Writer/director Sian Heder (center) with actresses Allison Janney (seated left) and Ellen Page (seated right) on the set of Tallulah, 2015.
Here is July’s list of fifteen new and upcoming theatrical releases for films directed/photographed by female directors and cinematographers. These works span many genres: a post-WWII period piece about nuns, a British spy thriller, documentaries about an American television pioneer and North Korean schoolchildren, a horror flick set in an all-girls boarding school, a dystopian sci-fi drama and more.
JULY 1: The Innocents (dir. Anne Fontaine) (DP: Caroline Champetier) – Music Box Films synopsis: “Warsaw, December 1945: the second World War is finally over and French Red Cross doctor Mathilde (Lou de Laâge) is treating the last of the French survivors of the German camps. When a panicked Benedictine nun appears at the clinic begging Mathilde to follow her back to the convent, what she finds there is shocking: a holy sister about to give birth and several more in advanced stages of pregnancy. A non-believer, Mathilde enters the sisters’ fiercely private world, dictated by the rituals of their order and the strict Rev. Mother (Agata Kulesza, Ida). Fearing the shame of exposure, the hostility of the occupying Soviet troops and local Polish communists and while facing an unprecedented crisis of faith, the nuns increasingly turn to Mathilde as their beliefs and traditions clash with harsh realities.”
JULY 1: Our Kind of Traitor (dir. Susanna White) – Brooklyn Academy of Music synopsis: “While on holiday in Marrakech, an ordinary English couple, Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris), befriend a flamboyant and charismatic Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who unbeknownst to them is a kingpin money launderer for the Russian mafia. When Dima asks for their help to deliver classified information to the British Secret Services, Perry and Gail get caught in a dangerous world of dirty politics. This taut espionage thriller, adapted from a novel by John le Carré, follows this couple as they are propelled on a perilous journey through Paris and Bern, a safe house in the French Alps, to the murky corners of the City of London and an alliance with the British Government via a ruthless and determined MI6 agent.”
JULY 6: Under the Sun (dir. Vitaly Mansky) (DP: Alexandra Ivanova) – Icarus Films synopsis: “‘My father says that Korea is the most beautiful country… Korea is the land of the rising sun,’ says eight-year-old schoolgirl Zin-mi. Despite continuous interference by government handlers, director Vitaly Mansky still managed to document life in Pyongyang, North Korea in this fascinating portrait of one girl and her parents in the year as she prepares to join the Korean Children’s Union on the ‘Day of the Shining Star’ (Kim Jong-Il’s birthday). As the family receives instruction on how to be the ideal patriots, Mansky’s watchful camera capture details from comrades struggling to stay awake during an official event to Zin-mi’s tears at a particularly grueling dance lesson.”
JULY 8: Indian Point (dir. Ivy Meeropol) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant looms just 35 miles from Times Square. With over 50 million people living in close proximity to the aging facility, its continued operation has the support of the plant’s operators and the NRC — Nuclear Regulatory Commission — yet has stoked a great deal of controversy in the surrounding community, including a vocal anti-nuclear contingent concerned that what happened at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant could happen here. In the brewing fight for clean energy and the catastrophic possibilities of government complacency, director Ivy Meeropol presents a balanced argument about the issues surrounding nuclear energy and offers a startling reality check for our uncertain nuclear future.”
JULY 8: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (dirs. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady) (DPs: Ronan Killeen, Sam Levy and Jenna Rosher) – IFC Center synopsis: “Arguably the most influential creator, writer, and producer in the history of television, Norman Lear brought primetime into step with the times. Using comedy and indelible characters, his legendary 1970s shows such as All In the Family, Maude, Good Times, and The Jeffersons, boldly cracked open dialogue and shifted the national consciousness, injecting enlightened humanism into sociopolitical debates on race, class, creed, and feminism.
“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You is the definitive chronicle of Mr. Lear’s life, work, and achievements, but it is so much more than an arm’s-length, past-tense biopic; at 93, Mr. Lear is as vital and engaged as he ever was. Top-notch cinéma vérité documentarians Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, 12th & Delaware, DETROPIA) seize the opportunity to fashion a dynamic portrait that matches the spirit of their subject. Breaking down the fourth wall to create an evocative collage where past and present intermingle, they reveal a psychologically rich man whose extraordinary contributions emerge from both his personal story and a dialogue with the world.”
JULY 13: Don’t Blink – Robert Frank (dir. Laura Israel) (DPs: Edward Lachman and Lisa Rinzler) – Excerpt from a Slant Magazine film review: “What Robert Frank’s The Americans did for the nation, presenting the post-war United States with an X-ray of its soul, the free-form, intensely personal films he started making a few years later did for New York City. Watching a charismatic character in one of those movies in Don’t Blink: Robert Frank, the photographer-filmmaker says, ‘I don’t know people like them anymore.’ Maybe not, but he seems to have known just about every artist who passed through mid-century New York, and he distilled the rebelliously ragged genius of people like a young Allen Ginsberg and a skeletal William Burroughs in films like Pull My Daisy and One Hour. As a result, Laura Israel’s documentary is a portrait not just of the Swiss-born artist, but of his adopted city, especially during the Beat era that was his heyday.
“In his recent profile of Frank for the New York Times Magazine, Nicholas Dawidoff described a ‘tough’ man with a lifelong habit of cultivating people, then deciding they aren’t so special after all and cutting them off. The Frank of Israel’s documentary can indeed be prickly, as when he critiques a question he considers obtuse during an interview instead of answering it. But Israel, who’s edited Frank’s films since the 1980s, has a privileged insider’s perspective that informs and warms her film. Openhearted and surprisingly funny, her friend Frank is delightful company, as emotionally transparent and offhandedly insightful in person as he is as his art.”
JULY 15: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (dir. Osgood “Oz” Perkins) (DP: Julie Kirkwood) – From a Pop Matters review: “A female-only boarding school is the setting of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Covered, positively blanketed in snow, it’s isolated, the nights an unrelenting pitch black. Inside are two girls, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), both left behind during a February break, waiting for their parents. They wander through empty hallways, but the subtle noises—screeching creaks and low groans—betray the assumption that they’re alone here.
“At the same time, Joan (Emma Roberts), a girl with a cloudy past, wanders through a cold, snowy landscape, eventually hitching a ride with an unnamed couple whose strained dynamic hints at trouble unspoken. They share uncomfortable car rides to a town a few miles away, the husband assuming a strangely paternal role for Joan.
“Formerly titled February, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow, moody, and thoroughly unnerving walk through an almost overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere. Osgood Perkins, son of Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, demonstrates great skill in developing the film’s occult atmosphere. His jagged camera angles and the dark, discordant music combine with subdued performances—naturalistic with a small degree of slowly simmering insanity underneath them—to create a creeping mood that seems perfectly tailored to the film’s narrative.”
JULY 15: Lucha Mexico (dirs. and DPs: Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz) – Excerpt from the synopsis on the film’s official website: “In Mexico, the fight between good and evil has been waged every week for decades, thrilling generations of fans with the spectacle of Lucha Libre. Real-life superheroes and villains, these masked wrestlers put their lives on the line night after night to entertain the legions of fans. Gaining remarkable access to all the major Lucha promotions, Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz offer an entertaining, no holds barred look at some of the sport’s top performers, featuring the ‘1000% Guapo’ Shocker, Luchador heir Blue Demon Jr, the tragic hardcore wrestler El Hijo Del Perro Aguayo, and extreme American bodybuilder Jon ‘Strongman’ Andersen. Lucha Mexico goes behind the mask, on a journey into the heart of Mexico.”
JULY 22: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (dir. Mandie Fletcher) – Synopsis from the film’s official Facebook page: “Appropriate for their big screen debut, Edina and Patsy (Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) are still oozing glitz and glamour, living the high life they are accustomed to; shopping, drinking and clubbing their way around London’s trendiest hotspots. Blamed for a major incident at an uber fashionable launch party, they become entangled in a media storm and are relentlessly pursued by the paparazzi. Fleeing penniless to the glamorous playground of the super-rich, the French Riviera, they hatch a plan to make their escape permanent and live the high life forever more!”
JULY 22: Hooligan Sparrow (dir. and DP: Nanfu Wang) – Indiewire synopsis: “The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow, who gained notoriety with her advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, continues to champion girls’ and women’s rights and arms herself with the power and reach of social media.”
JULY 22: Summertime (dir. Catherine Corsini) (DP: Jeanne Lapoirie) – IFC Center synopsis: “In 1971, Delphine (Izïa Higelin) leaves her parents and their rural farm for Paris and a new, independent life. There, she meets Carole (Cécile de France), a sophisticated woman deeply involved in the heady, early days of the feminist movement. Despite Carole’s boyfriend, the women find themselves more and more attracted to each other, and they begin an affair that turns their lives upside down.”
JULY 29: Equity (dir. Meera Menon) – Excerpt from a Hollywood Reporter film review: “Making industry headlines before it even screened at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival when Sony Pictures Classics acquired it for distribution, Equity is a smart thriller set in the corporate world that disguises its modest budget with an intelligent script and good set of hooks. Promoting itself as ‘the first female-driven Wall Street movie,’ the film’s plot revolves mostly around female characters, while it’s also been directed (by Meera Menon), written (by Amy Fox) and produced (by co-stars Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas) by women. And yet, perhaps the most winning thing about Equity it that it’s not some kind of worthy empowerment drama about sisters doing if for themselves. Instead, although sexism in the workplace is definitely addressed, it plays more like an old-school noir with the sexes casually reversed, featuring a deeply flawed protagonist (Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn), a seductive but duplicitous homme fatale (James Purefoy) and others navigating their way through a miasma of an ethically shady urban world.”
JULY 29: Into the Forest (dir. Patricia Rozema) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Set in the near future, this riveting and suspenseful apocalyptic drama follows two sisters, Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) who live in the Pacific Northwest with their kindly father, Robert. Nell is focused on her studies and Eva is training to be a dancer, but their peaceful lives are disrupted one day by what turns out to be a continent-wide blackout. Whereas at first the family bond together and try to make the most of their difficult circumstances, as time goes on, the challenges become more serious. In the wake of a shocking and violent confrontation that Robert has with a menacing passerby, the sisters must work together in order to survive in their increasingly treacherous new world.”
JULY 29: Miss Sharon Jones! (dir. Barbara Kopple) – IFC Center synopsis: “Two-time Academy Award-winner Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA, Shut Up and Sing) follows Grammy-nominated R&B dynamo Sharon Jones during the most courageous year of her life. Often compared to the legendary James Brown because of her powerful and energetic performances, Sharon Jones is no stranger to challenge. For years her music career struggled as she was kept in the wings by a music industry that branded her ‘too short, too black, too fat.’ After decades of working odd jobs, from a corrections officer to a wedding singer, Sharon had a middle-aged breakthrough after joining forces with Brooklyn R&B outfit The Dap Kings. In 2013, on the eve of the release of the much-anticipated album Give The People What They Want, Sharon was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Miss Sharon Jones! is a triumphant crowd-pleaser that captures an irrepressible human spirit as she battles back to where she belongs; center stage.”
JULY 29: Tallulah (dir. Sian Heder) (DP: Paula Huidobro) – From a Los Angeles Times article: “The story of Tallulah found its inspiration in a time in her career when [Sian] Heder worked as a nanny for hire, often at upscale L.A. hotels to look after the children of wealthy guests for a few hours. When one woman struck her as a particularly unfit and disinterested mother she wondered what would happen if she kept the baby for herself. Tallulah explores that possibility.
“The film has three powerful and nuanced performances at its core, weaving a delicate blend of comedy and drama, weight and whimsy. Ellen Page plays the title character, a vagabond scamp who rambles into New York City. She gets work as a temp nanny and after an encounter with wasted trophy wife Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), Tallulah impulsively takes her baby.
“Unsure of what to do next, she goes to her erstwhile boyfriend’s mother, Margo (Allison Janney), whom she has never met, and passes the baby off as her own. These most unusual of circumstances push all three women toward unexpected junctures.”