Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read Merin's recent articles below. For her complete archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).

 

Articles by Jennifer Merin

 

EDA Awards @ IDFA 2016 Filmmaker Interview: Alice Schmid on THE GIRL DOWN LOCH ANZI

alice-schmid-headshotAlice Schmid, filmmaker and novelist, tells stories from around the globe, mostly focusing on children. Say No (1993) is a film classic on child abuse. Working in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1999 to 2002, she showed the lives of child soldiers. In Letter to Grown-Ups (1994) she followed a child through the mine-fields of Cambodia. In Every Drop For The Future (1996), she accompanied a Bolivian girl on her two-hour walk to school. Schmid’s latest documentary, The Girl Down Loch Anzi, is nominated for the IDFA 2016 AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Film. Read her comments about the film on THE FEMALE GAZE.

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SPOTLIGHT November, 2016: Ally Derks, IDFA Founder, Documentaries Mogul and innovator

awfjspotlightsmallsmallallyderksIDFA’s founder and director Ally Derks is in the AWFJ SPOTLIGHT this month, as she helms the 2016 festival from November 16 to 29. During her 30-year tenure at IDFA, Derks has built the festival into the world’s preeminent documentaries showcase, marketplace and pitch forum, with year round programs to develop the art of documentary filmmaking and broaden its horizons. This will be the last IDFA under Derk’s direction, as she leaves the organization to spend 2017 living and working in Berlin as an invited fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy, an institution of the prestigious Robert Bosch Stiftung. Read on…

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YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED — Review by Jennifer Merin

youve-been-trumped-posterAnthony Baxter’s You’ve Been Trumped serves as a preview of what America’s international profile will be like if Donald Trump wins the White House. The documentary reveals the real Donald Trump. It was relevant when it was released in 2011. It is relevant still. As you may have assumed, You’ve Been Trumped is about the Donald’s manipulations of the law and elected officials — in this case, to have his way with Scotland’s Menie Estate, a the environmentally protected tract of land in Balmedie, just north of Aberdeen. Trump’s projected golf course will destroy the fragile biosphere and wildlife habitat along the scenic coast of Scotland. The effect will be devastating, but Trump is intent on dodging all restrictions and protests, including those whose families have occupied this region for longer than anyone can remember. Watch this film before you vote, and share it with others. Read more>>

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EL SICARIO: ROOM 134 — Retroview by Jennifer Merin

elsicario-posterGianfranco Rosi’s gripping documentary is about the life and career of a former Mexican hit man who, while working for a Mexican drug cartel, murdered and tortured hundreds of people at the behest of his bosses. El Sicario (hit man) is the film’s sole protagonist. He appears as the only witness to his life in crime, and he is shot (with a camera, of course) at only one location, Room 164, a rather standard room in a motel that’s located we know not where. But, it is in this very room that the sicario, in days past, tortured and dispatched his victims. Read the full review on CINEMA CITIZEN

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JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS – Retroview by Jennifer Merin

jimmy-carterposterBefore director Jonathan Demme signed on to helm a documentary about Jimmy Carter, he negotiated two important points: he would have unlimited access to the former president and he would have final cut of the film. As a result, Demme has produced an unusually intimate, insightful and revealing tribute to an exceptional elder statesman who, now in his 80s, continues to work tirelessly for peace. Demme chose to make the structural spine of his Jimmy Carter tribute the former president’s nationwide tour to publicize his 21st book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, in which he lays out his controversial opinion regarding Israeli behavior towards the Palestinian people. Basically, while rebuking Palestinians for provocation and violence towards Israelis, the book effectively faults Israel for encircling Palestinian territories with walls that create ghetto-like imprisonment for the people who live in them. Read my review>>

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AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY – Review by Jennifer Merin

jt-leroy-story-posterAuthor: The JT LeRoy Story delves into the curiously confusing story of Laura Albert, the controversial (and secret) creator of the literary figure known as JT LeRoy and writer of JT’s novels Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. When literati and fans discovered JT didn’t exist, they angrily accused Albert of fraud. In Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary, Albert explains how creative impulses caught her in the web of deception. Is she believable? The question leads to a fascinating debate about the role of celebrity in modern culture and how the cult of celebrity influences art and social mores. Read my full review on CINEMA CITIZEN

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GOOD HAIR — Retroview by Jennifer Merin

good-hair-posterComedian activist Chris Rock was genuinely alarmed when he found his adorable six year old daughter, Lola, crying because she didn’t have ‘good hair.’ Concerned about his child’s happiness and self esteem, Rock investigated American’s — and, in particular, African-American women’s — attitudes towards their hair. Basically, common cultural precepts define ‘good hair’ as straight, a concept with social, political and economic impact. It fuels a billion dollar multinational industry. This documentary is Chris Rock’s good hair day, a celebration of women’s rights to feel beautiful in their own skin with their own hair. Released in 2009, it’s available on DVD and still very relevant. Read my Review on CINEMA CITIZEN

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OCTOBER COUNTRY – Retroview by Jennifer Merin

october-countryposterOctober Story is a documentary with haunting Halloween images from real life. Taking place during the year from one Halloween and the next, the film chronicles co-director Donal Moser’s autobiographical investigation of his own immediate family — at least of those who still reside in rural Mohawk Valley, New York, the Mosher clan’s ancestral turf. They are a collection of complex, emotionally compelling individuals who are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of spousal and child abuse, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, debilitating depression and other syndromes that haunt them like ghosts. Released in 2010, October Country is now available on DVD. Read my review on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND — Review by Jennifer Merin

michael-moore-trumplandMichael Moore is always a compelling presence in his films, but this is the first time he’s put himself on stage, actually doing standup. And he does quite a good job of it, mixing his tricky wit and folksy humor with searingly salient commentary about the current presidential race and potent predictions about where, as he sees it, it’s leading our country. Michael Moore in Trumpland is actually the cinematic adaptation of a one-man show Moore wrote for himself and performed twice in a theater in Wilmington, Ohio, a town with an overwhelming preponderance of pro-Trumpers. Read more>>

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Ten Films Nominated for the IDFA AWFJ EDA Award’s €2,500 Prize — Jennifer Merin reports

idfa-2016Programmers at IDFA have selected ten documentaries to be considered for this year’s IDFA AWFJ EDA Award, which bestows a prize of €2,500 for the Best Female-Directed Documentary. The winner will be announced and the award will be presented in Amsterdam on November 22, 2016. This year’s AWFJ jurors are Dorothy Woodend (Canada), Julide Tanriverdi (Germany) and Jennifer Merin (USA). 2016 is the third consecutive year that IDFA and AWFJ have partnered to recognize women’s outstanding achievements in documentary filmmaking, and it is the first year in which the EDA Award comes with a monetary prize. For the full list of films, read on…

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Critics Choice Documentary Awards Nominees Announced – Jennifer Merin reports

ccda200The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) have announced the nominees for the inaugural Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. The winners will be presented their awards at a gala event on Thursday, November 3, 2016 at BRIC, in Brooklyn, New York. See the complete list of nominees on CINEMA CITIZEN>>

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AWFJ to Present EDA Award for Best Female Directed Film @ IDFA 2016, with € 2,500 Prize! – Jennifer Merin reports

idfa-2016For the third consecutive year, The Alliance of Women Film Journalists will present the EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary at IDFA, the world’s leading documentary film festival, taking place in Amsterdam from November 17 to 29. Ten new female-directed documentaries screening in the festival’s program have been nominated by the festival for the EDA Award of € 2,500 and the AWFJ certificate. The winner will be determined by AWFJ’s international jury. Nominated films and jurors will be announced shortly. Stay tuned….

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AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY — Review by Jennifer Merin

jt-leroy-postetAuthor: The JT LeRoy Story” delves into the curiously confusing story of Laura Albert, the controversial creator of the literary figure known as Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (aka JT LeRoy) and the writer of JT’s novels Sarah (2000) and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2001). The novels, dark expressions of America’s underbelly, were a sensation when they were published. Critics declared JT Leroy to be a literary genius, and JT attracted a cult of devoted fans, including legions of celebrities. The young author, ostensibly a teenage boy, became a regular on the New York underground arts scene, famously hanging out at clubs with the likes of Billy Corben, Asia Argento, Gus Van Sant, Mary Karr and others ans fewquwnting the club scene. Read more>>

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CAMERAPERSON –Review by Jennifer Merin

cameraperson posterCameraperson is cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s extraordinary meditative autobiographical retrospective of her decades-long career shooting documentaries across the US and around the world for Laura Poitras, Michael Moore, Kirby Dick and a host of other leading nonfic filmmakers. The film is not only a masterclass in documentary filmmaking, it’s a must see artistic masterpiece. Read on…

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A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS, MAD, IXCANUL, COLLIDE and more August 19 Openers — Reviews by Jennifer Merin

tale of love and darkness posterNatalie Portman’s directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness is a stunning tale of a mother who brightens trying times for her son by telling parable-like stories that counter the hardships surrounding them during turbulent times in Israel. Mad, Robert Putka’s first feature, is a mother-daughter tragicomedy with superb performances by Maryann Plunkett. Jennifer Lafleur and Ellis Cahill. In Ixcanul, a teenage girl in remote Guatemala wants more than a prearranged marriage. Collide is a non-stop action thriller with Sirs Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins as rival bad guys. When Two Worlds Collide is a compelling advocacy documentary about indigenous peoples’ fight to curtail Amazonian deforestation. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” is Werner Herzog’s latest documentary essay about human interaction and the evolution of human society in our increasingly computer-dependent and driven universe. Read the reviews>>

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FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, DISORDER, MY KING, PETE’S DRAGON and other August 12 Openers – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

florence_foster_jenkins_posterTop pick for this week is Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep as the self-styled diva whose voice could shatter glass. Alice Winocour’s Disorder is a disturbingly violent thriller that taps into present day paranoia. Maiwenn’s My King is a roller coaster ride of a romance that tracks the dysfunctional relationship of Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) and Georgio (Vincent Cassel). Pete’s Dragon is a sweet remake of Disney’s 1977 animation about the bond between boy and beast. In Blood Father, a badass absentee dad (Mel Gibson) scrambles to rescue his badass drug dealing daughter (Erin Moriarty) from criminals and the cops. Plus three watch-worthy documentaries: Abortion: Stories Women Tell, When Elephants Were Young and An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell. Read the reviews>>

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SUICIDE SQUAD, AMATEUR NIGHT, FIVE NIGHTS IN MAINE, GIBBY, LITTLE MEN and Other Aug 5 Openers — Reviews by Jennifer Merin

suicide squad posterSuicide Squad will make you leap from your seats, but not for joy. Amateur Night is a wild ride comedy as an jobless-architect-turned chauffeur drives hookers to their trysts. Five Nights in Maine stars David Oyelowo and Dianne Weist in a somber drama about grief and mourning. Sun Choke tests the tangled, tawdry relationship between a psychotic 20-something woman and her manipulative caregiver. Gibby is a family drama about how a mischievous money helps cheer a teenager who’s grieving her mother’s death. In Little Men, two young boys (Theo Taplitz and Michael Barvieri, who’re superb) must end their parents’ feud so they can continue to be best friends. From Fat to Finish Line chronicles the remarkable journey of 12 strangers who support each other to lose weight, live healthier. Cristina” is a moving documentary about a woman who treats life-threatening cancer as a catalyst for living in the moment and experiencing boundless, uplifting love. Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny profiles the cinema auteur, giving insight into his films. Read the reviews….

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SPOTLIGHT August, 2016: Margot Benacerref, Filmmaker and Cultural Activist

awfjspotlightsmallsmallmargot b head 2 cropped

Auteur filmmaker Margot Benacerraf is in the AWFJ SPOTLIGHT this month to celebrate her 90th birthday on August 14, and to honor her extraordinary career as filmmaker and cultural activist. Benacerref first came to prominence on the international cinema scene in 1959, when her first feature film, Araya, was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, where she was a novice director and the only female filmmaker included in the competition. That year, Araya shared the Cannes International Critics Prize with Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour. Read on…

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EQUITY, INTO THE FOREST, NERVE, BAD MOMS, JASON BOURNE and Other Jluy 29 Openers – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

Equity_27X40_OS_Final_061416.indd Meera Menon’s Equity, a drama about a woman on Wall Street, steals this week’s top spot for feminist movie goers. Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest, another film about female empowerment, stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as sisters struggling to survive the terrifying circumstances of a massive power outage. Nerve is a femme-centric thriller about a high school senior (Emma Roberts) who signs on to play an edgy online real-time game of truth or dare, with cash prizes and consequences. Bad Moms is a raucous comedy that misses the mark, even for restless moms in need of comic relief. And, unfortunately, Jason is not Bourne again. Plus Tallulah, Shelley, Hollywood Beauty Salon, Miss Sharon Jones and Gleason. Read the reviews>>

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ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, HOOLIGAN SPARROW, SUMMERTIME, PINK ZONE and other July 22 Openers — Reviews by Jennifer Merin

absolutely fabulous posterAbsolutely Fabulous: The Movie, the screen adaptation of the BBC sitcom, has BFFs Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) in hilarious misadventure on the Riviera, eluding police who want for them for the disappearance and/or possible murder of fashion icon Kate Moss. Silly. Hilarious. Absolutely delightful. Hooligan Sparrow chronicles Chinese human rights activist Ye Haiyan’s dramatic protests against forced prostitution and for justice for school girls sexually assaulted by a Hainan Provence principal. First time director Nanfu Wang risked her safety to make this real reveal about women’s rights in China. For feminist drama, Catherine Corsini’s Summertime stars Cecile De France and Izïa Higelin as star-crossed lesbians working out their passionate relationship in conservative rural France. Lights Out is a femme-centric horror flick with psychological roots that twist the plot into compelling, authentically scary family drama. Pink Zone is a scary futuristic sci-fi flick in which mean girls must work together to escape a deadly virus. First time director Benjamin J. Walter wrote, directed, shot and edited Pink Zone as his thesis film for UCLA’s Directing Program. “Fight Valley” is a femme-centric actione that pins brutal woman-on-woman fighting sequences to a scant plot about a woman who joins an underground women’s fight club to find out who killed her sister. Don’t Worry Baby” is a romancedy that presents a worrisome narrative about two men who are vying for a woman’s attention, and they happen to be father and son. It’s a new take on an old theme, but the woman still serves primarily as the plot catalyst, and not entirely her own person. Read the reviews…

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GHOSTBUSTERS, GHOSTHEADS, THE INFILTRATOR, EQUALS, CAFE SOCIETY and more July 15 Openers – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

ghostbusters posterGhostbusters in no way satisfies the clamor for more women’s stories on screen. Ghostheads, a documentary about the phenomenally loyal fans of the Ghostbusters franchise, doesn’t delve into the controversy over Feig’s female reboot, but shows the impact the original has had on people’s lives. The Infiltrator is the truth-bases story of undercover agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), who bagged Columbian drug lords with female partner Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a brilliant rookie agent. Equals, a dystopian romance, stars Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult as star-crossed lovers in an era when human emotion is completely repressed. Café Society also stars Stewart as the “love interest” in Woody Allen’s latest glam romantic romp set in the 1930s. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an unnerving twist on the horror genre, set in an all-girls Catholic boarding school. The Student Body is Bailey Webber’s first film, documenting her protest against state-mandated body mass index (or BMI) testing of her high school peers. Don’t Blink – Robert Frank is Laura Israel’s profile of the life and work of the legendarily inventive photographer and filmmaker, creator of images for the ages. Read the reviews>>

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THE INNOCENTS, THE BFG, MICROBE & GASOLINE, LIFE ANIMATED and other July 1 openers – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

the innocents poster Top picks among this week’s opening films are Anne Fontaine’s harrowing post World War II drama, The Innocents, plus Steven Spielberg’s endearing animated family fantasy, The BFG, and Michel Gondry’s charming coming of age road trip, Microbe & Gasoline. Roger Ross Williams’ enlightening documentary Life, Animated shows the role Disney animated characters played in an autistic child’s development and Susanna White’s cinema adaptation of John le Carre’s Our Kind of Traitor is thrilling. Others include Rosanne for President, The Purge: Election Year and Satanic.
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THE NEON DEMON, NUTS!, THE SHALLOWS, SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ, and other June 24 Openers — Reviews by Jennifer Merin

neon demon posterThe Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning as a young model caught up in the frightful ambitions of LA’s runway realm. In The Shallows, Blake Lively plays a surfer who’s under shark attack. Septembers of Shiraz is about a Jewish Iranian family who must flee Shiite fundamentalist rule. In The Last Treasure Hunt, an estranged sister and brother must come together to decipher their recently deceased father’s will. This week’s documentaries include Penny Lane’s Nuts!, about a quack who claimed he could cure male impotence with goat testicle transplants, and Sharon Shattuck’s From This Day Forward, a filmmakers personal documentary about her transgender dad, plus Jessica Yu’s Misconception, delving into overpopulation, and How Do You Like Me Now?, T-Rex and Garn (aka Yarn). Read the reviews…

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FINDING DORY, BANG GANG, ARGENTINA, THE NIGHT STALKER and HONEYBEE — Reviews by Jennifer Merin

dory posterFinding Dory is Pixar’s latest, a buoyant, neon-color deep sea animated adventure. Bang Gang sees affluent French hormonal teens left to their own devices in the home of a peer whose parents are on vacation. ‎Argentina, aka Zonda, folclore argentino, is a beautifully crafted compilation film of stirring folkloric dance performances without voice over interruption. The Night Stalker is a gripping cat and mouse drama in which 1980s SoCal serial killer Richard Richard Ramirez is questioned by a woman lawyer who wants him to confess to another murder. ‎HoneyBee is a femme-helmed, femme-centric horror flick about what happens when a seductive but creepy family moves to a small town. Read the reviews…

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CASTING BY – Review by Jennifer Merin

casting by poster artCasting Director Marion Dougherty didn’t invent Al Pacino or Bette Midler, but she certainly helped shape their careers. Dougherty may be the central character in Casting By…, but director Tom Donahue calls on Pacino, Midler and a long list of other Hollywood A-list actors and directors, including Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood to appear in his star-studded documentary about the queen of casting. Donahue has now signed Geena Davis, a self-proclaimed icon of advocacy for women in film, to produce his next feature, a documentary about women’s struggle for equality in Hollywood. So this seems a good time to take another look at what Dougherty did with women in casting. Read more on CINEMA CITIZEN…

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