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.

No prizes for guessing December’s SPOTLIGHT is on Angelina Jolie, humanitarian, filmmaker, activist, mother, actress and so much more. And, both of her 2017 films have been selected as AWFJ Movie of the Week for their date of release.

As a BAFTA and AWFJ voter, this journalist enjoys award season as much as the next, although – if we’re totally honest – it’s something of a self-serving enterprise. Pick me! Pick me!

Which is what makes Jolie’s humility all the more admirable.

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When AWFJ met with Jolie at Toronto International Film Festival 2017, she tirelessly walked the red carpets accompanied by her six children, using her own celebrity to promote otherwise overlooked issues.

Dressed head to toe in white maxi skirt and white buttoned shirt, she looked like an angel as she reflected on her career, surprised as anyone to note that she’s been an actress for 35 years now, making her screen debut opposite her father Jon Voight in Lookin’ to Get Out, at age seven.

Jacqueline Bisset and Maximillian Schell were her godparents and a Hollywood career was preordained.

“I grew up around film in a town where it was all anybody talked about. My mother always told me how she wanted to be an actress and how her grandmother wanted to be an actress, and she was just so excited that I would be an actress that I never really thought I could be anything else,” noted Jolie, 42, whose beloved mother Marcheline Bertrand died ten years ago of ovarian cancer, at age 56.

“I got into acting partially because of my mom, because it made her so happy. It was something I was very much doing for her and it changed a little when she passed away.”

MOVING INTO THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR

It’s of note that she only really began her odyssey as a director in the same year her mother died, first with the 2007 documentary A Place in Time, followed by the 2011 Bosnian drama In The Land of Milk and Honey, gaining momentum with 2014’s WW II epic, Unbroken.

A year later she directed, wrote and starred opposite husband Brad Pitt in By The Sea, a drama about a husband and wife whose marriage is unraveling. While the poorly received film would become a self-fulfilling prophecy – the couple’s 12-year relationship unraveling over claims of his drinking and abuse – today their year-long separation is on hold.

“I haven’t done much [on screen] since my mother passed although now I do it for my kids,” said the mother of Maddox, 16, Pax, 13, Zahara, 12, Shiloh, 11, and nine-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.

If she’s happier behind the camera instead of in front, then she’s not ungrateful for the opportunities her career has presented, “It is fun and silly, putting on costumes and acting like a crazy person. It’s a great job.”

TRAINING AND LIFE

Although she trained at the Strasbourg Institute she looks to life for inspiration. “Have a very full life, as full as possible, and listen and be aware of what’s around you. If you do that in life, you’re a better person, and if you do that as an actor, you communicate more honestly.”

Angelina Jolie with her son, Maddox

Angelina Jolie with her son, Maddox

She may have told the New York Times that she never expects “to be the one that everybody understands or likes,” but the peculiar disconnect between Jolie as a person and her perceived wild image, has long time been evident.

Even as she begun receiving praise for 1999’s Girl, Interrupted, her Oscar-winning role as a patient in a mental health institution, she laughs recalling how one critic wrote, “the only reason she would win an Oscar is that people aren’t sure if she’s actually crazy.”

GENTLE, KIND, UNSELFISH

Time has proven her gentle, kind and selfless. If you have to be a little crazy to take on and achieve as much as she has done, then call her crazy.

A cofounder of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, five years ago she was anointed as Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, undertaking more than 60 missions to date, often accompanied by her family.

Then there’s her advocacy for womens’ health and frank discussion of her own double mastectomy, all the time raising six children.

angelina smilesHaving interviewed Jolie at least five times over the past decade, I’ve always found her to be smart, gracious and kind. She doesn’t even have a personal publicist and the first words out of her mouth are usually, “Ask me whatever you want.” Manna to any journalist’s ears.

Oddly enough, early success did not bring happiness. “I actually got very depressed. I was young and I loved to be with people and this was going to change things. I was also very aware that I didn’t have much to say and I didn’t deserve a microphone. I was still trying to figure out who I was. I was certainly no different than anybody else and I didn’t want to be on the other side of the line, so it felt wrong.”

The same year as Girl, Interrupted, she starred in The Bone Collector with Denzel Washington and Pushing Tin, demonstrating the rage of her talents.

Ironically it was her flashy role in the blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider the following year that changed her life. While filming in Cambodia, she happened upon Loung Ung’s bestselling memoir, First They Killed My Father. At the same time, she fell in love with the Cambodian people and adopted her first child, Maddox, from a local orphanage.

Loung Ung was five when the Khmer Rouge overthrew Lon Nol’s military rule in 1975, turning the once-prosperous former French colonial outpost into an isolated death chamber.

Angelina Jolie with Loung Ung

Angelina Jolie with Loung Ung

Seeking out Ung shortly after reading her book, the two women became instant friends, adapting the book into a screenplay many years before Netflix agreed to finance the project in 2015. Cambodian director Rithy Panh signed on as a producer. When a damning Vanity Fair article suggested that Jolie had manipulated Cambodian children during auditions for the film, Panh supported Jolie, saying how she is beloved by the Cambodian people.

“For the longest time, I never thought I could make a movie,” Jolie said, “Not ever. And I never thought I could write. It wasn’t part of my plan.”

Describing her decision to become a filmmaker as an accident, she now says, “I wanted to learn more about the war in Yugoslavia because it was a war I did not understand. I wasn’t planning on making a movie at all but I was sick for a few days so I was away from my kids, so I thought I’d try to write a screenplay – just for me, for fun, nobody would ever see it. I decided to start with two people who loved each other deeply and then end with one of them killing the other.”

That of course, would be In The Land of Milk and Honey.

“If you saw me in the days before making that film; my lack of faith in myself, I was a mess.”

Today she is infinitely more at ease although First They Killed My Father was not without its difficulties. “It wasn’t easy, standing there with your friend while you recreate scenes of her father being taken and killed.”

With her son Maddox working long hours, serving as an executive producer, she says. “I wanted him to work hard and give himself back to his country.”

A champion of women’s rights for all, Jolie instantly signed on to co-produce The Breadwinner, writing in Harpers Bazaar about the inequality of a word where millions of women and girls – such as the 11-year-old girl portrayed in the film – have to go to work instead of school to support their families.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

awfjspotlightsmallsmallangelina eyesAs much as she is passionate about film, it’s her humanitarian work which brings the greatest satisfaction. “The people who I’ve met over the years are truly my heroes. These are people who have taught me how to be a better mother and a better person; how to appreciate life and what to value and what to live by. I’d rather remain in that world and learn from them and if I can do films that bring their stories to life, then I think that’s important.”

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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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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Jolie and Loung Ung Honored, WONDER WOMAN Top Grosser, The Guardian’s Women’s Cinema Canon

Filmmaker, actor and activist Angelina Jolie and author-activist Loung Ung will receive the Hollywood Foreign Language Film Award at the 21st Annual Hollywood Film Awards for their critically-acclaimed film “First They Killed My Father,” which is also Cambodia’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. ‘Wonder Woman’ sill soars at the box office to become the top-grossing superhero origin film. Writer-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s “Loving Vincent” sets new standards in animation art. The Guardian proposes a new cinematic canon chosen by women. Note that the members of the Alliance of Women Film Journalist created a Top 100 Films list a decade ago in response to AFI’s heavily male dominated Top 100 Films List. And the beat goes on. Read details on THE WEEK IN WOMEN...

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Women Honored at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards — Jennifer Merin reports

ccda200Jane (as in Goodall) was awarded the top honor of Best Documentary and filmmaker Ceyda Torun’s Kedi won the award for Best First Documentary at the second annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards gala, held on November 2 at BRIC in Brooklyn, New York. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT November 2017: Dee Rees, Independently Epic Filmmaker, Director MUDBOUND

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With just a few films to her credit, director Dee Rees is already making an assured and unique mark on American cinema. She brings mature talent, technical skill, and creative vision, all while being true to herself as a gay African-American woman. Available November 17, her latest film Mudbound vividly demonstrates she can extend her intimately emotional filmmaking to an epic scale. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 3, 2017: 11/8/16

motw logo 1-35Anticipation. Excitement. Hope. Worry. Fear. Anger. Despair. On November 8, 2016 — election day — tens of millions of Americans felt one, many, or all of those emotions, no matter who they voted for. And the wide-ranging, collaborative documentary “11/8/16″ brings all of those big feelings right back to the forefront as it chronicles a day that many of us wish we could forget (or at least do over) but that history will always remember. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Best Femme-Helmed, Femme-Centric Films of 2017, November Update

motw logo 1-35Focusing specifically on films directed by women as well as those featuring strong female lead characters and female-centric stories, AWFJ’s Team #MOTW has endorsed more than 40 exceptional films during 2017, to date. Because we pick only one film per week for #MOTW endorsement, we’ve had to pass up a good number of superb films that qualified, but were not our collective top choice. In August we paused to list the Best Femme-Helmed, Femme-Centric Film of 2017, to Date, including #MOTW selections and others we’d particularly liked. Now that awards season is beginning, we’re updating that list to include films released from August through the end of October. Continue reading…

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