Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: August 2016

Director Maïwenn (right) working with actors Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel on the set of Mon Roi, 2014.

Here are fifteen new films due to be released in August which have been directed and/or photographed by women, titles that are sure to excite cinephiles and provoke worthwhile discussions.

AUGUST 5: Amateur Night (dirs. Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse) (DP: Nicole Hirsch Whitaker)From a Variety article: “[Jason] Biggs plays an out-of-work expectant father married to [Jenny] Mollen’s character. The two are also married in real life. In desperation, he answers a Craigslist ad for a driver and discovers that he’ll be the chauffeur for three charismatic call girls, portrayed by Ashley Tisdale, Janet Montgomery and Bria Murphy. Steven Weber, Cedric Yarbrough and Adrian Voo are also starring.

“The script was written and directed by the husband/wife team of Joe Syracuse and Lisa Addario — whose own life experiences served as inspiration for the movie when Syracuse had a lucrative — and sometimes dangerous — job driving call girls around Los Angeles while Addario was pregnant with their first child.”

AUGUST 5: collective:unconscious (dirs. Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker and Lauren Wolkstein) (DP: Dagmar Weaver-Madsen (on Lily Baldwin’s segment “Swallowed”))From the New York Times review: “A throwback to the Surrealists and exquisite corpse games, the omnibus film collective:unconscious began from a simple premise: Five filmmakers transcribed their dreams; each description was then given at random to one of the others to direct as a short. (The film bears no relationship to the theater organization Collective:Unconscious.)

“The results — which have varying degrees of coherence and power — raise fascinating questions about the individuality of interpretation. For anyone familiar with some of the filmmakers featured, watching the movie plays like an exercise in mix-and-match.”

AUGUST 5: Five Nights in Maine (dir. Maris Curran)New York Times review: “Maris Curran had plenty of opportunities to insert a cheesy plot twist into Five Nights in Maine, her delicate drama about loss and its aftermath. Yet she stayed true to her intentions, and the result is a believable character study that may not draw crowds but certainly challenges its two lead actors.

“David Oyelowo, who played the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, portrays a man named Sherwin, whose idyllic-seeming life is derailed by the death of his young wife. This sends him on a sort of pilgrimage to visit her mother, Lucinda, in Maine. They are not well acquainted, though he does know that there was a simmering tension between Lucinda and his wife, a subject tiptoed around during his visit.

“Ms. Curran, who wrote and directed, could have pulled a dark family secret out of the hat at any point: a dead twin buried in the backyard, sexual abuse by a weird uncle, whatever. That’s what we’ve come to expect in these types of family-excavation stories. But the revelations here are subtle rather than shocking; Ms. Curran has her actors show rather than tell.

“It helps that the other star, Dianne Wiest, who plays Lucinda, is very good at that sort of thing. Lucinda had her own struggles even before her daughter’s death (Rosie Perez plays her nurse), and now her brand of survivor guilt is very different from Sherwin’s. Ms. Wiest and Mr. Oyelowo probe the pain slowly and convincingly. In the end, you may feel as if you didn’t know enough about either character. Some may consider that a weakness of this spare film, but it can also be viewed as a strength.”

AUGUST 5: Front Cover (dir. Ray Yeung) (DP: Eun-ah Lee)New York Times review: “Though too slight to be memorable, the gay romance Front Cover takes a gentle, thoughtful look at the intersection of ethnicity and sexuality. For Ryan (Jake Choi), a Chinese-American fashion stylist in New York City and a self-described snob, cultural heritage is a burden he must rise above to further his career. Dating only Caucasian men, he gives the side eye to those whose dress or behavior marks them as less assimilated than he; so when he’s assigned to facilitate the introduction of Ning (James Chen), an ostensibly straight Beijing actor, to American audiences, Ryan is less than pleased.

“Tugging lightly but insistently on the masks we wear in order to fit in, the film’s writer and director, Ray Yeung, creates mirror images of suppression and alienation. While Ryan is disgusted by Ning’s table manners and imperfect English pronunciation, the patriotic Ning is shocked by Ryan’s ignorance of Chinese history and openness about his homosexuality. A photo shoot that features revealing silk pajamas and a foot washing, however, is all it takes to expose rather more about Ning than his dedication to working out.

“Sensitive, decorous and buffed by Eun-ah Lee’s warm photography, Front Cover still strains to surmount its thin narrative and unfortunate dips into clichéd cultural comedy. Yet the acting is reserved and sincere, the two leads exhibiting a believable attraction that Mr. Yeung takes care not to disrupt. In the end, both their characters will be changed, but only one will be closer to accepting who he really is.”

AUGUST 5: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice (dir. Deborah Riley Draper)Synopsis on the film’s official website:Olympic Pride, American Prejudice explores the experiences of 18 African American Olympians who defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to win hearts and medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Set against the strained and turbulent atmosphere of a racially divided America, which was torn between boycotting Hitler’s Olympics or participating in the Third Reich’s grandest affair, the film follows 16 men and two women before, during and after their heroic turn at the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. They represented a country that considered them second class citizens and competed in a country that rolled out the red carpet in spite of an undercurrent of Aryan superiority and anti-Semitism.

“They were world heroes yet returned home to a short-lived glory. This story is complicated. This story is triumphant but unheralded. This story is a vital part of history and is as relevant today as it was almost 80 years ago.

“Since the 1936 Olympics was a well-documented event, this film will utilize the wealth of newsreel material, newspaper articles, photographs, personal interviews and never-before-seen footage as well as resources from the personal archival collections of Olympians and organizations in both the U.S. and Germany.”

AUGUST 5: Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (dirs. Karen Bernstein and Louis Black)From the Hollywood Reporter review: “One of the most enriching and enjoyable docs about a filmmaker in recent memory, Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny reveals the peculiar pairing of modesty with artistic ambition that has allowed the director to thrive in an industry that doesn’t cotton to his sort of artist. It will serve as an excellent entry point for those who became aware of the helmer after the audacious Boyhood and wondered what this man is about; for those of us who have followed his work since before he debuted at Sundance 25 years ago with Slacker, it is a joy-filled reminder of the high points of a career we hope is just hitting its stride.

“Not the first doc to assess Linklater’s unpredictable oeuvre, this one sets itself apart quickly, both in its access (several interviews with the subject, delightful old behind-the-scenes materials) and in the content of its interviews: Famous face or not, a speaker has to have something insightful to say to make the cut here; mere praise will not do. This may come as a happy surprise to Austinites familiar with Black’s Austin Chronicle editorials, which over the years have often risked sycophancy when discussing the filmmakers he befriends.

“Here, Black’s long association with his subject is an unalloyed advantage. He knew Linklater before Slacker got made (he’s a memorable presence in the film, in fact), and efficiently illustrates how the Austin Film Society, which Linklater and friends founded to show art films in the then-sleepy college town, both taught the aspiring filmmaker about DIY promotion and gave him a ready-made crew for Slacker. Speaking of those early, communal days, crew- and cast-member Clark Walker describes Linklater’s ability to collaborate generously while staying fixed on his own vision: ‘While you’re doing it, you’re pretty sure it’s your idea, too.'”

AUGUST 10 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 2 (LA): An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell (dir. Molly Bernstein)Film Forum synopsis: “Molly Bernstein, whose superb portrait of sleight of hand magician Ricky Jay we premiered, here embraces another type of conjurer. Artist Rosamond Purcell creates collages of natural objects (bones, feathers, leaves, fossils) and found objects (distressed books, industrial scrap, cast-off objects of all stripes) and imbues them with life through her photography. Among her many books are three with scientist Stephen Jay Gould, in which her visuals and his words complement one another. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, one of Purcell’s admirers, extols her ability to reveal ‘the hidden history of the world’ and to ‘find art in really strange places.’ Bernstein’s portrait reveals an artist whose work defies our basest materialist impulses and celebrates the beauty of decay, the poetry of destruction, and the ineffable effects of time – on everything.”

AUGUST 12: ABORTION: STORIES WOMEN TELL (dir. Tracy Droz Tragos) (DPs: Kamau Bilal and Judy Phu)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis:Abortion: Stories Women Tell is a documentary that explores states’ increasing restriction on abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to make it legal in the US. Since 2011, more than half the states in the nation have significantly restricted access to abortions. In 2016, abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in America, especially in Missouri, where only one abortion clinic remains open, patients and their doctors must navigate a 72-hour waiting period, and each year sees more restrictions.”

AUGUST 12 or AUGUST 19 [it’s not clear to me which date is correct]: Disorder (dir. Alice WInocour)From Variety review:Maryland is the original title of Disorder, the second feature by Parisian writer-director Alice Winocour, and while not one minute of it takes place in the American state of the same name, it’s a film that hints at bright transatlantic possibilities for its helmer. A fine-cut tension exercise that eventually ignites into a full-blown home-invasion thriller, Disorder reps about the last step one might have expected Winocour to take after debuting with 2012’s porcelain-textured costumer Augustine. It’s a sharp, slinky change of pace, however, given human backbone by Matthias Schoenaerts’ tightly wound performance as a PTSD-afflicted ex-soldier hired to protect Diane Kruger’s corporate trophy wife. Schoenaerts’ current international ubiquity lends added commercial appeal to a genre pic that already doesn’t want for exportable elements; arthouse distribs should form an orderly (or disorderly) queue.

“For Belgian thesp Schoenaerts, now coming off a triple-shot of English-lingo period romances — Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite Française and A Little ChaosDisorder marks a crackling return to the sensitive-thug persona with which he made his name in Bullhead and Rust and Bone. Hulkingly built, buzz-cut and stamped with stark tattoos, he cuts a more baleful figure than the average buffed-up leading man, which suits Winocour’s purposes just fine: As Vincent, an Afghanistan veteran prone to volatile paranoid episodes, he’s a hero who nonetheless seems capable of turning on his charges (and, by extension, the audience) at any given moment. Post-traumatic stress disorder has been a heavily worked character condition in recent cinema, but Schoenaerts enacts it with bracing spareness, his nerve ends prickling through even in benign domestic exchanges.”

AUGUST 12: My King (aka Mon Roi) (dir. Maïwenn) (DP: Claire Mathon)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot, in a performance that won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes) and Georgio (Vincent Cassel) are an odd match—or so Tony’s brother Solal (Louis Garrel) thinks when she tells him that they’re falling quickly, recklessly in love. Actor-director Maïwenn’s fourth feature captures the couple’s tempestuous 10-year relationship in retrospect as a string of flash points, eruptions, betrayals, tender reconciliations, and life-altering decisions. At the center of My King’s wide, expansive frames are Bercot and Cassel for nearly every second of its runtime, and the movie stakes itself on their harrowingly committed, nerve-fraying performances. Maïwenn’s formidable new film is one of French cinema’s most memorable recent amour fous.

AUGUST 17: When Two Worlds Collide (dirs. Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel)Film Forum synopsis: “Alberto Pizango, indigenous leader of Peru’s Amazonian people, vs. Alan Garcia, President of Peru (2006-2011), backed by the multinational corporations intent on exploiting the Amazon’s rich natural resources. It is a David and Goliath battle currently being fought in one of the world’s most lush and magnificent rainforests. Pizango, reminiscent of Cesar Chavez in his charisma and implacability, organizes people who have called the rainforest home for a millennia, to oppose the illegal and violent takeover of their land. ‘Frankly, they’re savages,’ intones the Minister of the Interior on Peruvian TV. We recently played the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent, a drama of Amazonian intrigue and Western corruption. Here is a documentary that updates that story with aplomb.”

AUGUST 19: A Tale of Love and Darkness (dir. Natalie Portman)From The Guardian review: “For her feature directing debut, Black Swan actor Natalie Portman has shepherded through a sombrely reverential adaptation of Amos Oz’s 2002 memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, a study of the founding of the state of Israel refracted through Oz’s troubled family life. Portman, who was born in Israel and who lived there until she was three, before her family moved to the US, has taken a brave decision to take on such potentially contentious material – and while the resulting film is perhaps a tad on the conventional-looking side, it has an unusual, and possibly unique, perspective on Israeli psychology, and Portman demonstrates she possesses a confident grasp of film-making fundamentals.”

AUGUST 26: The Intervention (dir. Clea DuVall) (DP: Polly Morgan)From Variety review:The Intervention finds three couples gathered for a country weekend, where they’ve plotted to perform emergency surgery on a fourth duo’s trouble marriage. Naturally, this well-intentioned but very probably misguided effort goes awry, with everyone’s personal fault lines exposed to variably seriocomic effect. Actress Clea DuVall’s debut feature as writer-director is an ensemble piece that breaks no new ground in themes or execution, but is pleasingly accomplished on all levels. It may not be quite edgy or distinctive enough to make much of a splash in niche theatrical release, but should prove a viable home-format item.

“The group of thirtysomething friends who gather at an expansive family summer residence outside Savannah, owned by Jessie (DuVall), haven’t met there for some years; life got in the way of what had been an annual tradition. But now Annie (Melanie Lynskey) has orchestrated a reunion, one with a mission as yet unknown to the two who are its intended target. The others in on the plan — though more reluctantly, having bent to Annie’s considerable will — are Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), Jessie’s girlfriend in Los Angeles; Matt (Jason Ritter), Annie’s long-term fiance; and recently single Jack (Ben Schwartz), who’s brought along an otherwise uninvited stranger in the form of his new, discomfortingly young squeeze Lola (Alia Shawkat, serving a purpose a whole lot like Meg Tilly’s in The Big Chill).”

AUGUST 26 (limited release), SEPTEMBER 2 (wider release): White Girl (dir. Elizabeth Wood)From an IndieWire article: “Elizabeth Wood’s feature directorial debut White Girl dropped more than a few jaws when it premiered earlier this year at Sundance, where its unflinching look at female sexuality, life in the big city and raw human desire shocked audiences. The bold film follows Morgan Saylor as Leah, a college kid who unexpectedly falls for Blue, played by Brian ‘Sene’ Marc, a bad boy who is hardly her typical love interest. When a wild night of partying pulls them apart, Leah sets out to win him back, no matter what the price or the consequences.”

AUGUST 31: The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (dirs. Bartek Dziadosz, Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth and Tilda Swinton)Film Forum synopsis: “John Berger calls himself ‘a storyteller’ and longtime friend Tilda Swinton calls him ‘a radical humanist.’ The soft-spoken Berger is, in fact, a brilliant polymath: a painter, art critic/historian (The Success and Failure of Picasso), Booker Prize-winning novelist (G), BBC television host (Ways of Seeing), screenwriter (La Salamandre), essayist (A Seventh Man), poet, Marxist, philosopher, and self-styled peasant. These four ruminative essays – produced by London’s Derek Jarman Lab – are set in the French Alps where Berger has lived for several decades.  As Swinton peels apples and Berger draws her portrait, they consider the effect of their fathers’ war experiences on their childhoods. The film is punctuated with excerpts from Berger’s television appearances — but it is this seemingly casual talk in and around his rustic kitchen that allows us to be guests in his home and on intimate terms with his intellect.”

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