February 8, 2008

February 8, 2008

Please note: Women & Hollywood will be off next week- posting will resume February 18th.

At the Theatres This Weekend
No large scale releases to recommend.

Opening This Weekend
A Walk to Beautiful (NY only)- see interview below

Currently in Theatres
The Savages
The Business of Being Born
27 Dresses
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Mad Money
Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour

P.S. I Love You
How She Move
The Golden Compass

August Rush

The Orphanage

Interview with Mary Olive Smith, director, A Walk to Beautiful
In a world where the media is dominated by tabloid stars gone wild many important stories go untold and unseen. Most of the missing stories are the stories of poor people in countries far away struggling to survive while we here in the US are obsessed with Britney Spears' mental health.

Documentaries have been vital windows to these untold stories, and now with newspapers in crisis, they have become even more important in educating us about important issues around the world.

One of these documentaries, A Walk to Beautiful, opens today in NYC and later this month in LA. The film tells the story of five Ethiopian women who suffer from obstetric fistulas which cause them to constantly leak urine. They live in shame and are shunned from their communities, believing they are cursed and doomed to live the rest of their lives alone outside their families and culture. When they find out that other women suffer from this condition, and there is a place that can help, them they each start out on a long journey to the hospital that will hopefully help them regain their dignity and their lives.

This is a heartbreaking, moving film. The suffering and the shame of these women is visceral. The Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa is not only a hospital that performs physical surgeries on the women, they also stitch them back emotionally after suffering from years of depression and despair. The staff that works in this hospital led by an Australian ex-pat Dr. Catherine Hamlin who came to Ethiopia with her late husband in 1959, are nothing short of miracle workers. What they do for these women renewed my faith in humanity.

Mary Olive Smith spoke with Women & Hollywood about her experience making this film.

Women & Hollywood: Most people in the western world don't know what a fistula is, can you explain it to us?

Mary Olive Smith: The medical definition is an opening between an internal organ and the outside world. You can have different kinds of fistulas. We are dealing with obstetric fistula and that is an opening between the birth canal and the bladder, and in some rare cases between the birth canal and the rectum. It's caused by prolonged, unrelieved obstructed labor. The last recorded case in the US was 1895, but it was common all over the world before cesarean sections.

The only place in Ethiopia where there is advanced obstetric care is Addis Ababa. There are only 146 ob/gyns in a country of 77 million people and most all of them are in Addis Ababa.

Obstructed labor occurs in 5% of all labors all over the world, so those 5% need a c-section to successfully deliver a living child. In the developing countries when you add on the issues of early marriage and undernourishment, the rate gets higher. But, it's not just about early marriage and undernourishment. You will get fistulas unless you have trained medical technicians to perform c-sections.
W&H: How did you become interested in this?
MOS: I work at Engel Entertainment and I was asked by my boss to direct this film. It wasn't my idea. The idea came from a Nicholas Kristof column. I took on the job of envisioning it and developing it into a feature length film. My field director, Amy Bucher directed some of the women, and I directed others. Then I oversaw post-production. It was such a team effort.
W&H: What kind of outreach are you doing to spread the word about the film?
MOS: We have a grant from the UN Foundation and a grant from the Fistula Foundation which is the funding arm of the hospital. We are reaching out to universities, non-profit organizations, women's groups and medical groups to get as many people as possible to hold screenings. Nova will broadcast the film in May and they are also helping with the outreach.
W&H: How did you find the women?
MOS: I had two crews. One at the hospital interviewing women already there. I went into the countryside into one of the poorest areas called Gojam that has a high rate of fistula and I worked with the local clinics and churches and after a week later we still hadn't found anyone. The way we got to the women was talking to people in the market, to a woman outside a clinic, and then word started spreading that we were looking for a woman who was leaking. It was hard. Finally, through a chain of people I was led to Ayehu.
W&H: Do you feel an obligation to continue telling these stories?
MOS: Amy Bucher, my co-producer, pitched a follow-up story called Child Brides that aired on PBS in October. I am particularly interested in maternal health and learned that one woman dies every minute of the day from maternal injuries or related illnesses whether obstructed labor or hemorrhaging. It's unfathomable. Half a million women a year and that number hasn't changed in twenty years. I am in development on a proposal to do a documentary on maternal health and the hard part is going to sell it. I'm trying to make it "sexy enough" to get a broadcaster. The way to do that is to focus on the heroes in different parts of Africa where they are training the mid-level health professionals and midwives to do cesareans, By telling the heroes stories we can make it uplifting story. I hope to start fundraising this spring.
W&H: Was it hard to get the women to tell their stories?
MOS: I focused hard on being a compassionate and sensitive listener. The truth is they were really desperate to tell their stories. They opened up and you couldn't get them to stop. They were so surprised that anyone cared, that anyone wanted to know their stories.
W&H: I found the hospital staff beyond amazing and compassionate.
MOS: Especially with the brain drain in the country where doctors get trained and then take off and come to the US to work. Most of the surgeons at the Fistula hospital are Ethiopian with the exception of Dr. Andrew and Dr. Hamlin. They are extremely dedicated and extremely skilled. Fistula can be a fairly easy surgery yet some can take up to five hours.
W&H: Talk a little about Dr. Hamlin. Why has she dedicated her life to helping these women?
MOS: I wish I could have met her husband -- the two of them founded the hospital together in 1959. I have heard that he was truly inspirational too. Dr. Hamlin is the real deal. She's been there 50 years. She inspires not only to help women who are suffering, but also she's an extremely skilled surgeon and has inspired the medical community as well. They have managed to keep the hospital going through many brutal political regimes. Her biggest wish now is to have enough money in the bank so that when she passes away the hospital can continue for many years to come. So she is focused now on fundraising, not to just expand the hospital, (they are building five outreach centers throughout the country) but also to have an endowment. She is afraid of what will happen when she leaves.
W&H: These women suffer in silence. What did coming to the hospital do for their sense of self?
MOS: Most of them immediately start healing on day one, they open up they start laughing again. There are cases of women who are so depressed that nothing helps them right away and they need psychiatric treatment. The longer they suffer the harder it is. The suicide rate is high for fistula. The hospital surveyed and said that 98% have contemplated suicide and we don't know how many kill themselves because they are not visible. Fistula is a huge shame.
To get more information on Fistula:
Fistula Foundation (the U.S. foundation that raises money for the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital)
End Fistula Now (UNFP's Campaign to End Fistula)

To organize a screening contact: Allison Shigo, Engel Entertainment
(212) 413-9200

February 7, 2008

February 7, 2008

Preview Review: Bernard and Doris
Bernard and Doris is one of the strangest love stories I've ever seen on TV. Honestly, the relationship between the beyond rich Doris Duke and her alcoholic butler Bernard Lafferty is so crazy that if it hadn't of actually happened, the person who made it up would be a fantastic fiction writer. Bob Balaban takes the events of their relationship that were known and creates a fantasy of what their day to day life might have been like. The spectacular Susan Sarandon takes on the flamboyant role of Duke with gusto and Ralph Fiennes plays Lafferty perfectly like a puppy basking in the love of its master. She was a difficult woman with no real friends and fired people on whim, and he was a penniless Irish drunk who had made his way around Hollywood working for Elizabeth Taylor and Peggy Lee. The film is a tour de force for Sarandon who in my opinion, is always great.

Film premieres on HBO Saturday, February 9 at 8pm.

Dumb Blonde, Smart Blonde
If you're in NYC on February 12 you might want to attend this event sponsored by NY Women in Film and TV (which I am a proud new member of)

Women have wanted to be blonde from time immemorial. Equated with youth and sexiness, blondes have always been centerpieces in the movies. There have been all kind of blondes -- smart blondes, dumb blondes, scheming blondes, sweet blondes, powerful blondes, and victim blondes.

Anita Loos created the dumb blonde in 1927 (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and male writers perfected the genre. Women screenwriters improved on the genre, smartening their blondes up. Dumb Blondes, Smart Blondes will analyze the trajectory of blondes in film and television over the past 30 years. Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer film critic, will screen film clips to show the changing images of blonde-haired women on the screen and tube to determine whether they accurately reflect changing roles of women and the reality of their lives. The event will appeal to blondes and non-blondes alike.

Sign up Here: Dumb Blonde, Smart Blonde

February 6, 2008

February 6, 2008

Sneak Preview- Then She Found Me
I had a bad couple of days last week and had entered a mild depressive state but that was instantly lifted as soon as I left the screening room after seeing Then She Found Me, Helen Hunt's directorial debut which will be released in late April. Based on the novel by Elinor Lipman and adapted by Helen Hunt, Vic Levin and Alice Arlen, this film tells the story of April Epner (Hunt), a woman struggling with her desire to have a child in the midst of the disintegration of her marriage (to Matthew Broderick), meeting her birth mother (Bette Midler) for the first time, and then unexpectedly falling in love with an equally damaged man (played spectacularly by Colin Firth.)

This film reminds me of last year's wrenching Away From Her, not in subject matter, but in the almost lyrical intersection of the performances and the script. Why it also reminds me of Away From Her is that Hunt, like Sarah Polley, shows us the women's faces in both their joy and agony. Hunt, as the lead, really puts herself out there and it works. Seeing her facial lines (yes, she does have lines on her face like any normal woman does) made me hold my breath for a moment because there are so few films where you are able to see the truth on someone's face. The film also co-stars Bette Midler as Hunt's mother who had her when she was a teenager and gave her up for adoption. I miss Bette who was so big in the late 80s and early 90s. I was really impressed with the whole effort. Mark your calendars now, April 25th.

I Could Never Be Your Woman Goes Straight to DVD
I've been desperate to get information and the back story on the delayed release and now straight to DVD dump of the Michelle Pfeiffer Amy Heckerling collaboration I Could Never Be Your Woman which has been done for over a year (closer to two.) I contacted Amy Heckerling's office but she wouldn't speak to me because she was hopeful that she might get a theatrical release. But now that there's no chance of that, she let loose to Missy Schwartz at Entertainment Weekly.

What is so spectacular about this film going straight to DVD is that it's not going because it's a bad (like the recent Jessica Simpson or Jennifer Lopez films) it's going to DVD because the film's producer was a crook, has gone bankrupt and screwed up every potential release at every turn. This story is incredibly sad.

Some highlights:

The one thing all parties agree on is that it's baffling that a movie with two well-known actors, [Paul Rudd is the co-star] directed by the woman behind Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, wound up in the home-video refuse pile.
Woman, however, is a subcultural curio. It's a modestly budgeted indie that, while far from perfect, never got the chance it deserved, hitting every speed bump and knocking over every traffic cone along the way.
The inspiration for I Could Never be Your Woman came to Heckerling in the mid-90s...Every day, she felt increasingly ambivalent about working in an industry that promotes unrealistic standards of beauty for young girls and considers women over 40 to be prehistoric beasts.
The screenplay found a home at Paramount, [when Sherry Lansing was still there] but in an unfortunate case of life imitating art, the studio put it on hold. "There was some concern about doing a movie with an older female protagonist- not everybody's favorite demographic..."
She got $25 million in financing from Phillipe Martinez of Bauer Martinez Entertainment who knew nothing about releasing films and to make a long story short he sold off the DVD and most of the TV rights to the Weinstein Company, but then almost got lucky enough to get MGM to release the film, but because Pfeiffer's deal was cut as $1 million up front and 15% of the gross of the top MGM balked. Of course Pfeiffer was blamed. They also seem to blame her for not agreeing to do enough publicity that scuttled a deal with Freestyle Releasing. Very convenient to blame the actress. Give me a break.
So despite positive test screenings, MGM shelved Woman- the same day Pfeiffer was due to board a plane to kick off the PR campaign.
The saddest outcome:
Heckerling doesn't know when she'll direct again. "I don't want to work for the hell of it," she says. "I get offered: 'Here's a girl who's mad at another girl for having a wedding on the same day.' "That'll be a big hit, but I don't want to do that."
If Amy Heckerling and Michelle Pfeiffer couldn't get into the theatres, what does that say for other women directed and women starring movies. This whole story gives me indigestion. Kudos for EW for laying it out, finally.
Full piece: Would You Dump This Woman? (EW)

February 5, 2008

February 5, 2008

Lipstick Jungle - Preview Review
The best news about Lipstick Jungle from previewing the first two episodes is that it is way better than Cashmere Mafia which has become painful to watch. So what to do? Well, since there is nothing on TV (it's beyond pathetic now) watch both, but I have a feeling that one or both of them won't make it when the rest of the shows come back.

Lipstick Jungle comes from the brain of Candace Bushnell who also brought us Sex and the City. What made Sex and the City so great was her collaboration with Darren Star who after a falling out with Bushnell created the Mafia. If you want my opinion (and I know you do ) I think it would be better to have one pretty good show than one ok show, and one not so good show.

The show is about three highly successful women and how they negotiate life, love and responsibilities -- you get the idea. But really what this show does, as does Cashmere Mafia, is make women feel guilty about their successes and failures. It's one thing to have a show like say Grey's Anatomy that shows women dealing with all of life's issues in a way that makes one think instead of making one feel like crap. That's what I love about Grey's. And that's what I hate about both Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia.

I'm tired of people basing shows on women's guilt -- guilt over being more successful than your husband, guilt over being a bad mommy, guilt over kicking ass at the office, you know what I mean. Brooke Shields as Wendy Healy has the most guilt on the show and the job of her friends is to support her and make her feel like she has nothing to feel guilty about. She is the head of a movie studio and her husband (Paul Blackthorne) is an architect but is really the primary parent of the family. He makes her feel guilty that he has no career and is treated like "the wife" in public, while at the same time he feels guilty himself about not being supportive of his wife's success which he is very proud of.

Kim Raver plays Nico Reilly, a magazine executive, whose marriage to an academic has gone stale and finds herself drawn to a hot young man at a party which we all know can only lead to trouble. Nico is a very ambitious career woman of around 40 without kids and her disgustingly sexist boss starts grooming a guy to take over in case she decides to go off and have a family. He actually says to her "you're a woman of a certain age approaching a critical juncture." Nico does not take to that well, and really people, most women don't have the opportunity or money to check out after having a kid. Women need to work so their kids can eat.

The third player, and weakest link, is Lindsay Price as a down on her luck fashion designer Victory Ford (I really hope she made that name up herself.) She gets trashed at her latest fashion show but just when she's about to call it quits she meets a billionaire. I bet a thousand women have had that same experience. Ha ha.

While the show tries to make it seem like these women are just like us, the harder they try, the harder they fail. Just be honest, they're not like us -- some of the issues may be relevant -- but they're rich, glamorous, skinny, perfectly dressed which makes them all a fantasy. One thing they have going for them is that they look like they like each other unlike Miranda Otto and Frances O'Connor on Cashmere Mafia.

Show premieres February 7 at 10pm on NBC.

SXSW Unveils Lineup
South by South West Film Festival, one of the quirkier and off-bet and cutting edge fests takes place in Austin Texas from March 7-15. Fest will also feature screening of Kimberly Peirce's highly anticipated follo-up to Boys don't cry- Stop-Loss. Here are the films by/about women.

"Bulletproof Salesman," director by Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein
Fidelis Cloer is a self-confessed war profiteer who found The Perfect War when the US invaded Iraq. It wasn't about selling a dozen cars, or even a hundred, it was a thousand-car war where security would become the ultimate product. (World Premiere)

"FrontRunners," director by Caroline Suh
The campaign for student body president at Stuyvesant, perhaps the most prestigious public high school in the country, is almost as sophisticated as any presidential election. But unlike presidential candidates, they also have to do their homework, take their SATs and write their college applications. (World Premiere)

"The Matador," directed by Stephen Higgins & Nina Gilden Seavey
The epic tale of David Fandila's quest to become the world's top-ranked bullfighter. Heart-wrenching setbacks and thrilling successes dramatize his three-year journey across Spain and Latin America and into the pages of bullfighting history. (World Premiere)

"Some Assembly Required," directed by Dori Berinstein
Over 2000 kids. 400 teams nationwide. Eight months of brainstorming, designing and building. One goal: to create the next great toy. (World Premiere)

"They Killed Sister Dorothy," directed by Daniel Junge
On February 12th, 2005, a 73 year-old Catholic nun from Ohio, was shot six times at point blank range and left to die on a muddy Amazon road. Who was this woman, and why was she killed? What will become of her murderers, and who else was involved? What are the implications of her murder and these trials on the future? (World Premiere)

"My Effortless Brilliance," directed by Lynn Shelton. Written by Lynn Shelton, Sean Nelson, Basil Harris.
Starring: Sean Nelson, Basil Harris, Calvin Reeder, Jeanette Maus. Successful and self-involved novelist Eric Lambert Jones has been unceremoniously dumped by his life long buddy, Dylan. In an attempt to piece together the fractured friendship, Eric takes a side trip from his latest book tour to drop in on Dylan, newly settled in the picturesque backwoods of Washington state. (World Premiere)

"Older Than America," directed by Georgina Lightning. Written by Georgina Lightning, Christine Kunewa.
Starring: Adam Beach, Tantoo Cardinal, Bradley Cooper, Georgina Lightning, Wes Studi. A woman's haunting visions reveal a Catholic priest's sinister plot to silence her mother from speaking the truth about atrocities that occurred at a Native Indian boarding school. (World Premiere)

"Paper Covers Rock," directed and written by Joe Maggio
Starring: Jeannine Kaspar, Sayra Player, Clint Jordan, Tom Brangle. The story of Sam, a troubled young woman who loses custody of her six year-old daughter in the wake of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. (World Premiere)

"Yeast," directed and writted by Mary Bronstein
Starring: Mary Bronstein, Amy Judd, Greta Gerwig, Sean Williams. A maddeningly oblivious, tyrannical and emotionally stunted young woman tries her best to negotiate two toxic friendships. (World Premiere)

February 4, 2008

February 4, 2008

Women's Weekend Box Office Results
Women (and by women I mean young women and girls) ruled the box office this weekend. The four top grossing films starred women. At the top of the list was Miley Cyrus as her alter ego Hannah Montana in a 3-D concert event that pulled in $29 million in just 683 theatres. That's over $42,000 per theatre -- more than Titanic made on Super Bowl weekend. Jessica Alba's The Eye came in second; 27 Dresses is still going strong and came in third; and the Juno juggernaut was 4th with a total box office haul of $110 million.

In the specialty market 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days grossed $122,400 on 17 screens, averaging $7,200 and Nadine Labaki's Caramel made $7,123 from 11 screens for a total of $78,355. (Indiewire)

The Juno Phenomenon
This is a must read. Christine Spines at Entertainment Weekly takes a look at the success of Juno and puts it in the context of all that is wrong for women in Hollywood. I love Christine's writing because she is one of the few people who writes about women and Hollywood with respect and thoughtfulness and presumes the fact that women and girls actually matter. She is spot on in her analysis of the lack of roles for young women as well as the problem with the roles that are available -- princess or mean girl.

Key quotes:

Juno has become a bona fide phenomenon — a rare cultural touchstone for millions of young female moviegoers. That's something that nobody anticipated.
I love how Hollywood is always shocked by the fact that women actually go to movies and want to see realistic characters like themselves - smart and complicated. I knew Juno was going to be big - the time was ripe.
After years of being served mostly bland good girls and ciphers — from Molly Ringwald in the '80s to Alicia Silverstone in the '90s to Lindsay Lohan in the '00s — teenage girls are clearly starving for a female antihero, as are their mothers, fathers, older sisters, and even some of their brothers. In Juno, the story of a pint-size badass who also happens to be a romantic idealist, Hollywood has finally delivered. ''It's a teenage female lead we've never seen before,'' says Page. ''She dresses like she wants, says what she wants, and doesn't apologize for it.... Girls haven't had that sort of character before. We don't have our Catcher in the Rye.'' In what may be the ultimate sign of success, there's even a cranky backlash bubbling up, much of it from adults who question whether teenage girls are really all that clever.
Diablo Cody knows the feeling. ''There was a lack of authentic teen girl characters.... I saw writing this screenplay as an opportunity to create an iconic female,'' says the 29-year-old former stripper and phone-sex operator who penned Juno's script (and who now has a gig as a columnist for EW). ''I think women are often positioned as a support structure for men, and that's certainly not been my experience. Some women want to be heroes!''
Sure, Hollywood has occasionally served up edgy female outcasts, such as Winona Ryder in Heathers or the forlorn geek girls in Ghost World played by Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch. But those characters were more weirdos than antiheroes. They were marginalized by their difference, whereas Juno is empowered by hers. For the most part, the options for young actresses have been limited to Princesses and Mean Girls.
Pre-Juno, the conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that women would go to see movies about guys, while the prototypical ''chick flick'' was a prison sentence for most young men. That's why even romantic comedies, once solidly female turf, have lately migrated to the guy's point of view (Knocked Up, The 40 Year-Old Virgin). Films for females have almost become a niche genre — fantasies about winning Prince Charming (Enchanted) or having a fabulous beach wedding (27 Dresses). The environment hasn't encouraged writers and directors to get creative with female characters. ''When I first started, everybody was looking for a female Animal House,'' says director Amy Heckerling, who took on the flora and fauna of high school in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High and 1995's Clueless. ''It never came to be because [studios] don't like to see women being sexual, being rowdy, being slovenly. That's all okay for boys. But I don't think a girl could smash a bottle against her head for your amusement.'' Cody agrees: ''I think it's easier to fall back on tired archetypes that [studios] know will bring people to the theater,'' she says. ''It helps that I had a very cynical attitude going into this. I didn't ever think this film would be produced. So that gave me the freedom to write the kind of movie I wanted to see.''
The most important question is, will Hollywood be smart enough to learn from Juno and give women and girls more films like this or will this be again dismissed as a fluke like The Devil Wears Prada was and will we go right back to the same old, same old?

Maybe there's hope?
''I think that when the strike ends we'll see a lot of scripts with smart, funny, and subversive teen girl characters,'' says a production executive at a rival studio.
Juno-Inside a Surprise Hit (Entertainment Weekly)

Romantic Comedies Today Basically Suck
Thank you A.O. Scott for that brilliant assessment in yesterday's Times acknowledging, that yes, the romantic comedies made today are crappy compared to the rom coms of the past.
But in general the trough of late winter and early spring is Hollywood’s designated season of mediocrity, a time for predictable, unchallenging genre movies. Horror and action for the teenagers, sappy family comedies for the kids, and, for grown women and their companions, stories of dating and mating decked out with tame Mars-and-Venus jokes and preordained happy endings.

But the dispiriting, uninspired sameness of romantic comedy strikes me as something of a scandal.
I think the scandal is the fact that Hollywood thinks that women (and men) want to see these mediocre films. (Scott is being generous when he calls them mediocre- most of them are really bad) The dumbing down of America that is going on at the multiplex is the true scandal here.
A Fine Romance, My Friend, This Is (NY Times)

Forever Hunky: Ageless Action Figures
Another NY Times piece from this weekend about rejuvenation of the aging male stars Sylvester Stallone as Rambo and Bruce Willis as John McClane in the latest Die Hard movie. Isn't it great to live in a world where a man can be an AARP member and an action star while we get so few movies starring women. I'm disgusted.

Leigh Silverman- an actual live blooded female director working and being successful in the theatre business
If you think it's bad in films its just as bad if not worse to be a theatre director. But some women are able to make successful careers and one that's doing quite well now is Leigh Silverman. She just finished directing David Henry Huang's Yellow Face at the Public and is now helming the world premiere of Brooke Berman's Hunting and Gathering, and will then segue into directing the spectacular Julie White in Liz Flahive's From Up Here at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Director Prefers Shock of the New (Variety)

Why is it that the Guardian always has much better interview pieces than the US papers do? Here is a piece with the amazing Kristin Scott Thomas who will soon be seen in The Other Boleyn Girl.
I'm 47. Unlike Most Other Actresses I Don't Lie About My Age (The Guardian)

Jaime Rosales' (not a woman) understated femme drama "La soledad" (Solitary Fragments) pulled a surprise double whammy at Sunday's 22nd Spanish Academy Goya Awards, taking both the film and director prizes. (Variety)