Marilyn Ferdinand

Marilyn Ferdinand founded and blogs at Ferdy on Films. She cofounded the fundraising For the Love of Films: The Film Preservation Blogathon. She has written on film and film preservation for Humanities magazine, Fandor, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. She lives in the Chicago area.

 

Articles by Marilyn Ferdinand

 

SPOTLIGHT May 2017: Sheila Nevins, President HBO Documentary Films, Producer and Author

nevins head 2Sheila Nevins is a straight shooter. Answer her casual “How are you?” with “Can’t complain. And you?” and you’ll get “I’ve got a lot to complain about!” in reply.

Nevins’ career could be viewed as an active response to the many complaints she has about the world in which we live.

During her 35-year tenure in HBO’s documentary programming division, culminating with her appointment as president of documentary films in 2004, Nevins has facilitated the creation and distribution of more than 1,000 short and feature-length nonfiction films. She says her work isn’t a mission, but rather recognizes that “some people are more lucky than others.” She has a “desire to talk back at what was wrong” and a belief that “the more you look away, the more you keep looking away as a kind of emotional blindness.”

Champion of the Human Experience

The subjects she has championed have ranged across human experience and social justice issues, from legal assisted suicide (How to Die in Oregon, 2001), wrongful conviction (The Trials of Darryl Hunt, 2006) and slavery (The Carpet Slaves: Stolen Children of India, 2001) to homosexuality in entertainment (The Celluloid Closet, 1995) and Down Syndrome (Educating Peter, 1992). The profiles she has presented focus on the famous (Rita Hayworth, Studs Terkel, Carrie Fisher, Elaine Stritch), the unheralded (burlesque dancers, AIDS patients) and the infamous (Tammy Faye Baker, Jack Kevorkian, Lenny Bruce).

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“I find stories all the time. I have to stop myself from finding stories,” Nevins says.

Intellectual Engagement Is Fundamental for Nevins

Nevins was born in Manhattan, raised in an intellectually engaged home and earned degrees from Barnard College and the Yale School of Drama. She said, “I always thought I was given a big chunk of fair in my life. I was the only woman in a family of four brothers. I grew up with women like Ethel Rosenberg around me, their intellect and energy.” Her early years engaged her curiosity and heightened her sense of how society is constructed.

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“You’re born, there are great injustices and you’re here for a very limited time,” she says, “The uncertainty of life and the fact that you might not be able to make choices — how you survive, how people make it work for them. It engages me. It keeps me interested in being alive.”

Telling Her Own Story

nevins bookWhile Nevins is tireless in presenting other people’s stories to the world, only now has she chosen to tell her own story. Debuting this month is her wonderfully cheeky You Don’t Look Your Age, and Other Fairy Tales (Flatiron Books), a collection of poems, essays and stories about “people who may or may not be me” covering everything from sex to cosmetic surgery.

For Nevins, writing the book was partly about ensuring that she wouldn’t be misrepresented after it was too late to set the record straight. “I lost a college friend five years ago,” she says, “and I went to her memorial service. And it was everything she wasn’t.”

Nevins is very proud of the audio version of the book, which is narrated by a formidably talented group of luminaries, including Alan Alda, Bob Balaban, Christine Baranski, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, RuPaul, Gloria Steinem, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin. “I’m amazed I had the chutzpah to call them all and got them to do it.” But as she says herself, “I have done this on behalf of other people all my life.”

Why We Chose Her

nevins headThere is little Sheila Nevins has not accomplished in her chosen field. We agree with the Peabody Board of Jurors, who presented Nevins with a prestigious personal Peabody Award for being “one of the true independent spirits in television today, whose passion and vision consistently create excellence.” As she now adds author to her long and impressive list of achievements, AWFJ is honored to SPOTLIGHT Sheila Nevins for the month of May 2017.

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SPOTLIGHT April, 2017: Katell Quillévéré, Filmmaker, HEAL THE LIVING

awfjspotlightsmallsmallWhen Katell Quillévéré was awarded France’s Jean Vigo Prize in 2010 for her first feature film, Love Like Poison, the cinematic community knew they had an exciting and original new filmmaker to follow. Quillévéré, who studied philosophy and cinema at the University of Paris, shows a unique talent for asking big questions through the lives of her characters. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT February 2017: Amma Asante, Filmmaker, A UNITED KINGDOM — by Marilyn Ferdinand

awfjspotlightsmallsmallamma with mask“We whopped Spider-Man, and that is my claim to fame!”

With the good humor and energy that have helped her break through to the front ranks of the film industry, director/ screenwriter/actress Amma Asante celebrated the opening week box-office victory of her spellbinding feature Belle (2013) over the popular superhero franchise. Belle tells the moving true story of a biracial woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, brought up as an aristocrat in 18th century England. While it luxuriates in the kind of genteel elegance that is catnip to audiences, Asante also offers a penetrating look at the abomination of slavery upon which such rich lifestyles were based, and the confusion its title character feels as a result. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT January 2017: Ava DuVernay, Film Director and Crusader — by Marilyn Ferdinand

awfjspotlightsmallsmallava-duvernay-head-shotIt’s hard to think of a more galvanizing, charismatic woman in film than Ava DuVernay. The 44-year-old producer, director, writer, distributor and crusader for social justice broke into the larger cultural zeitgeist in 2015, the year her acclaimed film Selma was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and four Golden Globes, and won the AWFJ EDA Award for Best Woman Director. She is the winner of three AWFJ EDA Awards in 2016, including those for Best Documentary and Best Female Director for 13th and Outstanding Achievement by a Woman in Film. Read on…

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Who’s #1? AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown Of Best Fictional Female Characters

To celebrate AWFJ’s tenth anniversary and mark the movie industry’s feminist developments since our inception, we present our Wonder Women Project, a list of cinema’s top 55 female fiction characters, each one a reminder to industry insiders and movie lovers that iconic females in film have had entertainment impact, social influence and long legs since the earliest days of cinema.
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Our members celebrate every imaginable liberated woman among their choices of our top 11 women characters, including a factory worker who demands her rights from her employer, a widow who founds her own successful company in the very unequal 1940s, a woman with no legal property rights who schemes to hold onto her family home, and two friends who take “Give me liberty or give me death” quite literally. And, of course, we reveal our No. 1 Wonder Woman, a favorite of everyone who meets her. Here is our final group of Wonder Women, numbers 11 through 1:

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AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown – Characters 22 through 12

To celebrate AWFJ’s tenth anniversary and mark the movie industry’s feminist developments since our inception, we present our Wonder Women Project, a list of cinema’s top 55 female fiction characters, each one a reminder to industry insiders and movie lovers that iconic females in film have had entertainment impact and social influence since the earliest days of cinema.
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This week, our Wonder Women include some high-powered career women who have trouble with their work-life balance, a couple of New Yorkers with unique personal styles and some young women who find themselves facing dangerous enemies with determination in the face of their fears. Please meet our next group of Wonder Women, numbers 22 through 12:

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AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown – Characters 33 through 23

To celebrate AWFJ’s tenth anniversary and mark the movie industry’s feminist developments since our inception, we present our Wonder Women Project, a list of cinema’s top 55 female fiction characters, each one a reminder to industry insiders and movie lovers that iconic females in film have had entertainment impact and social influence since the earliest days of cinema.
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This week, our Wonder Women include a pair of princesses who find adventure outside of their courtly isolation, ordinary women who face some difficult times with bravery and persistence, women who are dedicated to their various missions in life while finding—and sometimes losing—love, and girls who nurture their inborn talents to secure their place in the world. Please meet our next group of Wonder Women, numbers 33 through 23:

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AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown – Characters 43 through 34

To celebrate AWFJ’s tenth anniversary and mark the movie industry’s feminist developments since our inception, we present our Wonder Women Project, a list of cinema’s top 55 female fiction characters, each one a reminder to industry insiders and movie lovers that iconic females in film have had entertainment impact and social influence since the earliest days of cinema.

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This week, our Wonder Women include two girls who learn some hard lessons about inequality and come out the better for it. Our Wonder Women also show their adaptability to change, their willingness to be generous, and importantly, their tenacious adherence to their own singular identities and personal integrity. Please meet our next group of Wonder Women, numbers 43 through 34:

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About AWFJ’s Wonder Women Project — Marilyn Ferdinand comments

The last year or so has given women some important reasons to celebrate. The United States finally has its first female candidate for President, the 2014 Sony hack that revealed the deliberate underpayment and disrespect of actresses has pushed many high-profile women to speak up and take action, and African-American director Ava DuVernay is one of the “Sheroes” in a new line of dolls from Mattel. Read on…

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AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown – Characters 55 through 44

To celebrate AWFJ’s tenth anniversary and mark the movie industry’s feminist developments since our inception, we present our Wonder Women Project, a list of cinema’s top 55 female fiction characters, each one a reminder to industry insiders and movie lovers that iconic females in film have had entertainment impact and social influence since the earliest days of cinema.

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Our Wonder Women run the gamut from girls to grandmothers. Many of them have children as well as careers. Many of them are survivors—of violence, of crime, of war, of discrimination. Some of them are hellcats, others are hell raisers. Many of them inspire or hope to find love. These characters do not represent all women, but they are a clear representation of how Hollywood and mainstream media have viewed women through the decades. We are releasing the names of our Wonder Women characters in groups of eleven per week, counting down to our number one favorite pick. Can you guess who she might be?

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AWFJ Wonder Women Are Coming! — Marilyn Ferdinand reports

Tired of waiting for the usual suspects to declare another Year of the Woman? Never fear. The Alliance of Women Film Journalists celebrates women all year every year—but especially this year! In honor of the 10th anniversary of AWFJ’s founding, we’re publishing the AWFJ Wonder Women project, an annotated list of the top 55 fictional female characters in movies from the birth of cinema to the present. Every Monday from Aug. 1 through Aug. 29, we’ll release the names of eleven fabulous women characters on our list, counting down to our members’ number one favorite. Get ready to cheer for our bevy of kickass heroines, outspoken working women, good-time gals and other unforgettable characters who comprise the AWFJ Wonder Women.
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GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE — Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

Goodbye to Language is a joy, not least because the 84-year-old dean of French cinema, Jean-Luc Godard, continues to embrace new challenges and humbly said to the NSFC in a thank-you missive that he is “still learning.” Nobody insisted he keep making movies, and at his age, he would be forgiven for retiring on his laurels to write full time or tend his garden. Instead, while other directors have approached 3D technology timidly or in the pursuit of butts in seats just like its original aim in the 1950s, Godard has, like Roberto Benigni, chosen to “lie down in the firmament making love to everyone” with his warm and ground-breaking embrace of 3D cinematography. Read more>>

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NIAGARA — Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

In the fifth installment of Noir City Chicago, the programmers decided to take a risk: they devoted an entire day to Technicolor noir. For most people, it’s not noir without the black shadows and knives of white light that pierce the dark doings of society’s underbelly in a black-and-white film. Eddie Muller, president of the Film Noir Foundation and opening-weekend host of Noir City Chicago, says that he considers noir to be a state of mind, a place of psychological pathology, and therefore, the candy-colored films of the day’s line-up earn their place on a film noir program. While I can’t agree that all of the films, even Leave Her to Heaven (1943) and its deranged central character played by Gene Tierney, were anything but an approximate fit, one was noir in spades: Niagara. Read more>>

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