September 19, 2008

Gone to Blog World Expo

Back Tuesday hopefully with a new bag of tricks.

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

Week two of the fall season and it's another good weekend for women at the box office. Disclaimer: I've been a consultant to two of the films coming out today -- Hounddog and The Duchess.

Hounddog is a labor of love for director Deborah Kampmeier and stars Dakota Fanning in an amazingly brave performance as a young girl struggling to keep her sense of self and voice in a world stacked against her. The film has had a hard journey to theatres including a call for a boycott from Concerned Women for America (now you gotta go and see it since they hate it) Please check out my story on the behind the scenes struggle of director Deborah Kampmeier, Keeping Hold of Your Vision. The film opens in NY, LA, Chicago and Memphis this weekend.

The Duchess is an 18th century costume drama that stars Keira Knightley as the Duchess of Devonshire, a woman bred for marriage to the upper crust. She gets stuck in a loveless marriage with Ralph Fiennes, finds a best friend who winds up falling in love with her husband, finds her own soul mate, becomes pregnant by him and is forced to give up her child or else lose everything including her children with the Duke. Yikes. The British seem to be able to tell these stories better than anyone, and it made me wistful thinking of some of the greats like a Room With a View and Remains of the Day. Opens in limited release this weekend. Rolls out across the country over the next few weeks.

For those in NY, the documentary All of Us about how the HIV epidemic is effecting African American women opens. Powerful stuff. Read my interview with director Emily Abt.

Racing Daylight, a quirky romance, murder mystery, ghost story which crosses time and stars Melissa Leo and David Strathairn is playing at the New York Film and Video Festival at the Village East Cinema tonight at 6pm.

Since we are all so obsessed with politics lately (I know I am), the political film of the week, Battle in Seattle directed by Stuart Townsend depicts the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle where thousands of protesters took to the street to raise awareness about the corporatization of the world. Very moving.

Other Women-Centric Films in Theatres
The Women
Frozen River
Trouble the Water
The Family That Preys
The Longshots
Mamma Mia!
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

September 18, 2008

Interview with Emily Abt, Director, All of Us

While the HIV/AIDS epidemic does not make the headlines regularly anymore, a new, riveting, documentary by Emily Abt takes the time to dig in deeper to how this epidemic has morphed into a killer of African American women. African American women are now 68% of new diagnoses, yet only make up 6% of the population. This is a crisis. Abt takes us to the Bronx and introduces us to an idealistic young doctor, Mehret Mandefro who has dedicated her career to raising attention to this issue, while at the same time provides compassionate care to women who could easily have fallen through the cracks in an overburdened health care system. The women who share their stories in All of Us are so incredibly brave and impressive and have spoken out so that what happened to them doesn't happen to girls and young women.

The film opens tomorrow, Friday, September 19th in NYC at the Cinema Village, and will premiere on Showtime on World AIDS Day on December 1st. More info here: All of Us

Check out the Trailer:

Director Emily Abt answered some questions about her film.
Women & Hollywood: How did you meet Mehret and why did you want to tell this story?

Emily Abt: I met Mehret Mandefro in 2003 when we were both Fulbright Scholars in London. She was getting her masters in Public Health of Developing Countries at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and I was making my Columbia University MFA thesis film on local Muslim girls. We were both deeply committed to social change -- she as a doctor, and I as a filmmaker -- and wanted to know more about why black women were being disproportionately impacted by HIV. Most effective social-issue documentaries start with an important question and that was ours. Black women are 23 times more likely than white women to get HIV and HIV is still the leading cause of death for black women ages 18-35. Mehret and I felt this reality was unacceptable and wanted to turn a spotlight on the issue.

When I first began the film five years ago, I hoped there would be a great deal of media coverage on the topic of HIV and black women in America as well as a good deal of public outrage about the lack of funding allotted to deal with this health crisis. But unlike the AIDS movement of the 1980’s, largely spearheaded by gay men, there has been no such movement on behalf of the countless American black women who have suffered disproportionately from this disease.
W&H: Please explain what ABC is and why it is not enough especially for poor, urban, heterosexual women?
EA: The 'Abstain, Be faithful, useCondoms' approach to HIV prevention as endorsed by the Bush administration is irrelevant for the majority of women and young people, leaving them without the necessary information or tools they need to protect themselves. More specifically, ABC isn't effective because it's been proven that abstinence-only education does little to reduce sexual activity; marriage is actually a risk factor for HIV so the 'be faithful' message misses the point, and using condoms is of course important but fails to take into account that women tend not to protect themselves when they're sleeping with men who have the upper hand, financially or otherwise. Public health experts on the ground must be able to determine the best mix of prevention programming that responds to the circumstances of the epidemic where they are working. As it stands, their hands are tied by mandates from Washington. Congress can and should change this.
W&H: How did you find Chevelle and Tara and also how did you get them to agree to have intimate details and histories included in this film?
EA: Chevelle and Tara were women that Mehret met through her work at Montifiore Hospital in the Bronx where she was doing her residency. It wasn't actually very difficult to get them to share their stories - they really wanted their voices to be heard!
W&H: I was shocked when Mehret revealed that while she preaches safe sex with all her patients, she herself has not always practiced safe sex. What did that moment reveal about women and power in sexual relationships?
EA: That moment showed that all women need to do a better job at being self-protective. When it comes to sexual health, progressives and feminists must push hard for change on a legislative level but also can’t overlook promoting it on a personal one as well. While the paternalistic protectionism of early years was clearly a destructive force for women, we must embrace a new self-protectiveness when it comes to our behavior in the bedroom and within our intimate relationships. I created ALL OF US to be used as a tool for not only social change, but personal change as well.
W&H: How do we get the powers that be to take this epidemic more seriously?
EA: Forgive me for being self-promotional but suggesting they see ALL OF US ain't a terrible idea. Writing our senators and insisting that they support Senator Barbara Lee's trailblazing PATHWAY bill (backed up by Hilary Clinton) is also a good start. And there needs to be a mass of people -whites, blacks, browns, men, women, etc- all shouting that there's something wrong here. The message needs to come from all of us because the advocacy groups aren't able to create enough public discourse on their own. And of course, vote for Obama.
W&H: Explain the tag line - love and sex can mean life or death?
EA: ALL OF US promotes the idea that when you're ready to have sex with someone, you should both get tested and share those results. Some people say "well, that's really awkward and not too romantic" to which I respond: should you really be sharing life's most intimate, sacred act with someone if you can't have that conversation?

As women, we have to start looking at the way we confuse love and sex. Men will happily sleep with a woman they don't love. It's one thing to be okay being that woman, and perhaps jeopardize yourself emotionally, but women are often also allowing themselves to be physically vulnerable in the very scariest of ways. Women, across boundaries of race and class, are so hungry for love and intimacy from their male partners that they're willing to put their very lives on the line to get it. And when women contract HIV, or even a bad STD, they feel like damaged goods. They feel that their very worth as a human being has been lessened and can even become suicidal. So ALL OF US is trying to start some very crucial, life or death, conversations and asks viewers not to just watch this epidemic from a distance but rather, say to themselves "there but for the grace of God, go I..."
W&H: What are your goals for the film?
EA: I hope ALL OF US, like all my films, inspires women to stand up for themselves. I'd like some teenager in the Bronx to see the film and say to herself "you know I'm not going to settle for casual sex when what I really want is a commitment." I'm hoping a college kid sees it and realizes there's no excuse for skipping the condom. I want the film to be used as a tool by the wonderful educators, social workers, medical health professionals, advocates and the blessed community organizers (take that Sarah Palin) that have made it their business to stop or slow this epidemic. And if I did my job right than ALL OF US will spark dialogue and social change among thousands of women and girls who are unfortunately on the front-lines of great personal risk. If someone uses the film to advocate for a national sexual health plan (is it really okay that 1 in 4 teenage girls has an STD?), nothing more would please me. That's all, just a few modest goals.
W&H: What did you learn from making this film?
EA: I learned that sometimes making a film will leave you with battle scars but that means you're battle-tested for the next one. And I learned (again) that art and politics can make a mighty fine combination if carefully mixed.

Are They Back?

The Hollywood Women's Political Committee disbanded in 1997 and since then, it seems to me, that women's power as an organized entity has gone into the crapper. Just their presence and the fact that women were organized made a difference.

Looks like the ladies are regrouping this time to effect the upcoming Senate races. The new group Voices for a Senate Majority is going to raise funds to try and get a veto proof Democratic Senate.

The HWPC members involved in the new effort include: Julie Bergman Sender, Marilyn Bergman, Lara Bergthold, Barbara Corday, Pat Tourk Lee, Katie McGrath, Margery Tabankin, Sarah Timberman, Paula Weinstein, Kathy Garmezy, Susan Sprung, and Lona Williams.

Women set Democratic fund-raiser (Variety)

Long Live the Fempire

Three female writers, friends, supporting each others work. Cool. Diablo Cody (Juno), Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas) and Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) have dubbed their posse the "fempire" and we need it to grow!

Scafaria's teen comedy Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings made its debut in Toronto and opens wide October 3. (The trailer looks really cute and touching.)

The Toronto Star spoke to these women about how they support each other.

The three really do work closely together, congregating in various locales in L.A., where all three live.

"We actually write in the same room together. We ask each other if (the screenplays) are funny or offensive enough."

"They're just here to support me. It's amazing," Scafaria said. "It's a completely non-competitive relationship among women, which is fairly rare to come by."
Hopefully this is a new model other women can emulate. Here's the the fempire!
Gal pal screenwriters bask in TIFF spotlight (Toronto Star)

Hat tip to Joan Carr-Wiggin for the link

September 17, 2008

Keeping Hold of Your Vision—the Making of Hounddog

I've been working with Deborah Kampmeier and the folks distributing the film Hounddog for the last couple of months reaching out to women and sexual assault organizations.

Check out this piece I put together for the Women's Media Center on Hounddog:

One of the dirty secrets of the film business is that it takes women directors a long time to get their films made. The Women, which opened recently, took Diane English 14 years to bring to the screen; other examples include Tamara Jenkins award-winning The Savages and Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss, which took 10 years each. Writer/director Deborah Kampmeier joins this illustrious club with her own decade long trek to see her film Hounddog starring Dakota Fanning finally released in theatres.

Hounddog, a small film with a budget under $4 million, doesn't seem controversial on the surface. But it seemed to raise a storm at every turn. Why? (Full disclosure—I am a consultant helping on the release of the film.)

Read full story here: Keeping Hold of Your Vision—the Making of Hounddog

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Kate Beckinsale

"Any script that is badly written, written under the gun for a start date that's not ready, which happens quite a lot, ill-conceived, if it then goes badly for the woman in the lead, I think there is that residual thing of how women in the lead roles of big movies don't work, whereas any movie where the script sucks doesn't work, and it's much more tempting to blame that," she said at the film's press conference in Toronto. "Tons of rotten movies with the man in the lead but it doesn't seem to get blamed on."
Kate speaks out about women leads (This is Bristol)
photo: Robin Wong/PR Photos

September 16, 2008

Diane English Talks About The Women and Politics

Here's my interview with Diane English conducted on opening day of The Women.

Women & Hollywood: You picked a pretty beloved film your first time out. Why did you want to take on this film?

Diane English: What I felt was missing at the movies was the presence of women. The old movie featured an all female cast of the best and the brightest movie stars of their time and nothing like that had been done in 70 years. I thought it was high time, but I also believed that you don't remake a movie unless you have something new to say. And because women have come so far and changed so much in 70 years, attitudes towards us are very different and attitudes towards each other are so different, that I thought it was ripe for a remake.

It's very risky business remaking what a lot people consider to be a classic. I personally consider it to be a camp classic, and after reading an interview with George Cukor who actually didn't really like the movie he made very much, I felt that it was safe to remake.
W&H: You've been very outspoken about the lack of film targeted at the "4th quadrant" and the importance for women to see movies about women. I want to get your feelings about why you think there is a disconnect between women's real lives and women seen onscreen?
DE: I have been outspoken about Hollywood catering to the young male demographic which actually is understandable because men under 25 do drive a lot of the box office because they go on opening weekend, they go multiple times, they buy the dvd, they go to see the sequel, they buy the t-shirts -- they're very committed moviegoers where women tend not be.

We have very full complex lives. We're moms and wives and career women and we don't necessarily rush out on opening weekend. So as a result we are now being underserved. And in a way Hollywood has painted itself into a corner by concentrating so much on the young male demographic it has trained others to stay away. We have gotten out of the movie going habit and that is not healthy for the movie business to exclude this demographic.
W&H: Women do buy half the movie tickets. They may not buy them on opening weekend and they don't go as frequently but they do buy 50% of the tickets, but still we are not a market.

DE: You are alive or dead by Friday night, and today is Friday and my film is opening today. And by tonight the powers that be will be making some very serious financial decisions about the movie, how long they're going to keep it in theaters and how much money they will spend on advertising. I keep saying to my women friends you gotta go on opening weekend and vote at the box office with your wallet. It's really, really important.
W&H: How do we get women all across the country to understand the important of going on opening weekend?
DE: By starting with the conversation you and I are having and getting the word out. I think it's just not common knowledge that this is how the film business works. We're busy with a lot of other things and we're not thinking about that. I find that a lot of movies targeted towards women do extremely well on DVD and yet maybe didn't do as well at the box office. I think that you have to have both and just having this conversation and making it more part of the mainstream consciousness is the way to go.
W&H: A lot of women directors don't feel comfortable speaking out about this issue because they are afraid of not getting the next job. How do we get more women to talk about this?
DE: The way women get these jobs is by proving their muscle at the box office. It's pretty simple. It's not a hospital, it's not a charity, and so if these movies do well at the box office then that woman gets another chance and that woman can help other women get another chance.
W&H: It seems that if a woman director does not do well at the box office it hurts more than just her.
DE: Yes absolutely. If the movie doesn't work and people don't get see it people say that's because it’s a "woman's picture," but if a movie that is targeted towards men doesn’t work, like if the latest Tom Cruise movie doesn't work, won't mean that Tom Cruise won't get another job. So it's tougher, but it all goes back to track records and dollars we just have to be more feisty about it. Being beaten up is always hard in life and that's show business, everybody gets beaten up really badly. It's amazing that anybody makes a movie. It is a really hard thing to do and if you don't have the stomach or you want more job security you can go work at the post office. It's hard for everybody.
W&H: Why do you think that successful movies about women are consistently dismissed as flukes?
DE: I don't have a great answer to that question because I have experienced that exact word over and over and over again every time I tried to get The Women made. I would go in with my list of movies that were huge successes starting from 9 to 5, and The First Wives Club, The Hours Waiting to Exhale. It's just a very long list and these movies have consistently done very well. I think because they come along so rarely its like Haley's Comet - it becomes a vicious cycle. They come along rarely because we don't get an opportunity to make them. Now we have Sex and the City and Mamma Mia and to some extent The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. If we can have a healthy box office I think it will be much harder to call it a fluke -- it can be called a trend.
W&H: I've been looking at the Tyler Perry model and I'm curious as to your opinion as to whether we need to find a new model to tell women's stories?
DE: No, I just think there has to be more of them and they have to be more successful on opening weekend. It’s a simple of that. There are other ways to make movies now too. The digital age has created a potentially new distribution system and it's another way to reach a huge under served population and it has certainly piqued my interest.
W&H: Why do you think that TV is more comfortable embracing the women than film?
DE: Women are big consumers and TV is advertising driven. It also comes into the home and it's much easier to reach women in the home because that is the way our lives are constructed. Therefore you see great opportunity for women in TV, especially in cable now, and it’s a much friendlier place to tell our stories.
W&H: Murphy Brown has been off the air for 10 years and we'll probably not see an overt feminist character like her ever again. Why do you think we don't see strong feminists like Murphy?
DE: I disagree. I think that Kyra Sedgwick is doing a great job on The Closer and Glenn Close, even though she plays a questionable character, has a great role to play [on Damages].
W&H: Now that the conversation in politics is all about women, do you have any opinions on that?
DE: I think that its great that women are front and center right now and there is a woman re-energizing John McCain's campaign and that Hillary Clinton came so close and I think walked away from the experience being greatly admired and a real trailblazer. That was exciting to see, but at the same time I think that we have come far enough as women not to support a candidate just because she's a woman and therefore I don't feel the need to say anything positive about Sarah Palin beyond the fact that good for her she's a vice presidential nominee. I really don't like her politics and I will not be supporting her just because she's a woman. And I feel free enough now in my evolution as a woman to be able to say that.
W&H: But people said that too about Hillary Clinton, that we didn't need to support her just because she was a women.
DE: I know tons of women who supported her for that reason.
W&H: But they don't say the same thing about Sarah Palin?
DE: I didn't feel the need to support Hillary just because she was a woman but it would have been very meaningful to me to see that woman in the white house. Because her politics were very similar to mine. But Sarah Palin's politics are not and when I hear some women saying they want to support John McCain because of her I don't know what that's all about.
W&H: What's next?
DE: A good long rest.
W&H: I was reading that you are taking on Fear of Flying?

DE: The script is done. I completed the script before we started shooting The Women. It will probably be as difficult a journey to get that movie made as was The Women.

The Women is playing nationwide.

September 15, 2008

Women's Weekend Box Office Update

The good news from the weekend is that The Women, even though it was poorly reviewed, lived up to expectations grossing $10 million. The Family That Preys, the new film by Tyler Perry scored $18 million and gave the Coen Brothers a run for their money coming in a close second to their $19 million. I thought The Family That Preys was ok, a bit formulaic but loved the relationship between Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard. The film was so much stronger when it focused on them and their friendship which managed to survive for years and the usual class and race issues. I also thought it was funny that Kathy Bates wound up in a road movie for the second time this year (she appeared in Bonneville with Jessica Lange and Joan Allen earlier this year.)

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, women bought 80% of the tickets for both The Women and The Family That Preys and African Americans bought 82% of the tickets for The Family That Preys.

Now I'm no math genius but if women bought 50% of the tickets for the other new releases this weekend like usually happens, and bought 80% of the tickets for The Women and The Family That Preys does that mean that women actually bought more movie tickets this weekend? Anyone have real data on this? Geez, I would think that would make us a market.

Also there's no stopping the Mamma Mia juggernaut overseas. After a $17.5 million weekend its take overseas is $307 million and with $139 million in domestic grosses, this film is almost at half a BILLION dollars. Extraordinary. Why aren't more people talking about this story?

Two Show Creators Depart

One of these is a bit older -- Katherine Fugate the creator of Army Wives left her show earlier this summer right around the premiere of season 2. This was after the earlier replacement of showrunner Dee Johnson (Commander in Chief) with Nick Thiel.

Lifetime seems to be going through a lot of changes now as it tries to remake itself into another Oxygen. I think there is a place for both the crazy stuff that works on Oxygen (which by the way I have never watched except for movie reruns) and Lifetime who recently has stellar dramas on its airwaves like The Division and Strong Medicine.

Diane Ruggiero the creator/ executive producer and showrunner of the Ex List starring Elizabeth Reaser a new CBS show that hasn't even aired yet supposedly quit the series this past Friday. Diane Ruggiero departs 'The Ex List' (Hollywood Reporter)

Both shows are now run by men.