Review: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché

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On Sunday I went to the New York Film Festival to catch a screening of Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché. This is a new documentary by Pamela B. Green about the first female film director, a young Parisian woman who began making films in 1897, just as film cameras were being invented and refined. Not only was she the first female director, it’s possible that she was the first narrative director, period. And yet, her contributions have been lost to history, while the achievements of the men she worked with have been lionized.

Co-written by Joan Simon, who curated an exhibition of Blaché’s films at the Whitney Museum, this is a documentary that aims to be accessible to someone who knows nothing or very little about Blaché — so, perfect for me. Although I’ve now seen a few of her films, I discovered her when I was looking for a title for this blog and wanted to find another female film pioneer to go with Thelma — preferably someone with a two-syllable name. Yes, my search was exactly that superficial, but sometimes the best bits of research are happy accidents.  Discovering Blaché has brought me back to the birth of cinema, something I’d never given much thought to — and it’s been a delight to find that someone like Alice was there at the beginning. Continue reading “Review: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché”

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.

 

Update: 2018 Movies Directed or Written by Women

Hi, I’m back from summer break! I thought now would be a good time to revisit my master list of 2018 movies directed and/or written by women. I’ve been updating it all year, but I’m reposting now because a lot of the women-directed films that premiered during winter and spring film festivals have been slated for release this fall. I’ve also added a new section at the bottom, “2019 Preview” which includes some of the women-directed films premiering early next year. I’ll post a more expansive 2019 Preview at the end of the year, and I’ll still continue to update this 2018 list over the next few months.

As with the previous post, I’m sure this list is missing some titles. If you know of any I’ve missed, please leave a comment or email me. I’ve focused mostly on narrative films, but I threw in a few documentaries that were of personal interest to me.

(Last updated 9/26/18)

Continue reading “Update: 2018 Movies Directed or Written by Women”

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”

Set It Up

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Some nights, you’re in the mood for a movie but not something that’s heavy. But you don’t want to watch TV because you want something that ends. Preferably in two hours. Something that won’t insult your insult your intelligence, and might possibly cheer you up. Because it’s been a hard news week. (It’s always a hard news week.)

Enter Set It Up, Netflix original movie that Netflix has probably already recommended to you if you watch sitcoms on its platform. I’m here to second that recommendation. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a fun, romantic comedy that is very happy to be one. The conventions are all in place: it takes place in New York City, and our star-crossed lovers work for vague, unnamed media companies.  The girl, Harper, works as a Girl Friday for the editor of a sports news website. The guy, Charlie, also works as a personal secretary for, hmm, I can’t remember what his boss does. It doesn’t matter! This movie is not making any important observations about the modern day workplace and that’s okay. Continue reading “Set It Up”