May 2, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

Summer Movie Season Has Arrived
Thanks to women, Baby Mama did well last weekend, but since the summer movie season kicks off today, Baby Mama will have a hard time competing against Iron Man and the romantic comedy Made of Honor.

Then She Found Me rolls out into SF, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Seattle and expands in the NY area. If you live in these areas and are interested in seeing a good movie by and about a woman, GO SEE THIS!

If you have someone in your life who likes the big summer flicks here's my take: Iron Man stars Robert Downey, Jr. as the thinking man's action hero. While Downey, Jr. might not be your typical action hero (he's actually a brilliant scientist) the movie is typical action fare which requires you to leave your brain at the door. The script sucks, the suit is fun, Gwyneth Paltrow is underused (typical supportive female role), Jeff Bridges acts like a psychotic Lex Luthor and Terrence Howard sold out to get in a big movie. If you suspend belief and all sense of I need to say more?

Made of Honor is My Best Friend's Wedding ten years later and starring a guy. (Julia Roberts was in the original, which is far superior) Patrick Dempsey aka McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy plays Tom, the guy who created coffee collars, and after 10 years of sleeping around he realizes that his best friend (Michelle Monaghan) is the woman of his dreams. Only it's too late since she just met the man of her dreams in Scotland. Hijinks ensue to cancel the wedding. Who knows if McDreamy can cross over to the big screen (he tried it before in the late 80s and then we didn't see him for over a decade) but at least he's got Grey's to fall back on. Michelle Monaghan is so much better in the indie drama Trucker I saw at Tribeca this week, but hey it's really about Dempsey so really, who cares about the girl.

Other Women at the Movies
Hats Off- directed by Jyll Johnstone Opens in LA
Then She Found Me
Baby Mama
Nim's Island
Under the Same Moon
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
My Blueberry Nights

TV This Weekend
For you TV viewing pleasure, most all of England's top actresses appear in the three part mini-series Cranford based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton, Francesca Annis and many other populate the town of Cranford where things must be done just so, and gossip makes it round quicker by person than it does on the internet. The show airs at 9pm on PBS for the next three Sundays.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell- Tribeca Documentary by Abigail E. Disney and Gini Reticker

Pray the Devil Back to Hell, is a powerful documentary about the courageous women of Liberia who stood up and said no more to war and through their sheer determination and grit were able to transform a country. The film premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival where it was just awarded the prize for best documentary feature. In awarding the prize the jurors said: “In a relentless pursuit of peace, the women of Liberia show us how community, motherly love and perseverance can change the fate of a society. Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a reminder that we have the power to say “Enough!” to the atrocities of our world."

The film is produced by Abigail E. Disney and directed by Gini Reticker. Both Abby and Gini were able to answer some questions about the film and their extraordinary collaboration.

Women & Hollywood: You and Gini seem to have a real collaborative relationship beyond the typical producer/ director.

Abby Disney: Gini trusts me a lot and vice versa. We decided we didn't want to work that way.

Gini Reticker: We hadn't seen each other for years and we ran into each just after Abby had been to Liberia. We were totally on the same page about what was important in the story. It was wonderful to have her and she was also respectful of me in the edit room. She would make suggestions that respected my experience. It's been an incredibily dynamic relationship.

W&H: Talk about where you got the title from.

GR: One of the main character in the film Leymah Gbowee says that Charles Taylor could pray the devil out of hell and it was such a great expression. What the women did by banding together is that they prayed the devil back to hell. I don't think that it was only Charles Taylor as the man, but it was the evil force they saw. The country had lost its moral compass and the women came forward and said hey, let's get this under control.

W&H: Abby, you financed the film yourself?

AD: Yes, it seemed easier rather than having to go to people to ask for money. It gave me nimbleness and an ability to react more quickly and to think independently without having to answer to anybody.

W&H: What was the budget?

AD: We spent around $800,000. It was not an easy shoot. There is no power in Liberia so you need generators. We had to build our own sets and I was not about to go without insurance. As the producer I felt very responsible for everyone and their safety. And Gini is well respected as is Kirsten Johnson, the Director of Photography, and these are people who should be paid appropriately.

W&H: Talk a bit about what you've learned from your first foray into the movie business.

AD: I didn't have a lot of the problems women have because I didn't need to go and ask for money. I didn't have to talk anyone in charge of the purse strings and convince them as to why this was important because I knew this was a tough sell. Even if there are women in charge they are still accountable to men. So they are very averse to taking risks especially if its seen as a "women's thing." It's difficult to get anybody in the mainstream media to understand this. That's why I felt I was uniquely positioned to get this done.

W&H: Can you talk about working as a woman director and any difficulties you have faced.

GR: For me working in documentaries has really been easy and its been manageable with having a family which has been really nice because I had some control over my career. I've always been drawn to women's issues. Before I made documentaries I worked in women's health care and that is what drew me to working on my first film. I think that working in documentaries has been the ideal profession for me.

W&H: You've been involved in women's issues for a long time but never felt compelled to tell a story before.

AD: I've felt compelled to tell a story before just not compelled enough to do it.

W&H: Why was this different?

AD: Everything lined up on this one. Part of it is how old my kids are and how much time I had. This really was a story that was going to be erased from the historical records that was really worth holding onto.

W&H: Talk more about how women's accomplishments get erased from history.

AD: Yesterday I was talking to a high school class after a screening and asked them if they heard of Sacagawea and of course they had. They had, because there were women who worked and resurfaced the memory of her. She was not in the historical records as I was taught it when I was in high school. This is the persistent manner of how we have defined authority as not to include women. If they don't look authoritative they don't get captured in the media which then gets converted into the historical record. We clearly knew what was going on in Liberia. The news media didn't look at what the women were doing here as authoritative, and they simply did not point their cameras in that direction. We had no problems finding the footage of the killings, the shootings and the maimings, but when the women were working for peace the cameras were not pointed in that direction. That tells us a great deal about what the news media thinks is worth telling and how much of what genuinely happens we don't hear.

W&H: You mentioned before that we tend to see women in Africa as victims not through their accomplishments and that it was important for you to tell this positive story.

GR: Most of the media you see on Africa portrays Africa and Africans as victims and not agents of their own lives. I feel that the people that I met there are just like you and me. As a documentary filmmaker I am always drawn to what I have in common with someone rather than that which makes us different. I feel the common bond of humanity is fascinating and so I was hell bent on making sure the women were able to tell their own story and they were portrayed in the way I saw them. I also felt that by doing that it is much easier to be inspired by them.

W&H: Our country is not aware of the global women's movement and you have an opportunity to bring some international feminism tothis country.

AD: I don't think it will be hard. When I tell people about the 12 countries that the film has shown in about how the women in Kurdistan and Georgia wept and then wrote a peace agenda. I think this will be very appealing to women if we get it to them through the right medium, through the right messenger and in the right form.

W&H: Media, messenger, form? Explain.

AD: Well, obviously, all of those things come together in Oprah Winfrey. We are going to work on finding the right messengers on TV, radio and the internet to bring this message to women.

W&H: How are you going to get the film out there? Do you have a distributor?

AD: I'm not going to a distributor with my hat in my hand begging them to distribute the film. If we don't get a good deal we will distribute it ourselves.

W&H: Hollywood doesn't seem to be interested in women's stories. What are your feelings about that?

GR: The thing about Hollywood not liking women's stories, I think it's a case of blindness to a real market, to a real hunger. That's the response we are getting from this film. There is a hunger for stories that are more hopeful that show a different side of things. The distribution of this film will be fascinating. We will try to have a theatrical release but we are getting requests from people who want to fill movie theaters around the country. We're getting more requests to show the film than we can deal with at this time. We are trying to harness all that and also look at alternative distribution models but I think we will probably do a hybrid and do everything. I would have to say hats off to Abby because she has enormous aspirations and energy and she is really committed to this film and to the ideas behind it.

W&H: And you will create a curriculum and other educational devices?

AD: the opportunities through educational institutions, religious institutions, through girls clubs, youth organizations, women's organizations are vast and there is a curriculum for each one of these groups.

W&H: A lot of times people say movies are just movies that they don't have the power to make change and to effect people.

AD: Movies are just movies if that's how you go about making them. of all the media we have this is the closest in tone and feel to the dream which comes from the deepest part of ourselves. we do such a disservice to ourselves to not use this medium with the respect it deserves because it has innately such enormous power to address our deepest needs and our deepest values and deepest longings. That's why my uncle (Walt) was very good at what he did. He understood that it had enormous power to go right into the center of who a person was and that's why i wanted to make this film. I couldn't write this as a book, I couldn't go around the world and tell people the story, you needed to have everything come together in music and visuals and sound in the way it does in this film and I think Gini has done an effective job in making sure that whole thing coheres.

W&H: What would you uncle say about this film?

AD: I'm not sure. I know he was a man of his time in many ways, politically he was very conservative and he was afraid of communists but I also know he had a good center, a good heart and I don't think this film is a politics film it has a real appeal to people without politics. sometimes you need to strip away politics and restore a dialogue without politics. and in that way, I think he'd love it.

W&H: What do you want people who see this film to get out of it?

GR: The response to far has been tremendous that whatever I thought that i wanted people to get out of it, they're getting much more out of it. I feel that people are being inspired in all sorts of different ways that I could never have imagined. There are people who see this as instrumental to doing peace work. I woke up yesterday morning to an email from women in Tiblsi, Georgia saying that they had seen the film and shown it to other women, their region is having heightened militarism with ethnic overtones and they decided to take up the mantle of the women of Liberia and are starting their own peace movement. What could be better than that. Women in Sudan say its going to change their lives. On that level its beyond my wildest hopes.

W&H: What are you doing next?

GR: Abby and I are continuing to work together and are co-producing a 4 hour series on women in conflict for Wide Angle on PBS.

Check out the Pray the Devil Back to Hell Trailer

May 1, 2008

Bordertown- Another Film About Women Goes Straight to DVD

One of the most brutal and under acknowledged stories over the last decade has been the mass murders of young Mexican women workers. There have been a couple of documentaries (notably Lourdes Portillo's Senorita Extraviada), yet this is another women's issue that continually gets pushed under the carpet.

I got excited when I read a couple of years ago that director Gregory Nava and Jennifer Lopez were teaming up to create a fictionalized version of the story, Bordertown. We all know its hard to make films about women, even for a star like Lopez (who has a very mixed record in films.) But to make a film about such a tough subject has got to be even harder. But they made it and premiered it a couple of years ago at the Berlin International Film Festival where it was received poorly. THINKFilm still picked it up and was going to release it, but that never happened. (I think it may have played only in El Paso, Texas.)

So here's the case of another women's film going straight to DVD. The film has a cast that includes Martin Sheen, Antonio Banderas and Sonia Braga. These are not no-names.

But the subject proved too tough. Women being murdered. Who really wants to see that?

I do and finally did. It's not the best movie, Lopez is uneven and let's just say she's a better singer than actress. She plays Lauren Adrian a reporter from the fictional Chicago Sentinel sent by her editor (Martin Sheen) to cover the murders. She is a woman trying to run away from her past, trying to deny that she could just as likely have been these women if her life hadn't turned out a little differently. But, when she gets on the ground and starts digging, she changes. The government of Mexico is covering up the murders, intimidating witnesses and making people disappear. It's creepy to watch how systemically these murders are denied. The film does go off the rails at times in the thriller aspects, but there is no denying its a powerful story.

The most important moments of the film come at the end when Lauren files her story accusing NAFTA and corporate America for complicity in the murders. With NAFTA in the news again because of the presidential elections its interesting to see another perspective of how people are affected by this free trade which Lauren calls "slave trade." The story gets spiked and Sheen (who remember was the one who encouraged Lauren to go and tell the story) is the one who stabs her in the back. She goes after his integrity as an editor and he offers a line I would guess is being repeated all across the newspaper business: "corporate America is running the show and the news agenda is free trade, globalization and entertainment."

It sure is and this political drama seems to be a casualty of these same issues. Let's not forget these women who are being murdered in factories that make our cheap computers. Rent it and see for yourself. It's available on Netflix.

News Briefs

Here's some random interesting things I saved over the last couple of weeks:

  • Rebecca Traister at Salon talks to Amy Poehler about Baby Mama and the legacy of funny film feminists. Feminism is the New Funny (Salon)
  • Hillary Swank will star in the Mira Nair film of Amelia Earhart. Richard Gere co-stars.
  • The 13th Annual Nantucket Film Festival announced that Meg Ryan will be honored with the Compass Rose Acting Tribute Award. Ryan will be on hand to present the second Adrienne Shelly Excellence in Filmmaking Award, which gives a cash prize to a promising female writer/director at the festival.
  • Nia Vardalos will co-star for three episodes of the funny sitcom My Boys airing this June

April 30, 2008

Miley Cyrus Hoopla

I'm going to let others who have thought about this more speak to the issue of Miley Cyrus and her backless photo in Vanity Fair. I find it interesting how we are willing to exploit young womens sexuality when it suits us. Look at all the fuss over the TV show Gossip Girl. Two week ago those OMFG ads with teens having sex was plastered all over NY and nobody made as big a stink as they have over Miley's back. This show appeals to the older tweeners and the kids on that show are drinking, doing drugs, having sex, staying out late, wearing provocative clothes (check out the picture on the cover of last weeks NY Magazine) but you know, its just a TV's not real. Right. These girls are in a no-win situation. They get ridiculed for not being cute or skinny or sexy and then get punished when they try and look the part. Maybe that's why the Miley Cyrus thing has caused such a kerfuffle.

Here's Nancy Gruver's (from New Moon) take:

Like an iron grip in a velvet glove, the hypersexualization of girls in the media holds actual girls hostage under the pretense of entertaining and informing them. And, like in the Stockholm Syndrome, it's not surprising when girls start to identify with the all-powerful culture that's holding them hostage. Stockholm Syndrome in Media
And the always interesting Germaine Greer:
We train female children to be manipulative and to exploit their sex. From the time she is tiny, a girl in our society is taught to flirt. She is usually dressed like a mini-whore in pink and tinsel, short skirt, matching knickers, baby-doll pyjamas, long hair falling over her face. She learns to court attention and, when successful, to hide her face. If she's lucky enough to get to be a big sister she might get over this sleazy conditioning, but very few daughters these days get to grow out of being "daddy's girl". When the time comes she is likely to reject approaching womanhood, desperate to keep her thighs skinny, and nearly as desperate to acquire hard, high breasts. The idea of growing into her own body is charmless, frightening. Sexing it Up

I'll post other interesting ones that I find.

April 29, 2008

The Guru of Stats- Dr. Martha Lauzen

Dr. Martha Lauzen is my idol. She is the woman who has been tracking women's representation behind the scenes in the TV and film business for over a decade. Her studies, The Celluloid Ceiling and Boxed In, are the studies used by everybody who tracks issues related to women working in the business. She runs the newly created Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University

She recently appeared on a Movies by Women podcast (click on episode 14, but check out all the other great podcasts they have) to discuss issues related to women working in Hollywood, especially women directors. I highly recommend listening to the podcast but here are some highlighted quotes:

  • Most women (across the country) don't understand the under-representation of women in the business.
  • There has been a multi-year decline in women directors (working in films).
  • 90% of what we see is a white male view of the world. We are so used to it that we don't even see it.
  • People in Hollywood don't want to be called racist, but they don't mind being called sexist.
  • When women have power to hire, they do hire more women.
  • This notion that women won't or can't get along or don't hire women is not true. It's a myth which has political undertones that we see across all media. As long as women believe they can't trust each other, it's damaging to women as a group.
  • We need to get the word out that women are under-represented and that this is a cultural problem.
  • The privilege of denial is when people in positions of power encounter a point of view that does not jibe with their own and they say it does not exist.
So what can we learn from this? Being a sexist is a badge of honor in Hollywood, and denying that there is a problem is an effective tool being used to keep women out of positions of power. There has got to be one male executive whose daughter wants to be a director. I wonder what he would do if his daughter was denied a job just because she's a woman. There needs to be some kind of affirmative action committee to deal with this. It's such BS.

Sexist Blog Comment of the Day

This comment comes yesterday from the blog Hollywood Elsewhere. I hate giving sexist comments additional air, but this one can't go by without a WTF! No wonder these women start botoxing themselves at 30. God forbid you should actually look your age. Shame on you Jeff Wells for this lame ass comment.

Slight Disparity
The only "hmmm" issue that may affect What Happens in Vegas is a cultural- chemical rapport thing, given that the Ashton Kutcher-Cameron Diaz romance may seem to some like an older-woman, younger-guy thing. (Which Kutcher is obviously familiar with in real life.) Kutcher turned 30 two months ago; Diaz is now 35. Thing is, Kutcher looks his age (if not a year or two younger) and she looks...well, like she's almost nudging 40, no? The last time Diaz radiated anything close to a spring-chicken glow was when she costarred in There's Something About Mary ('98).

It's perfectly fine and cool for this kind of relationship to be depicted, of course. I don't have any surveys to point to, but there are presumably plenty of slightly older women going out with slightly younger (or markedly younger) guys. It's interesting. I can remember thinking when I was in my early 20s that the best women to know were in their early 30s -- past the foolishness, earthier, more passionate, etc.
YUCK! Cameron, says it best in the the picture to the left.

April 28, 2008

Women Make Tina Fey Comedy Number 1 at the Box Office

Women went to the theatres this weekend and made the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Baby Mama $18.3 million this weekend. A whopping 68% of the audience was WOMEN so we proved women we are moviegoers and we can definitely open a movie. 55% of the audience was over 25 so that means that us older women (yes, Hollywood thinks you are old if you are over 25) attended the film.

Members of my girl posse and I went to see the film and we enjoyed it. I still wish that Tina would have written it (the film was written and directed by SNL writer Michael McCullers) cause, at times, it felt that they were trying to hard to be funny. But Tina is awesome. (and if you don't watch 30 Rock on Thursdays on NBC, you are seriously missing something really funny.) The thing about Tina is that she's funny while being awkward and uncomfortable and unsure of herself which is the crux of her appeal. While the funny guys of Judd Apatow's comedies are pathetic schlubs that no girl would want to be with (but who always seem to get the girl), Fey is the real girl who is insecure in life while confident at work AND she's funny, so it's a winning combination. After this weekend both Tina and Amy's phones should be ringing off the hook with new jobs.

Tina plays a 37-year-old-woman who has been "getting promotions instead of getting pregnant" and finds out she can't have kids. She hires a surrogate through a questionable agency run by the freakishly fertile Sigourney Weaver and is matched up with Amy Poehler, a poor woman looking for some fast cash. Honestly, they don't really do a service to surrogacy since it is a serious process, and most surrogates are women who have previously had kids and are carefully vetted. But it's a movie, and a comedy, so we'll let a lot of that go.

What was great to see was comedy vets from SNL and The Daily Show supporting the work of Fey and Poehler. I'm used to seeing the boys support the other guys so it was great to see them support the girls. Steven Martin also gets in on the game and plays the new-agey boss of Tina. Tina also has a love interest in the adorable Greg Kinnear. Their relationship is so different from typical comedy relationships because they actually seem like they could be a couple. They are around the same age and they have things in common, and oh yeah, he actually has a job and doesn't get stoned all day. He's a mature adult which, you know, is more attractive to women looking for a partner in life.

I'm not saying this is a perfect movie, cause it's not. But I have to say that I was so happy to go to a movie where I didn't want to throw something at the screen, and when I left I still had a smile on my face.

April 27, 2008

Women & Hollywood on Other Feminist Blogs

Word is starting to get out about the blog. Here's a posting from the feminist blog Echidne of the Snakes

Feminism & film (by Suzie)

After many years of promiscuous movie-going, I now avoid ones that don’t have at least one significant female character. I prefer ones that revolve around women, written and/or directed by women. I’m voting with my dollars.

This baffles some friends, who don’t see gender when they look at a movie like “No Country for Old Men,” but accept the idea that men won’t – or shouldn’t – like a “chick flick.” (I hate, hate, hate that term and “chick lit,” which mark stories by and about women as trifles that could not possibly interest men. Ugh, now I have to wipe the foam from my mouth.)

A few years ago, a feminist friend was trying to get me to see “The Perfect Storm.” I argued, “But it’s all about men.” She replied cheerfully, “But in the end, they all die!” The movie is an interesting commentary on the construction of masculinity, but then again, there’s no shortage of movies about men who die while doing something dangerous, adventurous or heroic.

To find movies by and about women, I like Melissa Silverstein’s Women & Hollywood blog. This week on DVD, I saw Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe” and Amy Heckerling’s “I Could Never Be Your Woman.” About Taymor, Silverstein asks what it takes to be an “auteur.” (A penis seems to help.)

In another post, Silverstein explains why “I Could Never Be Your Woman” was released last month, direct to DVD. In the movie, the character played by Michelle Pfeiffer worries about getting too old to be competitive in Hollywood. You might think: “She’s Michelle Pfeiffer, for the Goddess’ sake!” But Heckerling told Entertainment Weekly: ''There was some concern about doing a movie with an older female protagonist — not anybody's favorite demographic.''

In an interview with the AV Club, Heckerling talks about women trying to look young to keep their careers alive.

It's been that way from Sunset Boulevard on. Hollywood is the dream factory, and no one dreams about older women. It's a youth-and-beauty-obsessed place that sells a certain image. Of course I have sympathy. If you look at all the pictures of women in magazines, everybody's got a forehead that looks like a billboard. Completely blank. When I was 20, I had these furrowed lines between my brows, because I was always angry. And I was 20. I don't think that was a mark of age; it was just my personality. Yet these people think that when you have a completely blank head, you can put advertising on it. That's not youthful. What is that? Some of these young girls that I find and put in films, I see them in a magazine a year later, and they've got big fat lips and stick figures. And you go, "Why? Why are you buying into this?"