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.”

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