WEEK IN WOMEN news roundup: Natalie Portman wins Israel’s Genesis Prize, Iran makes first Academy Award submission directed by a woman, Sundance Selects acquiring Rachel Dretzin’s documentary ‘Far from the Tree’

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Natalie Portman. Photo provided

Natalie Portman. Photo provided

The Genesis Prize Foundation recently announced that world-renowned actress, director and social activist Natalie Portman has been selected as the 2018 Genesis Prize Laureate.

The annual $1 million award honors extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement, commitment to Jewish values and to the Jewish people, according to a news release.

“I am deeply touched and humbled by this honor. I am proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage; they are crucial parts of who I am. It is such a privilege to be counted among the outstanding Laureates whom I admire so much. I express my heartfelt gratitude to the Genesis Prize Foundation, and look forward to using the global platform it provides to make a difference in the lives of women in Israel and beyond,” Portman said in a statement.

Portman, 36, began her acting career at the age of 12 and has since achieved recognition and praise from audiences around the world. She is a winner of multiple prestigious awards, including an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, the British Academy of Film and Television Award, as well as other industry honors.

Portman was born in Israel and, after moving to the United States as a child, retained a close connection to her Jewish and Israeli roots. In 2015, she directed and acted in “Tale of Love and Darkness,” a Hebrew-language film made in Israel and based on the novel by an Israeli writer Amos Oz.

Portman is noted for her social activism in such areas as gender equality, combating poverty, microfinance, and animal rights. She is a graduate of Harvard University, where she returned to deliver a commencement speech in May 2015.

“We are delighted to celebrate Natalie Portman as the 2018 Genesis Prize Laureate,” said Stan Polovets, co-founder and Chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation, in a statement. “Natalie’s charismatic on-screen presence has touched the hearts of millions. Her talent, her commitment to social causes and her deep connection to her Jewish and Israeli roots are greatly admired. She exemplifies the core traits of the Jewish character and values of the Jewish people – persistence and hard work, pursuit of excellence, intellectual curiosity, and a heartfelt desire to contribute to making the world a better place. Without a doubt, she is a role model for millions of young Jews around the world.”

In keeping with the tradition established by the previous Genesis Prize Laureates, $1 million will be granted to philanthropic programs in Portman’s honor. The programs will focus on advancing women’s equality in all aspects of human endeavor. In particular, funds will be used for grants to organizations involved in promoting women’s educational opportunities, economic advancement, health and safety, and full participation in policy formulation and political activity. A significant portion of the funds will be channeled to programs advancing women’s equality in Israel.

Portman becomes the fifth winner of the annual $1 million Genesis Prize. Previous Laureates of the Award, dubbed “the Jewish Nobel” by Time Magazine, are former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2014), actor and peace activist Michael Douglas (2015), virtuoso violinist and advocate for people with disabilities Itzhak Perlman (2016) and prominent sculptor and activist for the rights of refugees Sir Anish Kapoor (2017).

Portman will be honored at the Genesis Prize Ceremony in Jerusalem in June 2018.

Sareh Nour Mousavi appears in a scene from Iranian writer-director Narges Abyar's "Nafas," or "Breath." Noor Taban Film Company photo

Sareh Nour Mousavi appears in a scene from Iranian writer-director Narges Abyar’s “Nafas,” or “Breath.” Noor Taban Film Company photo

Iran makes first Academy Award submission directed by a woman

Writer-director Narges Abyar’s “Nafas,” a movie about a young girl whose fantasy world helps her escape the difficult realities of growing up in the countryside near Tehran in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is Iran’s first-ever submission for the Academy Awards’ foreign film directed by a woman.

“Cinema, culture and art do not recognize any border, but in fact bring humanity closer together,” Abyar, 47, told the Associated Press in a recent interview.

“Nafas,” or “Breath,” focuses on Bahar (Sareh Nour Mousavi), a spirited girl whose asthmatic father is bringing her and her siblings up on his own, with the help from the children’s religious grandmother. According to the Associated Press, the film shows the rapid changes that hit Iran after the Islamic Revolution, and later, as Scud missiles fall, Iraq’s invasion of Iran and the start of the ruinous eight-year war.

Parts of the film take place in Bahar’s imagination as she tries to escape the hardship around her.

“The only thing that could destroy her fantasies and imagination was war,” Abyar told the AP, acknowledging she made an anti-war film. “This film shows us the obscene face of war that we should avoid, this is what politicians won’t tell you.”

According to the AP, the film’s topics have proven controversial for Iran’s hard-liners who describe the Iran-Iraq war in religious terms as the “Holy Defense” of the Shiite power from dictator Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government. They have criticized Abyar despite the fact that her first film, “Shiar 143″ or “Track 143,” earned hard-liners’ praise for focusing on the role of mothers during the Iran-Iraq war.

“This movie is showing exactly what our enemies in the West want to see,” hard-line cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda, an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the AP.

In “Breath,” Bahar refuses to attend Quranic classes, alleging her teacher was being mean to her. Her uncle later teaches the girl how to read the holy book — though she prefers another that she found despite a plot she cannot grasp, a story about girls being kidnapped and put in a house full of prostitutes.

“The West is already spreading enough negative propaganda against us, so we shouldn’t spend our taxes on such a film,” Gen. Mohammed Reza Naghdi, a senior commander of Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, told the AP, noting that the state-run Farabi Cinema Foundation submitted “Breath” for the Oscar.

Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, now in his second term in office, has promised to increase women’s participation in film, noted the AP. However, it isn’t clear whether his pledge helped Abyar garner the nomination for “Breath.”

It also remains unclear whether Abyar would be able to get a visa to attend the Oscars in March under President Donald Trump’s travel bans. Last year, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with his film “The Salesman,” but declined to attend the award ceremony because of Trump’s travel ban.

Abyar told the AP she and her husband would attend the awards if they are granted visas, but she didn’t hold back from criticizing Trump herself.

“We should go for a language that brings nations closer together, not the language of hatred or the one that creates a gap between nations,” she said. “This is a thing that is happening in the U.S. and we see that the art community does not like this.”

Nominations for the Oscars will be announced in January.

Filmmaker Rachel Dretzin. Courtesy photo

Filmmaker Rachel Dretzin. Courtesy photo

Sundance Selects acquiring Rachel Dretzin’s documentary ‘Far from the Tree’

Sundance Selects recently announced that the company is acquiring U.S. and Canadian rights to Rachel Dretzin’s documentary, “Far from the Tree,” which made its world premiere Nov. 10 at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival.

The premiere screening at the festival sold out in record time, with two more screenings added to the schedule due to popular demand, according to a news release.

Based on the award-winning book by acclaimed author Andrew Solomon, “Far from the Tree” is billed as an inspiring look at the difficulties and rewards of both raising and being a child whose life is vastly different from that of his or her parents.

Directed by Dretzin, an Emmy Award winner for “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,” the film follows several families as they cope with the challenges presented by Down syndrome, dwarfism, autism and even having a child in prison. The film shares their intimate stories with touching candor, and in doing so reveals basic truths about all parents and all children.

“Sundance Selects has a fantastic track record and their plans for the film are very much in sync with what we had hoped for. It’s a delight and an honor to have them on board,” Dretzin said in a statement.

From Participant Media, in association with Flux Films an Ark Media production, “Far from the Tree” was produced by Dretzin, Solomon and Jamila Ephron. Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann serve as executive producers, along with Mary Bing of Flux Films.

“I was delighted to find in Rachel Dretzin a filmmaker who could translate my book into a gorgeous and compelling film, and now I’m thrilled that the film has found in Sundance Selects a distributor who shares our vision. This will be the perfect path for this deeply moving film to meet its audience,” Solomon said in a statement.

The film is slated for theatrical release during summer 2018, according to the release.

“‘Far from the Tree’ is an inspiring and irresistibly moving journey into the differences that make us who we are. It builds on Andrew Solomon’s landmark book to paint a complex and universal portrait of acceptance with an empathy and scale that only true cinema can do,” said Jonathan Sehring and Lisa Schwartz, co-presidents of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, in a statement.

The film features original music by Yo La Tengo and Nico Muhly. Cinematography is by Sam Russell and Wolfgang Held, with Ben Gold serving as editor. Ephron co-directed and Steve Golliday co-edited.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow. Courtesy photo

Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow. Courtesy photo

Kathryn Bigelow, Kate Winslet and more honored at Patron of the Artists Awards

The SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s second Patron of the Artists Awards honored industry leaders and artists who are champions for the arts and whose history of fostering creativity and creating opportunities has made a positive impact on the performing arts and the world. The event took place last Thursday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, California.

The Patron of the Artists Awards recipients were Academy Award-winning director and producer Kathryn Bigelow who was presented the award by her “Detroit” star Anthony Mackie; celebrated director, writer and producer Judd Apatow, who was presented his award by the cast of “The Big Sick,” Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano; and visionary Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos who was presented his award by “The Meyerowitz Stories (Old and New)” star Adam Sandler.

Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet (“Wonder Wheel”) was presented with the Actors Inspiration Award by her “Titantic” co-star Kathy Bates, according to a news release.

Internationally renowned singer-songwriter, record producer, and philanthropist Lionel Richie (“American Idol”) was presented with the inaugural Recording Artists Inspiration Award by friend Michael Keaton.

The Patron of the Artists Awards raised money for the nonprofit’s programs which provide aid to artists facing life-threatening illness or economic hardship, free educational resources and workshops for performers, and free children’s literacy programs worldwide, according to the news release.

Performers included Kristen Bell, who sang “Just a Spare,” a deleted song from the film “Frozen”; Sara Bareilles, who performed “If I Dare,” an original song from the feature film “Battles of the Sexes”; multiple Oscar-nominated songwriter Dianne Warren, who sang “Stand Up for Something,” which she wrote for the feature film “Marshall”; Renee Olstead, who sang “Blue Velvet” and whose latest single, “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” dropped last month; and actress/singer Katharine McPhee (“Scorpion”), who sang “Night & Day.”

Other presenters included Andrew Garfield, Jake Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Anthony Mackie, Mandy Moore, Gary Oldman, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tatiana Maslany. SAG-AFTRA Foundation President JoBeth Williams and Executive Director Cyd Wilson spoke on behalf of the nonprofit.

Celebrity guests in attendance included Laz Alonso, Nicole Avant, Claes Bang, Jamie Bell, Gabrielle Carteris, Max Carver, Tom Cullen, Terry Crews, Kat Graham, Malcolm David Kelley, Tyler James Williams, Sharon Lawrence, Ray Liotta, Kate Mara, Chrissy Metz, Rita Moreno, Chris O’Dowd, Sofia Richie, Rochelle Rose, Algee Smith, Ryder Strong, Sean Patrick Thomas, Amber Stevens West, Zelda Williams, and Kevin Zeggers.

-BAM

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