Dorothy Woodend has been the film critic for The Tyee since 2004. Her work has been published in magazines, newspapers and books across Canada and the US, as well as a number of international publications. Dorothy is also the Director of Programming for DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver.
Articles by Dorothy Woodend
The notion of time travel is almost as old as time itself. Ever since we humans invented the idea, we’ve been struggling against it, wanting to go forwards, and then backwards, anywhere but the oppressive present. Director Ela Thier takes this conceit, and tips it gently on its head in her remarkable new film Tomorrow Ever After. Continue reading…read more
The street fight between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs is the subject of Director Matt Tyrnauer’s new film Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. The film, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and opened the DOC NYC Festival, is now entering theatres across the country. Despite the fact that the majority of the action took place more than 50 years ago, it could not be more timely. Continue reading…
In 1955, Robert Moses had amassed near-supreme power in New York City, installing bridges, tunnels and public housing on a mass scale. But his plan to bisect Washington Square Park with a four-lane roadway was met with unexpected opposition the form of one Jane Jacobs: mother, journalist, and unlikely activist, who roused her neighbourhood of Greenwich Village, and set about stopping Moses dead in his tracks.
The story has inspired essays, articles, and even an opera, but the pair only met once in real life. Jacobs described the moment in an interview with James Howard Kunstler: “He was there briefly to speak his piece. But nobody was told that at the time. None of us had spoken yet because they always had the officials speak first and then they would go away and they wouldn’t listen to the people. Anyway, he stood up there gripping the railing, and he was furious at the effrontery of this, and I guess he could already see that his plan was in danger. Because he was saying: ‘There is nobody against this – NOBODY, NOBODY, NOBODY but a bunch of … a bunch of MOTHERS!’ And then he stomped out.”
Tyrnauer captures the larger ideas, detailing not only the history and ideology that fuelled the high modernism of the 1950s and 60s, but also uncovering the archetypal clash embodied in the film’s two main combatants. In essence: male versus female, top down against bottom up, and, most fundamentally, destroyer versus creator. Where Moses saw festering rot and urban chaos described as a cancer that needed be surgically removed, Jacobs saw diversity and density, life thronged with messy and competing voices, alive, pulsing, and complex.
After his initial roadway project was defeated, Moses circled back around, designating large swathes of Greenwich Village as “blighted”, a slum that required extensive redevelopment. Again, Jacobs sprang into action, organizing protests, rallies, and even getting arrested.
Jacobs went on to publish her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, becoming herself a lodestone of influence for generations of urban planners. But the fight that Jacobs started is far from over. When asked after the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, what he hoped the takeaway would be, the director stated: “Jacobs was fearless in speaking truth to power, the model of a citizen soldier. Her story resonates today, as we are faced with a president — an international developer, no less, of luxury towers — who throws around the terms ‘urban renewal’ and ‘American carnage.’ The film can be seen as a playbook for people who want to defend vulnerable minority communities everywhere. Certainly in this country, but also in the developing world, entrepreneurs and governments collude routinely to uproot low-income sections of cities in favor of towers for the rich. That is in large part what Jacobs was writing about, and it’s happening all over again, on a much bigger scale.”– – Dorothy Woodend
Team #MOTW Comments:
Anne Brodie: Matt Tyrnauer’s galvanizing documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City describes how a writer turned activist helped turn the tide and saved our cities. Jacobs knew a city’s value is in the well being of its citizens and the places they frequented – sidewalks, parks, neighbourhoods – made life safe and pleasant. Le Corbusier’s idea of stark modernism, which meant wiping the “old” to make way for the new – soulless superblock residential towers, expressways through the heart of the city and its communities, she felt was an insidious lie. This wave nearly did sweep North America fifty years ago but heroine Jane’s movement grew and as a result, some plans were abandoned, some blocks were torn down and the movement to build was tamed for a time. They didn’t work, they created slums, danger, and criminality. Jacobs arguments helped saved New York and Toronto from greedy city planners at the time when the environmental and feminist movements were taking off, a trifecta of win-win. China is now in the throes of Le Corbu modernisation, building city after city of dense superblocks that will according to Jacobs result in a long-term threat to well-being. Archival footage of Jacobs being a warrior, speaking out, reasoning and marching stirs the pulse. Her eagerness to go into battle was our good fortune. Good thing she can’t see the condo superblocks today.
Betsy Bozdech: Watching “Citizen Jane,” it’s impossible not to wish that Jane Jacobs was still with us, continuing to put her grit and determination to use organizing the kind of passionate protests that helped her fight for the heart and soul of America’s urban landscape. Deftly mixing historical footage with insightful interviews, Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary manages to make the topic of city planning engaging and relevant, all while introducing us to a woman who deserves a statue in one of the parks she worked so hard to save.
Jennifer Merin: At a time when cinemaphiles and the world at large are clamoring for positive female images and strong women as role models on the screen, Matt Tyrnauer’s Citizen Jane: Battle for the City introduces us to Jane Jacobs, the author and activist whose social and political engagement preserved NYC neighborhoods for the people who live in them. Jane Jacobs is a superb role model, and director Matt Tyrnauer’s remarkable biodoc is a blueprint of how one woman can make an enduring difference. This inspiring film is a must-see.
Title: Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Release Date: April 21, 2017
Running Time: 92 minutes
Principal Cast: Documentary about Jane Jacobs, author and activist.
Screenwriters: Matt Tyrnauer (Director), Daniel Morfesis (Editor)
Production Company: Altimeter Films
Distributor: IFC/Sundance Selects
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Thelma Adams, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf, Dorothy Woodend
Written by Betsy Bozdech, edited by Jennifer Merin, social media by Sandra Kraisiridejaread more
The Alliance of Women Film Journalists and DOXA are partnering for the second consecutive year to present AWFJ EDA Awards at this year’s festival, taking place in Vancouver, BC, from May 4 to 14, 2017. DOXA programmers nominate ten female-directed films in each of the two EDA Awards categories. EDA Awards juries are comprised exclusively of AWJF members. This year’s nominated films and jury panels will be announced shortly. Continue reading…read more
Where would we be without Shirley MacLaine? Ever since her first appearance in cinema (Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry), the woman has proven to be a wild card in the best sense of the term. Think of the jilted office girl that captivates Jack Lemmon in The Apartment, the ripeness and sass of Sweet Charity, or the remarkable mother from hell in Terms of Endearment. La MacLaine injects a tartness, intelligence and slyness into her performances that elevates even the most well-trod of narrative tropes. Read on…read more
From Nowhere has the peculiar timing of being released in theatres in the midst of the current maelstrom around immigration in the US. The film premiered last year at the SXSW Festival, where it picked up an audience choice award. Back in those innocent and unsuspecting days of yore, the film was relevant and topical, but now it is essential. As the US president threatens to muster the National Guard to round up the undocumented, From Nowhere offers up a portrait of three young lives caught up in this Kafkaesque situation. Read On….read more
Horror and fantasy film have long been a birthplace for emerging talent. Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Kathryn Bigelow, and Gareth Edwards – all cut their teeth in genre cinema before moving onto other things. Director Anne Hamilton is in fine company, and her new film American Fable emerges from this august tradition, trailing references aplenty. Read on…read more
Raoul Peck’s impeccable and rigorous film I Am Not Your Negro comes at a moment when cinema is creating new conversations about race. Ava DuVernay’s 13TH, Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight, Denzel Washington’s Fences, Hidden Figures, and Loving – all contend in different ways with oppression, prejudice, and racial hatred. Read On…read more
Director Maggie Greenwald’s film Sophie and the Rising Sun is distinctly old-fashioned, sturdy in its construction, stolid even, but with fine details of time and place that add depth and grain to the action. The film is a handsome affair about interracial romance and racial prejudice, and although it occasionally traffics in sentiment, the solidity and strength provided by the female cast keeps it focused on rational tolerance, womanly solidarity and a little old thing called love. Read On…read more
Director Mike Mills has a way with women. His new film 20th Century Women, coming some six years after Beginners in 2010, has been described as a love letter to his mother. But it is also a portrait of a time and place, and a collection of people perched on the edge of enormous change.
It is 1979, the last staggering breath of the 70s era of drugs, sex, and social revolution is about to give way to the big bold 80s. This transitional moment is embodied by Jimmy Carter’s infamous Crisis of Confidence speech. But inside this larger moment in history, smaller crises are also taking place. Read on…read more
The 13th amendment provides a point of departure, but the film is far more than investigation of mass incarceration in the US. It is a history lesson, a cinema essay and cogent and irrefutable indictment of the economic and cultural policies that are the enduring legacy of slavery. Read on…read more
History has a way of disappearing women. This is particularly true when it comes to women of colour. Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures interweaves the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. The film’s title is a gentle nod to the math necessary to plot the orbital trajectory of a rocket, but also to the women who helped to build the American space program. Read on…read more
Maren Ade’s film Toni Erdmann is something no one could have predicted. A three-hour German comedy about a father and daughter reunion, set against the contemporary bleakness of corporate Bucharest. On paper, this sounds like something you would run away from, screaming at the top of your lungs. But Ade’s film is simultaneously a sly take down of Neoliberalism’s economic practices, a family drama of uncompromising nuance and complexity, and a humanistic ode to the anarchic spirit that dwells inside each of us. The film has consistently popped up on critics’ top-ten lists and packed in the awards. It is fully deserving of every accolade. Read on…read more
Pedro Almódovar’s 20th feature film Julieta is an adaptation of three Alice Munro stories. At first glance, the Spanish auteur and the Canadian writer wouldn’t appear to have anything in common. But they both share a dedication (perhaps obsession) to detailing the secret lives of women. Curiously enough, they are also united by an attraction to the more lurid, preposterous, and occasionally downright cruel twists of fate. Read on…read more
When a travelling salesman named Ray Kroc discovered a hamburger stand run by two brothers, he caught wind of a golden opportunity and so began the story of McDonalds. It is a tale of mendacity, betrayal and corruption. A certain kind of brutal vindictiveness was a hallmark of Kroc’s business style. After stealing their name and effectively destroying the McDonald Brothers’ business, Kroc built a franchise just across the road from the original restaurant as a final point of insult. Read on…read more
Movie musicals. They come and then they go. And then sometimes they come back again. La La Land, the latest from director Damien Chazelle is an homage to the acid-bright technicolor extravaganzas of old Hollywood. Romantic and swoony to be sure, but leavened with a modernist twist that cuts the schmaltz. Read on…read more
Mythmaking has long been a staple of American movies. Pablo Larraín’s film portrait Jackie tackles one of the greatest of American myths — that of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. In the week following her husband’s assassination, Mrs. Kennedy granted an interview to Life Magazine. The film uses this as a framing device, and as an almost surgical means to dissect the psyche of its titular character. Read on…read more
If you have the stomach for corruption in the political arena, then director John Madden’s new drama Miss Sloane might be just the ticket. If you have had your fill of politicking, bad behaviour and ruthlessness in the real world, watching even more on movie screens might seem a little like an extended torture session. Read on…read more
“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.” – Antonio Gramsci’s famous phrase has been making its way around the internet at the moment. If anyone knows a thing or two about beasts and monsters, it is author J.K. Rowling. Way back in June, Ms. Rowling wrote a rather interesting and timely essay. Read on….read more
English has always been the de facto language of science fiction. Even when James T. Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise embarked on their original five-year mission, every new alien species they encountered helpfully spoke English. When language fails, and aliens arrive, making odd noises and gestures, we had Independence Day’s Will Smith punching them in the face and saying, “Welcome to Earth.” Read on…read more
The landmark case of Loving v. Virginia challenged the anti-miscegenation laws in the US, and arguably changed the country. But at the centre of the story were two people who, quite simply, were in love and wanted to be married.
Director Jeff Nichols’s previous film Midnight Special was a world away from the homespun, deeply humble reality of Richard and Mildred Loving. But the two films share a common attention to the reaction of people caught up in something larger that fractures and shatters their understanding of the world. In all of Nichols’s work it is the primacy of family and love that drives the story. Read on…read more
There is a danger in meeting your idols, not only meeting them, but making films about them. The pairing of indie Auteur Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Down by Law, Stranger Than Paradise) and Iggy Pop ought to have been a sonic blast that scraped the stage clean and left only a few raggedy bits clinging on. In fact, it is not. Rather it is a perfectly nice film about the rise and eventual implosion of the most seminal of punk acts, old Iggy and The Stooges. Read on…read more
The eight-year gap between Barry Jenkin’s first film Medicine for Melancholy and his sophomore follow-up Moonlight has been a source of some considerable anxiety, not only for the filmmaker himself, but for all the cinephiles eagerly awaiting Jenkins’s new work. Read More…read more
Kelly Reichardt’s body of work, River of Grass (1994), Old Joy (2006), Wendy and Lucy (2008), Meek’s Cutoff (2010); and Night Moves (2013) has established her as a major American cineaste. Her latest film, Certain Women, maintains her masterful, yet quiet trajectory. The film, based on a series of short stories from Maile Meloy, features a remarkable quartet of women including Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and newcomer Lily Gladstone. Set against the small town vistas of the American Northwest, captured in bone-dry beauty by Reichardt’s longtime cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, Certain Women shares with her earlier films the same attention to truth, mediated by plainspoken compassion and humility. Read on…read more
Paula Hawkins’s runaway successful novel The Girl on the Train is part of a new genre called ‘Mom Noir’, along with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and a number of other titles like The Woman in the Cabin or The Girl in the Red Coat. This new genre follows hot and heavy on the heels of ‘Mom Porn’ with the Fifty Shades of Grey series and The Twilight saga. The numbers are always touted when talking about such literary phenomena. The biggest selling, chart-breaking, hyperbole. What is less celebrated is the quality of the books themselves. Read on…read more
The origins of Ransom Riggs’s book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children began with a collection of random photos that the author had scrounged together from flea markets and swap meets over the years. Riggs’s grab bag of oddities predominantly featured archival images of creepy-looking kids doing strange things. In one such photo a po-faced child with Pre-Raphaelite ringlets and a white party dress levitates a few feet above the ground. In another, a farm boy sits on the ground clutching two dead-eyed dolls. A certain aura of the ominous hangs over these images, like mist on a lake. They draw the eye, compelling viewers to search the edges of the frame for additional clues as to the source their power. Read On…read more