Actress Amandla Stenberg and director Stella Meghie on the set of Everything, Everything, 2016.
Here are eighteen new movies due to be released in theaters or via other viewing platforms this May, 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.
MAY 3: Mr. Chibbs (dir. Jill Campbell) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “This observational documentary follows NYC basketball prodigy and retired NBA All-Star Kenny Anderson in the midst of a mid-life crisis, on a journey to find himself. Reeling from his mother’s death and a subsequent DUI, Chibbs visits people and arenas from his past, confronting haunting memories, ultimately finding solace in becoming the father he never had time to be. Combining unseen archival footage with raw moments of reflection, Mr. Chibbs is a portrait of an athlete coming to terms with his past as he searches for relevancy in his future.”
MAY 5: Risk (dir. Laura Poitras) (DPs: Kirsten Johnson and Laura Poitras) – IFC Center synopsis: “How much of your own life are you willing to risk? Laura Poitras, Academy Award winning director of Citizenfour, returns with her most personal and intimate film to date. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study that collides with a high stakes election year and its controversial aftermath.
“Cornered in a tiny building for half a decade, Julian Assange is undeterred even as the legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the organization he leads and fracture the movement he inspired. Capturing this story with unprecedented access, Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. In a new world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. Executive Produced by Sam Esmail, creator of Mr. Robot.”
MAY 5 (NYC and LA), MAY 19 (wider release): 3 Generations (dir. Gaby Dellal) – ComingSoon.net synopsis: “3 Generations tells the stirring and touching story of a family living under one roof in New York as they must deal with a life-changing transformation by one that ultimately affects them all. Ray (Elle Fanning) is a teenager who has come to the realization that she isn’t meant to be a girl and has decided to transition from female to male. His single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts), must track down Ray’s biological father (Tate Donovan) to get his legal consent to allow Ray’s transition. Dolly (Susan Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother is having a hard time accepting that she now has a grandson. They must each confront their own identities and learn to embrace change and their strength as a family in order to ultimately find acceptance and understanding.”
MAY 5 (NYC), MAY 12 (LA): Tomorrow Ever After (dir. Ela Thier) – Cinema Village synopsis: “Shaina (Ela Thier) lives 600 years in the future. War, greed, prejudice, poverty, pollution, violence, loneliness, depression – these are things that she’s read about in history books. When an accident in a physics experiment sends her on a time-travel journey to our times, she assumes that everyone around her is honest, generous and caring, as she recruits the help that she needs to get back home.”
MAY 10: The Drowning (dir. Bette Gordon) – LA Live Regal Cinemas 3 synopsis: “Based on Pat Barker’s book Border Crossing, The Drowning is a psychological thriller that begins as psychologist Tom Seymour (Josh Charles), out walking with his wife Lauren (Julie Stiles), plunges into an icy river to rescue a young man (Avan Jogia) from drowning. Tom’s spontaneous act saves the mans life only to reveal that he is the same boy who was convicted of a chilling murder 12 years earlier, based on Tom’s expert witness testimony. When Danny reappears in Tom’s life, Tom is drawn into a destructive, soul-searching reinvestigation of the case. Complex, riveting and unafraid to tread deep, murky psychological waters, this is a story of shifting identities that will keep you guessing until the very end.”
MAY 12 (in theaters and on Video on Demand): Dead Awake (dir. Phillip Guzman) (DP: Dominique Martinez) – FilmRise synopsis: “Dead Awake centers on Kate Bowman (Jocelin Donahue), a young woman who discovers an ancient evil stalking people who suffer from sleep paralysis. As Kate finds herself besieged by this terrifying entity, she teams up with a local artist (Jesse Bradford) to try and stop it. With a skeptical doctor (Lori Petty) questioning her sanity, Kate turns to an eccentric expert on sleep disorders (Jesse Borrego) who opens her mind to the horrifying truth: Kate has unwittingly opened the door for this evil to enter our world and has put the lives of her friend Linda (Brea Grant), her father (James Eckhouse), and everyone else close to her in danger.”
MAY 12: Folk Hero & Funny Guy (dir. Jeff Grace) (DP: Nancy Schreiber) – New York Times synopsis: “A flailing comedian (Alex Karpovsky) tries to regain his mojo by going on tour with an old friend, a folk-rock musician (Wyatt Russell). Meredith Hagner, Michael Ian Black and Melanie Lynskey also star.”
MAY 12: Paris Can Wait (dir. Eleanor Coppola) (DP: Crystel Fournier) – Sony Pictures Classics synopsis: “Eleanor Coppola’s feature film directorial and screenwriting debut at the age of 81 stars Academy Award® nominee Diane Lane as a Hollywood producer’s wife who unexpectedly takes a trip through France, which reawakens her sense of self and her joie de vivre. Anne (Lane) is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to a successfully driven but inattentive movie producer (Alec Baldwin), she finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a business associate of her husband (Arnaud Viard). What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a journey of discovery involving mouthwatering meals, spectacular wines, and picturesque sights.”
MAY 12: Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (dir. Maria Schrader) – Excerpts from The Hollywood Reporter’s Locarno International Film Festival review by Boyd van Hoeij: “There is an extraordinary moment in Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (Vor der Morgenroete) in which the titular Jewish-Austrian author, in his late fifties, looks out of a car window in Brazil — he’d been living in exile in the Americas since 1940 — and watches a burning sugarcane field, which viewers can see reflected in the window. Simply an exotic sight? Not quite, as actress-turned-director Maria Schrader’s film isn’t only about the literary icon but at least as much about evoking what’s happening offscreen in Zweig’s beloved Europe, which is going up in flames. The staggering emotional toll not only of living far removed from his physical and intellectual Heimatland but of knowing that it was actually being destroyed in his absence would prompt Zweig and his wife to take their own lives in their home in Petropolis, Brazil, in 1942.
“…Schrader has directed several features before but especially abroad, she’s better known as an actress, most notably as Jaguar from Aimee and Jaguar. For the screenplay of Zweig, she has teamed with writer-director Jan Schomburg, in whose Lose My Self she starred. As seems appropriate for a feature about a writer, their screenplay is really the backbone of the film. What makes their work psychologically insightful and also pack a serious emotional wallop is their smart choice to focus on a handful of specific moments, rather than opting for a more traditional bio-drama structure that tries to cram in a much larger chronology in which depth is often sacrificed for mere incidents.
“There is nothing didactic or too explanatory about Zweig. The filmmakers assume (rightly so) that audiences coming to see a movie about him will be aware, for example, that alongside Thomas Mann, he was the most-read German-language author of the 1920s. As if to underline the point, Schrader doesn’t even bother to show him engaged in that most un-cinematic of activities: writing. Instead, she focuses on the author’s interactions with others — some purely ceremonial, others more intimate, all of them revealing — to help suggest something about both his character and his slowly decaying sense of place in a world where his body, in exile, might be safe but his mind keeps wanting to wander back to a place he knows is being erased from the map.”
MAY 12 (in theaters, on iTunes and Video on Demand): Tracktown (dirs. Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher) – The Hollywood Reporter’s LA Film Festival review by Michael Rechtshaffen: “While Olympic Trials don’t usually tend to be the sort of milieu that readily lend themselves to quirky comedy, the engagingly amusing Tracktown quite capably goes the distance.
“Handed its world premiere at the LA Film Festival, the sweet indie, about a driven young competitive runner who is forced to take a rare day off, serves as a sparkling showcase for endearing lead Alexi Pappas, who also splits directing and writing duties with Jeremy Teicher.
“Pappas, herself a long-distance runner who will be competing for Greece in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, plays the role of Plumb Marigold, a 21-year-old hopeful who has devoted most of her Eugene, Oregon, existence to living the track and field dream.
“Spurred on by her similarly obsessed dad (Andy Buckley) and boatloads of quotable affirmations running the gamut from Oprah to Dr. Seuss, Plumb is unmistakably in it to win it, but after twisting her ankle in the middle of her first Olympic Trials, she’s ordered to take a 24-hour break from her strict regime.
“In the process, Plumb briefly gets a taste of the ‘normal’ life she has never known, including pursuing her flirtation with Sawyer (Chase Offerle), the young man who works in the local bakery and finally dealing with her emotionally fragile mother (Rachel Dratch), who now lives with Plumb’s grandparents.
“Although there’s a telltale Juno vibe to the tone of the film, it’s easy to root for this disciplined but naive ‘girl-child,’ especially as portrayed by Pappas, herself a hard-to-resist blend of Audrey Hepburn and Joan Cusack.
“The supporting performances are uniformly appealing while, behind the camera, Pappas’ intense familiarity with the environment is strongly established with various endurance training sequences and daily regimens involving large quantities of protein powder and raw eggs.
“But while Pappas and her writing and directing partner Teicher, who previously directed the 2012 African drama Tall as the Baobab Tree, demonstrate a keen eye and ear for local color, it will be interesting to see where they travel next, beyond the familiarity of this evident comfort zone.”
MAY 12: The Wedding Plan (dir. Rama Burshtein) – Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Shayna Weingast: “Exhausted by single life at 32, spirited bride-to-be Michal (Noa Koler) is eager for the comfort and companionship of marriage. Then, her fiancé dumps her one month before their wedding. Devastated but undeterred, she decides to keep her wedding date, leaving it to fate to provide a suitable groom.
“With invitations sent, the venue booked, the clock counting down to the big day, and pressure from her family mounting, Michal enlists two matchmakers to help her find Mr. Right. After a series of comically mismatched dates — including with a charming but utterly unsuitable pop star — and many soul-bearing conversations with her sisters, Michal finds she has chemistry with someone she never expected.
“Trailblazing writer-director Rama Burshtein (Fill the Void) returns to the cloistered Orthodox community she knows intimately with this funny and poignant screwball romantic comedy. When it comes to finding love, it’s equal parts luck, determination, and blind faith.”
MAY 19: Everything, Everything (dir. Stella Meghie) – Warner Bros. synopsis: “From Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures comes the romantic drama Everything, Everything, directed by Stella Meghie and based on the bestselling book of the same name by Nicola Yoon.
“What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face…or kiss the boy next door? Everything, Everything tells the unlikely love story of Maddy, a smart, curious and imaginative 18-year-old who due to an illness cannot leave the protection of the hermetically sealed environment within her house, and Olly, the boy next door who won’t let that stop them.
“Maddy is desperate to experience the much more stimulating outside world, and the promise of her first romance. Gazing through windows and talking only through texts, she and Olly form a deep bond that leads them to risk everything to be together…even if it means losing everything.
“Everything, Everything stars Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) as Maddy and Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as Olly. The film also stars Ana de la Reguera (Sun Belt Express) and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls).”
MAY 19: Icaros: A Vision (dirs. Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi) – Synopsis/artistic statement from the film’s official website: “Her medical options exhausted, an American woman travels to the Amazon in search of a miracle. Thanks to a young Ayahuasca shaman who is losing his eyesight, she learns instead to confront her ‘susto’: the disease of fear.
“Icaros: A Vision is a story about fear and the release from fear – the fear of illness and of death, but also the fear of life and living. It’s about the possibility of living through one’s fear – which is what the Amazonian plant Ayahuasca is good at getting you to do. Centered on the nightly ceremonies that are the main feature of shamanic retreats, Icaros revels in darkness, replicating a shamanic journey.
“The film mixes in elements of reality. Set in an actual Ayahuasca retreat in Peru, it features real shamans and indigenous non-actors from the Shipibo community, mixed in with western actors. Aspects of the film are based on co-director Leonor Caraballo’s true experiences. She had metastatic breast cancer when the shoot began. Although she dedicated herself to the project until the very end, sadly she died before she could see the film finished.
“The film is also driven by the conviction that acknowledging the power of plants is the best way to change the jeopardized future of the Amazon – itself like a dying patient. The exploitation of Shipibo lands and communities by oil and timber companies continues. Over the next 20 years, massive tracts will be destroyed to produce only enough oil to sate U.S. demand for, at the most, two weeks. The men and women who have the knowledge of healing plants are finding few in the younger generation who will cultivate their practices. Thus part of the film’s goal is to bring attention to the work, life and knowledge of the Shipibo Conibo people.
“Icaros: A Vision is a filmic tapestry about the meeting of cultures, a West in search of its lost soul and the indigenous Shipibo adapting their expansive practices and unique view of the universe.
“Finally, the story takes place in Iquitos, the same town where Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo was shot more than 30 years ago, and the hotel Casa Fitzcarraldo hosts a key scene in the film.“
MAY 19: Paint It Black (dir. Amber Tamblyn) – Excerpts from The Playlist’s LA Film Festival review by Katie Walsh: “It’s a hungover LA afternoon for Josie (Alia Shawkat), who spent the night moshing off her eyeliner at a punk show, when she receives the call no one ever wants to get. Detectives. A motel. Her phone number. The body’s distinguishing characteristics. With those few words, Josie’s scrappy, dreamy little life crumbles and melts away. Her boyfriend Michael (Rhys Wakefield) has killed himself in a cheap motel in the desert. Any living relatives? A mother.
“Actress and filmmaker Amber Tamblyn makes her directorial debut with the grief-stricken fever dream Paint It Black, written with Ed Dougherty, adapted from the novel by by Janet Fitch. In the lead role, Shawkat turns in an outstanding performance, that along with her turn earlier this year in Green Room, finds the actress stretching her talents beyond comedy. Shawkat’s Josie is a young Angeleno misfit in thrift store leather and ripped tights, wiling away her nights in grimy bars, scraping by with gigs in short films and as a life-drawing model. It’s art class where she meets Michael, a young man possessed of a life of privilege that he doesn’t really want.
“After his death, Josie draws the ire of Michael’s ferocious, patrician mother Meredith (Janet McTeer), a world-famous pianist shut up in a rambling mansion. Josie and Meredith share a dependency on two things: alcohol and Michael. In the wake of his death, a blame game turns into a tussle over the last remaining vestiges of him — his journals, his artwork, his things.
“Tamblyn brings a bold and creative directorial vision to the aesthetic of Paint it Black. While Josie’s world, out and about on the streets of LA is a desaturated, lo-fi grunge affair, Meredith’s imposing home is a chiaroscuro prison. Josie’s world might be a bit shabby and worn, but it’s lived in and warm. The homey nest she made with Michael is an escape from his mother’s home, which is as uninviting as it is impressive.
“Nevertheless, Josie gets sucked into the black whirlpool of Meredith, as the women go tit for tat over Michael’s belongings, and ultimately develop a strange co-dependency. Josie’s grasp on reality is made tenuous with booze, exhaustion, and Meredith’s torment. The short film shoot in which she plays a dead starlet bleeds into her paranoid nightmares. Her world of rock shows and parties with friends fades away as she becomes more isolated with this woman with whom she shares a strange bond.”
MAY 19 (limited theatrical release), MAY 26 (on Video on Demand): Wakefield (dir. Robin Swicord) – Excerpts from IndieWire‘s Telluride Film Festival review by David Ehrlich: “‘What is so sacrosanct about a marriage and a family that you should have to live in it day after day?’ That’s a hell of a thing to hear from a guy like Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston), a wealthy Westchester lawyer with a beautiful wife (Jennifer Garner) two healthy teenage daughters, and a house so big that someone could rather comfortably reside in its two-story garage.
“But Howard — whose sniveling inner monologue seeps into almost every moment of the jagged, acidic comedy that shares his name — isn’t your typical bored white-collar suburbanite. He’s not Lester Burnham, numb with ennui. He’s not Brad Adamson in Little Children, desperate to feel another woman’s touch. He’s just an asshole, one of the most selfish characters you’ll ever see on a movie screen, and it’s a strange pleasure to watch him self-destruct when he realizes that he no longer envies his own life.
“Faithfully adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s 2008 short story of the same name, writer-director Robin Swicord (The Jane Austen Book Club) has crafted a sharp and singularly bitter portrait of man at his worst. Literary to the extreme, Wakefield unfolds like a thought experiment without a hypothesis: One ordinary evening, on his commute home from the city, a power outage inspires Howard to slip away from his life.
“…Swicord is a bold filmmaker (she would have to be in order to reckon with such off-putting source material), and she finds a number of clever ways to enliven Doctorow’s potentially airless text. For one thing, she isn’t afraid to make choices that slyly undercut everything her protagonist says about his situation. When Howard complains about feeling like he’s constantly under his wife’s surveillance, Swicord cuts to his voyeuristic POV. When Howard comes to the conclusion that suburban life is somehow against nature, she ambushes him with one of cinema’s most violent mosquitoes. Howard is a nasty piece of work, and Swicord never makes any excuses for him.”
MAY 24: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (dirs. Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger) – Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “In 1984, Wendy Whelan joined the New York City Ballet as an apprentice; by 1991, she had been promoted to Principal Dancer. She quickly became a revered and beloved figure throughout the dance world. Wrote Roslyn Sulcas, ‘her sinewy physicality, her kinetic clarity, and her dramatic, otherworldly intensity have created a quite distinct and unusual identity.’ Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s film follows this extraordinary artist throughout a passage of life that all dancers must face, when she must confront the limitations of her own body and adapt to a different relationship with the art form she loves so madly.”
MAY 26: Berlin Syndrome (dir. Cate Shortland) – Curzon Artificial Eye synopsis: “While holidaying in Berlin, Australian photojournalist Clare (Teresa Palmer) meets charismatic local man Andi (Max Riemelt). There is an instant attraction between them, and a night of passion ensues. But what initially appears to be the start of a romance suddenly takes an unexpected and sinister turn when Clare wakes the following morning to discover Andi has left for work and locked her in his apartment. An easy mistake to make, of course, except Andi has no intention of letting her go again.”
MAY 26: Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (dir. Lucy Walker) – Synopsis from the film’s official website: “The musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club exposed the world to Cuba’s vibrant culture with their landmark 1997 album. Now, against the backdrop of Cuba’s captivating musical history, hear the band’s story as they reflect on their remarkable careers and the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together.”