Review: I AM NOT A WITCH

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The title of this movie drew me in: Was it a declaration? A denial? A defense? At the end of the screening I attended, the director and writer, Rungano Nyoni, said she was first embarrassed by her title, because it struck her as an overheated, reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. But over time, she said, she grew to love it, and it became a feminist mantra: “I am not a witch!” The idea of a woman being accused of witchcraft is, on the one hand ridiculous, but the idea of women as irrational and in need of control is very much alive in cultures across the world.

In Nyoni’s remarkable debut, an orphaned girl is singled out as witch for no discernible reason. Continue reading “Review: I AM NOT A WITCH”

Trending on Netflix: Female Filmmakers

When I was working on my most recent update of 2018’s women-directed films, I noticed a small trend: Netflix acquired a lot of the best women-directed movies and documentaries from film festivals, and they’ve also financed a number of women-directed movies. Netflix has such varied offerings that it’s a little difficult to come up with definitive stats, but just eyeballing it, they seem to have an unusually high percentage of female-directed and/or written movies on offer, including well-established directors like Nicole Holofcenter and Tamara Jenkins. Finally, Netflix has already been getting a lot of press for their recent efforts to bring back the rom-com, but I’m not sure anyone has noted that almost half of these movies are directed or written by women: Set It Up, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Nappily Ever After, and Us and Them.

Here’s a complete list of upcoming films. I’m especially excited about the ‘coming soon’ section, which contains a couple of film festival acquisitions, including The Kindergarten Teacher, a remake of an Israeli film, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Proustian-sounding documentary, Shirkers, about a writer who recovers film from a movie she shot in 1992.

Continue reading “Trending on Netflix: Female Filmmakers”

A Little Love Note To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

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Well, this movie was as charming and sweet as The Great British Baking Show, and like GBBS, you can find it streaming on Netflix. It’s based on a Jenny Han’s much-beloved YA novel by the same title and it’s been generating a lot of conversations about representation because the story centers on an Asian-American girl, something that is still rare in Hollywood. Even more depressing is that the author and director had to fight to cast an Asian actor in the lead role because, according to producers, “there was nothing in the story that required her to be Asian.”

Thank goodness the author and director did insist on Lana Condor for the lead, because she had the perfect mix of dreaminess and intelligence for Laura Jean, a character I immediately liked and could relate to. She’s a smart girl, who’s grounded in family life and schoolwork, but at the same time, she’s naive and nervous about social life. She wants romance but doesn’t know how to find it. Han said she wrote the novel thinking about her own high school experience: “Particularly being in early high school and younger, and the idea that you want these sort of [romantic] relationships and love, and [how they feel] so comfortable in your head, but then can feel so uncomfortable in real life.”

Laura Jean also reminded me of one of my favorite literary characters, Anne of Green Gables. Like Anne, Laura Jean has a rich imaginative life and romantic ideals that aren’t quite met in real life. Like Anne, she unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with the most popular boy in school (and he with her). Also, like Anne, Laura Jean doesn’t have a mother, and I found myself tearing up a little when Laura Jean talks with her kinda-sorta boyfriend about their parents. It wasn’t the content of the conversation so much as the fact that the two characters were listening to each other. There was a lot of sweetness in the moment, and in this movie in general, of the kind that you don’t usually see in teen rom-coms.

 

Summer Break

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I’m taking a little break from this blog until the end of the summer. I’ll be back on September 4th. (Btw, Dirty Dancing is free on Amazon Prime right now. I started watching it the other night thinking I’d just watch for a half hour to wind down…but of course I ended up watching the whole thing. Did you know it’s written by a woman, Eleanor Bergstein? I didn’t, but I wasn’t surprised because how many movies have the girl as the romantic hero who saves the day?)

A Glimpse of the films of Alice Guy Blaché

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Since starting this blog,  I’ve been meaning to find out more about the life of one its namesakes: Alice Guy Blaché. I got a great jumpstart over the weekend, when I went to a screening of some of Blaché’s early films, included as part of BAM’s series devoted to female directors in the early days of filmmaking: Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.

The screening I attended was introduced by film scholar Shelley Stamp. I’m going to borrow from her intro to give a little background on Blaché, who was not only the first known female director, but possibly the first person to make a narrative film. She directed her first movie in 1896, shortly after film equipment was invented. She also worked with sound films in 1905, long before they were developed for commercial markets. Continue reading “A Glimpse of the films of Alice Guy Blaché”

Review: Far From the Tree

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Several years ago, when I was doing research on depression for my novel Home Field, my sister recommended The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon’s nonfiction book/memoir about depression. It sounds odd to say that I loved a book about depression and yet I did love that book, because it helped me to understand an affliction that I had seen wear down many friends and loved ones. It also gave me new ways of thinking about  the mind-body connection — if the mind and body can even be separated. Finally, it looked deeply into the question of nature versus nurture, and what effects environment and life experience have on health.

The Noonday Demon also introduced me to the voice of Andrew Solomon, which is erudite, peculiar, witty, and confiding. Like the best novelists, he has the ability to synthesize huge bodies of knowledge and research and to put it in the service of whatever story he’s telling. I was eager to read more of his writing after I finished The Noonday Demon and as it happened, his new book, Far From the Tree had just been published. I bought without knowing much about it, except that it was about parent-child relationships and that it was very long, over 900 pages.

What followed was on of the most indelible reading experiences of my life. Continue reading “Review: Far From the Tree”

Alice Guy Blaché at BAM

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I just learned, via Manohla Dargis’s excellent review, that BAM Cinematek will be showing films directed by Alice Guy Blaché, one of the namesakes of this blog. She’s believed to be the first female director, and a person who helped to shape cinema from its earliest days. Her films will be shown on Saturday as part of a series, Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.

Because her movies are so old, dating back to the 1910s, and it didn’t occur to me that I would ever have the chance to see her films outside of a museum. So, I’m thrilled that I’ll have the chance this weekend. They’ll also be available this fall in a boxed set produced by Kino Lorber and the Library of Congress. (The photo above, by the way, is of Alice on her wedding day, borrowed from the website of the author Alison McMahan, who has written a scholarly study of Blaché’s films.)