a woman who means well but can’t connect with humans. Wonder why? See the film!

Director Britt Raes was of course inspired by her own kitty, Kato. She’s assembled a terrific little film that you can’t help but be excited about. Special mention goes to Pieter Van Dessel (Marble Sounds) who composed this nifty little score that uplifts and contributes to the story. It’s a very admirable little film that I hope you’ll take the time to see as it makes its North American debut at the South By SouthWest Conference and Festival this Sunday March 12 at Zach Theatre (10:45am slot), and again on the 13th at 8:15pm, and on March 16 at 3pm at Alamo Lamar. Happy watching, cat lovers!

 

 

SXSW: Let There Be Light

In the race to find alternative energy sources and ultimately save ourselves from certain extinction, nuclear fusion is often left out of the narrative. Let There Be Light is an engaging reminder that fusion research is in fact bursting with potential, even if it is hidden away in the southern French countryside.

This documentary introduces us to a group of scientists who are working together to create Earth’s first artificial star, a star to provide perpetual, cheap, clean energy. It’s an internationally-funded, decades-long project that requires a lot of faith and some tireless screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-11-14-24-am.pngenergy from its proponents. Directors Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko interview some very charismatic and enthusiastic supporter and collaborators of the project, called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). It’s pretty much the most complex machine ever designed and the commitment of these people cannot be overstated.

But as compelling as it is to see some scientists geeking out over this project that’s so mentally exciting and emotionally dear to them, Let There Be Light also shows the shadows. There are almost limitless hurdles. Some of this is brand new science or technology being invented on the spot as needed. The sheer scope is overwhelming. Countries and their taxpayers have to be constantly courted and updated, and scientists have to go begging for money just to keep this thing going. If it works? It could solve the global energy crisis. But if it fails it will be one of the biggest scientific and political blunders of all time. No pressure!

The directors put together some very dynamic interviews, great archival footage, and perhaps my favourite, some great animation with a gorgeous colour palette to bridge the gaps. It’s a lean documentary that stays interesting start to finish.

Let There Be Light has a premiere screening at SXSW this Friday March 10, 9pm at the Alamo Ritz. It will have additional screenings March 12 & 15 at Alamo Lamar. Check it out!

SXSW: Female Voices

It’s International Women’s Day so we’re looking at some of the strong female voices coming out of the South By SouthWest programming this year.

Valerie Weiss: we discovered her work for the first time at the New Hampshire Film Festival, where we saw and really enjoyed A Light Beneath Their Feet. This year she’s giving SXSW the world premiere of her new film, The Archer, about a high school archery champion called Lauren who’s stuck in juvenile correctional facility in the wilderness, after hospitalizing a boy in self-defense. After discovering some not-nice things about her prison and its warden, Lauren goes on the run…but getting away won’t be easy!

Katherine Fairfax Wright: billed as the director, editor AND cinematographer of Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall, Wright is screening her new documentary about Hall’s ambitious attempt to stage an original musical called Straight Outta Oz about growing up gay and black in small-town Texas.

The Female Lens: Creating Change Beyond The Bubble is a panel about film’s unique ability to do just that, with female directors, writers, and actors all using their work to change the perception of women onscreen and off in real world ways. Jenny Slate, Danielle MacDonald, Gabourey Sibide, and Janicza Bravo discuss how films do (and don’t) alter perceptions of women across America.

Speaking of Janicza Bravo: she’s the director of Lemon, a movie about a middle-aged man who must admit he’s just a dud. The film stars Judy Greer, Brett Gelman, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Rhea Perlman, Gillian Jacobs, Martin Starr, and David Paymer, and I’m betting on it being worth a look.

Eleanor Coppola: Paris Can Wait may be her first fiction film, but she’s starting at the top, with Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin as a lacklustre Hollywood couple wherein the wife goes through a bit of a reawakening.

How Humor is Evolving the Body Positivity Movement is a panel that touches on how comedy has helped start a cultural conversation on the female body, and comedians like Phoebe Robinson and Gillian Jacobs use humour to bring awareness to women’s health and body issues, from miscarriage to mental health.

Alice Lowe: known for her work as a UK television comedy actress, Lowe made her move into film with her screenwriting debut Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley, and now she’s dipping her toe into the body horror\dark comedy hybrid genre with Prevenge, about a pregnant woman on a killing spree, with her unborn baby dictating her violent actions. Lowe also stars in Prevenge, which was filmed during her own ACTUAL pregnancy. Kick ass!

 

Divines

Shit. This is not some easy-breezy coming of age story, I’ll tell you that much for free. You’d be forgiven for assuming as much when the camera originally picks up with two teenaged girls who goof off in class and daydream about making big money, but that’s just the first sign that you should buckle the fuck up.

Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maiimouna (Deborah Lukumuena) are from the shanty side of Paris, where they’re expected to train as receptionists at school. The teacher is as clueless as divines-movie-download-english-subtitlesthe class is hopeless, and you can’t quite bring yourself to blame these girls for dropping out. But then Dounia meets two people who might potentially change her life:  Djigui, an untrained but talented dancer, who makes her think a different kind of life is possible, and Rebecca, a glamorous young drug dealer\sex worker who makes that different kind of life accessible.

Dounia is nothing if not an upstarter. With boundless energy and roiling teenaged cynicism, she and her friend put themselves in situations they’re too stupid to realize are crazy dangerous. They’re both too mature and too naive, eager to make their mark but easily manipulated. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, even if ours is not. No matter how big and bad the girls pretend to be, their youth and inexperience betray them.

Writer-director Houda Benyamina gives a  gritty but sympathetic look at the less polished side of Paris, where money, race, and power are unapologetically at the forefront of everyday existence. The film is raw and filled with rage, which means it’s got this really buzzy undercurrent that makes you feel like anything is possible and you have no idea where it’s all going. The energy is astounding, especially from a largely unknown cast (Amamra is Benyamina’s little sister), and even though this isn’t a typically “enjoyable” film, I felt pulled inside of it, headlong, and we all just prayed that we’d make it out alive.

Female-Directed Films to Look Forward to in 2017

Put your money where your mouth is: seek out films with women in the director’s seat, and see them in theatres. Women In Film Los Angeles has asked people to take a pledge to see 52 films directed by women in 2017. We’ll be writing about some excellent choices in the back catalogue, but here are some that will be screening in your local cineplex.


Wonder Woman
: You’ll have to wait until June for this one, but it’s the first superhero blockbuster to have a female director, and it’s also the first time a woman has been given a budget of over $100 million. Director Patty Jenkins is best known for directing Charlize Theron to her Oscar in Monster. This movie already has a terrific trailer and star Gal Gadot looks pretty badass as the warrior princess, so it’s in pretty good shape.

A United Kingdom: this one hits theatres next month so you’ll soon be able to get a taste of Amma Asante’s work, if you haven’t already (she directed Belle, which you should absolutely check out). A United Kingdom is the true story of  Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and the white lady he chose to marry. You might guess that neither of their families are impressed, but it’s the South African apartheid government that poses the biggest problem. It stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike and it debuted well at TIFF.

Lovesong: Also out in February, Lovesong is a road trip movie about two women, a single mother (Riley Keough) and a free spirit (Jena Malone) who see a new intensity to their relationship throughout their travels. Sundance has big praise for the Korean American director So Yong Kim and her intimate, nuanced portrait of strong female leads.

Raw: This one is for only the strongest stomachs among us. It debuted at TIFF to rumours of people fainting and\or vomiting over the graphic scenes, in which a young vegetarian is hazed at vet school by being forced to eat meat, awakening in her a real taste for flesh. Writer-director Julie Ducournau was praised for handling the coming of age stuff just as well as she presents the intensely disturbing stuff, and Ducournau’s just getting started: this is her first feature film, so watch out for her.

Their Finest: This is a romantic war comedy. Yes, you read that right. It sounds wrong but it actually is pretty fantastic. It stars Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and the wonderful Bill Nighy as the people behind morale-boosting movies during the great war. It’s deliciously funny at times but director Lone Scherfig makes sure it’s more than just that, and everyone rises to the occasion.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: I read this book so I know the film will be intense. It’s the true story of the couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo during the second world war; they used the zoo as cover to hide Jews, and ended up saving hundreds of lives, but not without cost. New Zealand director Niki Caro doesn’t have as house-holdy a name as the star, Jessica Chastain, but other notable movies of hers include McFarland USA, North Country, and Whale Rider. Her name is on its way up.

Rock That Body: I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, but I’m putting it on the list anyway. It’s a female ensemble comedy in the style of The Hangover, only instead of losing a friend, they accidentally kill a male stripper. These things happen! Starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, and Zoe Kravitz, and directed by funny lady Lucia Aniello. Fingers crossed that this one works!

The-Beguiled-Movie-Set-1-1.jpgThe Beguiled: If it sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s a remake of a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood. This time around it’ll be Colin Farrel in the Eastwood role, a Union soldier being held prisoner in a Confederate girl’s boarding school. All the young ladies fall for him (including Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, and Nicole Kidman), which means it’s not long until things get complicated. Really complicated. The (new) Beguiled will be directed by Sofia Coppola, who’s got some big titles under her belt like Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. I hope this one’s a hit!

Lady Bird: This movie is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about a senior in high school (Saoirse Ronan) who’s getting ready to leave home. It co-stars Manchester By The Sea’s Lucas Hedges, plus Jordan Rodrigues, Laurie Metcalfe, and Tracy Letts’ but oddly enough, this first-time solo director is probably the most famous name of all: it’s Greta Gerwig. Good luck to her, and may it be the first of many.

Unicorn Store: We’re not sure when this one’s even coming out but it’s never too early for mv5bodvinzc2ytetndy0my00odk2lwfkodqtmdvjzwzhndzkzmq3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjixnde0ote-_v1_sy1000_sx1000_al_anticipation! It’s about a woman named Kit who moves back home to live with her parents and then gets an invitation that makes things interesting. Brie Larson will star AND direct, despite the fact that she’s got an absolutely packed 2017, what with Kong: Skull Island, Free Fire, Basmati Blues, and The Glass Castle all being released, but this quirky future Captain Marvel always has time to surprise us.

 

 

Toni Erdmann

Ines Conradi is a successful businesswoman currently stationed in Bucharest but poised for promotion and transfer to Singapore when this next deal goes well. Winfried Conradi is her father, a lonely man, socially handicapped and prone to the dumbest, most trying “pranks” on the planet. There is no such person as Toni Erdmann. Toni Erdmann is just what Winfriend calls himself when he’s wearing ludicrous false teeth and an even worse wig, which is his go-to costume for “pranking.” His pranks, by the way, consist mainly of toni-erdmann-5-rcm0x1920ujust showing up and being this weird alternate personality. He more or less stalks his daughter and endangers her career by showing up at her office and various work functions. If he was your father, you’d either die of embarrassment, or you’d kill him. No two people should survive a relationship like this.

Nothing happens in Toni Erdmann. It’s dull as shit. It’s 2h40min of fumbling through “comedy” that didn’t even induce me to crack a half-smile. What am I missing? This film has been a hit at festivals, including Cannes and TIFF, and was just nominated for a Golden Globe (best foreign film). But I didn’t get it. Sure Ines needed some unbuttoning, poor corporate stick i the mud that she’d become, but I don’t see the humour in a father constantly humiliating his daughter. I didn’t get the public nudity, or the unironic belting out of a Whitney Houston song. The whole thing missed me completely. What the father accomplishes, to my eyes, is not the unburdening of his daughter but rather her undoing – some of her choices seem unhinged and nervous-breakdownish, especially since they’re so often done at work or in front of colleagues. And it feels anti-feminist to say that because this woman is business-minded she’s also cold and in need of saving.

Toni Erdmann was agony for me, maybe more so because I’d actually been looking forward to it. But it was a chore, one that felt interminable for a time, a long time, a period of time that felt even longer than the nearly-three hour runtime.