MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 20: LITTLE PINK HOUSE

motw logo 1-35Courtney Balaker’s “Little Pink House” is a compelling drama based on the true story of Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a nurse who isn’t looking for anything bigger than a quiet life in the pink cottage she renovated herself in a decidedly unglamorous part of New London, Connecticut. But she’s destined to become the national face of an emotional court battle over eminent domain after the city comes for her home — and those of her neighbors — in the early 2000s so that pharmaceutical corporate giant Pfizer can build a new facility on the land. \Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Female Helmers take HALF THE PICTURE and LUKE CAGE 2. Hodson Writes BATGIRL — Brandy McDonnell reports

Amy Adrion’s documentary, Half the Picture, presents a compelling account of the horror stories female directors face. Femme-helmers will rule the set for half of the episodes of Luke CageSeason 2. Unforgettable scripter Christina Hodson has been tapped to write the Batgirl movie. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 13, 2018: THE RIDER

motw logo 1-35Sweeping vistas and earnest, ultra-realistic performances are at the heart of Chloe Zhao’s moving drama “The Rider,” which follows the struggles of a modern cowboy after his promising rodeo career is cut short by a grave injury. The drama was filmed almost entirely on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and features Pine Ridge residents — members of the Lakota tribe — playing thinly fictionalized versions of themselves. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: HIDDEN FIGURES TV Series, Wood in July Heister, Rodriguez Plays Sandiego — Brandy McDonnell reports

Netflix has acquired the live-action feature film rights to Carmen Sandiego, attaching Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez (the CW series Jane the Virgin to star as the title character. Rodriguez has also been cast alongside Evan Rachel Wood (HBO’s Westworld) to star in indie filmmaker Miranda July’s latest project, a heist film from Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, with production beginning in May. Nat Geo is developing a series inspired by Hidden Figures, the 2016 Oscar-nominated film about the black women mathematicians who were unsung heroes in launching the early-day of the American space program. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE — Review by Nikki Baughan

lynne ramsay you were never posterTo say that Lynne Ramsay has a powerful understanding of film may be an obvious statement, given that she’s made several critically acclaimed, award-winning features and shorts. Yet her approach to filmmaking goes beyond a mastery of the craft to an innate appreciation of cinema’s immersive power. She is skilled at bending the rules, at ensuring that every on-screen element, whether seen or heard, is authentic to her characters, and at compelling her audience to become an active participant in the story. Nowhere is that clearer than in her new film, You Were Never Really Here. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK, April 6, 2018: MABEL MABEL TIGER TRAINER

motw logo 1-35More than just the story of the remarkable Mabel Stark and her eventful life, Leslie Zemeckis’ documentary Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer is a fascinating glimpse into a world most of us will never experience, one of dangerous animals, fearless performers, and the nonstop behind-the-scenes drama of the big tent. It is also a chronicle of life of a gifted, determined and tougher than tigers woman performance artist in America from the turn of the nineteenth century to 1968. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT April 2018: Lynne Ramsey, Glaswegian, Director of YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 1Writer/director Lynne Ramsay is yet another confirmation that Scotland is one of the coolest places on the planet for cultivating artists. Ramsay has created a multi-hyphenate career as writer, director, producer, and cinematographer. A number of distinguished film world insiders have called her one of the greatest living filmmakers. As evidenced by her career and loyal fans, it appears that she stands squarely in the middle of those Scots who don’t suffer fools, and for better or worse, dance to their own drums. Continue reading…

SMALL DEATHS AND AUSPICIOUS BEGINNINGS

awfjspotlightsmallsmallGlasgow has brought the world a long list of visual and performing artists, many of whom — like actor Billy Connolly, architect Charles Mackintosh, artist Susan Philipsz, and writer Denise Mina — are known for their strong-willed and freethinking perspectives. Born in that city in 1969, Lynne Ramsay expressed herself through writing and painting, and became so fascinated by photography that she studied it at Napier College in Edinburgh. She continued by expanding her interests and honing her skills at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, where she specialized in cinematography. Her experiences in school instilled in her the aesthetic of telling a story less through exposition, and more through the use of bold images accompanied and underscored by the integration of artistic sound design. Always passionate about writing her own material, Ramsay has written or adapted nearly all of the screenplays for her shorts and feature films.

Ramsay’s graduation short, Small Deaths, won the Prix du Jury at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The film, intriguingly structured as three vignettes in the life of a young girl, was filmed with non-professional actors who delivered stunning performances under Ramsay’s direction. Small Deaths was a portent of things to come.

Ramsay has repeated her debut feat, not only at Cannes two years later with her short Gasman, but with each of her subsequent projects, all of which have been lauded in festivals around the world. Small Deaths also signaled Ramsay’s ongoing interest in intense subject matter that examines the perspectives of children, often damaged by circumstances and dealing with guilt, grief, and trauma. She studiously avoids cliches and embraces character studies that always reveal something new and unanticipated about the human condition.

A LYRICAL, BLEAK AESTHETIC

lynne ramsey ratcatcher posterRamsay’s debut feature Ratcatcher (1999) was an exploration of Glaswegian working class circumstances during the 1970s, and once again focused on the story of a child in crisis. James, at age 12, deals with overwhelming guilt over accidentally causing a friend’s death. Ratcatcher was relentlessly bleak, but lyrical. In the film, moments of beauty in the midst of despair define Ramsay’s vision to be singularly stylized and gritty, with a growing auteur-like presentation of story. Winning an avalanche of awards — including the Carl Foreman Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTAs, the Douglas Hickox Award at the British Independent Film Awards, and a nomination for the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes — the film confirmed Ramsay as an outstanding talent.

On Ratcatcher, Ramsay also signaled her ongoing collaboration with women working in film by hiring female composer Rachel Portman, editor Lucia Zucchetti, production designer Jane Morton, and art director Robina Nicholson.

Morvern Callar (2002) was Ramsay’s first adaptation from another source. It is a film that fully reveals Ramsay’s skill as visual narrator able to capture and express emotion though images as simple as that of an old woman pointing to snow outside her window. It is not, as is the case with all of Ramsay’s filmography, a movie that Hollywood would expect a female filmmaker to make. Witness the scene where Morvern cuts up and disposes of her dead lover’s body.

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

With Movern Callar, Ramsay demonstrated that her skills as an artistic storyteller could be applied to Alan Warner’s cult novel with equal impact and success as with material she originated. The film is also a sterling example of the importance of music and sound design as essential elements in Ramsay’s cinematic art. And, again, her work with actors brought Samantha Morton, starring as the anti-heroic young woman who attempts to create a new life out of her boyfriend’s sudden suicide, accolades from Cannes, rave reviews and the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress.

Continuing her explorations into nihilism and emotional deterioration, Ramsay went on to adapt, direct, and produce the critical sensation We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011). Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, the film is about the experience of a mother, Eva dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting perpetrated by her son. The film brought kudos to the luminous and ever-compelling Tilda Swinton as Eva, and brought greater fame for breakout star Ezra Miller, who played Kevin. We Need to Talk about Kevin was named one of the best films of the year by a number of critics, following was was a rocky road during development and on its path to release.

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

LESSONS LEARNED

The announcement in 2001 that Ramsay would be adapting and directing Alice Sebold’s heartbreaking bestseller The Lovely Bones, which once again examined a young life, death, grief, and guilt, was exciting news for the filmmaker’s growing number of dedicated fans. Ramsay had read the unfinished manuscript, and immediately committed to work on it. Unfortunately, creative differences ensued, and she parted ways with the project, with the finished film becoming a poorly-received release for director Peter Jackson. This was not the last time creative differences led to speed bumps in Ramsey’s otherwise soaring career.

In 2013, she left the helm of Jane Got a Gun, just as filming was to get underway. When speaking about possible repercussions resulting from her walking away from the film, Ramsay said she’d heard someone ask if she’d been ‘on her period.’ She’s indicated that from her perspective, she felt the producers getting farther and farther away from her vision, and reported that she’d been being asked for covering shots, with the intent, she feared, they would do re-edits. There were rumors circulated that Ramsay is difficult to work with, yet throughout her career and in all of her completed projects, she has made lasting friendships with both cast and crew.

The fallout from the Jane Got a Gun debacle led to Ramsay going to Santorini in Greece to recover and regroup, and move forward, both personally and professionally. It was in Santorini that she began writing the adaptation of You Were Never Really Here. The message, if there is one to be delivered via Ramsay’s travails, is not to underestimate a Glaswegian artist. Trifle with them at your peril, as they know their own integrity, and will stand by it.

FEARLESS FILMMAKING

lynne ramsay you were never posterIt took six years from the success of We Need to Talk about Kevin to the release of Ramsay’s new film, You Were Never Really Here, which opens theatrically in the US on April 6, 2018. The film, based on a novella by writer and raconteur Jonathan Ames, is about Joe, a veteran with PTSD, who tracks down and rescues sex trafficked girls. When violence is necessary, as it often is, he uses a ball peen hammer. He lives his days struggling with depression, constant flashbacks, and suicidal ideation. His only moments of joy involve caring for his dementia-suffering mother.

During the process of writing You Were Never Really Here and and preparing for filming, Ramsay imagined and held firm to her ideal casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Joe. Her instincts were right, and the two proved to be a professional match made in cinema heaven. They have much in common. Both director and actor avoid social media, preferring to let their work speak for them. They also appreciate the balance of visuals, music, and character that make up the language of cinema, and see all aspects of filmmaking as collaborative. Pre-release, the film has garnered considerable awards buzz. Although an unfinished version of the film was shown at its Cannes premiere, it was given a seven minute standing ovation and Ramsay won Best Screenplay, with Phoenix winning Best Actor.

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 2 W POST

In You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay’s use of sound design and startling visuals continues, both with ever more dramatic effect. In fact, she has said with her next movie, she’d like to start her filmmaking process by creating the sound and music first, and then filming.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

lynne ramsay head closerThere is no question that Ramsay’s no-nonsense, straightforward style and her commitment to maintain her aesthetic and artistic vision would be met differently were she a man. What has to happen now, given the changes taking place in Hollywood, is that she be embraced for the master filmmaker she is, without regard to her gender. With each new project, she proves she is one of the best filmmakers working in the world today. She is interested in doing more studio films, including a superhero movie, but hasn’t gotten those offers. awfjspotlightsmallsmall She has said she could do anything. Movie lovers and cinematic history will be the better for her being able to prove it, in every way and as often as she wants. — Leslie Combemale

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FOR WOMEN IN FILM, 2017 PRODUCED A BLOOM OF OPTIMISM ON THE HORIZON — Jennifer Merin comments

Annual stats tracking women’s work in the film industry consistently indicate that production gatekeepers are slow to welcome the work of female filmmakers, despite the recent successes of studio-backed femme-helmed and femme-centric blockbusters, and the ongoing inclusion initiatives of feminist groups such as the Alliance of Women Filmmakers and Film Fatales. However, despite the dismally static stats, AWFJ found an encouraging rise in the number of femme-centric and femme-helmed films released theatrically during 2017. Out of the 52 films we selected for #MOTW endorsement, 38 were directed by women. And, that number is even more impressive when you consider that for five of the year’s 52 weeks, we found no releasing films that met AWFJ standards for endorsement Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK, March 30: OUTSIDE IN

motw logo 1-35Lynn Shelton’s “Outside In” is a delicately rendered, poignant drama about the power of human connection. It centers on Chris (Jay Duplass, who co-wrote the screenplay with Shelton), who’s just spent 20 years in prison after being convicted of a crime that wasn’t really his fault (wrong place, wrong time). Out on parole largely due to the tireless advocacy and research work of his former English teacher, Carol (Edie Falco), Chris returns to a small Pacific Northwest town that welcomes him back but doesn’t really have any idea what to do with him. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 23, 2018: MADAME

motw logo 1-35Despite its (mostly) posh characters and haute Parisian dinner-party-centric premise, “Madame” isn’t just a zinger-filled drawing-room comedy. Rather, director/co-writer Amanda Sthers’ film is a cleverly satirical and easy to swallow examination of class, privilege, self worth, and the bone-deep insecurities that plague us all, whether we’re hosting luminaries or serving them coffee. Continue reading…

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MADAME — Review by Cate Marquis

Madame is a French comedy of manners from writer/director Amanda Sther, that plays with what happens when a wealthy hostess suddenly discovers that she needs one more dinner guest to avoid having the unlucky number 13, and decides to pass off her maid as one of the guests. But this is no costume drama set in the 18th century – this story takes place in modern Paris, with Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette playing the wealthy American couple, living in a Paris mansion. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK, March 16, 2018: IN THE LAND OF POMEGRANATES

motw logo 1-35Anyone who’s ever wondered why the possibility of peace in the Middle East seems permanently out of reach should watch “In the Land of Pomegranates,” Hava Kohav Beller’s thoughtful, thought-provoking documentary about the bitter Palestinian/Jewish conflict. Beller, an octogenarian who previously earned an Oscar nomination for 1991′s “The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945,” spent more than a decade making this new film, and her patience pays off. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Inclusion tops box office with BLACK PANTHER and A WRINKLE IN TIME — Brandy McDonnell reports

Ignore the headlines about Black Panther dominating A Wrinkle in Time at the box office. Yes, the commercial and critical juggernaut that is Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has topped earnings on the domestic cinema release list for the fourth consecutive week, relegating Ava DuVernay’s much-hyped adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s beloved femme-centric young-adult book into second place. But both movies are from Disney, which thus far has winning tickets in the inclusion category for 2018. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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Celebrating Women Cinematographers — Nikki Baughan reports

Rachel Morrison made history this year by becoming the first woman to be nominated for the best cinematography Oscar, for her raw, immersive work on Dee Rees’ Mudbound (2017). But that stellar achievement is something of a double-edged sword. It’s possible to be thrilled by her success, while also remaining frustrated that she’s the first woman to be so honoured by the Academy and that gender representation across all industry sectors remains so shameful. While the statistics are enduringly disheartening, women have been working tirelessly behind the camera since the earliest days of movies. So perhaps it’s time to replace that lament of ‘Where are the women?’ with a battle cry of ‘Here are the women’, to recognise and celebrate inclusivity were it exists, and to demand more of it. Continue reading….

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK, March 9, 2018: CLAIRE’S CAMERA

motw logo 1-35Claire’s Camera is Cannes-centric. South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo set his quirky character-driven, genre-defying drama in the sun-drenched seaside resort town as the festival is taking place, but never visits the event’s star-studded glamour or industry hustle — both of which actually surrounded the film’s premiere at the festival in 2017. And, since the story is about friendship between two women, Claire’s Camera is femme-centric, too. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Strong Women behind BLACK PANTHER, Chenoweth joins TRIAL & ERROR, kids get free tix for A WRINKLE IN TIME — Brandy McDonnell reports

Marvel Studio’s “Black Panther” has been garnering praise for its mostly African-American cast and its depiction of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. But this superhero movie isn’t just a testosterone-fest. It is a showcase for smart, dynamic and capable women who are the power behind the mythical nation’s throne. Kristen Chenoweth is set to show her strength in season two of Trial & Error. And free tickets will be distributed to underprivileged kids so they can see and be inspired by Ava DuVernay‘s “A Wrinkle in Time.” Read the details on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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SPOTLIGHT March 2018: Rachel Morrison, Cinematographer, Oscar Nominee for MUDBOUND

rachel morrison head 2Bringing a moving image to life takes much more than having the technical skills down pat. Capturing that collection of indelible images requires another special skillset – one that isn’t necessarily taught in school. It requires an understated ability to tap into the director’s vision and the actors’ emotions to produce breathtaking visual poetry. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison’s impressive body of work has long exhibited these traits. Rachel Morrison is a monumental cinematographer whose work is illuminated with nuance. Continue reading…

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AWFJ’s Women’s History Month Movies Watch List

Celebrate Women’s History Month by watching women-centric films that illuminate, educate and entertain. AWFJ’s curated list of films to watch during Women’s History Month ranges from mirth-filled comedies to truth-based stories of feminist activism, from gal pal road trip scenarios and inspiring biopics to exposes of the heinous evils of sexism and racism. The wide range of recommended films have one thing in common: they are all about women and they respectfully represent women’s perspectives on the social and political issues that we all face in daily life. Each film is a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come — and how much further we need to go. Women’s History Month has 31 days. We list 35 films, figuring that you might enjoy watching a feminist double bill on the weekend or your day off. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 2, 2018: OH LUCY!

motw logo 1-35A poignant ode to the need for human connection, Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy! (based on her own 2014 short film) is a quirky dramedy about a Tokyo office worker named Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima). When her solitary life is disrupted by a rather unusual English class taught by hug-happy American John (Josh Hartnett) — who gives her a curly blonde wig and an American name, Lucy — Setsuko starts down a path she never would have anticipated. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Fewer Female Protagonists in 2017 — Brandy McDonnell reports

Dismal stats reported in this year’s edition of the annual It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World report, released on February 22 by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, show that the number of female protagonists in Hollywood’s top grossing 100 films dropped during 2017, despite the blockbuster success of Wonder Woman and other femme-led films. Just how bad is it? Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Record-Breaking BLACK PANTHER Proves Inclusion Sells in Cinema — Brandy McDonnell reports

The combined success of the record-breaking, critical acclaim-nabbing and audience-thrilling success of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, introducing a black superhero and boasting a largely black cast, and the recent record-breaking, critical acclaim-nabbing and audience-thrilling successWonder Woman, whixh gave female filmgoers a superhero in their own image, should prove to Hollywood that inclusion sells in cinema, but will it bring real change in the making of movies? Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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Godard and Sound: Acoustic Innovation in the Late Films of Jean-Luc Godard — Book Review by Moira Sullivan

Albertine Fox’s Godard and Sound (2017) is an impressive and elaborate study of the use of sound in Jean Luc Godard’s later films beginning in 1979 including his multimedia work. The study builds on the foundation of her doctoral thesis, which investigated the aural properties of film and the field of “audio spectatorship” in film criticism and scholarship. Fox’s interest in the subject developed through an appreciation of minimal music with an ‘acoustic’ echo. Repetitive identical musical patterns played in unison result in an echo, such as the music of Phillip Glass, Brian Eno and Meredith Monk. These echoes are likened to “after images” in paintings with overlapping patterns. There is also a parallel in film. Fox experienced two repetitive loops – the “soundtrack” and “the image” track “moving in parallel motion” in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962), which became the genesis of Godard and Sound. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 16, 2018: THE PARTY

motw logo 1-35Sally Potter’s “The Party” is an atmospheric, rapid-fire dark comedy about a celebratory dinner party where unexpected revelations come as quickly as bon mots. With its sophisticated script and minimalist setting (the whole thing takes place nearly in real time, in just a couple of rooms), “The Party” has the feel of a play adapted for the big screen. The fact that the all-star cast includes powerhouse actresses Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Cherry Jones, and Emily Mortimer — all of whom can dominate a stage with the best of them — underlines that impression. Continue reading…

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From The AWFJ Archive: MoMA’s Sally Potter Retrospective – Jennifer Merin comments

Let’s praise Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curator Sally Berger for putting together a remarkable and well-deserved retrospective (July 7 to 24) of the films and video of Sally Potter, the brilliant British feminist moviemaker with a genuinely unique and fascinating vision.
Potter‘s films are never easy escapes, and she’s often had mixed reviews, but as director, writer, actress, dancer, choreographer and composer, Potter is a rare entity: the complete cinematic artist. She invites you to profound emotional insights and transports you to uncharted realms of imagination and intellect. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 9: THAT’S NOT ME

motw logo 1-35Alice Foulcher does triple duty in “That’s Not Me,” starring as both aspiring Australian actress Polly and her identical twin sister, Amy (also an actress), as well as co-writing with director Gregory Erdstein. The result is an appealing exploration of ambition, identity, and the whims of showbiz. The movie’s focus is mainly on Polly, who’s wanted to be an actress her whole life and dreams of getting her big break, even while she’s working a day job at a local cinema. Continue reading…

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