SPOTLIGHT December, 2017: Angelina Jolie, Humanitarian Filmmaker

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.

angelina head 1

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.”


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.”


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.”


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.


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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TIFF 2017: Angela Robinson on PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN — Pam Grady Interviews (Exclusive)

angela robinsn headtiff logoOne of the happy surprises of Toronto International Film Festival 2017, Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Women, may share the same DNA as Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster Wonder Woman, but it is an altogether different animal. This erotically charged, real-life drama spins the tale of how Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston’s (Luke Evans) muses, his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), led him to create the comic-book superheroine. The film is a fresh, sexy take on the origins of Amazonian warrior Diana. Writer/director Angela Robinson tells us her own origin story that starts with the gift of a book about a childhood favorite, as she reveals the wonder of William Moulton Marston and his women. Continue reading…

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TIFF 2017: Of Evil Mothers, Courageous Women and Oscars Buzz!– Julide Tanriverdi reports

tiff logoActresses showed impressive range in a variety of roles at this year’s TIFF. Sure, people were talking about the incredible performance of Gary Oldman in The Darkest Hour as Winston Churchill during during the festival. After all that’s what one does during a 10 day long festival – talk movies and performances. We can all agree more or less that we can mark a big X in the yet to be released Oscar nominations for Best Actor Oldman. But more often than not, the true rage at TIFF 17 was about great Oscar buzz-generating performances by women in a wide variety of movies. Continue reading…

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TIFF’s Kathleen Drumm on the 2017 Festival’s ‘Share Her Journey’ Initiative — Interview by Julide Tanriverdi

tiff kathleen drummThere is always talk that there are not enough women in Hollywood. The latest study from the Center for the study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University revealed at the beginning of the year that only 7 percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016 were female – shockingly a decline of two percent compared to numbers in 2015 and in 1998. How is this possible? Why are we always talking and writing about this if there is no improvement? But change might be in the air – at least in Canada. Continue reading…

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At TIFF: New Zealand’s Maori Women Directors talk WARU — Gill Pringle reports

waru posterTold from the viewpoint of nine female filmmakers, Waru is the first feature film from New Zealand to be made by Maori women since Mereta Mita’s Mauri almost 30 years ago. Eight female Maori directors each contributed a ten minute vignette, presented as a continuous shot in real time, that unfolds around the tangi (funeral) of a small boy (Waru) who died at the hands of his caregiver. The vignettes are all subtly interlinked and each follows one of eight female Maori lead characters during the same moment in time as they come to terms with Waru’s death and try to find a way forward in their community. In Maori, waru means 8. Continue reading Gill Pringle’s exclusive report from TIFF on THE FEMALE GAZE

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Women Defy Odds and Demand Room at TIFF Table — Thelma Adams comments

Fuck buzz. That’s how I feel addressing Toronto’s female-driven movies, whether directed by women or not. Because buzz reflects the 80 percent male gender bias, writing about film fails to connect meaningfully with the real audience that is—duh, ask your mothers—50 percent female. For me, the greatest metaphor for the plight of women film artists is Aisling Walsh’s Maudie, an intense wee biopic about the outsider artist Maud Lewis with an Oscar-ripe performance from the great empath Sally Hawkins. (“If it weren’t for Hawkins,” condescends Variety’s Peter Debruge, “there would be little to distinguish Maudie from the sort of 16mm filmstrip made for schoolchildren back in the day.” Wrong!) Read more>>

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@TIFF: Sarah Silverman Talks I SMILE BACK – Janice Page interviews

sarah silverman i smile via pageIn one scene, Sarah Silverman sits topless on a toilet, snorting cocaine. In another, she does lines (not the kind with words) off the same kitchen countertop where she makes and decorates sack lunches for her school-age children. The shock isn’t in seeing Silverman do these things. The New Hampshire-born actress and comedian is well known for feasting on uncomfortable subjects and working blue. What’s surprising is that her latest vehicle is a straight-on drama titled “I Smile Back,” a sobering, seriously downbeat feature film in which Silverman plays the lead — and makes it look as easy as delivering a raunchy joke about Paris Hilton. Read the interview

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@TIFF: Meet Emily Blunt, American Badass – Janice Page interviews

sicario smallerThat’s probably not where we thought Blunt was headed a decade ago, when she played Meryl Streep’s prickly assistant in The Devil Wears Prada. She’s since played a queen (The Young Victoria), a cartoon gnome (Gnomeo & Juliet), a can-do business consultant (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), and Matt Damon’s futuristic crush (The Adjustment Bureau). Then earned sci-fi fan points in Looper, but it wasn’t until last year’s Edge of Tomorrow that “action hero” started looking like a legitimate entry on her resume. Now there’s Sicario and that cements Blunt’s badass qualifications. Read on…

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Ten Noteworthy Female Performances at TIFF 2015 – Pam Grady Reports

tiff logoWith the Toronto International Film Festival, the Oscar season officially opens in North American. Oh, there are other fall festivals that provide a window into awards season, Telluride, New York Film Festival, and Mill Valley Film Festival among them, but Toronto with its hundreds of features is one of the true harbingers of nominations to come. And while there was much emphasis this year on women behind the camera—20% of features and 45% of shorts at TIFF were made by women, according to figures cited by Indiewire—the festival also provided a peek at performances that should warrant attention from Academy voters (or ought to!), if not this season, then next. Read more on THE FEMALE GAZE

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Digging Deeper into Toronto Festival Films – An Overview by Janice Page

tiff logoToronto International Film Festival was overrun with big movies about and by Bostonians. While headlines were grabbed by predictable awards-season contenders, there were just as many smaller films worth noting. A number of them were femme-helmed and femme-centric flashes of genius. Think Laurie Anderson, Julie Delpy, Charlotte Rampling, Sarah Silverman and others. Read more>>

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TIFF 2014 Top Picks – Reviews by Julide Tanriverdi

My personal viewing program at TIFF 2014 included 32 films, and of those, I’ve picked five as my top favorites. Add them to your viewing list as they open in time for the upcoming awqrds season.
Read on…

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TIFF 2014, An Overview – Julide Tanriverdi Reports

It was that time of the year again. Film lovers came in droves to Toronto to spend the last few sunny days of summer inside theaters. The Toronto International Film – TIFF for short – showed over 350 films. Usually known for their distinguished selection that paves the way to the award season, this year they were a little bit overshadowed by other festivals. Cannes, Venice and Telluride showed many of the highly anticipated films already and very few movies celebrated their world premiere on Canadian soil. Read on…

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@ TIFF 2014: Tribute to Ten Canadian Women in Film

Ten Canadian women directors and actors who have had an outstanding year are being honored at TIFF 2014 on September 18 with the Birks Diamond Tribute, presented by Telefilm Canada and Birks (a Canadian jeweler). The honorees have been selected by a pan-Canadian jury of journalists specializing in the arts, culture and entertainment. Who are they and what have they accomplished? Read on…

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