Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: August 2017

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Writer/producer/director Janicza Bravo with actors Brett Gelman and Megan Mullally on the set of Lemon, 2016.

Here are thirteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this August, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

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JULY 28 (limited release), AUGUST 4 (wider release): Detroit (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)From the Washington Post review by Ann Hornaday: “In Detroit, director Kathryn Bigelow concentrates and refracts the 1967 riots in that eponymous city through the lens of one of its most notorious yet largely forgotten incidents, when a group of white police officers tortured and murdered a group of teenagers at the Algiers Motel, then covered it up. Of a piece with Bigelow’s Oscar-winning 2008 Iraq drama The Hurt Locker and 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, the tense, harrowingly intimate Detroit rounds out a trilogy of fact-based, fog-of-war interpretive histories. Even though it’s based on an episode that occurred half a century ago, it feels like her timeliest movie yet.

“As titles go, The Battle of Algiers was already taken, and probably too on the nose. But comparisons to Gillo Pontecorvo’s seminal 1966 political thriller are inevitable as Detroit’s tightly coiled situational drama takes shape. After a prologue describing the mass migration of Southern blacks to Northern urban centers — written by Henry Louis Gates and illustrated by animated images taken from painter Jacob Lawrence’s “Great Migration” cycle — the film takes viewers into the after-hours club at 12th and Clairmount where, in the early hours of Sunday, July 23, the Detroit police raided a party being thrown for a soldier returning from Vietnam.

“As the police were leading their charges out of the building, a crowd gathered and a disturbance ensued that would lead to five days of fires, looting, mass arrests, savage police brutality and more than 40 deaths, including that of a 4-year-old girl who was mistaken for a sniper by an officer who shot her through a window. That moment is captured with sudden, heart-seizing clarity in Detroit, which plunges the audience into the chaos, paranoia and pent-up rage that engulfs the city’s African American community, even as a young congressman named John Conyers Jr. (Laz Alonso) assures his constituents that ‘change is coming.’

“But just when the viewer thinks that Detroit will be a ‘tick-tock’ narrative of the mayhem and sociopolitical upheaval that defined the nearly week-long rebellion, Bigelow makes a radical shift, following a singer named Larry Reed (Algee Smith) as he and his group the Dramatics prepare for a career-making set at Detroit’s legendary Fox Theater. When the show is canceled because of security issues outside, Larry and his friend Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) take refuge at the Algiers, where the vibe promises to be far mellower, more welcoming and safe.

“It’s at this point that Detroit, which was written by Bigelow’s frequent collaborator Mark Boal, goes from being a bluntly effective you-are-there exercise to something far more daring, sophisticated and unforgettably disturbing. Rather than treat the Algiers as yet one more data point within a timeline that eventually included the arrival of the National Guard and, finally, the U.S. Army, Bigelow drills down into one of American history’s most egregious cases of abuse of police power, bringing it to life with visceral detail and slowed-down meticulousness. The broad, historical contours are these: In an act of teenage bravado, a young man named Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) fired a starter pistol out the window of the motel; police arrived on the scene, almost certainly killed Cooper (although accounts varied) and, in an effort to find the gun, proceeded to physically and verbally terrorize a group of young black men and two white girls, an ordeal that resulted in two more deaths.

“…When the film’s third act turns to the story’s appalling legal aftermath, the questions that have long dogged the 1967 riots — Why did black people burn down their own houses? Why did they loot their own shops? — seem unforgivably naive. Detroit flips the usual questions to get at the corrupt heart of white obliviousness: Why has this history been erased for so long? And why does it ring so grievously true today?

“Alternately stretching out and compressing the narrative, Bigelow and her creative team, including editor William Goldenberg, have combined the most immersive aspects of The Hurt Locker with the linear procedural aspects of Zero Dark Thirty to create a new cinematic language: a form of deconstructed, almost hallucinatory realism whose unpredictable shape and rhythms are altogether appropriate for the almost incomprehensible moment it seeks to capture. (Documentary footage from the era is seamlessly knitted into the dramatizations, which were mostly filmed in Boston.)

Detroit is an audacious, nervy work of art, but it also commemorates history, memorializes the dead and invites reflection on the part of the living. In scale, scope and the space it offers for a long-awaited moral reckoning, it’s nothing less than monumental.”

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AUGUST 4: 4 Days in France (dir. Jérôme Reybaud) (DP: Sabine Lancelin)Quad Cinema synopsis: “Without warning, thirtysomething Parisian Pierre (Pascal Cervo) leaves his sleeping boyfriend Paul (Arthur Igual) in the middle of the night and hits the road. Guided only by his phone’s Grindr app, Pierre travels along the French countryside, moving from one curious encounter to another. But then Paul begins to track his lover’s rendezvous… This mysterious and slyly funny look at 21st century gay love is also immensely promising fiction feature debut, marking Reybaud as a major new voice in international cinema.”

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AUGUST 4: Fun Mom Dinner (dir. Alethea Jones)Voltage Pictures synopsis: “Four moms — whose only common ground is their kids’ preschool class — arrange a ‘fun mom dinner’ to drink wine, gossip, and bond without worrying about their kids and husbands for the night.

“The dinner guests include the newly-divorced Jamie (Molly Shannon), ‘Super Mom’ Melanie (Bridget Everett), the stressed-out Emily (Katie Aselton), and Emily’s best friend and social outcast Kate (Toni Collette), who can’t believe she let Emily talk her into a mom dinner.

“The night begins as a disaster, but the combination of alcohol, karaoke, and a cute bartender (Adam Levine), leads to an unforgettable night where these seemingly different women realize they have more in common than motherhood and men.”

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AUGUST 4 (streaming on Netflix): Message from the King (dir. Fabrice du Welz) (DP: Monika Lenczewska)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Colin Geddes: “Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz makes a magnificent return to the Festival with this atmospheric revenge thriller. Featuring perfectly pitched performances from Chadwick Boseman, Teresa Palmer, and Luke Evans (fresh from last year’s Festival highlight High-Rise), Message from the King deposits a mysterious traveller from South Africa into the simmering creepiness of 21st-century Los Angeles.

“Jacob King (Boseman) is a stranger in a strange land. Rather than basking in the fabled radiance of the City of Angels he drifts, Dante-like, through a sprawling, infernal cityscape of fiercely territorial tribalism and dog-eat-dog savagery. His sister has been killed. He wants answers. And he wants blood.

“Scripted by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell (who also collaborated on Jaume Collet-Serra’s Unknown), Message from the King smartly infuses Jacob’s intensely personal quest with a wider sense of the seething racial tension and imminent violence coursing through the United States.

“But it’s Du Welz’s elegant imagery, staging, and mastery of mood that sets the film apart (note, for only one instance, the chilling scene of Jacob’s visit to the morgue), and the director also shrewdly draws upon his own sense of displacement as a European in America to cast an observant outsider’s gaze on this endlessly filmed city.

“Following in the footsteps of Jean-Louis Trintignant in The Outside Man, Terence Stamp in The Limey, and Takeshi Kitano in Brother, Boseman’s anti-hero arrives in LA as if visiting another planet, alienated, disoriented, but grimly and single-mindedly fixated on his dark purpose — a mission from which he will not be deterred.”

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AUGUST 4: Step (dir. Amanda Lipitz)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Baltimore is a city that is fighting to save its youth. The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is attempting to rectify the struggle that young girls endure to be successful in school despite their home life and the influence of their Baltimore community. This documentary chronicles the trials and triumphs of the Senior girls on the high school’s Step Team as they prepare to be the first in their families to go to college – and the first graduating class of The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. Step is more than just a hobby for these girls, it is the outlet that keeps them united and fighting for their goals.”

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AUGUST 11: The Farthest (dir. Emer Reynolds) (DP: Kate McCullough)Cinema Village synopsis: “Twelve billion miles from Earth, a tiny spaceship is leaving our solar system and entering the void of interstellar space. It is the first human-made object to do so. Slowly dying within its heart is a plutonium generator that may beat for another 10 years before the lights on Voyager 1 finally go out.

“But this little craft and its twin, Voyager 2, will likely travel on for millions of years, each carrying a golden record bearing sounds and images of life on our planet—in case an alien might find them one day and wonder. If the Voyagers were bottles in the cosmic ocean, the record was the message inside.

“An adventure with heart and humor, the story of Voyager is told firsthand by the indelible characters who made the mission happen. They are a small band of resourceful, ambitious, and passionate men and women who reached for the stars … and succeeded. As they reckon with their astonishing accomplishments, they take the viewer on a journey both epic and intimate that will stand alongside the achievements of Magellan, Columbus, Gagarin and Armstrong.

“Launched 16 days apart in the summer of 1977, the twin Voyager space probes have defied the odds and survived harrowing near-misses. Forty years later, they continue to beam fundamental discoveries across unimaginable distances. With less computing power than that of a modern hearing aid, they have revealed undreamt-of secrets of our solar system including the first images of an erupting volcano on another world and an ocean larger than any on Earth. After the final planetary encounter, Carl Sagan insisted that Voyager’s cameras turn back toward Earth. The resulting ‘pale blue dot’ image of our home, no bigger than a dust mote, stirred conflicting emotions of humility and pride.

“Launched from a fractious planet, these pioneers sail on serenely in the darkness—an enduring testament to the ingenuity of humankind and the boundless powers of the human imagination.

“A powerful cinematic documentary, The Farthest celebrates these magnificent machines, the men and women who built them, and the vision that propelled them farther than anyone could ever have hoped.”

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AUGUST 11: Planetarium (dir. Rebecca Zlotowski)San Francisco Jewish Film Festival synopsis by Zoe Pollak: “At the beginning of Planetarium, one actress catches another’s eye in a darkened theater. Based on the startled, earnest way they embrace, it is clear they have not seen each other for years. They start to reminisce in hushed tones. ‘When was it?’ the younger actress asks of a fateful day they spent together. ‘Before the war,’ the older one answers. But, ‘The thing is,’ she adds, ‘you never know you’re living before a war.’ That may be so, but director Rebecca Zlotowski knows that for her 21st-century viewers, it would be impossible to watch this 1930s Parisian period piece without anticipating the specter of the atrocities that will soon haunt its characters. Two sisters from America, played by the luminously melancholic Natalie Portman (A Tale of Love and Darkness, JFI WinterFest 2016) and the porcelain-faced Lily-Rose Depp believe they can communicate with the dead. The silver-haired French film producer André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger) vows to capture their séances on his own cinematographic medium. Korben’s character is based on the illustrious foreign-born French film pioneer who was executed at Auschwitz, Bernard Natan (the subject of Natan, SFJFF 2014). This handsomely reptilian producer may be enchanted by his beautiful young subjects, but as he propels the sisters to stardom he ends up casting a darker, stronger spell on them.”

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AUGUST 11: Whose Streets? (dir. Sabaah Folayan and co-dir. Damon Davis)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “The activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice bring you Whose Streets? – a documentary about the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and then left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis county. Grief, long-standing tension, and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy. In the days that follow, artists, musicians, teachers and parents turn into freedom fighters, standing on the front lines to demand justice. As the National Guard descends on Ferguson, a small suburb of St. Louis, with military grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new wave of resistance.

“For this generation, the battle is not for civil rights, but for the right to live.”

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AUGUST 18 (VOD), AUGUST 25 (limited release): Lemon (dir. Janicza Bravo)From RogerEbert.com’s Sundance Film Festival review by Nick Allen: “Janicza Bravo’s Lemon breathes new life into an ancient concept—a man who is dumb and also white. Comedian Brett Gelman plays said man in what’s easily his best role in a promising career of excellent side characters from ‘Tim & Eric’ projects to Amazon’s ‘Fleabag.’ In this movie (which he co-wrote with Bravo) he plays Isaac, a ridiculously pompous acting coach whose life falls apart. His girlfriend (Judy Greer, hilarious and cruel) leaves him after being together for ten years, and his own career as an actor trying to get modeling work isn’t panning out. Meanwhile, his hopes of impressing a young actor who has connections (Michael Cera, weirder than he was in Person to Person and even funnier) backfire. Isaac finds some type of comfort when he starts a relationship with a woman named Cleo (Nia Long, who deserves Sundance special kudos for doing both this and Roxanne Roxanne).

“This is one of those rare comedies that directly engages said dumb white male’s place in the world. It’s a constant part of his interactions, whether it’s with a woman in his acting class that he constantly undermines (which makes for a hilarious running gag) or Cleo, who provides a type of culture shock with her family (it is worth noting that Gelman and Bravo are an interracial couple in real life, here making an exceptional comedy in part about an interracial couple). Lemon doesn’t play any of its irreverent humor cheaply, incorporating it into very specific filmmaking choices (abrupt edits, extended sequences); nor does it become heavy-handed. Gelman’s performance is sincere to the dark comedy of Isaac while playing the ultimate clown of privilege. The whole movie is an excellent balance of meaningful comedy and Lemon’s natural, invigorating impulse to be so, so strange.

Lemon has the same air of the best anti-comedies of late, (particularly those by Rick Alverson), where everything seems far more calculated than its free-flowing story suggests. Bravo gets an excellent texture to many of her scenes by incorporating a droning clarinet score, which warbles through Gelman’s various comedic passages and makes unpredictability a constant force in the atmosphere. The cinematography too, which the opening credits claim was filmed entirely in Los Angeles, indicates a precision with light and framing. It’s a film that could only come from a thorough filmmaking vision, which is even applied to its extended toilet gag.

“If there’s justice in the film world, Lemon is just the start for Bravo, who I imagine could do some spectacular things to the comedy genre with even more support. For now, her debut is an instant classic that specifically feels like a product of 2017, the kind of bizarre culture treatise that could only come from fresh talent.”

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AUGUST 25: Beach Rats (dir. Eliza Hittman) (DP: Hélène Louvart)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “On the outskirts of Brooklyn, Frankie (Harris Dickinson), an aimless teenager, suffocates under the oppressive glare cast by his family and a toxic group of delinquent friends. Struggling with his own identity, Frankie begins to scour hookup sites for older men. When his chatting and webcamming intensify, he begins meeting men at a nearby cruising beach while simultaneously entering into a cautious relationship with a young woman. As Frankie struggles to reconcile his competing desires, his decisions leave him hurtling toward irreparable consequences. Eliza Hittman’s award-winning Sundance hit is a powerful character study that is as visually stunning as it is evocative.”

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AUGUST 25: Leap! (aka Ballerina) (dirs. Eric Summer and Éric Warin) (DP for virtual cinematography: Jericca Cleland)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Felicie has one dream, to become a ballerina at the world’s best ballet school. She also has one big problem; she’s stuck in an orphanage with her best friend Victor hundreds of miles away.

“After a hair-raising escape and a gruelling journey the partners in crime arrive in the city determined to follow their dreams; Felicie’s to dance and Victor’s to become a famous inventor. She is taken in by Odette to work with her as a house maid but Odette has a secret; a talented dancer herself until her dreams were shattered, she sees the potential in Felicie and agrees to train her.

“Driven by her passion for dancing Felicie goes to extraordinary lengths in order to audition for the role of a lifetime, but now the hard work will begin. With her mentor Odette and Victor by her side, will Felicie master the grace, skill and discipline it takes to become a professional dancer? One thing is for sure, she’ll have to strive harder than ever before to achieve her dreams…”

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AUGUST 25: Polina (dirs. Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljoçaj)South China Morning Post review by Edmund Lee: “A dancer’s obsessive pursuit of just the right kind of creative expression is beautifully dramatised in this debut feature by eminent French modern-dance choreographer Angelin Preljoçaj, who co-directed the film with his wife and screenwriter, Valérie Müller. Shunning the crowd-pleasing, life-affirming tendencies of mainstream dance movies, Polina instead offers a lyrical and introspective look at the intricate process of finding one’s true artistic calling.

“Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova) is a young Russian dancer who, following years of intense training under a formidable ballet teacher (Aleksey Guskov), is admitted to the Bolshoi Ballet as a classical ballerina. However, after being moved to tears by the performance of a modern dance work, she drops out of the prestigious Moscow company, much to the despair of her debt-ridden, working-class parents.

“She travels to Aix-en-Provence in southern France to audition for modern-dance choreographer Liria (Juliette Binoche), earning a spot in her company in the process. But her overwhelming drive for success leads to a fallout with both her dancer boyfriend (Niels Schneider) and the troupe.

“A third act set in Antwerp, Belgium, sees Polina further exploring the art form, with Jérémie Bélingard – of the Paris Opera Ballet – playing her perfect partner.

“In the role of Polina, newcomer Shevtsova is admittedly not the most expressive of film leads. Her opaque emotional display, though, does fit nicely with this character, who seems ready to sacrifice anything – from her relationship with her boyfriend to her parents’ livelihood – amid her quest for greatness.

“Her story should resonate most with artists who have ever felt lost, while dance lovers will also find much to savour in the film’s gorgeously choreographed sequences.”

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AUGUST 25: Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman (dirs. Susan Froemke and John Hoffman and co-dir. Beth Aala)Cinema Village synopsis: “The story of a huge, largely hidden, and entirely unexpected conservation movement in America.

“Unfolding as a journey down the Mississippi River, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman tells the stories of five representatives of this stewardship movement: a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper and a Gulf fisherman. In exploring their work, family histories and the essential geographies they protect, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman challenges pervasive and powerful myths about American and environmental values.”

Indelible Film Images: Cat People (1982)

Cat People (1982) – dir. Paul Schrader

Starring: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Lynn Lowry, Tessa Richarde, Berry Berenson, Emery Hollier

Cinematography: John Bailey

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Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: July 2017

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Writer/producer/director Gillian Robespierre on the set of Landline, 2016.

Here are fourteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this July, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

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JULY 7: The Rehearsal (dir. Alison Maclean)New York Film Festival synopsis:  “Alison Maclean (Jesus’ Son) returns to her New Zealand filmmaking roots with a multilayered coming-of-age story about a young actor (James Rolleston) searching for the truth of a character he’s playing onstage and the resulting moral dilemma in his personal life. Set largely in a drama school, featuring Kerry Fox as a diva-like teacher who tries to shape her student’s raw talent, The Rehearsal, adapted from the novel by Eleanor Catton, demystifies actors and acting in order to reveal the moments where craft becomes art. The same happens with Maclean’s understated but penetrating filmmaking. Her concentration on the quotidian yields a finale that borders on the sublime.”

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JULY 7: Swim Team (dir. Lara Stolman) (DP: Laela Kilbourn)IFC Center synopsis: “In New Jersey, the parents of a boy on the autism spectrum take matters into their own hands. They form a competitive swim team, recruiting diverse teens on the spectrum and training them with high expectations and zero pity. Swim Team chronicles the extraordinary rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, capturing a moving quest for inclusion, independence and a life that feels winning.”

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JULY 12: 500 Years (dir. Pamela Yates)Human Rights Watch Film Festival synopsis:500 Years is the story of Mayan resistance in Guatemala — to threaten the powerful and empower the dispossessed, from the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of indigenous people in 2013 to a citizen’s uprising that threatens to topple a corrupt government.

“The film exposes a world of brutality, entrenched racism and impunity, that challenges the historical narrative of Guatemala. Driven by universal themes of justice, power and corruption, the film provides a platform for the majority indigenous Mayan population, who now stand poised to reimagine their society.

500 Years will be showing on June 11 as part of The Resistance Saga. The Resistance Saga is a cinematic project designed to galvanize audiences to fight back when society is faced with authoritarianism and demagogues, and celebrate the role that the arts can play in creating, strengthening, and communicating narratives of nonviolent resistance. In so many ways, indigenous peoples throughout the Americas have set the example of long-term courageous and strategic resistance against daunting odds, with a powerful example being the saga of the Mayan people as depicted in director Pamela Yates’ films When the Mountains Tremble, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator and the latest installment, 500 Years: Life in Resistance. The event is a day-long immersive gathering that includes the screening of all three films, with two 15-minute intermissions, followed by a discussion on long-term movement building with the Mayan women protagonists, and a reception and concert by Mayan singer/songwriter Sara Curruchich singing her inspiring songs of resistance.

“All three films of the Guatemalan trilogy have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival during the past 35 years. When the Mountains Tremble (1984) introduced indigenous rights leader Rigoberta Menchú as the storyteller in her role to expose repression during Guatemala’s brutal armed conflict. Winner of the Special Jury Award at Sundance, the film was seen worldwide and translated into 10 languages. It helped put Menchú on the world stage and 10 years later she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yates’ sequel, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011) is a a political thriller about the building of a genocide case against Guatemala General Efraín Ríos Montt. The case included outtakes from When the Mountains Tremble as forensic evidence in the prosecution of Montt. The third film, 500 Years: Life in Resistance, picks up where Granito leaves off, providing inside access to the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of indigenous people. Driven by universal themes of justice, power, and corruption, the film provides a platform for the majority indigenous Mayan population, which is now poised to reimagine their society.”

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JULY 14 (NYC), JULY 21 (LA): False Confessions (dir. Luc Bondy and co-dir. Marie-Louise Bischofberger)Big World Pictures synopsis: “Luc Bondy’s final feature film as director draws talent from both stage and screen to bring Marivaux’s play into 21st century Paris. Academy Award nominee (Elle) Isabelle Huppert commands the screen as Araminte, the wealthy widow who unwittingly hires the smitten Dorante (Garrel) as her accountant. Secrets and lies accumulate as Dorante and his accomplice, Araminte’s manservant Dubois (Yves Jacques), manipulate not only the good-hearted Araminte, but also her friend and confidante, Marton (Manon Combes). Dorante, by turns pitiable and proficient, but always deferential to his social better, walks a fine line in his quest to arouse an equal desire in the object of his affections. Bulle Ogier delivers a memorable turn as Araminte’s mother, who suspects the young man’s intentions, but wants to push her daughter into the arms of an aged, hard-up Count (Jean-Pierre Malo). Filmed in part on-site at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, the film blurs the distinction between stage and screen, offering a new turn on this classic take on the psychology of love.

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JULY 14: Lady Macbeth (dir. William Oldroyd) (DP: Ari Wegner)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “Acclaimed UK stage director William Oldroyd makes his cinematic debut with this striking adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s famous play Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, relocated to Victorian England. Trapped in a marriage to a much older man and marooned on an estate amidst the bleak northern heaths, Lady Katherine (Florence Pugh) paces her constrictive world like a wild animal looking for escape. She soon finds an outlet for her stifled desires in an affair with a young groom — but the couple’s passion could prove to be their undoing.”

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JULY 14: Swallows and Amazons (dir. Philippa Lowthorpe)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “An enchanting new take on the beloved novel by Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons tells the story of the Walker children, whose summer holiday in the Lake District sees them sailing out on their own to a local island, only to find themselves in competition with a rival group of children who call themselves the Amazons and ultimately an adventure far bigger than they could have imagined. Combining a great British cast with stunning locations and a classic story, Swallows and Amazons is an exciting and heart-warming adventure that will be a must-see for family audiences this summer.”

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JULY 14 (in theaters and streaming on Netflix): To the Bone (dir. Marti Noxon)From RogerEbert.com’s Sundance Film Festival review by Nick Allen: “Writer/director Marti Noxon makes her directorial debut with To the Bone, a drama that gives viewers a first-hand perspective into the world of eating disorders, and the beautiful souls who have them. Front-and-center is a performance by Lily Collins, dramatically sincere even without considering the weight she must have lost to actualize her character Ellen, a quick-witted woman who needs medical help but refuses to play ball with various therapists. This all changes when Ellen meets Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves), who promises a different, more intense treatment than she is used to, which involves living in a home with people of other eating disorders, and finding her own way to choosing a healthier life.

“After showing us Ellen’s anorexia up-close, while listening to her dismissive, dark comedy about it (she counts calories in a scene meant to play as goofy and tragic), Noxon’s narrative gets its main focus when she is brought to the house, where the rules start to take place. There are no doors in the house, no cell phones, and points are earned by doing chores, which can be used to have time away from the house. We also meet other residents of various conditions, like Pearl (Maya Eshet), who is often in bed with a tube in her nose, former dancer Luke (Alex Sharp), who lost a great deal of weight after an injury, and even a character played by Leslie Bibb, who is pregnant despite the thinness of her body, and is working hard to safely deliver the baby. Ellen wrestles with whether she wants to be better, facing her self-hatred, due in part to a disturbing past.

To the Bone has a concrete sense of place, people and perspective, all of which makes the movie stronger than its faults. It’s even striking that the movie takes on a quirky tone for subject matter, which provides some breathing room when hearing about the women and what they’re experiencing makes you want to burst into tears. But To the Bone goes in an uninteresting narrative direction, at least by my eyes, focusing on a budding relationship between Ellen and the too-hammy Lucas, while also not giving enough time to the other life stories in the house. The striking ideas of this movie are used for something that wants to mix the emotional immediacy of The Fault in Our Stars with a familiar type of rag-tag group crowd-pleasing. Even Reeves, who is introduced with a bit of intriguing sass, goes to the wayside.

“Still, there is a lot of passion in this project, from the clear physical conditioning that Collins and her cast put themselves through to be true to this story, to the way that Noxon doesn’t pull back from showing how life-threatening these disorders can be, but that there are real people in each case. I’m happy that To the Bone exists, and that it’s recently been acquired by Netflix for mass-viewing. The movie deserves a large audience, whether for viewers to empathize with others or to address their own pain.”

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JULY 14: The Wrong Light (dirs. Dave Adams and Josie Swantek)Cinema Village synopsis:The Wrong Light tells the riveting story of a charismatic activist who leads a globally-regarded anti-trafficking NGO in Northern Thailand that provides shelter and education to young girls rescued from brothels. But as the filmmakers embed themselves at the shelter and meet the girls and their families, discrepancies begin to emerge. While the filmmakers embark search for the truth and ensure the girls’ safety, the heroic tale takes a shocking turn and reveals a dark side of child advocacy behind the trafficking headlines.”

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JULY 21 (limited release), AUGUST 4 (wide release): Landline (dir. Gillian Robespierre)Magnolia Pictures synopsis: “When two sisters suspect their father (John Turturro) may be having an affair, it sends them into a tailspin that reveals cracks in the family façade. For the first time, older sister Dana (Jenny Slate), recently engaged and struggling with her own fidelity, finds herself bonding with her wild teenage sister Ali (Abby Quinn). The two try to uncover the truth without tipping off their mother (Edie Falco) and discover the messy reality of love and sex in the process. Set in 1990s Manhattan, Landline is a warm, insightful and comedic drama about a family united by secrets and lies, co-written and directed by Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child).”

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JULY 26: Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World (dir. Catherine Bainbridge and co-dir. Alfonso Maiorana)Film Forum synopsis: “This rousing history of American Indians in popular music kicks off with Link Wray (Shawnee) whose raw, distorted electric guitar riff from the 1958 instrumental ‘Rumble’ was a major influence on rock legends Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, and Iggy Pop. Rumble powers through the music and life stories of artists whose Indian heritage has long been unsung: Delta blues master Charley Patton (Choctaw), ‘queen of swing’ Mildred Bailey (Coeur D’Alene), The Band’s Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee), folk icon Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree), and others. Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones, and David Fricke weigh in on how these Native American musicians shaped the sounds of our lives.”

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JULY 28 (in theaters and on Video on Demand): From the Land of the Moon (dir. Nicole Garcia)IFC Films synopsis: “Based on the international best-selling novel and starring Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard, From the Land of the Moon is the story of a free-spirited woman fighting for passionate dreams of true love against all odds. Gabrielle (Cotillard) comes from a small village in the South of France at a a time when her dream of true love is considered scandalous, and even a sign of insanity. Her parents marry her to José (Àlex Brendemühl), an honest and loving Spanish farm worker who they think will make a respectable woman of her. Despite José’s devotion to her, Gabrielle vows that she will never love José and lives like a prisoner bound by the constraints of conventional post World War II society until the day she is sent away to a hospital in the Alps to heal her kidney stones. There she meets André Sauvage (Louis Garrel), a dashing injured veteran of the Indochinese War, who rekindles the passion buried inside her. She promises they will run away together, and André seems to share her desire. Will anyone dare rob her of her right to follow her dreams?”

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JULY 28 (limited release), AUGUST 4 (wide release): An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (dirs. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “A decade after An Inconvenient Truth brought climate change into the heart of popular culture, comes the riveting and rousing follow-up that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution. Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight traveling around the world training an army of climate champions and influencing international climate policy. Cameras follow him behind the scenes – in moments both private and public, funny and poignant – as he pursues the inspirational idea that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.”

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JULY 28: Person to Person (dir. Dustin Guy Defa) (DP: Ashley Connor)Magnolia Pictures synopsis: “In Person to Person, a record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship, and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner. Shot entirely in 16mm, Person to Person effortlessly humanizes its characters, invoking an earnest realism in the performances of its ensemble cast: Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, Michaela Watkins, and newcomer Bene Coopersmith. Defa demonstrates his aptitude for honest storytelling as he explores the absurdity and challenges of forging human connections.”

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JULY 28: Strange Weather (dir. Katherine Dieckmann)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “Academy Award winner Holly Hunter gets behind the wheel in this engrossing story of a woman’s quest for rectitude in the wake of harrowing loss. Steeped in a strong sense of place and peopled by convention-defying characters, Katherine Dieckmann’s Strange Weather draws you into its sultry Southern milieu and takes you on a back-roads trek you won’t soon forget.

“Darcy Baylor (Hunter) is an academic administrator at a Mississippi college, but another round of budget cuts puts her job — like nearly everything in her life — in limbo. Her son Walker committed suicide seven years ago, and the only constants in Darcy’s life since then have been her gardening and her best friend, Byrd (Carrie Coon). Shortly after her worrying workplace news, Darcy learns that Walker’s old college pal Mark (Shane Jacobsen) is now the owner of a successful restaurant chain — a chain whose concept, down to the last detail, was stolen from Walker. Darcy immediately packs her bag, gets in her truck, picks up Byrd, and sets out for New Orleans to pay Mark a visit. She isn’t sure what she’s going to do when she meets him. “I just want to look him in the eye,” says Darcy. ‘Then I’ll decide. I was never one for planning.’

Strange Weather is about the journey as much as the destination. Its circuitous route allows for surprise encounters and sudden detours. Surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast, Hunter gives a spunky, soulful performance. Every stop along the way takes Darcy closer to some new understanding of how to come to terms with the past — and eventually find her way back home.”

The Lens of Fears and Dreams: Michael Ballhaus

German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, most famous for his collaborations with the auteurs Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Martin Scorsese, passed away today at age 81. Here are scenes from eleven films (because ten just aren’t enough!) photographed by Ballhaus, unforgettable moments that are forever imprinted in my mind.

Beware of a Holy Whore (1971, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). An unhappy actress is fired from a film project after making too many demands; we watch her departure in an extended take that Ballhaus shot inside the boat taking her away from the set. I love the blueness of the water and the soft, golden light on Magdalena Montezuma’s face as she drifts further and further away as an aria from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor plays on the soundtrack, before we are abruptly brought back to a scene of the film shoot. Perhaps Fassbinder’s choice of aria, “Il dolce suono,” which depicts the aftermath of Lucia stabbing her husband to death on their wedding night and subsequently fantasizing about marriage to a different man, is applied to Magdalena Montezuma’s farewell scene (trust me, she exhibited tremendous histrionics) by implying that after the bout of madness that destroyed her career opportunity, she can still dream of a brighter future, even if it’s one that probably won’t happen.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). In the first video, Michael Ballhaus discusses his work on Petra von Kant in an interview conducted by the Criterion Collection for a new DVD release of the film in 2015. In the second clip, we see a scene showing the beginning of the first romantic encounter between fashion designer Petra (Margit Carstensen) and a young protégée, Karin (Hanna Schygulla), who is willing and eager to sleep her way to the top of the modeling world. The ornate costumes were designed by Maja Lemcke, her only film credit according to the IMDb.

Martha (1974, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). One of Fassbinder’s greatest films was produced for TV, a melodrama in the style of Douglas Sirk titled Martha. Margit Carstensen plays the main character, a young woman whose father (Adrian Hoven) dies while they are on vacation in Italy; on the same fateful day, she falls in love with an older man (Karlheinz Böhm), whom she soon marries (with disastrous consequences for her). Fassbinder introduces Böhm’s character and shows the instant attraction in the pair’s first meeting thanks to Ballhaus’s cinematography. The camera rotates hypnotically around the man and woman, a dizzying vision of lust. You’ll also note that the scene ends on a shot of a voyeuristic interloper played by El Hedi ben Salem, who played the male lead opposite Brigitte Mira in Fassbinder’s All That Heaven Allows remake, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, that same year. Salem was Fassbinder’s on again, off again boyfriend in the 1970s and he eventually committed suicide in a French jail in 1977, having been arrested and convicted of stabbing three people in a bar fight.

Fox and His Friends (1975, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Possibly Fassbinder’s greatest masterpiece, Fox and His Friends is the tragic tale of Franz, a working-class man (played by Fassbinder) whose naive, guileless affection for his wealthy boyfriend, Eugen (Peter Chatel), allows Eugen to manipulate and exploit him. In one memorable segment of the film, Eugen convinces Franz to go on a pleasure trip to Morocco, where the couple pick up a local “guide,” Salem (the aforementioned El Hedi ben Salem). The cinematography in the scene in which Franz and Eugen cruise the “Meeting Place of the Dead” is exquisite, decorating the landscape in bars of light from the wooden slats above the market.

Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Although this clip does not have subtitles, all you need to know is that a cabaret’s emcee (Peter Kern) excitedly introduces a singer’s act (Ingrid Caven), while her new boyfriend (Gottfried John) and her embarrassed mother and brother (Brigitte Mira, Armin Meier) look on. The family considers the performance quite tasteless, given that the family’s patriarch has recently committed suicide; even in the face of personal tragedy, the daughter is too vain and hungry for fame to consider postponing her stage show. Fassbinder loved images of people experiencing shame, frustration and other variations of pain, and this scene is no exception.

Chinese Roulette (1976, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Alexander Allerson and Margit Carstensen, playing an estranged husband and wife, embrace in a scene depicted magnificently in one long dolly shot revolving around the two actors. Without dialogue, we get an intense feeling of intimacy from the swirling motions of the camera and the images of the performers’ faces, especially the expressive Margit Carstensen (one of Fassbinder’s favorite leading ladies).

After Hours (1985, dir. Martin Scorsese). Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a word processor who works for a publishing firm in Manhattan, experiences the worst night of his life after he meets an unusual young woman, Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette), in a diner. As the two talk in Marcy’s apartment, Ballhaus keeps the scene minimally lit, but he zooms in on Arquette’s face when she leaves the room, a typically Scorsesean shot which is my favorite in the entire film.

Broadcast News (1987, dir. James L. Brooks). Television producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) leads news anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt) through his first live show, a relationship that relies on her ability to direct his “performance” – a role-reversal of the Svengali and Trilby archetypes. Michael Ballhaus nicely conveys the depth of the TV studio, showing the distance and shifting perspectives of characters in the control room and down on the set.

Goodfellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese). One of the most celebrated scenes in the history of Martin Scorsese’s career is the unedited shot of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and soon-to-be wife Karen Friedman (Lorraine Bracco) entering the Copacabana nightclub by way of the kitchen, a handheld shot achieved with the use of a Steadicam. The scene was shot eight times; reportedly, the eighth take is what Scorsese put in the finished film.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Enjoy the lush visual atmosphere of Coppola’s Dracula set: the lighting by Michael Ballhaus, Gary Oldman’s dedicated performance as the title vampire and Winona Ryder’s underrated work as Dracula’s great love, Mina Murray. The beautiful score composed by Wojciech Kilar completes the picture.

Quiz Show (1994, dir. Robert Redford). One of my favorite moments in Quiz Show is the scene in which Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) comes close to revealing to his father, Mark (Paul Scofield), that he has been cheating during his winning streak on the TV quiz show Twenty One. Charles cannot bring himself to admit the sordid truth, though, and the cinematography reflects the metaphorical darkness weighing on Charles’s mind by displaying Mark Van Doren’s private study drenched in shadows. Michael Ballhaus’s use of close-ups, especially as Charles dances on the edge of revealing his secret, draws you in closer to the drama, but I also love the wide shot that the scene ends on, explaining without words that the brief window of opportunity for Charles’s confession has passed.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: April 2017

Director April Mullen and her all-female crew on the set of Below Her Mouth, 2015.

Here are thirteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this April, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

MARCH 31 (NYC), APRIL 7 (LA): Cézanne et Moi (dir. Danièle Thompson)Landmark Sunshine Cinema synopsis:Cézanne et Moi is the compelling and moving chronicle of the surprising lifelong love/hate relationship between two of the creative geniuses of the 19th century, post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne, Yves Saint Laurent) and novelist Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet, Tell No One). Zola came from a poor family and wrote proletarian novels, but eventually won fame and fortune; Cezanne, the rebellious son of a rich banker, had long years of poverty and struggle as an artist, rejecting society in pursuit of art. They met as schoolboys in Aix-en-Provence, both outcasts, and became best friends; both sought the bright lights of Paris as young men, living life to the fullest. Rebellion and curiosity, hopes and doubts, girls and dreams of glory—they shared it all; yet rivalry and hurt feelings drove them apart. This gorgeous production was shot in part on location in Provence around Montagne Saint-Victoire, memorialized in so many of Cezanne’s paintings. Written and directed by Danièle Thompson (Avenue Montaigne, Jet Lag), an Academy Award nominee for her Cousin Cousine screenplay.”

APRIL 7 (in theaters and on Video on Demand): Alive and Kicking (dir. Susan Glatzer)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Alive and Kicking is a feature-length documentary that takes an inside look into the culture of swing dancing and the characters who make it special. We explore the culture surrounding Swing dance from the emergence of the Lindy Hop to the modern day international phenomenon. The film follows the growth of Swing dance from its purely American roots as an art form, to countries all over the world. Alive and Kicking looks at the lives of the Swing dancers themselves to find their personal stories and why this dance fills them with joy.”

APRIL 7: Their Finest (dir. Lone Scherfig)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis: “Featuring a cast teeming with some of the UK’s most charismatic comedic actors, Bill Nighy and Richard E. Grant among them, Their Finest is about boosting morale in a period of national — and personal — crisis.

“Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is a ‘slop’ scriptwriter, charged with bringing a female perspective to war films produced by the British Ministry of Information’s Film Division. Her current project is a feature inspired by stories of British civilians rescuing soldiers after the retreat at Dunkirk. Catrin’s artist husband looks down on her job, despite the fact that it’s paying the rent. At least lead scenarist Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) appreciates her efforts.

“While on location in Devon, Catrin begins to come into her own and earn the respect of her peers. She’s the only crewperson that Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy), a past-his-prime yet nonetheless pompous actor, will talk to.

“Based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, the film pops with witty banter and flows with lovely period detail. The characters are uniformly textured and the performances nuanced. Nighy is perfectly cast in his endearingly withering role, and Jeremy Irons turns up for a delicious cameo. It is, however, Arterton’s show. She brings subtlety, intelligence, and a range of beautifully gauged emotions to Catrin, whose path to self-renewal is an inspiring example of a talented woman forging her place in the world.”

APRIL 12: Glory (dirs. Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov)Film Forum synopsis: “Frank Capra by way of Bulgaria. When a disheveled railroad worker discovers fistfuls of money on some rural train tracks, he turns over the dough to the police. The grateful authorities reward him with a televised ceremony and a new wristwatch to replace his old one (a family heirloom). But the glitzy new watch stops working and the smarmy, workaholic publicist for the Ministry of Transport can’t seem to find his old one. The man’s nonstop attempts to get his beloved old watch back wreak havoc on her efforts to use the heart-warming story of an honest good Samaritan to distract public attention from a burgeoning corruption scandal. A simple premise deepens into an incisive portrait of a bureaucracy riven with cynicism and a government happy to swallow its most idealistic citizens whole. From the directors, and starring the lead actors, of The Lesson, which Film Forum opened in 2015.”

APRIL 14: Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back (dir. Maura Axelrod)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “In the documentary feature Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back, filmmaker Maura Axelrod excavates Maurizio Cattelan’s disruptive and indelible career as the art world prankster of our time. Interviewing curators, collectors, art-world luminaries (and even his ex-girlfriends), to build a compelling picture of the conceptual artist and what makes him tick.

“Known best for his shocking photorealistic wax sculpture of Pope John Paul being felled by a meteorite, and of a child-size Hitler kneeling in prayer, Cattelan’s work is often wildly offensive – and yet incredibly popular – selling for tens of millions of dollars at auction.

“The film explores the origins of Cattelan’s work, and delves into the mythology of the famously elusive artist’s personal story as well. And like the best mysteries, viewers emerge from this dizzying journey knowing everything and nothing about a man who, from his professional inception, ushered us into a dazzling hall of mirrors that enchants and perplexes to this day. Maurizio Cattelan shook up the contemporary art world beginning in the late 1980s with a series of action-based installations including his first solo show in Milan, Torno Subito (Be Right Back), in which he padlocked an empty gallery – barring entrance to critics and spectators – and simply hung a sign on the door that read ‘Torno Subito’ or ‘Be Right Back.’

“Over his twenty-year career, Cattelan has continued to provoke and inspire, culminating in an all-encompassing installation and the proclamation of his retirement in 2011. His stunning final exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City features all of his works to date suspended – execution style, as sharper critics described it – from the ceiling of the world-famous museum’s rotunda, encapsulating a brief but meteoric career that Cattelan himself supposedly terminated at the height of his success.”

APRIL 14 (San Francisco), APRIL 21 (NYC and other cities): Tomorrow (dirs. Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Showing solutions, telling a feel-good story… this may be the best way to solve the ecological, economical and social crises that our countries are going through. After a special briefing for the journal Nature announced the possible extinction of a part of mankind before the end of the 21st century, Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, together with a team of four people, carried out an investigation in ten different countries to figure out what may lead to this disaster and above all how to avoid it.

“During their journey, they met the pioneers who are re-inventing agriculture, energy, economy, democracy and education. Joining those concrete and positive actions which are already working, they began to figure out what could be tomorrow’s world…”

APRIL 21: Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent (dir. Lydia Tenaglia)Grub Street post by Sierra Tishgart: “Almost a year after debuting at film festivals, executive producer Anthony Bourdain and director Lydia Tenaglia’s documentary, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, will hit theaters next month — premiering in New York and Los Angeles on April 21.

“The film explores Tower’s successful yet mysterious career in cooking: He’s credited by many as a chef who revolutionized cooking in this country, yet his name remains unknown to many people outside the industry. He first made a name for himself at Chez Panisse in 1972, but left after a dispute with owner Alice Waters, eventually opening Stars Restaurant in San Francisco to international acclaim. But after a few years, he left Stars, too. More than two decades later, he returned to professional cooking for a stint at New York’s fabled Tavern on the Green.

“Tower may not get the same recognition as his contemporaries, but as Bourdain explains in the trailer, ‘We should know who changed the world — we should know their names.’ Interviews with Mario Batali, Ruth Reichl, and Martha Stewart reinforce Tower’s role as one of the founding fathers of American food.”

APRIL 21: Unforgettable (dir. Denise Di Novi)Warner Bros. synopsis: “Warner Bros. Pictures’ dramatic thriller Unforgettable is the first film in the director’s chair for veteran producer Denise Di Novi (Crazy Stupid Love, Focus). Katherine Heigl (27 Dresses, Knocked Up), Rosario Dawson (the Sin City films) and Geoff Stults (TV’s The Odd Couple) star in the film.

“Tessa Connover (Heigl) is barely coping with the end of her marriage when her ex-husband, David (Stults), becomes happily engaged to Julia Banks (Dawson)—not only bringing Julia into the home they once shared but also into the life of their daughter, Lily. Trying to settle into her new life, Julia believes she has finally met the man of her dreams, the man who can help her put her own troubled past behind her. But Tessa’s jealousy soon takes a pathological turn until she will stop at nothing to turn Julia’s dream into her ultimate nightmare.”

APRIL 26: Obit. (dir. Vanessa Gould)Film Forum synopsis: “When New York Times writer Bruce Weber comes into the office, the first thing he says is: ‘Who’s dead?’ Times editor William McDonald, Weber, Margalit Fox, William Grimes, Douglas Martin, Paul Vitello, and others appear on screen — very much alive — in Vanessa Gould’s witty, eye-opening inside account of the ‘dead beat’ – the Times’s obituaries desk. According to Grimes, ‘dull, dry, responsible’ copy was once the norm. Today, the paper’s obits are among the best-written, most-read articles, and an ever-fascinating showcase for notable lives and achievements, from Nobel Prize winners to the inventor of the Slinky. Gould lets us in on more than a few secrets: how subjects are ultimately chosen, who merits star placement, who has an ‘advance obit’ (there are 1700 on file, kept under lock and key), and how the Times maintains its vast archive. Sole morgue-keeper Jeff Roth gives us a breathless tour of the paper’s century-old trove of clippings and photographs.”

APRIL 28 (in theaters and on Video on Demand): Below Her Mouth (dir. April Mullen) (DP: Maya Bankovic)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Magali Simard: “One of the boldest and sexiest dramas of the year, April Mullen’s Below Her Mouth tells the story of an unexpected romance between two women whose passionate connection changes their lives forever.

“Jasmine (Natalie Krill) is a successful fashion editor living with her fiancé, Rile (Sebastian Pigott). On a night out in the city with her best friend, she meets Dallas (Erika Linder), a roofer recently out of a relationship. Jasmine is taken by surprise when Dallas confidently hits on her; she turns Dallas down, but can’t get her out of her head.

“Dallas continues her cool, self-assured advances. In a matter of days, Jasmine succumbs and the two women embark on a steamy affair. It feels like a fantasy world compared to Jasmine’s life and plans with Rile, but soon reality rears its head, and she will have to face the profound changes their sudden romance has wrought in her.

“Stephanie Fabrizi’s screenplay powerfully and honestly explores what happens when two women fall hard for each other, and Mullen brings the story to the screen with uninhibited flair and assurance, showing us how love can arise from some of the messiest times in our lives.

Below Her Mouth is a rarity in more than one way: it’s a fiction film shot with an entirely female crew, and it’s an uncommonly frank look at the all-encompassing nature of attraction — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the transcendendent.”

APRIL 28: Buster’s Mal Heart (dir. Sarah Adina Smith)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Colin Geddes: “An eccentric mountain man is on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows — where he has acquired the nickname ‘Buster’ — to rant about the impending dangers of Y2K, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man.

“Buster (Rami Malek) was once Jonah, a hard-working husband and father whose job as the night-shift concierge at a hotel took its toll on his mood and, consequently, his marriage to the sensitive and long-suffering Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) — until a chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter (DJ Qualls) changed the course of their lives forever. As the sad and solitary present-day Buster drifts from house to house and eludes the local sheriff at every turn, we gradually piece together the events that fractured his life and left him alone on top of a snowy mountain, or perhaps in a small rowboat in the middle of a vast ocean — or both.

“Following the found-footage genre twister The Midnight Swim, Sarah Adina Smith’s second feature puts her on another level as a writer and director. Beautiful, enigmatic and elliptical, Buster’s Mal Heart also features a powerful performance from Malek as the silent, broken protagonist. Taking his first big-screen leading role after his starring turn in the hit TV series Mr. Robot, Malek proves here that he’s more than capable of carrying the weight of a feature film.”

APRIL 28 (in theaters and streaming on Netflix): Casting JonBenét (dir. Kitty Green)Excerpts from The Hollywood Reporter’s Sundance Film Festival review by Leslie Felperin: “Building on an approach to nonfiction storytelling she first explored in the her award-winning short The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, Australian filmmaker Kitty Green creates something powerful, provocative and dazzlingly original with her second feature documentary, Casting JonBenét. In essence, this sui generis work offers a kaleidoscopic array of personal reactions to the famous 1996 murder of six-year-old beauty pageant contestant JonBenét Ramsay.

“But the interviewees are not people who were directly involved in the case, although some had very tangential connections to the murder. Instead, they are all actors: a mix of professional and non-pro, from in and around Boulder, Colorado (where JonBenét lived and died), auditioning to play the murdered child’s now-deceased mother, Patsy, father, John, brother, Burke and, of course, JonBenét herself, among others.

“Over the course of the film, the participants share not just their own hunches and suspicions about what happened that morning after Christmas, but also personal revelations about themselves and why the case resonates with them so deeply 20 years on. Ultimately, this evolves into a layered meditation on many things — crime and guilt, the exploitation of children and acting itself, to name just a few.

“…The point, however — unlike many of the documentaries about the case over the years, some of which have prompted libel cases from the surviving Ramsey family members — is not to make a definitive argument that this or that person or persons, known or unknown, killed JonBenét. Rather, her tragic death becomes a prism through which the stories and feelings of the actors themselves, and of course our own, are refracted. A man shares how his performance changed between the time he was cast for this film and the time he was called in for the film’s grand finale, because in the intervening time he was diagnosed with cancer. One woman shares how she was sexually abused as a child when she was about JonBenét’s age, while another discusses how her own brother’s murder affects her perspective on the case and her need to bear witness through acting.

“…As did Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans and Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, Casting JonBenét expands the formal horizons of documentary, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, not to take a particular side, but to question how we can ever know what really happened. It may be about a murder that occurred more than 20 years ago, but on another level it’s a film that feels very much a product of these troubled, post-truth times.”

APRIL 28: Danger Close (dirs. David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud) (DP: Alex Quade)Cinema Village synopsis: “Directed by David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud, whose previous work includes the acclaimed military documentaries Citizen Soldier and The Hornet’s Nest. This riveting documentary follows Alex Quade, the only reporter and only female ever embedded long-term with U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) overseas on highly classified combat missions, as she embeds with elite SOF (including the U.S. Army Special Forces or Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy Seals, and CIA clandestine operatives) to tell their stories from the front lines. Danger Close follows Alex as she lives alongside these highly trained forces on some of the most daring missions ever documented in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: March 2017

Actress/executive producer Jessica Chastain (left) and director Niki Caro (right) on the set of The Zookeeper’s Wife, 2015.

Here are nineteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this March, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

MARCH 3: Before I Fall (dir. Ry Russo-Young)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “What if you had only one day to change absolutely everything? Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) has everything: the perfect friends, the perfect guy, and a seemingly perfect future. Then, everything changes. After one fateful night, Sam wakes up with no future at all. Trapped reliving the same day over and over, she begins to question just how perfect her life really was. As she begins to untangle the mystery of a life suddenly derailed, she must also unwind the secrets of the people closest to her, and discover the power of a single day to make a difference, not just in her own life, but in the lives of those around her–before she runs out of time for good.”

MARCH 3: Catfight (dir. Onur Tukel) (DP: Zoe White)Excerpt from a Vanity Fair’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Jordan Freeman: “What might be the most refreshing film of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival feels like it could be the result of a drunken dare. Imagine a movie in which Anne Heche and Sandra Oh beat the ever-loving snot out of each other in drawn-out, bareknuckle brawls so ridiculously over-the-top they can shock an audience out of any desensitized-to-violence stupor. All that, plus a recurring character called the Fart Machine.

“Like Jules Dassin’s wrestling sequence in Night and the City or the ‘put on these glasses!’ battle in John Carpenter’s They Live, the absurdist use of fisticuffs in Onur Tukel’s extremely independent Catfight is unnerving, strangely hilarious—and, whether you accept it or not, meaningful. Catfight, which begins like any other urbane New York satire, quickly unravels into a surrealist nightmare, leaning into its low budget so hard that even a hastily decorated hospital-room set evokes a feverish symbolism. Catfight doesn’t take place in our world, which is how it ends up being more insightful about larger social issues than most movies you’ll see this year.

“Oh’s Veronica is a wine-loving, wealthy mom with a live-in housekeeper and a husband (Damian Young) who’s giddy that the president has announced a ‘new war.’ His company (debris disposal) has signed a Pentagon contract, so a new battlefront means a major infusion of cash. Then they attend a Manhattan party that just so happens to be catered by Lisa (Alicia Silverstone), whose girlfriend Ashley (Heche) is a brilliant but defiantly uncommercial painter. And as it turns out, Veronica and Ashley were pals in college before life choices (and Veronica’s homophobia?) tore them apart.

“What could have been a minor social hiccup at seeing someone who has fallen a few rungs on the social ladder quickly goes nuclear, and that’s when the pair have their first of many blow-out, bruising fights.”

MARCH 3 (theatrical release in Los Angeles), MARCH 7 (available on DVD and Video on Demand): Fair Haven (dir. Kerstin Karlhuber)Synopsis from the film’s official website:Fair Haven is an upcoming feature film from Silent Giant Productions and Trick Candle Productions.  It stars Tom Wopat (“Dukes of Hazzard,” Django Unchained) Michael Grant (“Secret Life of the American Teenager”) Josh Green (Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip, in theaters now!) Gregory Harrison (“Reckless,” “Trapper John MD”) and Jennifer Taylor (“Two and a Half Men”). Fair Haven is directed by Kerstin Karlhuber, produced by Tom Malloy, and written by Jack Bryant.

“Synopsis: a young man returns to his family farm, after a long stay in ex-gay conversion therapy, and is torn between the expectations of his emotionally distant father, and the memories of a past, loving relationship he has tried to bury.”

MARCH 3: The Institute (dirs. James Franco and Pamela Romanowsky)Excerpts from IndieWire post by Liz Calvario: “The ever-busy James Franco has taken on a darker role in his latest film, The Institute. Co-directed by Franco and Pamela Romanowsky, the movie is a period psychological thriller set in 19th century Baltimore.

“…The Institute centers on Isabel Porter, a young woman (Allie Gallerani) who, after the untimely death of her parents, checks herself into the mental hospital Rosewood Institute. While there, she encounters Dr. Cairnes (Franco) who subjects her to unconventional bizarre, pseudo-scientific experiments in brainwashing and mind control.

“…The Institute also co-stars Josh Duhamel, Pamela Anderson, Topher Grace, Joe Pease, Scott Haze, Lori Singer and Tim Blake Nelson. Hailing from Rabbit Bandini Productions, the thriller is produced by Franco, Vince Jolivette, Jay Davis, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman and Scott Reed.

“Romanowsky and Franco have previously worked together on The Adderall Diaries and the short film Tar.

MARCH 3: Kings, Queens & In-Betweens (dir. Gabrielle Burton)Cinema Village synopsis: “Through the compelling stories of 8 performers in the thriving drag scene of Columbus, Ohio, Kings, Queens & In-Betweens dives into the next frontier — the often misunderstood topic of ‘gender’ itself. With humor and pathos, KQIB makes a complex subject approachable for mainstream audiences — inviting viewers into a conversation about the distinct differences between gender, sex, and sexuality that has not been represented in film before. Notably, KQIB is the first film to include the entire gender performance range: drag kings, queens, trans performers, and in-betweeners. KQIB draws the viewer in to a crucial discussion in current events about human rights, experience — and ultimately about identity itself.”

MARCH 3: The Last Laugh (dir. Ferne Pearlstein) (DPs: Anne Etheridge and Ferne Pearlstein)The Film Collaborative synopsis: “Are we allowed to make jokes about the Holocaust? In this outrageously funny and thought-provoking film, director Ferne Pearlstein puts the question about comedy’s ultimate taboo to legends including Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Alan Zweibel, Harry Shearer, Jeff Ross, Judy Gold, Susie Essman, Larry Charles, Jake Ehrenreich, and many other critical thinkers, as well as Holocaust survivors themselves.

“These interviews are woven together with a vast array of material ranging from ‘The Producers’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ to clips of comics such as Louis CK, Joan Rivers, and Chris Rock, to newly discovered footage of Jerry Lewis’ never-released film Holocaust comedy The Day the Clown Cried, to rare footage of cabarets inside the concentration camps themselves. In so doing, The Last Laugh offers fresh insights into the Holocaust, our own psyches, and what else—9/11, AIDS, racism—is or isn’t off-limits in a society that prizes freedom of speech.

The Last Laugh also disproves the idea that there is nothing left to say about the Holocaust and opens a fresh avenue for approaching this epochal tragedy. Star-studded, provocative and thoroughly entertaining, The Last Laugh dares to ask uncomfortable questions about just how free speech can really be, with unexpected and hilarious results that will leave you both laughing and appreciating the importance of humor even in the face of events that make you want to cry.”

MARCH 3: Nakom (dirs. Kelly Daniela Norris and T.W. Pittman)Cinema Village synopsis:Set in present day Ghana, Nakom follows Iddrisu, a talented medical student who is summoned home by his sister after their father’s sudden death. Iddrisu reluctantly returns home to the village of Nakom, buries his father and temporarily assumes the head of the impoverished household and farm, inheriting not only the delicate task of planting a successful crop but also a debt left by the deceased patriarch that could destroy the family. Attempting to maintain part of his studies from the confines of a small hut, Iddrisu becomes increasingly frustrated with the incessant physical and emotional needs of those around him, the demanding toil of the land and lack of rain. A contentious relationship with his uncle Napolean, to whom the sizeable debt is owed, is further complicated by the unplanned pregnancy of Napolean’s granddaughter who was sent to live with Iddrisu’s family.

“As the new patriarch grapples with tradition and familial duty, he is met with varying shades of contempt by both family and villagers who compare him with his father expecting a resemblance. Iddrisu’s patience and wisdom are tempered by the strange paradox created by his faith in God and desire for control, the latter of which he cannot have so long as he stays in Nakom. As circumstances swell, Iddrisu suddenly begins to realize that no future for him exists in the place where he is needed the most, even despite an offer by the village Chieftain to remain in Nakom to become an elder and marry his daughter.

“A selection of the Museum of Modern Art and Film Society of Lincoln Center’s prestigious New Directors/New Films series, Nakom is a highly relatable story about traversing the line between family and self-preservation.”

MARCH 10: Badrinath Ki Dulhania (dir. Shashank Khaitan) (DP: Neha Parti Matiyani)IMDb synopsis: “Badrinath Bansal from Jhansi and Vaidehi Trivedi from Kota belong to small towns but have diametrically opposite opinions on everything.This leads to a clash of ideologies, despite both of them recognizing the goodness in each other.”

MARCH 10: Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau)Excerpt from The Guardian’s Toronto International Film Festival review by Peter Bradshaw: “Julia Ducournau is a 33-year-old first-time feature director who makes her worryingly brilliant debut with this saturnalia of arthouse horror. At the Toronto film festival, it had audiences dry-heaving and indeed wet-heaving in the aisles and the cinema lavatories. This is the sort of film which pundits are often keen to label ‘black comedy’ as a way of re-establishing their own sang-froid. In the same tongue-in-cheek spirit, it has been called coming-of-age drama. There is a grain of truth in both of these labels. It is a film about cannibalism, and has clearly been influenced by Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are, John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps, and perhaps especially Marina de Van’s body shocker In My Skin – which incidentally featured a young Laurent Lucas, a veteran of extreme French cinema who also turns up here.

“While it isn’t exactly true to say that cannibalism is just a metaphor for something else, eating human flesh is appropriate for a drama about sexuality, identity, body image and conformity. It’s a film in which the lead character is briefly aware of becoming more attractive by losing weight – not so long after she had participated in a jokey student conversation about monkeys being sexually assaulted and then getting anorexia and having to see a therapist. And in a society where eating is somehow criminalised, cannibalism is an appropriate fantasy.

“Justine (Garance Marillier) is a teenager heading off to college to study veterinary science: her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already there, doing the same course a year ahead, and it becomes clear that her doting, protective parents (played by Laurent Lucas and Joana Preiss) took their own degrees there many years before. Justine is a virgin, an idealistic person, a believer in animal rights and above all a vegetarian. So she is horrified by a student initiation ritual in which she has to eat a rabbit kidney. Yet meekly aware of the need to fit in, she does it; she suffers a reaction for which the doctor suggests fasting and all this somehow triggers a whole new yearning.

“What is very impressive about Raw is that absolutely everything about it is disquieting, not just the obvious moments of revulsion: there is no let up in the ambient background buzz of fear. The scenes showing the frat-type ‘hazing’ are extraordinary and very convincing – as if studying to be a vet is like joining the Foreign Legion. Students are brutally woken in the middle of the night: humiliated, bullied, assured that not to submit would be to wimp out and let everyone down. Going to university was an experience which Justine had probably thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find herself, to express herself, to find her individuality and personality. Instead, college and adulthood seems more like a fascistic world of submission and staying in line – or even like some post-apocalyptic society in which these freaky cult rituals have grown up as part of survival.”

MARCH 15: Tickling Giants (dir. Sara Taksler)IFC Center synopsis: “In the midst of the Egyptian Arab Spring, Bassem Youssef makes a decision that’s every mother’s worst nightmare… He leaves his job as a heart surgeon to become a full-time comedian.

“Dubbed ‘The Egyptian Jon Stewart,’ Bassem creates the most viewed television program in the Middle East. He has 30 million viewers per episode compared to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s 2 million viewers. In a country where free speech is not settled law, Bassem comes up with creative ways to non-violently challenge abuses of power. He endures physical threats, protests, and legal action, all because of jokes.

“No unicorns or falafel were harmed in the making of this film.”

MARCH 17 (streaming on Netflix): Deidra & Laney Rob a Train (dir. Sydney Freeland) (DP: Quyen Tran)Salt Lake Tribune’s Sundance Film Festival review by Sean P. Means: “Sisters become a modern-day Butch and Sundance in Deidra & Laney Rob a Train, a smart comedy propelled by two winning young actors. Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) and her younger sister Laney (Rachel Crow) both have the same dream: To get out of the backwater Idaho town where they live, near the railroad tracks. Deidra’s way is to be valedictorian and get a scholarship to college. Laney’s is to sign up for the Miss Teen Idaho pageant — something she only did to keep her pageant-obsessed friend Claire (Brooke Markham) company. (Though the movie is set in Idaho, it was filmed in Utah — primarily around Ogden and at the Heber Valley Railroad.)

“Then their mother, Goldie (Danielle Nicolet) goes berserk in a home-electronics store and gets sent to jail. The girls have to figure out a way to earn money, keep the kitchen stocked and have some adult supervision around their little brother Jet (Lance Gray) so the child-welfare officer doesn’t split the kids apart. After watching a news report about cargo being stolen from a train, Deidra sees a solution. She devises a plan to hop on the train cars down the track, crack open a container box, throw a few loading boxes into their backyard, and sell the goods. Deidra pulls a reluctant Laney into the plan with her.

“Director Sydney Freeland (Drunktown’s Finest, SFF ’14) and first-time screenwriter Shelby Farrell find humor in the sisters’ dilemma, and even more laughs in the behavior of the ostensible grown-ups around them. (The cast includes Tim Blake Nelson as an overzealous railroad cop and ‘Saturday Night Live’s’ Sasheer Zamata as the school’s counselor.) It’s young Murray and Crow who give Deidra & Laney Rob a Train its spunk and its quicksilver emotional shifts, as the girls veer from criminal masterminds to argumentative siblings in no time flat.”

MARCH 21 (available on DVD and Video on Demand): Split (dir. Deborah Kampmeier) (DP: Alison Kelly)Excerpts from On Video post:Split tells the story of Inanna (Amy Ferguson, The Master, Inherent Vice, Garden State), a young actress working as a stripper, who becomes obsessed with a mask maker (Morgan Spector, The Drop, The Last Airbender, ‘Boardwalk Empire’) and sacrifices parts of herself, piece by piece, in order to win his love.  At the same time, the film depicts a mythic journey that blurs theater performance, dreams and real life, as Inanna connects with other women’s experiences of trauma and repressed sexuality. This provocative and powerful confrontation frees Inanna, and she’s able to claim her rage and rise to her own independence.

“Daring in its raw portrayal of female sexuality and traumas, Split, which captured ‘Best of Show’ and the 2016 Female Eye Film Festival, includes a significant amount of female (and male) nudity, masturbation and on-screen portrayal of mastectomy and genital mutilation scars. Split also features an intergenerational, multiracial cast with diverse body types – including several non-actors sharing personal stories – and is daring in its depiction of an older woman as the principal example of uninhibited rage and sexuality.

“Kampmeier considers Split as the last part of a trilogy, which include the controversial Sundance Grand Jury-nominated Hounddog (2007), in which a 12-year-old girl, played by Dakota Fanning, is raped; and the acclaimed and award-winning Virgin (2003), about a 17-year-old, played by Elisabeth Moss, struggling with spirituality and sexuality.  The filmmaker goes further with Split, which Indie Outlook called, ‘an arrestingly raw howl of fury at the global stigmatization of female sexuality…complete with startling imagery evocative of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.‘”

MARCH 22: A Woman, a Part (dir. Elisabeth Subrin)IFC Center synopsis: “Can you rewrite a life? Burnt out on her career, successful LA actress Anna (Maggie Siff of ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Billions’), abruptly walks off her mind-numbing, sexist network show. She runs away to New York, hoping to reconnect with two old friends, former theater collaborators she’d abandoned for Hollywood who now find themselves struggling to survive in the rapidly gentrifying city. As Anna’s arrival tears open old wounds, all three are forced to reckon with their pasts and their uncertain futures (with Cara Seymour, John Ortiz & Khandi Alexander).”

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MARCH 24: Prevenge (dir. Alice Lowe)IFC Center synopsis: “A pitch black, wryly British comedy from the mind of Alice Lowe (SightseersHot Fuzz, Paddington), Prevenge follows Ruth, a pregnant woman on a killing spree that’s as funny as it is vicious. It’s her misanthropic unborn baby dictating Ruth’s actions, holding society responsible for the absence of a father. The child speaks to Ruth from the womb, coaching her to lure and ultimately kill her unsuspecting victims. Struggling with her conscience, loneliness, and a strange strain of prepartum madness, Ruth must ultimately choose between redemption and destruction at the moment of motherhood.

Prevenge the directorial debut from Lowe, who is a true triple threat, writing, directing, and acting in the film during her own real-life pregnancy.”

MARCH 29: Karl Marx City (dirs. Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker)Film Forum synopsis: “Unsurprisingly, East Germany (aka the GDR/German Democratic Republic) boasts people who are experts in suicide notes. The Soviet satellite came to an ignoble end when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, leaving behind a lot of unanswered questions, among them Petra Epperlein’s suspicion that her father (a suicide) spied for the Stasi, the state police.  Now a New Yorker, Epperlein, and co-filmmaker Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace) return to her childhood home and, with wonderful graphic panache, investigate her family’s past as well as the life of a nation in which one out of three citizens spied on the other two. Making smart use of ‘jaw-dropping period material which includes some wildly creepy Stasi surveillance imagery’ (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times), it’s a Cold War mystery tale and a psycho-political look at how the larger world impacts our individual understanding of love, trust, and betrayal.”

MARCH 31 (in theaters and on Video on Demand; also available now on DirecTV): The Blackcoat’s Daughter (dir. Osgood “Oz” Perkins) (DP: Julie Kirkwood) [release date moved back from September 2016]Excerpt from Pop Matters’ Independent Film Festival Boston review by Valeriy Kolyadych: “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.”

MARCH 31 (theatrical release), APRIL 4 (Internet release): Carrie Pilby (dir. Susan Johnson)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis by Jane Schoettle: “Awkward, isolated and disapproving of most of the people around her, a precocious 19-year-old genius is challenged to put her convictions to the test by venturing out on to the NYC dating scene, in this adaptation of Caren Lissner’s best-selling 2003 novel.

“Depending on your point of view, Carrie Pilby (Bel Powley) either has a problem or she is a problem. This very clever girl graduated Harvard at the age of 19 and lives in a small NYC apartment paid for by her London-based father. World on a string, right? On the contrary — Carrie has no job, no purpose, and no friends, because she actively dislikes just about everyone (rating them ‘morally and intellectually unacceptable’) as only a teenager can. Her one regular contact is her dad’s therapist friend, Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane), who after a fruitless series of weekly visits finally sets Carrie some homework: a five-point plan to get her life together.

“Carrie grudgingly agrees to go through the list, but her execution leaves something to be desired. Item #3 (‘Go on a date — with someone you like!’) backfires particularly badly when her Craigslist mate search leads to a connection with Matt (Jason Ritter), a man who is engaged but ‘unsure.’ The results of that endeavour call for an emergency visit to Dr. Petrov. And when her father’s circumstances undergo a drastic change, Carrie begins to understand that reconciling with the past is the only way to tick those items off the to-do list.

“Adapted from Caren Lissner’s bestselling novel, Carrie Pilby is a winning comedy about the metropolitan life of privileged youth, but it’s also much more than that. As the source of Carrie’s misanthropy is gradually revealed, our empathy for her grows, even if we want to pull our hair out in frustration at her lack of life skills. You might just end up loving her, even if she hates you.”

MARCH 31: David Lynch: The Art Life (dir. Jon Nguyen with co-dirs. Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm)DOC NYC synopsis: “While known for his distinctive, dreamlike films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, David Lynch began his creative explorations through art, originally training as a painter in Philadelphia. David Lynch: The Art Life grants viewers unparalleled, intimate access to the enigmatic auteur while he works in his painting studio. Early memories and reflections on his formative years through the triumph of Eraserhead reveal eerie connections to his body of work, making this portrait an indispensable look at an artist and his process.”

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MARCH 31: The Zookeeper’s Wife (dir. Niki Caro)Focus Features synopsis: “The real-life story of one working wife and mother who became a hero to hundreds during World War II. In 1939 Poland, Antonina Żabińska (portrayed by two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh, a European Film Award nominee for the Academy Award-nominated The Broken Circle Breakdown), have the Warsaw Zoo flourishing under his stewardship and her care. When their country is invaded by the Germans, Jan and Antonina are stunned and forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Golden Globe Award nominee Daniel Brühl of Captain America: Civil War). To fight back on their own terms, the Żabińskis covertly begin working with the Resistance and put into action plans to save lives out of what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, with Antonina putting herself and even her children at great risk.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: February 2017

Director Amma Asante with cast and crew on the set of A United Kingdom, 2016.

Here are fifteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this February, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

FEBRUARY 1: The Lure (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska)Consequence of Sound post by Dominick Suzanne-Mayer: “Last year’s Sundance Film Festival offered a wealth of quality films, but of those that left a lasting impression, few were as bold as The Lure, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s striking feature-length debut about a pair of bloodthirsty mermaids who find indulgence and tragedy in modern-day Poland. Oh, and it’s also a musical. More of a new wave rock opera, really.

“The premise alone should be enough to get your attention, but Smoczynska’s film offers far more than just a gimmick; rather, as we discovered at Sundance (one of a legion of festivals the film hit last year), ‘The Lure somehow manages to seamlessly assemble a film equal parts hilarious, affecting, and grisly while trading and warping aesthetics and tones by the scene.’ It’s a wild piece of filmmaking, and the perfect antidote for the jaded moviegoer who thinks they’ve seen it all. Trust us, you haven’t seen anything quite like this before, and the film’s first trailer gives a pretty good taste of what audiences can expect, while holding back on some of the best stuff.

The Lure will debut at New York’s IFC Center on February 1st, and will hopefully appear elsewhere as the year goes on. In the meantime, a bit more about the film: ‘In this bold, genre-defying horror-musical mashup — the playful and confident debut of Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska — a pair of carnivorous mermaid sisters are drawn ashore in an alternate ’80s Poland to explore the wonders and temptations of life on land. Their tantalizing siren songs and otherworldly aura make them overnight sensations as nightclub singers in the half-glam, half-decrepit fantasy world of Smoczynska’s imagining. In a visceral twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s original Little Mermaid tale, one sister falls for a human, and as the bonds of sisterhood are tested, the lines between love and survival get blurred. A savage coming-of-age fairytale with a catchy new-wave soundtrack, lavishly grimy sets, and outrageous musical numbers, The Lure explores its themes of sexuality, exploitation, and the compromises of adulthood with energy and originality.'”

FEBRUARY 3: Dark Night (dir. Tim Sutton) (DP: Hélène Louvart)Excerpts from Collider review by Chris Cabin: “It’s understandable and yet slightly misleading that there has been a direct connection between the Aurora massacre of 2013 and Dark Night, Tim Sutton‘s new film about a Florida community where one resident is planning a similar attack. Footage of the trial of James Holmes, the young man who shot 10 people dead in Aurora while they watched The Dark Knight Rises, is seen within 10 minutes of the film’s opening and is discussed, fleetingly, by those watching it. Images of a young man coloring his buzzed hair the same tint of fiery orange and red as Holmes show up throughout the film, as the man skateboards and hangs out with friends. The final, devastating shot features a gunman sneaking into a theater through the back door, just as Holmes did.

“These fragmented nods and allusions toward what happened in Aurora are unmistakable for those who followed the case but Dark Night, smartly and thankfully, doesn’t attempt to recreate the events leading up to Holmes’ massacring of innocents. One would be hard-pressed to simply explain Dark Night‘s narrative progression as there isn’t an easy way to describe the narrative itself. Sutton, the director behind 2014’s exquisite Memphis, offers what amounts to an abstraction of everyday life in the unnamed Florida neighborhood, which could essentially double for any sunny place in the United States. A woman exercises and takes a selfie with her morning smoothie; a pair of teens stay glued to their glowing cellphones; a veteran watches his nurse wife walk out on him for good; a boy plays with his pet snake, alone in his bedroom. Elsewhere, one young man imagines walking into a fury of photographers and journalists asking for his motives, and another trudges through his neighborhood with an assault rifle.

Dark Night is not particularly interested in conveying the horror of Aurora or any similar event, though Sutton works up a consistent sense of dread that consistently infiltrates his images and the impressionistic flow of the editing. Rather, Sutton’s film at once questions and embraces the idea of symbolic acts and images. The young man who walks into a cadre of reporters and angry protestors could be imagining that encounter, but he could also be remembering it. Is one to assume the clearly frustrated and angry veteran may be a shooter because of his training? There’s at least one scene where we see his proficiency at taking apart and cleaning his gun but Sutton’s depiction of this exercise is more similar to a mechanic taking apart part of an engine than anything malevolent. This is less true of the man with the assault rifle.

“…The first image of the film is of a young woman’s eyes roaming around as sequenced colored light bounces off her face. It might take you a few seconds before you realize that she’s not watching a screen but cop cars, ambulances, and fire engines in the parking lot outside the theater. Other moments – kids swimming in pools, a college student getting an academic warning behind closed doors, etc. – similarly feel plain but Sutton’s sobriety doesn’t hull out the film’s powerful emotional core. His eye for detail and modernity, such as when he fills the screen with an online street-view app, is sober and exacting but he also finds potent moments of fury and caring. In fact, Sutton consistently returns to an interview he’s doing with the young man who imagined the reporters.

“In fact, Sutton consistently returns to an interview he’s doing with the young man who imagined the reporters and his mother, who has nothing but loving and supporting things to say about her son; he also has a best friend who he talks to nonstop while they play online video games. The director is asking us to look as much at what makes people get along in life as the visual indicators of a violent act, to see the elements that support this admittedly docile, boring, and often superficial existence and cultivate the more heartening and genuinely good moments in your life.

“Even as the filmmaker heads towards yet another terrifying assault, Dark Night is as much about gloom as it is astonishment, to see the power of an act or an image to either turn someone into a killer or to inspire them toward empathy. Aside from his interview with the young man and his mother, Sutton only comes out from behind the camera one more time, to speak with the gunman about his movie-star look. One is left wondering if he’s speaking about the fame that this movie might bring him or the all-too-familiar infamy that comes with national tragedies.”

FEBRUARY 3: This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous (dir. Barbara Kopple)RogerEbert.com review by Matt Fagerholm: “They stare directly at you and invite you to be a part of their conversation. They reveal intimate details about their lives in order to normalize what certain parts of society still consider taboo. They tell us that we needn’t be anything other than ourselves, and how can we resist liking them for that? That is the power a person has when they post a video on YouTube. The bond that viewers forge with an Internet celebrity is stronger than has ever been achieved in any other medium. For people who have trouble relating to others, watching these video confessionals can serve as a half-step toward human connection. We’ve already entered the age of Fahrenheit 451, where “friends” primarily exist on screens that take up the majority of our attention. Yet the best YouTubers are the ones who encourage their viewers to turn their attention inward and engage with the world existing outside of their laptops. When Alexis G. Zall comes out by saying she “likes girls,” or when Brad Jones opens up about surviving a suicide attempt, they aren’t just providing a diversion, they are changing lives through the empowerment of truth.

This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, the latest work from master documentarian Barbara Kopple (available on YouTube Red starting February 8th), focuses on the truth of one particular YouTuber whose sense of self is only strengthened online. Born Gregory Lazzarato in 1994, he excelled at diving throughout his childhood, winning a national championship at age 15. Yet in home video footage of the young boy, his face has the sort of uneasy expression any viewer of TLC’s ‘I Am Jazz’ will immediately recognize. There’s no question he feels uncomfortable in his skin, and is much more interested in filming makeup tutorials than he is with stereotypical male activities. The videos he posts as ‘Gregory Gorgeous’ gain a greater following once he identifies himself as gay, and at 100,000 subscribers, his channel attracts the attention of manager Scott Fisher, who understands the profitability of vloggers. Fisher explains to Kopple how sites like YouTube have enabled talent to maintain unprecedented control over their content, while earning the lion’s share of the revenue, something that could’ve never happened a mere handful of years ago.

“In many ways, this film is a fitting follow-up to Kopple’s Miss Sharon Jones!, a rousing portrait of the titular soul singer who passed away last year. Just as Jones triumphantly forged ahead in her life and career in the aftermath of her cancer diagnosis, earning a Grammy nomination in the process, Gregory comes to a pivotal realization after his loving mother succumbs to cancer in 2012. Faced with the fragility of life and the limited time afforded to each of us on Earth, the young man decides to finally act on his inner-most desire, and that is to live the rest of his life as a woman. The ‘he’ of her past is officially no more. Though her brothers are entirely in support of her transition, the news is more difficult for her father, David, to accept. In an emotional interview with Kopple, he affirms that it is a father’s duty to love his children even if he doesn’t understand them. Renaming herself as Gigi Lazzarato, she smuggles her camera into a visit with her dad, where she tells him of her plans to undergo facial feminization surgery, a procedure that will cost $14,000. When he asks her if she has that kind of money, Gigi informs him that she’s already paid for it. Though David still occasionally uses male pronouns while addressing Gigi, there is no doubt in his mind that his child knows exactly what she wants. He accompanies her to appointments with the physician, and later with the Beverly Hills doctor that will give her breast implants. In a lingering shot, the camera regards from a wide angle the tender image of David gently tucking his daughter into bed in their hotel room as she recovers from her latest surgery.

“It is in observant, delicately nuanced moments like these where Kopple’s genius shines the brightest. She has crafted so many unforgettable films about inspirational life forces, from the courageous wives of coal miners in Harlan County, U.S.A. to the politically outspoken Dixie Chicks in Shut Up & Sing, and this is one of her best. Gigi’s exuberant presence makes the picture a complete joy from beginning to end, as Kopple seamlessly weaves her own documentation of her subject’s journey with footage from Gigi’s videos, where she guides viewers along every step of her external transformation. There’s an especially intriguing video that depicts Gigi having a conversation with her male persona, and her macho posturing comes off as all the more artificial when directly contrasted with her feminine self. Fisher notes that whereas Gregory yearned to stand out from the crowd, Gigi’s goal is to blend in, finding acceptance from others on her own terms. Yet aside from the testosterone blockers and estrogen, Gigi believes that the transition undergone by a transgender person is more mental than anything else, and doesn’t necessarily require a change of genitalia. As Gigi sits in a car, calm and confident in her body, Kopple brilliantly juxtaposes her footage with the voice of Gregory, encouraging his viewers to be themselves. This one scene conveys the unchanging nature of identity regardless of one’s physical state with more clarity and impact than the entirety of Cloud Atlas. Though the film culminates with Gigi’s participation in New York Fashion Week, where she struts the runway looking like Lady Liberty, an even more satisfying highpoint occurs at David’s wedding to his second wife. It’s the first time much of Gigi’s extended family has seen her post-operation, and when she walks down the aisle, her elation radiates through the screen.

“One of the questions raised by Kopple’s film is whether Gigi will choose to take the advice of her new manager and alter her image in order to attract more sponsors. I doubt it. While actors in Hollywood often have to compromise their own identities in order to be more commercially viable, YouTubers like Gigi make a fortune by being true to themselves. She embodies the wisdom of a young generation infinitely more accepting of gender fluidity than their predecessors. There’s a chilling resonance to the moment where Gigi reflects on the legacy of German physician Magnus Hirschfeld, and the Nazis that attempted to silence his groundbreaking advocacy for gay and transgender rights. If current events have proven anything, it’s that the threat of such intolerance remains frighteningly real. Yet sometimes, all one has to do is look a person in the eye in order to change their heart. That is how a revolution begins.”

FEBRUARY 7: Almost Adults (dir. Sarah Rotella) [available on iTunes]Synopsis from the film’s official website: “This comedy feature follows two best friends in their final year of college while they transition into adulthood. One embraces her sexuality and tries to catch up on everything she has missed during her teenage years, while the other ends a long term relationship with her boyfriend and discovers her life isn’t going as planned. Both struggle to keep their friendship together as they begin growing apart.”

FEBRUARY 10 [delayed from previous January release date]: Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun)Synopsis from the film’s official website: “Hundreds of thousands of Turkish cats roam the metropolis of Istanbul freely. For thousands of years they’ve wandered in and out of people’s lives, becoming an essential part of the communities that make the city so rich. Claiming no owners, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame — and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to the people, allowing them to reflect on their lives in ways nothing else could.

“Critics and internet cats agree — this cat documentary will charm its way into your heart and home as you fall in love with the cats in Istanbul.”

FEBRUARY 10: Land of Mine [Current Oscar Nominee: Best Foreign Language Film] (dir. Martin Zandvliet) (DP: Camilla Hjelm Knudsen)Excerpts from Screen Daily review by David D’Arcy: “Denmark’s mistreatment of German prisoners after World War II, a little-known chapter of post-war history, is a powerful j’accuse in Land of Mine, which may surprise all but specialised historians. The film revisits the Allies’ practice of using captured Germans to clear land mines on the Danish coast that would blow many of them to bits. There’s also humanity here in the bond that forms between a stern Danish sergeant (Roland Moller) and the adolescent POWs in his charge.

“…At war’s end, some 1.5 million mines placed by the Nazis remained on Denmark’s west coast. Defusing them was a national urgency. Rather than use Danes who had sacrificed so much during the Nazi occupation, British liberators proposed that the Danish government deploy thousands of Wehrmacht POWs on Danish territory for the job. At least half of them died at that task from May to October 1945.

Land of Mine isn’t the first account that suggests that the Danes committed a war crime. Nor is it the first examination of brutality against defeated Germans in 1945. What’s new is that those charges of Danish misdeeds are being brought to a wide audience in the language of epic cinema. Zandvliet (A Funny Man, 2011, Applause, 2009) picks up the story as a vengeful Danish officer assigns a stern sergeant (Moller) to manage a brigade of boy prisoners conscripted late in the war. Moller’s ox-like character makes that severity look a lot like sadism, until the cruelty of his British and Danish superiors and the deadliness of the job draw out his protective instincts.

“…The tension builds on the impressive composure of German and Swiss teenage actors (many of them already television veterans), including the endearing twins Emil and Oskar Belton – still not yet 16 – who play brothers who are captured in Germany’s dying days. With some adroit promotion, the young cast could be a strong selling point in German-speaking countries and beyond.

“The sand dunes of Denmark’s Skallingen peninsula (finally declared mine-free in 2012) are a huge canvas for cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, the director’s wife, who evokes a desert-like vastness reminiscent of a David Lean landscape for boys forced into a labour of futility. The motif of teenagers marching into those expanses drives home the grim truth that wars don’t end when the belligerent commanders declare the fighting to be over.”

FEBRUARY 10: One Night (dir. Minhal Baig)The Austin Chronicle’s Austin Film Fest review by Sarah Marloff: “Dabbling in magical realism, Minhal Baig’s One Night toys with the theme of traveling back in time. The idea that the past is simultaneously more simple and more magical is both questioned and contemplated throughout the film, which follows two couples over the course of prom night.

“Within the walls of a Los Angeles hotel, the debut feature from writer/director Baig weaves a compelling story and honest look at love and relationships – from falling in to falling apart. High school seniors Bea (Isabelle Fuhrman) and Andy (Kyle Allen) are accidentally thrown together when their prom ends and the afterparty begins. Elizabeth (Anna Camp of Pitch Perfect) and Drew (Justin Chatwin), on the other hand, are young adults who seem to have mistakenly chosen the hotel hosting that same prom to rehash (or repair?) their failing marriage.

“The juxtaposition of watching two people becoming a couple – the enchantment of being 17 and completely awed by another human – with the cold realities of a struggling long-term relationship offers viewers a glimpse at relationship reality. Hollywood is forever obsessed with the happily ever after ending, but life and love are far too complex to allow for a simple skipping off into the sunset – or sunrise – as the case may be. One Night doesn’t hold back from this. Relationships are hard work and sometimes love simply cannot overcome the mundane difficulties of life.

“Though very beautifully weaved, at times the film’s dialogue seems unsure of itself, specifically between Elizabeth and Drew. Are they actors acting like they’re acting or are they two adults trying to play make believe? At first it’s hard to tell, perhaps because Baig wasn’t entirely sure either. But as the story unravels, the actors and the script find their footing. Bea and Andy, however, never falter in convincing the audience of their 17-year-old, smart-ass naivete. Together they manage to steal the show and infuse the film with hope. In the warm light of day, One Night is an endearing look at what makes and what keeps a relationship alive.”

FEBRUARY 10: Sex Doll (dir. Sylvie Verheyde)IFC Films synopsis: “A high-priced call girl navigates the shadowy world of London’s sex trade underground in this provocative, erotic thriller. Virginie (César Award winner Hafsia Herzi) goes about her work as a prostitute with a cool detachment, trading sex with wealthy businessmen for money, but never getting emotionally involved. That all changes when she meets Rupert (Ash Stymest), an enigmatic stranger with unclear intentions. Risking everything, Virginie plunges into a dangerous affair that tears her between a ruthless madame who forbids romantic attachments and a dark, sexy man who could be her savior or her downfall.”

FEBRUARY 10: Speed Sisters (dir./DP: Amber Fares)Cinema Village synopsis: “The Speed Sisters are the first all-woman race car driving team in the Middle East. Grabbing headlines and turning heads at improvised tracks across the West Bank, these five women have sped their way into the heart of the gritty, male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene. Weaving together their lives on and off the track, Speed Sisters takes you on a surprising journey into the drive to go further and faster than anyone thought you could.”

FEBRUARY 10: A United Kingdom (dir. Amma Asante)Excerpts from The Guardian review by Mark Kermode: “…Eye in the Sky screenwriter Guy Hibbert’s screenplay (from Susan Williams’s 2006 book Colour Bar) revisits an often forgotten chapter of postwar history that might be filed under ‘stranger than fiction.’ Rosamund Pike is Ruth Williams, a clerk from Blackheath, south London, working in Lloyds of London in 1947, who is swept off her feet by handsome law student Seretse Khama (Oyelowo). Ruth doesn’t know that Seretse is an African king in waiting, leader-to-be of the Bamangwato people of Bechuanaland (later Botswana), the British protectorate to which he is due to return on completion of his studies.

“When Seretse proposes, having duly explained his true identity, Ruth imagines a new life away from the misty drizzle of London, a life that, she assures her fiance, will be taken ‘moment by moment – together.’ But when the news of this high-profile black-and-white union reaches neighbouring South Africa, whose National party is busy enshrining apartheid in law, the cash-strapped British authorities move first to forbid and then to undermine the marriage, scared of alienating their supplier of cheap gold and uranium. Seretse’s regent uncle, Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene), also refuses to countenance a white queen and a rift develops that threatens to tear apart more than just love.

“Handsomely shot on locations in the UK and Botswana by Sam McCurdy, A United Kingdom contrasts sweeping exteriors with fusty interiors, breathing rich visual life into the battle between an entrenched establishment and an emerging republic. Production designer Simon Bowles and composer Patrick Doyle clearly relish the broad canvas opportunities of the narrative, while Asante cites Richard Attenborough and David Lean as her guiding lights.

“For all the film’s vibrant grandeur, though, our attention is kept tightly focused on the central couple’s romance, even when they are separated by geography, economics and politics. Much is made of the world-turned-upside-down absurdity of Labour prime minister Clement Attlee’s obsequious loyalty to South Africa while the Conservative Churchill appears to be an ally of Khama’s progressive cause (although pragmatism soon overrides opposition promises), but it’s the wholly believable and tangible bond between Oyelowo’s Seretse and Pike’s Ruth that delivers the real emotional punch.

“…’I want to make pieces of entertainment and art that mean something,’ Asante recently told the BBC while musing upon her forthcoming film, Where Hands Touch, a longstanding passion project about a relationship between a bi-racial girl and a Hitler Youth boy in 1930s Berlin. ‘I want to make movies that leave some kind of mark on you.’ With A United Kingdom she has done just that.”

FEBRUARY 17: American Fable (dir. Anne Hamilton)Variety’s SXSW review by Andrew Barker: “If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then writer-director Anne Hamilton’s American Fable registers as an eloquently constructed valentine to Guillermo del Toro, whose Pan’s Labyrinth provides her film with its haunting backbone. Gorgeously shot, and helmed with a sense of daring and verve that belies Hamilton’s greenness to feature filmmaking, this is a debut of obvious promise, although its story never quite rises to the level of its craft. Premiering in the experimental Visions program at SXSW, this tale of farmland intrigue as seen through the eyes of a dreamy 11-year-old has just as much arthouse potential as many of the supposedly more commercial entries in the narrative competition, though it may ultimately function best as a passport to bigger things for its gifted young director.

“Hamilton’s introduction to filmmaking came via an internship with Terrence Malick on the set of The Tree of Life, and the director’s tendrils are visible from the very first shot, a dramatically swooning overhead view of a young girl chasing a chicken through monstrous expanses of corn stalks. The girl is Gitty (Peyton Kennedy, excellent), an imaginative, friendless grade schooler growing up in the farmlands of Wisconsin. The year is 1982, and overheard Ronald Reagan speeches place us right in at the beginning of the farm crisis, its gravity underscored by passing mentions of the rash of suicides in town.

“Gitty adores her father, the salty Abe (Kip Pardue), who does everything he can to distract her from the fact that they’re in dire danger of losing their farm. Her factory-worker mother (Marci Miller) is pregnant with a third child, and Gitty’s older brother, Martin (Gavin MacIntosh), is a study in unhinged, unmodulated malevolence.

“Wandering the farmlands on her bike, she makes a startling discovery: Locked inside her family’s unused silo is a dirty yet expensively dressed man calling himself Jonathan (Richard Schiff) who claims to have gone days without food. Though he’s short on details, Jonathan is a developer who’s been buying up farms in the area, and it doesn’t take long for Gilly to intuit that her own family has played some part in this kidnapping. As she begins bringing him food and books, the two develop a bond, with Gitty rappelling down through a small hole in the silo roof for chess lessons and reading sessions.

“Meanwhile, Gitty’s father conducts some mysterious business with a Mephistophelean woman named Vera (Zuleikha Robinson), and Gitty begins to experience visions of a black-clad, horned woman striding through the countryside on horseback. These hesitant forays into the mythological realm — reaching a feverish peak with a flashy dream sequence — feel oddly underdeveloped, alternating between inscrutable and needlessly obvious, with a long montage accompanying a recitation of Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’ a prime example of the latter.

“One of the strongest cues Hamilton takes from Pan’s Labyrinth, however, is the decision to allow Gitty’s own loyalties and misunderstandings to dictate the film’s p.o.v., and Kennedy ably carries the film on her back, radiating self-confidence while retaining an essential naivete and vulnerability; her many scenes of peering through doorways at conversations she doesn’t quite understand are beautifully played. Yet even accounting for this, the intrigue at the film’s center never makes total sense, and Gitty’s ultimate ethical dilemma — whether to leave Jonathan to his fate or put her own family at risk — never arrives with the right urgency. The shoehorned introduction of a few too many extraneous elements, especially a Marge Gunderson-esque retired police officer (Rusty Schwimmer), doesn’t help.

“Working with d.p. Wyatt Garfield, Hamilton shoots the rural landscape with a transformative eye. These farmlands aren’t dusty expanses but rather humid, almost primordial jungles; individual frames from nighttime scenes in the family barn could easily be oil paintings of the Nativity. More than just cataloguing pretty shots, Hamilton builds an arresting aura of wonder and terror, of which Gingger Shankar’s haunting, teasing score is very much a piece.”

FEBRUARY 17: Everybody Loves Somebody (dir. Catalina Aguilar Mastretta)The Hollywood Reporter’s Palm Springs International Film Festival review by Stephen Farber: “One of the crowd-pleasing world premiere films shown this year in Palm Springs is a bilingual romantic comedy, Everybody Loves Somebody, which doesn’t break any new ground thematically but still manages to make an appealing addition to the rom-com genre. Pantelion Films will release it in the U.S. and should find a sympathetic audience, especially if the picture is shrewdly marketed in parts of the country with sizable Latino populations.

“Clara (Karla Souza) is a successful doctor in Los Angeles but not so successful in her love life. All her dissatisfactions come to the surface when her parents, who live in Baja, decide to get married after 40 years of cohabiting without a license. Writer-director Catalina Aguilar Mastretta commented after the PSIFF screening that this part of the story was inspired by her own family background. The other details may be less autobiographical. Clara is something of a self-destructive mess, often trying to undermine the relationships of other people in her life, including her own patients. She is prone to one-night stands but seems to have an almost pathological fear of commitment.

“We find out why when she attends the family shindig in Mexico and reconnects with an old flame, Daniel (Jose Maria Yazpik), who apparently broke her heart years ago when he took off on a series of globe-trotting adventures. There is clearly still a spark between the two of them, but Clara is also tentatively exploring a relationship with a resident in her medical office, Asher (Ben O’Toole), an Aussie who seems far more grounded than either Clara or Daniel.

“Anyone expecting an incisive exploration of human psychology or cross-cultural conflicts will find the script pretty superficial and overly reliant on self-help bromides. Yet we get caught up in the movie all the same. Everybody may lack depth, but it often compensates with raucous humor. There’s also the novelty value of seeing a movie in which most of the characters flip easily and gracefully between conversing in Spanish and English. The inviting Baja seaside settings are another enticement.

“But the main reason for the movie’s success is its irresistible cast. Souza manages to make us care about Clara even when she’s behaving atrociously. Her sassy spirit has us rooting for her to escape her downward spiral, but there’s no sentimentality in her portrayal. All the other attractive castmembers bring charm and energy to their performances. Patricia Bernal as Clara’s wacky but loving mother and Tiare Scanda as her more conventional sister both make strong impressions. O’Toole is especially winning as the wise but wounded Aussie. He manages to make a convincing case for stability without ever seeming too good to be true.

“The true test of a winning romantic comedy is whether it makes the audience root for the clinch between the mismatched lovers. Despite its superficiality, the film succeeds in meeting that primary goal of the genre, so it leaves the audience in a cheerful mood.”

FEBRUARY 17: Lovesong (dir. So Yong Kim) (DPs: Guy Godfree and Kat Westergaard)Variety’s Sundance Film Festival review by Justin Chang: “Conceived in the same delicate minor key as her earlier films (In Between Days, Treeless Mountain and For Ellen), So Yong Kim’s fourth feature dances nervously but gracefully around a love that not only dares not speak its name, but can barely even figure itself out. Anchored by Riley Keough’s lovely, wistful performance as a mom in her 20s who gets back in touch with an old childhood bestie (a sharp Jena Malone), Lovesong makes a virtue of restraint as it traces a complex emotional history in two parts, and innumerable (and sometimes quite literal) shades of gray. The result may not significantly broaden the audience for Kim’s subdued, perceptive work but nevertheless stands as her most accessible feature to date, and deserves a listen from discerning arthouse distributors.

“…What’s left in the end, and it’s significant, is a sudden rush of tenderness that testifies to the depth of feeling that has transpired between Sarah and Mindy, even if they may lack the words or the inclination to define it. While some may dismiss Lovesong as retrograde for not adhering to the happy-ending expectations of a 21st-century queer romance (or a mid-1950s queer romance, on the evidence of Carol), the film is not, in the end, a narrative of the closet … there’s a remarkable truthfulness to the film’s acknowledgment that people often make enormous decisions rooted not in fear so much as uncertainty, even laziness, as well as a comfort with their lives as they’ve lived them until the present juncture.

“Malone, with her knack for playing strong-willed, hard-edged young women, is perfectly cast as the brash, impulsive, needy and inconsiderate friend who has come to rely deeply on Sarah. And Keough makes entirely clear why Sarah invites her friend’s trust: Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Kristen Stewart at her most expressively withdrawn, the actress (soon to be seen on Starz’s ‘The Girlfriend Experience’) projects a soulful integrity that keeps the character from seeming too passive. She may not seem to be doing much at any given moment, but her every silent, darting glance makes clear that she’s both a natural caretaker — of her friend, of her daughter — and also someone with an eye on a potentially new horizon.

“Lensers Kat Westergaard and Guy Godfree keep their gently handheld cameras close to the primary actors but occasionally pull back to take in the cool, calming beauty of their natural surroundings. The soundscape balances occasional soft-rock tunes and a mistily subdued score by the multitalented composer Johann Johansson (Sicario, The Theory of Everything).”

FEBRUARY 17: XX (dirs. Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and Jovanka Vuckovic) (DPs: Ian Anderson, Tarin Anderson and Patrick Cady) (animated segments created by Sofia Carrillo)Excerpts from The Hollywood Reporter’s Sundance Film Festival review by David Rooney: “Following on the heels of recent horror anthologies like Southbound and the V/H/S franchise, XX strings together four shorts written and directed by women, including Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin, Jovanka Vuckovic and Annie Clark, aka indie rock musician St. Vincent. Beyond the chromosomal title, the twisted take on motherhood shared by three installments, and the macabre wraparound and interstitial sequences by Mexican stop-motion animator Sofia Carrillo, there’s no binding thread here. The package mixes existential creepiness with black comedy, demonic carnage and a Satan’s spawn scenario, and while it’s uneven — as these combos invariably are — genre enthusiasts looking for a female spin will want to check it out.

“Arguably the most startling breakout among women in horror lately has been Australian Jennifer Kent’s wickedly effective The Babadook. Echoes of that film’s terror of maternal failure resurface here, plus there’s a vague kinship between the darker visual flourishes of Kent’s fairy-tale nightmare and Carrillo’s playful segments — dollhouse interludes that suggest a Tim Burton Toy Story. In terms of style and tone, however, the four shorts have little in common.

“…The best thing about this project is that in the genre realm of the final girl, each story features a female protagonist facing unique fears beyond scream-and-die victimhood, in one case becoming the vessel of carnage herself.”

FEBRUARY 24 (LA), MARCH 1 (NYC): Kiki (dir. Sara Jordenö) (DP: Naiti Gámez)Synopsis from film’s official website: “In New York City, LGBTQ youth-of-color gather out on the Christopher Street Pier, practicing a performance-based artform, Ballroom, which was made famous in the early 1990s by Madonna’s music video ‘Vogue’ and the documentary Paris Is Burning. Twenty-five years after these cultural touchstones, a new and very different generation of LGBTQ youth have formed an artistic activist subculture, named the Kiki Scene.

Kiki follows seven characters from the Kiki community over the course of four years, using their preparations and spectacular performances at events known as Kiki balls as a framing device while delving into their battles with homelessness, illness and prejudice as well as their gains towards political influence and the conquering of affirming gender-expressions. In Kiki we meet Twiggy Pucci Garçon, the founder and gatekeeper for the Haus of Pucci, Chi Chi, Gia, Chris, Divo, Symba and Zariya. Each of these remarkable young people represents a unique and powerful personal story, illuminating the Kiki scene in particular, as well as queer life in the U.S. for LGBTQ youth-of-color as a whole.

“The spectacular Kiki balls, a consistent component of the Kiki subculture, offer performers a safe and empowered space to enact various modes of gender expression, including a stylized femininity that, if executed in the communities in which they grew up in, could provoke ridicule and violence. Kiki scene-members range in age from young teens to 20’s, and many have been thrown out of their homes by their families or otherwise find themselves on the streets. As LGBTQ people-of-color, they constitute a minority within a minority. An alarming 50% of these young people are HIV positive. The Kiki scene was created within the LGBTQ youth-of- color community as a peer-led group offering alternative family systems (‘houses’), HIV awareness teaching and testing, and performances geared towards self-agency. The scene has evolved into an important (and ever-growing) organization with governing rules, leaders and teams, now numbering hundreds of members in New York and across the U.S and Canada. Run by LGBTQ youth for LGBTQ youth, it draws strategies from the Civil Rights, Gay Rights and Black Power movements.

“In this film collaboration between Kiki gatekeeper, Twiggy Pucci Garçon, and Swedish filmmaker Sara Jordenö, viewers are granted exclusive access into this high-stakes world, where fierce Ballroom competitions serve as a gateway into conversations surrounding Black-and Trans-Lives Matter movements. This new generation of Ballroom youth use the motto, ‘Not About Us Without Us,’ and Kiki in kind has been made with extensive support and trust from the community, including an exhilarating score by renowned Ballroom and Voguing Producer Collective Qween Beat. Twiggy and Sara’s insider-outsider approach to their stories breathes fresh life into the representation of a marginalized community who demand visibility and real political power.”