JUST THE TWO OF US – Review by Leslie Combemale

Just the Two of Us is a sort of no bullshit, very French profile of one woman’s trauma that brings to mind that slick 90s US studio release Sleeping With the Enemy, which starred Julia Roberts. This new film features an actress who could be arguably labeled the Julia Roberts of France, Virginie Efira. Her character Blanche goes down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, fear, and shame many women suffering abuse go through, and being a French release, it’s not at all certain audiences will get the same kind of slick studio ending, or even whether she’ll survive.

Read more

MISSING FROM FIRE TRAIL ROAD (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

If you like fearless, determined, powerful women unafraid of confrontation and passionate about getting answers and making change, you’ll find much to connect with Sabrina Van Tassel’s documentary Missing From Fire Trail Road. For those whose interest is piqued, French American director and investigative journalist Van Tassel’s film tackles the subject of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women through the search for one such loss, Mary Ellen Johnson-Davis from the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State, who disappeared in 2020.

Read more

MADE IN ETHIOPIA (Tribeca 2024)- Review by Leslie Combemale

The film examines the growing industrialization taking place in the country, and the larger impact of China on Africa, through the microlens of what’s happening in one enormous Chinese industrial park located less than an hour outside of Addis Ababa. Made in Ethiopia presents a sort of slow burn in how it reveals issues, in part because it was filmed over the course of 4 years. Those years include the pandemic and a civil war in Ethiopia. What starts out as optimistic devolves and derails before the viewers’ eyes. It’s compelling filmmaking, but unfortunately tragic for the subjects living the experience.

Read more

DRIVER (Tribeca 2024)- Review by Leslie Combemale

Documentarian Nesa Azimi’s alternatively meditative, enraging, and joyful Driver follows Desiree Wood, long haul trucker, educator, and founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Real Women in Trucking, as well as a number of her female fellow truckers. It shows their experiences, which range from struggling to keep their trucks, stay housed, and stay safe, to finding camaraderie, mentorship, and a true sisterhood with each other. The amount of harassment, aggression, sexual abuse, and manipulation by big industry (or what they call “Mega Trucking”) is worse that most people could possibly imagine. Rape culture is alive and thriving all around them.

Read more

BAM BAM: THE SISTER NANCY STORY (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

The 1982 Reggae tune Bam Bam is the sort of anthem of female empowerment that transcends time and genre. It represents one of the rare female-led reggae performances of that or any era, making Sister Nancy a star at the tender age of 20. Bam Bam has been used and sampled hundreds of times since its release, by some of the most famous musicians in the business. Royalties that should have gone to Sister Nancy and her collaborators never came her way. Over the years the tune continued to get new fans, but Sister Nancy had to take a job as an accountant to support her career as a performer. Oh, and another thing, for all the time since its original recording, the master tapes have been missing.

Read more

ADULT BEST FRIENDS (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Adult Best Friends stars and is co-written by real life best friends Delaney Buffett and Katie Corwin. Buffett also directs, and Corwin acts as executive producer. This isn’t something I knew going in, but the script is so tight and the performances are so engaging, I wondered if one or both of them were helming the indie in some way. There’s an ease and chemistry between them that seems to go beyond their fearless performances. That’s not to say they aren’t fully invested in their roles. Both have said in interviews that their characters are exaggerations of themselves, and thank Goddess. In the film, Delaney is the sort of disaster area that will make audiences vacillate between wanting to flip her off or give her a hug.

Read more

SPOTLIGHT June, 2024: ANDRIA WILSON MIRZA, Producer, Gender Equity Activist, Head of ReFrame and the ReFrame Stamp

Reaching parity for female filmmakers and women above and below the line, as well as working to raise the number of trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming individuals in Hollywood and around the world is one of the most challenging jobs in the film industry. It’s also a formula for a better world. Seeing ourselves onscreen, having men see us onscreen, impacts our acceptance not only in film but all aspects of society. As an intersectional filmmaker herself, and former executive director of Inside Out, Canada’s largest LGBTQ+ Film Festival, Andria is the perfect subject to spotlight for June. Thank you Andria, for all you do!

Read more

THE COMMANDANT’S SHADOW – Review by Leslie Combemale

Documentarian Daniela Völker’s film follows Hans Höss, the son of Rudolf Höss, who was not only the commandant of Auschwitz, but one of the architects of its design, especially as it related to the extermination of prisoners there. A man who had a personal hand in killing over a million Jews, it was his life that was fictionalized in The Zone of Interest. While young son, Hans, played in his back yard, blissfully unaware of what was happening over the wall mere feet away, one prisoner, young cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, was playing for her life. She was part of the orchestra that serenaded victims and Nazi soldiers alike, while selection of who would live and who would be sent directly to the gas chambers was being done.

Read more

QUEEN OF THE DEUCE – Review by Leslie Combemale

There’s nothing like discovering that a place I deemed a dangerous dumpster fire of humanity at one time, actually represented resistance, resilience, and survival. The first time I walked down 42nd street was in the 80s, when it had become, as someone put it, “more dangerous than being a soldier in Vietnam”. I should have known there was a whole lot more to the history of The Deuce, as 42nd street is called, than the drug addicts, sex workers, peep shows, and violence in the streets that plagued it by that time. In the documentary Queen of the Deuce, director/writer/producer Valerie Kontakos reveals the importance of one trailblazing woman, Greek immigrant and badass Chelly Wilson, to its development as a porn mecca. She also puts into perspective how Wilson’s success represented so much more than just making heaps of money in a business seen as immoral or unsavory by the average American.

Read more

SPOTLIGHT May, 2024: ADELE LIM, Cinema Storyteller and Director

A few years ago, writer/producer Adele Lim wanted to get into directing. She had 17 years of working in writers rooms, producing and show running in tv, and co-writing two wildly successful feature films under her belt, but she questioned whether she had enough experience. Crazy Rich Asians, which she co-wrote, was the first major studio film to feature a majority cast of Asian descent since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. Raya and the Last Dragon, which she co-wrote, was released in 2021. The animated feature brought Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess to the screen. Her many female filmmaker friends and Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu reminded her she was ready.

Read more