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Filmmaker Alice Foulcher on Collaboration, Multitasking, Fame and THAT’S NOT ME — Interview by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Exclusive)

alice foulcher white shirtThat’s Not Me, the Australian independent comedy that premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and won audiences awards at both the Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival, was made with an extraordinarily low budget of $45,000 by filmmakers Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher. Receiving rave reviews from The Guardian and Time Out, the self-funded comedy seems to exemplify a trend in Australian cinema, where creatives are finding alternate ways of making movies outside the orthodox framework of notoriously genre-shy formal, institutionalized funding bodies. The local and international acclaim for Foulcher and Erdstein’s breakout film promises the creative couple a bright future, and Foulcher here takes time to discuss the background of That’s Not Me, her feelings about the film industry in Australia, collaboration, fame and future work. 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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JUSTICE LEAGUE — Review by Susan Granger

When William Shakespeare wrote, “It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing,” he could have been summarizing “Justice League.” Or, let’s put it this way: How is it that when you’re given everything, you come away with nothing?” Continue reading…

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THE BREADWINNER — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

breadwinner poster“Stay inside where you belong.” Again and again in The Breadwinner, 11-year-old Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is reminded of her place. A girl in 2001 Kabul, she’s surrounded by war and threatened by the Taliban. She’s not supposed to read, think for herself, or go outside without a man, she’s not supposed to show her face and she’s certainly not supposed to work a job. A the same time, however, her father Nurullah (Ali Badshah), a teacher, encourages her to explore the world around her, to feel confident and to tell and listen to stories, because, he says, “Stories remain in our hearts even when all else is gone.” Continue reading…

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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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SPOTLIGHT September 2017: MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher.com Film Critic and Activist

awfjspotlightsmallsmallOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPioneering film critic MaryAnn Johanson celebrates the twentieth anniversary of her popular FilckFilosopher.com website this month; an impressive enough feat in itself. That MaryAnn has established herself as a distinct, influential and prolific feminist critic in a fiercely competitive and male-dominated industry, however, is testament not just to her boundless knowledge of and passion for film, but also of her extraordinary tenacity and determination. Continue reading…

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MENASHE — Review by Martha K. Baker

“All beginnings are hard,” it is written in the Tal-mud. And Menashe is finding life hard since he lost his wife Leah a year ago. His son Rieven has gone to, or been sent to, his mother’s brother’s house to live. Menashe, a hapless, portly Jew, wants his son back. The rabbi of his tightly constrained Hasidic com-munity, shown in tight camera shots, grants Menashe a week to earn his son back. It’s the week before Leah’s memorial, which her brother thinks should be held at his house, not in Menashe’s crowded flat. In that week, Menashe does everything wrong. Continue reading…

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THE GLASS CASTLE — Review by Martha K. Baker

To read of family dysfunction, an alcoholic father slapping his child, an artsy mom not feeding her bairn is one thing. To see it on the screen is so painful as to be avoided. That is the case with “The Glass Castle,” based on the 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls. Continue reading…

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DETROIT — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

detroit posterDetroit‘s focus on the 11 hours at the Algiers doesn’t expose racism as deviance as much as it displays its patterns. Like the other two movies in Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s war film trilogy, Detroit lurches occasionally, from journalism to sensationalism, from personal experiences to cultural critique. Less invested in any particular character than The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty, the new film poses a compelling challenge to that framework as a way to interrogate systems. Its focus on racism, the driving force of this war (as it is of most wars) presents it as a pathology and a system, alive in a past that is hardly over. Continue reading…

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In The Muck of It: The Films of Ann Turner — Profile by Alexandra Heller Nicholas

Ann Turner - Photo by Kristian Gehradte

Ann Turner – Photo by Kristian Gehradte

I’m sitting in a small private booth at the Australian Mediatheque at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image, waiting while an old 16mm film is being set up on a vintage Steenbeck for viewing. It feels like the end of a pilgrimage, the last of Australian author, screenwriter and director Ann Turner’s films I left have to see: this is her 1981 student short, Flesh on Glass, made during her time at the Swinburne Film School (soon to become the Victorian College of the Arts). Continue reading…

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Ana Lily and Sofia and the Diversity Issue — Jennifer Merin comments

Ana Lily Amirpour and Sofia Coppola are female directors whose unique perspectives in filmmaking have attached the term auteur to their names and bodies of work. Yet, both directors are being tagged as ‘racist’ in criticism of their current productions. Continue reading…

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THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE – Review by Susan Granger

As years go by, more and more poignant survival stories that have been buried in Holocaust history are surfacing. This one begins on a beautiful day in 1939 at Poland’s Warsaw Zoo, where Antonia Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) is helping her husband Jan (Belgian actor Johan Heldenberg) tend the animals. That afternoon, she resuscitates a newborn elephant calf who cannot breathe – with its distraught mother’s at her side. But then German aircraft appear overhead, and bombs reign down, killing many of the terrified beasts, while others escape to roam the city’s streets. Read on…

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THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE — Review by Martha K. Baker

zookeepers wife poster In case you think there are already too many films about the Holocaust, consider this: the managers of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam have to add more history of the Holocaust so that the people who stood in line for two hours know what they’re looking at.
“The Zookeeper’s Wife” presents one of those personal stories within the context of history. The film, while not as smashing a piece of art as “Schindler’s List,” holds up nobly in the sub-genre that is the Holocaust film.
It opens in Poland in 1939 as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party storms in. The Zabinskis, who run the Warsaw Zoo, are caught in the blitz, but they soon figure out a way to bedevil the enemy. Jan and Antonina have Jewish friends. They are not going to let them suffer, so they offer them succor, albeit hunkering under garbage. Read on...

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LIFE — Review by Susan Granger

Several years ago, renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking cautioned that contact with alien life could spell disaster for the human race: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the American Indians.” But Hawking’s grim warning has not deterred cosmic exploration. Read on…

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KEDI — Review by Martha K. Baker

If all you know of cats is what you see on Facebook, you will be amazed by “Kedi.” If what you know about cats comes from your resident feline, you will be soothed and assured by “Kedi.” This documentary explores the world of cats in Istanbul, where they reign and roam. ‘Kedi’ offers feline philosophy in Istanbul Read on…

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AWFJ Movie of the Week, November 21 – November 25: Miss Sloane

Film Title: Miss. SloaneIf you have the stomach for corruption in the political arena, then director John Madden’s new drama Miss Sloane might be just the ticket. If you have had your fill of politicking, bad behaviour and ruthlessness in the real world, watching even more on movie screens might seem a little like an extended torture session. Read on…

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Kathriyn Bostic and Miriam Cutler Talk About the Alliance of Women Film Composers — Liz Whittemore Interviews

AWFC_logo_B_on_W_400x85I had the wonderful opportunity to interview two board members of the Alliance of Women Film Composers (AWFC), a group I consider to be sister to AWFJ. AWFC’s mission statement is as follows:

Through advocacy, support and education, the Alliance for Women Film Composers aims to increase the visibility of women composers active in media scoring. The AFWC advocates for the inclusion of women composers within industry events; supports filmmakers, game developers and studios in their inclusion of women composers; and educates, mentors and inspires emerging women composers.
I spoke with Kathryn Bostic and Miriam Cutler about the challenges and advantages of this unique group of women in the industry. Read more…
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THE SHALLOWS — Review by Susan Granger

Still grieving over the death of her mother, Nancy (Blake Lively) is a medical school drop-out who decides to pay an homage visit and surf on her mother’s favorite Mexican beach: a remote, jungle-enshrouded crescent-shaped cove that’s almost totally deserted. After making a few phone calls to check-in with her dad and younger sister in Galveston, Texas, Nancy zips on the top of her wetsuit, tethers her foot to her surfboard and wades into the waves. Read on…

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Christy Beam Talks About MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN and Being the Subject of a Movie — Diana Saenger Interviews

Christy Beam.   Photo by Sunny Mays Photography

Christy Beam. Photo by Sunny Mays Photography

Miracles From Heaven, adapted by Randy Brown from the book by Christy Wilson Beam, became a movie with a surprising true story that has enthralled moviegoers all over the world. Domestic Total as of May,1, 2016 was $59,657,409. How does one explain the impossible was a question Beam faced when she decided to write her family story regarding their journey through faith, fear and pain of their daughter Annabel’s chronic illness? Beam set aside time to be interviewed about this experience. Read on…

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EYE IN THE SKY — Review by Susan Granger

Starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman, this timely British thriller about drone warfare turns out to be a real nail-biter. It begins in a Cabinet office in London, where Lt. Gen. Frank Benson (Rickman) and several officials realize they’ve ascertained the exact location in Nairobi, Kenya, where several people on their Most Wanted list have convened, including a radicalized British woman with an Al-Shabaab militant. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT January 2016: Jennifer Phang, Filmmaker, Advantageous

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It has been a whirlwind year for filmmaker Jennifer Phang, since Advantageous made its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. where she and Jacqueline Kim, Phang’s co-screenwriter as well as star, were awarded a special jury prize for collaborative vision. The film has found a home with Netflix and has been nominated for the John Cassavetes Award, the Independent Spirit Award prize for the best film with a budget of under $500,000. Read on…

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SHAUN THE SHEEP – Review by Susan Granger

After making his debut 20 years ago in Nick Park’s Oscar-winning “Wallace and Gromit” outing “A Close Shave,” Shaun the Sheep has become a British TV favorite. Now, he has his own full-length feature film. For a rebellious ram, like Shaun (vocalized by Justin Fletcher), life at Mossy Bottom Farm can get a bit tiresome. Every day, the Farmer (vocalized by John Sparkes) and his loyal sheepdog Blitzer (also Sparkes) take Shaun and the rest of the flock to graze in the fields. Read more>>

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AWFJ Movie of the Week, July 20-26: PIXELS

Opening July 24, the AWFJ Movie of the Week is Pixelsthe new family sci-fi actioner from seasoned director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter, Rent, Percy Jackson). The premise promises high-concept hi-jinx as, after misinterpreting video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, aliens attack the earth by taking the form of video game characters, so opening the door for a rag tag group of gaming aficionados to save the day for real. Read on…

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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – Review by Susan Granger

Set 10 years after “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), this sci-fi adventure takes place in California’s Bay Area, where genetically-enhanced, now-mature Cesar (Andy Serkis), is living in a thatched village with his mate (Judy Greer), who has just given birth, and their older son (Nick Thurston). Statesmanlike, Cesar has established a primitive, familial society, governed by strict cultural rules, like “Ape no kill ape,” taught by the wise orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval). Read on…

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