June 20, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

The two women centric films opening in limited releases this weekend couldn't be more different from a content perspective. Brick Lane is about the awakening of an immigrant woman in London, and Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is about a 9-year-old girl and how the depression effects her, her family and friends in Cincinnati.

But the one thing they have in common which is so unique is that they are both written, directed, and produced by women. Awesome.

Brick Lane opens in NY and LA today and will be rolling out wider throughout the summer. (Read my full review and comments from director Sarah Gavron below.)
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl will open wide on July 2. It's currently playing in cities with American Girl doll stores. A review and some comments from the producers and director will be coming next week. Just so you know - I liked it and think it's a great family movie. Girls and boys should love it.

Remaining in Theatres
Sex and the City
Baby Mama
Under the Same Moon
My Blueberry Nights
How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer
Then She Found Me

Brick Lane- Review

Brick Lane tells the story of the awakening of Nazneen, (Tannishtha Chatterjee) a woman who was shipped off at the age seventeen in an arranged marriage to an older man she never met in London. Nazneen's story is in many ways a universal story about the restrictions placed on women in different cultures. For many years she lived in silence and misery taking care of the home, her husband and her children in the immigrant neighborhood of Brick Lane in London.

Brick Lane is a very British film. Think Mike Leigh. It's quiet, nothing blows up and tells a story of a woman whose life is quite unremarkable. Nazneen is stuck, she believes that life is about endurance, but when she meets Karim (Christopher Simpson) a young activist who gives her sewing work, she comes alive. Karim gives her the gift of passion, and while after all these years she has grown to love her bumbling, unsuccessful husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik), more importantly through Karim she has grown to love and trust herself.

Women are everywhere in the creative company of Brick Lane. The film is based on the award winning novel by Monica Ali, was written by Abi Morgan and Laura Jones was produced by Alison Owens along with Christopher Collins, and it was directed by Sarah Gavron.

This is the kind of movie where you have to pay attention. It's not light and fluffy. If you are looking for a different, interesting story about a woman whose voice and story is usually not heard or seen, check out this film. The film opens in NY and LA today and will roll out across the country over the next few weeks.

Some Thoughts from Sarah Gavron, Director of Brick Lane

One thing that is important to me in this work is to go and meet as many female directors and producers as I can to get their voices and thoughts out to the world. I was able to meet director Sarah Gavron as she spoke to a group of reporters. Here are some things I learned about her, the film as well as some quotes.

This is her first full length feature film. She first started working in documentaries to tell a story and change the world but spent a lot of time fantasizing about fiction so she retrained herself to direct fiction.

Brick Lane was a daunting film for a number of reasons.

It was about a community that was outside me. It was based on this acclaimed novel with myriad fans. It was political from the interior told the story from a marginalized voice of Nazneen.
The story is about her sexual awakening but not about sex - it's about the effect it has. It can be more suggestive if you leave more to the imagination. One of the interesting things is the effect it had on the rest of her life and how it infused the rest of her life.
The film is not political in an obvious way. It's rare to see a film that just deals with the female perspective and narrows the world down to that.
These women's stories are not told so often. We see women who wear western dress who come to England to get rid of their cultural roots. You don't see the more traditional woman having a quieter journey.
Three weeks into the shoot they got a threat as they were about to shoot exteriors on Brick Lane. Turns out it was a small fringe group who were citing scenes not even in the book and they tried to shut down production. It all blew up when Germaine Greer wrote that the Bangladeshi community ought not to see the film, then and in response Salman Rushdie said that was ridiculous. On top of everything the film was also selected to screen for a benefit that Prince Charles would attend. After all the press reports, the Prince backed out.

When talking about the lack of female directors:
The Time Out book of 1,000 films only had five by women. It's quite striking. I'm hopeful that things are changing. I think I am benefiting from the women a half a generation before me like Jane Campion, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha who made films that reached wider audiences. Now people are more open to more women centered and women directed films. I think there's a real sea change happening.

Geez, Could My Co-Star be Any Younger

The Love Guru
Mike Myers = 45
Jessica Alba = 27

Get Smart
Steve Carrell = 46 (47 this summer)
Anne Hathaway = 25


(shout out to Liz Chesney for the idea)

June 19, 2008

Celebrating Diane English and The Women

We're going to hear a lot over the next couple of months how it took Diane English one of the most successful female TV producers over a decade to get her passion project The Women made. I think it's important to keep telling this story because honestly if Diane English has such a hard time, what about the rest of the women who don't have her money and stature.

Women in Film gave English its Crystal award for excellence in film.

Key quotes:

I was advised by people I have the utmost respect for to walk away, Ironically, in 1939, (the all-female cast) was not an issue. The movie was made, and it was a smash. But in the year 2008, it is a huge issue.

Now, English and company hope that female filmgoers who feel underserved by traditional Hollywood fare will support the film when it's released later this year. Women need to reach into their purses and vote with their wallets, she says. Money talks, and Hollywood listens. That's the only way things will change.
Diane English, 'The Women' receive the WIF Crystal Award for excellence in film (Hollywood Reporter)
Women in Film salutes 'The Women' director, along with cast (USA Today)

Women in Film Celebrates 35 Years

Congratulations to Women in Film on your 35th anniversary. Welcome to middle age. In celebration, the organization gave out its annual Crystal + Lucy awards to some very worthy insiders: Diane English and the women of The Women; Salma Hayek; Sherry Lansing; Ginnifer Goodwin, Mandy Walker and Jeff Katzenberg.

To coincide with the awards, The Hollywood Reporter did its semi-annual roundup talking about women's roles in Hollywood. Being a trade paper it seems to me that they can't really have a realistic assessment on the gravity of the situation, (since they get all their ads from people working in the business.) That was confirmed by the first sentence in the lead story, What Women Want:

Oscar was good to women this year.
What? How can that be true? Does Shannon L. Bowen (the reporter) live in the same universe that I do? I clearly remember around Oscar time reading all these stories about how women were missing from most all the best picture nominees.
Of the 176 nominations for the 80th Annual Academy Awards, 43 (24%) went to women. Three of the films nominated for best picture had female producers: Lianne Halfon ("Juno"), Jennifer Fox ("Michael Clayton") and JoAnne Sellar ("There Will Be Blood"). Four of the 10 writing nominees were women: Diablo Cody ("Juno"), Nancy Oliver ("Lars and the Real Girl"), Tamara Jenkins ("The Savages"), and Sarah Polley ("Away From Her").
I mean, I guess it's better than years past, but 24% is still pathetic. On the other hand its probably a miracle that women even got that many nominations when women comprise a measly "15% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic-grossing films of 2007." (The Celluloid Ceiling: Dr. Martha Lauzen, San Diego State U).

Iris Grossman ICM agent and president emeritus of Women in Film said: "There are women producers and studio heads and network heads and agents and managers...at the executive level, I think we're doing great."

My question is also about what these women are doing with their power. Are they helping other women? Are they trying to make more movies about women? Are they hiring more women directors? Clearly movies by and about women are not being effected by having more women in powerful positions when in 2007 only 5 of the top 50 grossing films starred women and only 6% of the top grossing 250 films were directed by women. Is there a disconnect here?

Martha Lauzen lays it out as bluntly as possible:
"That the numbers of women working behind the scenes in the film industry are actually on the decline is mind-boggling when you consider that these are the architects of our culture," Lauzen explains. "The people who tell the stories in our culture ultimately control that culture and have a lot of power over how we see groups of people, events, etc. -- and that remains a mostly male activity."
Women in Film celebrates female achievements

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Ricki Lake

For standing up to the big birth machine and giving women the information about how best they want to give birth.

Ricki Lake fires back at AMA for childbirth statement
Docs to Women: Pay No Attention to Ricki Lake's Home Birth
photo: Albert L. Ortega PR Photos

June 18, 2008

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Roseanne Barr

For her comment at the TV Land Awards where she was honored with the Innovator Award:

That's the one great thing woen you're getting old- when you get called an innovator instead of a loudmouthed, pushy bitch. It's awesome. (from EW)

Doc Film Makers Keep Women's Issues on the Agenda

Check out the piece I wrote for the Women's Media Center on women documentarians keeping women's issues on the agenda.

The news regarding women directors of fictional films in Hollywood continues to be bleak: in 2007, only 6 percent of these films were directed by women. But the non-fiction film world is a whole different story. While no one has exact figures, anecdotally most experts in the documentary community believe that women directors make up at least 50 percent of the directing ranks. Take a look at all the major film festivals that include documentaries and you will see women's names as prominent as the men’s.
Read full piece here: Doc Film Makers Keep Women's Issues on the Agenda

June 17, 2008

RIP Men in Trees

I am still so angry at ABC for its treatment of Men in Trees. The show never got a chance to find an audience because it was moved so many times and was given some stupidly long hiatuses. They didn't even let the show end during the regular TV season so many people, even fans, probably just thought it was gone.

I always loved the show. It was so quirky and adorable and starred Anne Heche as a relationship writer/coach who wound up in Elmo, Alaska after her engagement blew up. The characters on that show were as original as any I have ever seen on TV from the woman (Suleka Mathew) who became a prostitute to support her son, to book editor and die-hard New Yorker Jane (Seana Kofoed) who fell in love with "plow guy." The best, most unexpected moment on TV this season was at Jane's wedding to Sam (the plow guy) when her parents turned out to be midgets. Brilliant TV.

But the heart of the show was always the commentaries by Marin played by Anne Heche that asked great questions about life and love. In tribute to the show and in tribute to Jenny Bicks the show's creator (who also wrote for Sex and the City and the screenplay for one of my favorite teen dramas What a Girl Wants) here is Marin's final commentary from last week's episode which focused on relationships and money.

We are the daughters of the feminist movement taught from an early age that nothing can stop us, that we can rise as high and achieve as much as any man. And in some ways that's true that we have taken great strides stepping over traditional gender roles and going after and getting exactly what we want. But part of being powerful is knowing when to take the back seat and look at life from another perspective. Cause the thing is in a relationship there is no CEO -- it's a delicate dance, a push and pull, a back and forth, an up and down. But we endure because at the end of the day we don't want to go it alone and when we find someone, a partner, we compromise loving everything we can and putting blinders onto everything else because love isn't perfect, but it's the really great imperfect love that keeps us evolving, happy and in the end isn't that what life's all about?
Thanks for too short a run. I'll miss this show a lot.

September 12th Just Got Really Busy

Note to distributors and producers. It's hard enough for one female focused film to be successful but now there are three films targeted at women opening on September 12th. Sounds like trouble to me.

The busy September 12th now includes Towelhead, a coming of age story of an Arab-American girl sent to Houston to live with her restrictive father. Also, opening is The Duchess with Keira Knightley as the Duchess of Devonshire and the previously mentioned The Women written and directed by Diane English.

Will this glut prevent any of them from breaking out?

June 16, 2008

Top Girls Seen Through the Prism of Sex and the City

I admit that I haven't seen the revival of feminist playwright Caryl Churchill's 1982 drama Top Girls now playing at the Biltmore Theatre under the auspices of the Manhattan Theatre Club. The reviews have been fantastic, but it was virtually ignored at the Tonys (with one nomination for Martha Plimpton). In The NY Times this weekend, Charles Isherwood (not necessarily know for his great writing about women) discussed Top Girls in the context of Sex and the City.

What's interesting is that while high brow critics on the one hand berate the low art of Sex and the City, they also validate its success precisely because the conversation about Top Girls and its cultural implications would not be happening had Sex and the City not been the success it is. Sex and the City is a change making movie. It has changed the conversation about women and film and now its spilled into theatre. Mr. Isherwood begins his article talking about Top Girls but ends it with question about women and films.

Hollywood movies, on the other hand, have all but abandoned women’s experience as a fertile subject for entertainment. The relentless pursuit of adolescent boys of all ages seems to have taken over almost completely. I look back with nostalgia at the wealth of women who had major film careers in the 1970s and ’80s: Jane Fonda and Sissy Spacek, Barbra Streisand and Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep and Bette Midler.

Now it seems that a superb central role for a woman — as opposed to the girlfriend-foil roles taken by the ingĂ©nues of the moment, like Anne Hathaway or Katherine Heigl — comes along once a year. Increasingly they seem to be given, as if by rights, to the rangy Ms. Streep, who stars in the forthcoming film versions of “Mamma Mia!” and “Doubt.” (Both of those, incidentally, or perhaps not so incidentally, are based on stage properties.)

“Sex and the City” at least gave women’s lives, however romanticized, a foothold at the multiplex. The superb foursome of actresses who star in the film were the top girls at the box office for a glittering, attention-getting moment, relegating even Indiana Jones — still swashbuckling into his dotage, apparently — to second place.

Glass Ceiling, Meet Sisterhood (NY Times)
(photo: Aubrey Reuben)

Gale Anne Hurd - Billion Dollar Producer

Gale Anne Hurd is one of the most successful Hollywood producers that you've probably never heard of, but I guarantee you have seen one or more of her movies. The movies this woman has produced have made a billion dollars. She is the producer of such films as The Terminator (all of the them), Aliens (the second really good one) and The Abyss. She's also a female producer in the action genre and she stands unafraid to hire female directors as she has on Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama) and the upcoming Punisher: War Zone (Lexi Alexander).

This weekend her latest film The Incredible Hulk opened with $54.5 million.

Here are some quotes from a Variety story celebrating her career:

A production designer slated to do "Aliens" offhandedly told her he could never work for a woman producer. She calmly shook his hand and told him she was sorry he wouldn't be working on her movie, leaving the man speechless. And fired.

Dispassion is something of a trademark for Hurd, and while she admits she will lose her temper like anyone else, she has made a conscious effort not to do so in her work.

"To some degree I think it's still a sociocultural situation," she says, "where if women lose their temper they're labeled ballbusters, or whatever, that would never be applied to a male producer.

Gale Anne Hurd dives into deep end
Gale Anne Hurd pics in the pipeline (Variety)

(photo Monsters and Critics.com)