Joan Chen at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao — Gill Pringle interviews

joan chenA female filmmaking pioneer, Chinese-born actress Joan Chen broke both race and gender barriers when she directed the May-November romance, Autumn in New York. Released in 2000, the well received film starred Richard Gere and Winona Ryder. Chen mentions taking strength from her female support teamm including editor Ruby Yang and casting directors Sheila Jaffe and Georgeanne Walken. “I didn’t think of myself as breaking down any doors at the time. I think I was so innocent. I didn’t think about my role as a woman film-maker. It seemed very simple to me – I saw a story I really wanted to tell and was determined to tell it. I was fearless. I’m still surprised there aren’t many more female directors,” muses Chen, 56, when AWFJ catches up with her at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao. Continue reading…

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I AM NOT A WITCH – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

i amnot a witch posterIn a year when Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale returned with force to the public consciousness through the Hulu series of the same name, there’s something of its shared focus on ritual and patriarchal oppression that ripples through I am Not a Witch. But the debut feature by Zambian-Welsh filmmaker Rungano Nyoni is a distinctly unique affair, reflecting the cultural specificity of the African context within which her story is set, and a flair for powerful, political black comedy not wholly unlike that of fellow Brit Chris Morris (a point of comparison a few critics have made). At times sincerely moving, bleakly comic, infuriating and heartbreaking, I am Not a Witch is a shrewd interrogation of exploitation, power, gender and national and personal identity. Continue reading…

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AWFJ 2017 EDA Awards: Timeline and Categories

eda award cert blankThe Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ presents annual EDA Awards to recognize excellent work by and about women, in front of and behind the camera. 2017 marks the EDA Awards’ tenth anniversary. AWFJ presents three types of year-end awards. Standard “Best of” and “Female Focus” categories are presented annually, while “Special Mention” categories vary each year in response to the year’s crop of films, and usually include Actress Most In Need of a New Agent, Best Nudity and similar categories unique to the year end AWFJ EDA Awards. Continue reading...

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 15: THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR

motw logo 1-35Using the horrific 1944 gang rape of a black woman by white men as a jumping-off point to examine systemic issues of race, class, and power in the United States, Nancy Buirski’s documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor” is stirring and powerful. Like many other 2017 films, including “Detroit,” “Mudbound,” “Strong Island,” and more, “Recy Taylor” makes it abundantly clear that the complicated history and politics of race and gender are more relevant — and frustrating — than ever. Continue reading…

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WHAT IF IT WORKS? — Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Australian cinema has a curious relationship with romantic comedies. While international
hits like Strictly Ballroom (1992), Muriel's Wedding (1994), and Love and Other Catastrophes
(1996) found the subgenre hitting a commercial and critical sweet spot in the early-mid
1990s, it isn’t a national trend that has been repeated. Australian cinema has generally
since then leant towards darker or more serious subject matter. Filmmaker Romi Trower’s
What if It Works? may not have gained the same traction as its romcom predecessors, but
it’s certainly the little movie that could, winning awards for Best Australian Independent
Film at the 2017 Gold Coast Film Festival in Australia, Best Debut Feature Film at Canada’s
Female Eye Film Festival, and Cinequest’ New Visions Award in San Jose. Continue reading...

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COCO — Review by Susan Granger

Pixar Animation is known as “family-friendly” – and none more than their 19th feature, a fantasy that faithfully depicts Mexican culture, celebrates the Hispanic customs and folklore of Dia de los Muertos, and acknowledges cultural icons like Frida Kahlo and El Santo. Continue reading…

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Whistler Film Festival Women on Top Summit Keynote Address — Valerie Creighton (Guest Post)

valerie-creightonThe Minister of Canadian Heritage recently announced Creative Canada, a new approach to support creativity and content making in the country. A critical piece of her announcement was the increase in federal contributions to the Canada Media Fund in 2018/2019. While this is not new money, it will offset the gap from declining cable, and direct to home revenue created by cord-cutting and cord-shaving. It was a huge accomplishment for a Cabinet Minister to achieve this commitment and announce it prior to the upcoming budget year. Anyone involved in the making of content in this country that access’s the Canada Media Fund has something to celebrate in that achievement. Continue reading on THE FEMALE GAZE

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WONDER WHEEL — Review by Martha K. Baker

‘Wonder Wheel’ spins in too many directions. Woody Allen’s latest film joins the other wonders of the season, but “Wonder” is wonder-full, as is “Wonderstruck.” “Wonder Wheel” is not so wonderful as woeful. It refuses to find a focus, almost as if it’s been on its own Ferris wheel and is dizzy with misdirection and indecision. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Gerwig’s Top Rating, Streep’s Gender Lament and MULAN Live — Brandy McDonnell reports

Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ becomes best-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes. Disney chooses Liu Yifei to be its live-action ‘Mulan,’ to be directed by Niki Caro. Making the rounds for’The Post,’ Meryl Streep laments the lack of gender parity. Read details on THE WEEK IN WOMEN

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AWFJ EDA Awards @ Whistler Film Festival: The Winners – Jennifer Merin reports

whistler logo 2017Whistler Film Festival continues to stand out as an especially female friendly environment for filmmakers, with intensive programs for collegial networking, productive mentorships and the spirit-raising Women on Top Summit. And, AWFJ recognizes the superb women’s programming with presentation of EDA Awards for female-directed films. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT December, 2017: Angelina Jolie, Humanitarian Filmmaker

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angelina with handWith award season already in full thrust, SPOTLIGHT asks: Has there ever been an A-list actress who has – in the prime of her career – choosen to promote not herself, but two films that tell stories about third world countries?

The actress doesn’t even play a role in either film, but opts instead to produce The Breadwinner, an animated story about a young Afghan girl who dresses as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and to direct First They Killed My Father, an unflinching child’s view on the Khmer Rouge’s deadly rule in Cambodia.Continue reading…

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THE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES — Review by Cate Marquis

TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES POSTERTHE TRIBES OF PALOS VERDES is a drama about a family recently transplanted from the down-to-earth Midwest to the gated suburban beach community of Palos Verdes, California. It immerses the family in a kind of culture shock and only dad Phil (Justin Kirk), a cardiac surgery, is enthusiastic about the move. Nonetheless, mom Sandy (Jennifer Garner) and teen-aged fraternal twins Medina (Maika Monroe) and Jim (Cody Fern) are trying to make the best of it. Continue reading…

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THELMA – Review by Martha K. Baker

Psychiatrists will be thrilled with “Thelma,” even shrinks with 5¢ scrawled over their comic strip shingles. “Thelma” reveals itself as if in therapy sessions. Some of those meetings between client and doctor concern the past; some, the present, but all concern the person lying hopefully, sexually on that chaise. Continue reading

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COCO – Review by Martha k. Baker

​So what does your trusty film critic know? As I sat in the theater waiting for “Coco” to start, I observed the children around me. They were chattering, whining, mewling, and reporting. They were eating loudly, running rompingly, demanding attention. “What,” I thought uncharitably, “are they doing here? What will they understand of ‘Coco’?” Continue reading

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DARKEST HOUR — Review by Martha K. Baker

“Darkest Hour” focuses on first days of Winston Churchill’s prime ministry. Churchill was not the prime choice for prime minister of England in 1940, but Neville Chamberlain had lost the confidence of the people. England’s darkest hour was closing in, with Germany advancing on Belgium to march its army to the sea and, thence, to England. Continue reading…

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LAST FLAG FLYING — Review by Martha K. Baker

Something — memories of esprit de corps, desperation, loneliness — draws Doc Shepherd to find his old Marine buddies on the Internet. He has an agenda: he wants them to go with him to bury his son, also a Marine but killed in another war. Doc finds Sal, running a failing bar. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 21: BOMBSHELL – THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

motw logo 1-35“Bombshell” is the perfect title for a documentary about Hedy Lamarr. Not only was Lamarr a renowned Hollywood screen siren (aka a “bombshell”), but she also helped invent signal-hopping radio-based technology that was used to guide Allied torpedoes (literal bombshells) during World War II, a system whose DNA can be seen in the Bluetooth and WiFi systems we all rely on today. Continue reading…

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BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY –Review by Cate Marquis

If you use WiFi or GPS, you owe something to Hedy Lamarr. BOMBSHELL: HEDY LAMARR tells the astonishing story of Hedy Lamarr, the beautiful Hollywood star of the 1930s and 1940s who also invented frequency hopping, the idea behind the technology used GPS and Bluetooth. Filled with fascinating details about the life of this most unusual person, gifted with both good looks and brains, yet struggled to find recognition for the latter. Throughout the film, one is struck by how different her life might have been in another era, when she could have more easily pursued her real dream, of being an inventor. One is also struck by how her beauty was sometimes a barrier to her real ambitions. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 17: THE BREADWINNER

motw logo 1-35The Breadwinner is a powerful, gorgeously animated film about Parvana, a remarkable little girl caught in untenable circumstances in Taliban-controlled Kabul, Afghanistan. From the studio and filmmakers who previously gave us The Secret of Kells and other animated gems, “The Breadwinner” isn’t your typical mainstream “cartoon” fare. Based on the same-named novel by Deborah Ellis (who has co-screenwriting credit with Anita Doron), director Nora Twomey’s remarkable film tells a deep, thoughtful story replete with elements of both pain and joy, despair and hope. Continue reading…

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THE BREADWINNER — Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

The Breadwinner is a beautifully animated drama from the co-director of The Secret of Kells that’s set in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Based on the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis, it centers on an 11-year-old girl who’s forced to pretend she’s a boy after her father is imprisoned. The movie heartbreakingly captures the violent, anti-women, anti-intellectual, and even anti-literacy stance of the Taliban regime. Women are harassed and beaten for not covering themselves properly, being in public without a husband/father, and drawing attention to themselves. Taliban soldiers and followers intimidate and threaten characters and keep one imprisoned. A few mild insults pepper the dialogue (“crazy,” “stupid,” “enemy of Islam,” etc.), but it’s the realistic violence that’s most likely to upset younger viewers. There’s also a story-within-the-story in which skeleton ghosts, attacking jaguars, and an evil elephant king figure prominently, but it’s not as frightening as the mistreatment of people (particularly girls and women) under Taliban rule. And, ultimately, themes of perseverance, curiosity, and courage prevail. Continue reading…

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Claire Ferguson Talks Storytelling, Trauma and Team Work in DESTINATION UNKNOWN –Jennifer Merin interviews

Claire FergusonIn Destination Unknown, British documentary filmmaker Claire Ferguson’s interviews with Holocaust survivors captures on film the most intimate and painful memories of traumas experienced in the Nazi death camps and the ongoing suffering they have caused throughout the victims’ lives. The survivors’ vivid descriptions are supported by archival footage. The combination of current testimony from surviving elders with images of what they lived through is absolutely devastating. Destination Unknown is an important addition to the canon of Holocaust films. Read what filmmaker Claire Ferguson has to say about making the film and the responsibilities of documentary filmmakers. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN

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Guest Post: Filmmaker Chanda Chevannes on Making UNFRACTURED, Activism and Refusing to ‘Play the Part’ (Exclusive)

chandra head smallOn a chilly November evening in 2014, I was sitting in a rental car outside the county jail in Watkins Glen, New York. My video camera was turned on, and resting in my lap. I had already set my white balance, exposure, and focal length. And since I had nothing to do but sit in the dark parking lot and wait, a steady stream of thoughts began to run through my mind. Or, more accurately, one thought raced around in there: Why am I doing this to myself? In the four years it took me to make my new feature documentary, I asked myself that question over and over again. Continue Reading on THE FEMALE GAZE.

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KEDI — Review by Maitland McDonagh

kedi psterIn much of the world, stray and feral felines are considered nuisances at best and outright pests at worst. But not in Istanbul, argues Turkish-born, US-based filmmaker Ceyda Torun, whose Kedi (odd how much the word sounds like “kitty”) documents the lives of street cats whose beat—one that spans millennia–is the city’s busting waterfront district, where shopkeepers and residents alike have settled into a symbiotic relationship with the sweet-faced little predators who help keep the rodent population down while happily accepting handouts. And Torun’s roving camera, often set at cat’s-eye level, gives their lives a dynamic energy that’s as enthralling as any footage of marquee-hogging elephants or lions: The woman who suggests that they’re “like aliens” isn’t entirely wrong—those pretty little eyes aren’t filled with worshipful warmth. Continue reading…

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MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS — Review by Martha K. Baker

Seeing the magnificent cast list may draw you in. Enjoying a classic mystery, even when you know who dun it, may draw you in. But after watching “Murder on the Orient Express,” you may feel discounted, for the Kenneth Branagh production has all the oomph of an airless whoopee cushion. But ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ gives new depth to ‘meh!’ Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 10: MUDBOUND

motw logo 1-35Telling the intertwining stories of two families — one white, one black — living on the same piece of rural Mississippi farmland in the 1940s, Dee ReesMudbound blends strong performances, notable cinematography, and heartbreaking human drama. It’s clear things are going to get grim from the opening sequence, in which adult brothers Henry and Jamie McAllan (played by Jason Clarke and Garrett Hedlund, respectively) try to bury their father despite the onslaught of a torrential downpour, which leaves both men shaken and covered in mud. Continue reading…

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