LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The very idea of going off the grid sounds mighty appealing right about now. No cable news. No digital gadgets. No concerns about the future save for surviving day by day by using your own wits. Leave No Trace presents a truth-based back-to-nature utopia of sorts shared by Will, a military vet dad who has been left traumatized by his years of service, and Tom, his precociously perceptive teen daughter. Their tight bond as they live off the land in a nature reserve outside of Portland has echoes Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Thoreau’s Walden, yet feels like it is just the relief we need from our tumultuous times. Continue reading…

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LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Nikki Baughan

With films like Winter’s Bone and documentary Stray Dog, Debra Granik has proved herself to be a masterful explorer of life on the margins of society. Her latest work, Leave No Trace – an adaptation of the novel by Peter Rock – again concerns itself with individuals attempting to exist outside societal norms and, in doing so, proves to be a moving study of love, loss and what it means to truly belong. Continue reading…

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LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Cate Marquis

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a gem of a film, a quietly gripping drama about a father and daughter living in a large heavily-forested park outside Portland, Oregon. The power of this film is in its warmth and authenticity, particularly in the the close bond between father and daughter. The film has moments of fear and suspense but there are no car chases, explosions or mayhem, just the drama of human life, a veteran coping with his trauma and trying his best to raise his daughter, a daughter who loves her father but does not share his inner demons. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 22, 2018: WOMAN WALKS AHEAD

motw logo 1-35History becomes “her”story (with a few factual tweaks) in Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead, which introduces audiences to Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a determined portrait artist who defies convention — and the U.S. government — in the late 1880s to fulfill her dream of painting legendary warrior Sitting Bull and learning about the Lakota people (who are part of the Sioux tribes). Chastain delivers another excellent performance as Weldon, who ultimately finds more than artistic inspiration on the open prairies. Continue reading…

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WOMAN WALKS AHEAD — Review by Nikki Baughan

woman walks ahead posterThe exploration of history through the female experience remains a rare thing in filmmaking – and perhaps nowhere more so than in the Western genre. Director Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead boldy takes on this overtly masculine cinematic landscape with this sensitive portrayal of real-life Native American rights campaigner Catherine Weldon, who travelled from 1880s New York City to the Dakota plains in order to paint legendary Chief Sitting Bull and subsequently became embroiled in their fight to regain control of their lands. Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN — Review by Diane Carson

mountain posterMountain surveys attitudes toward the world’s highest peaks. Director Jennifer Peedom’s documentary essay is as varied as the subject it tackles. From black-and-white archival footage of the first mountaineers to contemporary high-tech daredevils, the relationship between humans and mountains encompasses everything from awe to terror, triumphs to disasters, enthralled obsession to unfettered risk taking. While not in depth on any one element, this overall meditative, fairly solemn consideration delivers a moving tribute to nature and a provocative examination of individuals confronting our highest peaks. Continue reading…

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WOMAN WALKS AHEAD — Review by Cate Marquis

Director Susanna White’s woman-centric Western stars Jessica Chastain as a painter who travels from New York into the West with the intention of painting Sitting Bull. Once again, Chastain lands a role as a strong woman carving out her own way in the world. The story is based on a real person, who did travel to North Dakota and became a confidant and adviser to the Lakota chief. Continue reading…

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WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST — Review by MaryAnn Johanson

WESTWOOD POSTERShe’s been a fixture of the counterculture since, well, she helped invent the punk aesthetic in London in the 1970s with her then-partner Malcolm McLaren, who dressed the band he managed — the Sex Pistols — in clothes she made, such as a T-shirt with straitjacket-esque too-long sleeves. Today, in her 70s, she remains an iconoclast in her artistic sense, her designs alive with funky prints and retro-futuristic shapes, as well as in her business sense: her company is almost unique among the big designers in that it is completely independent, not a subsidiary of a global corporation. So it’s difficult to believe that there hasn’t been a significant documentary about Vivienne Westwood until now. Continue reading…

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WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST — Review by Cate Marquis

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, Lorna Tucker’s documentary of British punk fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, profiles a remarkable woman whose successful career grew out of her roots as a founder of the punk rock movement. Tucker introduces us to a true rebel, whose fashions are infused with both punk style and her own political activism, a woman who is as bold and cutting-edge in her 70s as in her 20s. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT June 2018: Andrea Riseborough, Actress, Director, Producer, Outspoken Activist

andrea riseborough head 3This month’s Alliance of Women Film Journalists SPOTLIGHT is on quadruple talent Andrea Riseborough, who in addition to writing, acting, and producing, has recently added directing to her arsenal of skills and cache of passions. If her name only barely rings a bell, don’t worry. As a performer, Riseborough is a chameleon who prefers to slip herself completely into each acting role. She never looks the same way twice. In fact, even if fans have been following her career since her first appearance, they are still unlikely to know her real hair color. They may not even be able to recognize her on the street. In speaking to Riseborough about her career and latest role as producer and star of the indie release Nancy, she makes it clear she couldn’t care less about celebrity recognition. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 1, 2018: SOCIAL ANIMALS

motw logo 1-35There’s no question about it — adulting is hard. But sometimes, as the characters in writer/director Theresa Bennett’s debut comedy Social Animals learn, you have to step up and be the grown-up in the room. Especially if that also means you get to be a bit happier and more fulfilled than you were before. Social Animals follows a group of quirky, young, mostly female Austinites as they grapple with careers (or lack thereof), relationships (ditto), and friendship. Continue reading…

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SOCIAL ANIMALS — Review by Cate Marquis

social animals posterWriter/director Theresa Bennett’s debut feature film Social Animals is a light, quirky comedy about modern romance, Austin, TX style. Social Animals doesn’t offer social commentary, so much as kind of mock social commentary, and is so packed with quirk and ironic Millennial humor about sex, friendship, relationships and just trying to make a living, that it may explode. Continue reading…

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RBG — Review by Diane Carson

RBG celebrates Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s amazing career and life. Twice in the documentary, Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimké, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” RBG’s decades of legal work is testament to her lifetime commitment to human dignity and equality. Continue reading…

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MARY SHELLEY — Review by Cate Marquis

It is a bit surprising that no one else has made a movie about English author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the writing of her book Frankenstein, arguably the first science fiction novel. Interestingly, it is Haifaa Al-Mansour, a ground-breaking woman who directs Mary Shelley. Al-Mansour is the first Saudi woman director, and the film’s script is by another woman, Emma Jensen. Elle Fanning plays Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the teen girl who falls for poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, an admirer of her radical philosopher father William Godwin. Continue reading...

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LITTLE PINK HOUSE – Review by Martha K. Baker

little pink house posterLittle Pink House is a subdued look at a hated judicial ruling. This is one for the Supreme Court: in a 5-4 decision, Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.) judges gave officials of the city government the right, the power, to raze a neighborhood so a corporation, not a hospital or a library but a multi-million-dollar corporation, could benefit. That neighborhood happens to be where Susette Kelo bought a ramshackle house in 2000 and painted it pink. She had no idea that her property would interest the fine folks at the Pfizer Corp. Its officers came to New London, enticed by the mayor and by a public relations agent, to develop on waterfront property. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 11, 2018: MOUNTAIN

motw logo 1-35The word “majestic” doesn’t do justice to the stunning visuals in Jennifer Peedom’s documentary “Mountain” — but it’s quite possible that no word is up to the task of capturing this film’s sweeping, monumental imagery. When combined with the gravitas of Willem Dafoe’s narration and the power of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s score (composed by Richard Tognetti), the result is a movie that begs to be seen on the largest, highest-definition screen available. Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Mountain is a thing unto itself. It isn’t so much a documentary as it is a mesmerizingly immersive tone poem. It intentionally frees the mind — aided by a mood-enhancing chamber music score and an essay-like narration provided by Willem Dafoe — from having to absorb facts and figures or names and places. Instead, the viewer is given license to simply be in the moment while enjoying an up-close and personal perch to safely contemplate mankind’s need to conquer these soaring monoliths. Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

mountain posterDocumentarian Jennifer Peedom follows up her marvelous 2015 film Sherpa with another, and very different, perspective on the most soaring elements of our planet’s geography. Mountain is a meditative contemplation on the allure and the mystery, the provocation and the danger of the world’s highest peaks, as places but also as ideas. The perceptive and poetic narration, written by Peedom and Robert Macfarlane and voiced by Willem Dafoe, is full of beauty — the “siren song of the summit”; “the mountains we climb are the mountains of the mind” — and snark: show-offy extreme athletes who helicopter up mountains and snowboard avalanches down, for the Instagram likes and the lulz, highlight how we are “half in love with ourselves and half in love with oblivion.” Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN — Review by Cate Marquis

Mountain starts in a different way from most films about mountains and their majesty. Instead of opening with mountains, we see black and white images of an orchestra tuning up and actor Willem Dafoe preparing to deliver his narration as the opening credits roll. Then there is a brief quote, “Those who dance are considered mad by those who cannot hear the music,” and the mountains make their entrance. Perhaps that opening quote describes those who risk all just to climb the planet’s highest peaks. Continue reading…

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THE RIDER — Review by Diane Carson

Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn is The Rider in the film of that title. Brady, family and friends play barely altered versions of themselves in what is close to a documentary. All credit to Chinese writer/director Chloé Zhao who sets and shoots the main action of this poignant character study on the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux Reservation. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 27, 2018: LET THE SUNSHINE IN

motw logo 1-35Claire Denis’ romantic dramedy Let the Sunshine In stars Juliette Binoche as Isabelle, a smart, sophisticated Parisian artist and divorcee who’s only missing one thing in her life: true love. She meets plenty of men who want to sleep with her, but there’s something off about all of them; some are married, some are too full of themselves to be able to properly nurture a partner, some are exes who should clearly stay that way. Continue reading…

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LET THE SUNSHINE IN — Review by Cate Marquis

Juliette Binoche plays a middle-aged Parisian artist who is searching for true love, the French-language Let the Sunshine In. Director Claire Denis takes us on as emotional journey with Binoche, one that leads more to self discovery and insights than romance, as her character explores romantic possibilities. Surprisingly, this is the first film collaboration of these two giants of French cinema. The film is billed as romantic comedy but the comedy is both subtle and very French. Also very French are the conversations, which often tend towards the philosophical and world weariness, with a dash of idealistic hope. Continue reading…

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LITTLE PINK HOUSE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

little pink house posterMay we all be so lucky to have an always-mesmerizing actress like Catherine Keener play us if our lives ever inspire a film. Within the first few minutes of Little Pink House, the two-time Oscar nominee swiftly establishes real-life paramedic and nurse Susette Kelo as a thoughtful and quietly alluring life force to be reckoned with. Just the way she tends to the ailing mother of an old classmate and puts her at ease during an ambulance ride suggests she would be someone you would want to be at your side in a fight. It is not so surprising, then, that Susette would end up being the compelling face and voice of a nearly decade-long legal battle that would pit Big Pharma against blue-collar residents over the right of their town’s officials to invoke “eminent domain” to force them out of their humble abodes. The landmark case would eventually be tried by the Supreme Court in 2005 with Susette as the plaintiff. Continue reading…

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LITTLE PINK HOUSE — Review by Cate Marquis

A pink house is not for everyone but it was just right for Susette Kelo, especially with a lovely river view. When a local economic redevelopment organization tries to seize the Connecticut cottage she so lovingly rehabbed for a project to lure a Big Pharma company to the financially-strapped town, she fights – all the way to the Supreme Court. Continue reading…

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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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