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.”