Nota Bene

Heistbox (popularly known as Dropbox) has now permanently altered the accounts of its original users. (See my post, “Dropbox and the Snake Oil Sales Model of Tech Firms,” June 12, 2015). I think I have removed or updated all of my original Heistbox links; please write or tweet if you click somewhere and cannot get to the review or feature you would like to read. Thank you.

Jun 30, 2018

Our Revised Anita Hill Moment


History Lesson

Dr. Anita Hill was sexually harassed by a man who now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. If you are a woman and old enough to remember the riveting 1991 testimony of the then 35 year-old law professor, you no doubt recall that the only great divide in this country during the Senate Committee confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas was along gender lines. There was no question in any woman's mind of the veracity of Dr. Hill's testimony, only in the minds of about half of the senators who voted for confirmation. Clarence Thomas slipped by with one of the lowest margins ever recorded in confirmation votes for Supreme Court justices, 52-48.

One of the Democrats who voted for confirmation is still a senator, Richard Shelby (D, Alabama). We are well-rid of Joe Biden, who was especially hostile to Dr. Hill. While many of the most rebarbative and misogynist Republicans, such as Arlen Specter, are gone, Orrin Hatch (R, Utah) is not. He now serves as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate. If that is not frightening enough, every woman and every right-thinking man in this country, should be terrified by the fact that President Trump will be choosing nominees for the Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

Representation of Women in Journalism

I mention this history because we are now at another “Anita Hill moment” in the United States, one in which record numbers of women are running for public office, as they did after the Thomas confirmation. Many of them are women of color, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will soon occupy a Congressional seat for the 14th District of the great state of New York. While I find this encouraging, as an author and film critic, I feel the need to report that in my corner of the world, in film journalism, very little has changed despite all the rhetoric flying around about supporting women’s filmmaking.

Every day I get announcements of new women’s film programming at various venues, most recently, for the upcoming Toronto Film Festival. That’s terrific, but what I do not see is programmers reaching out to women filmmakers and critics to chair panels at these events. I rarely see women’s faces when I attend film festival events or filmmaker Q&As, even when they feature female filmmakers. In the audience at press screenings, most of us are white, and there is often only one female critic in a group of 30 men, so our voices are naturally drowned out. Programmers and curators need to pay attention to the ratio of women and men in press screenings, and on their panels. Start counting.

Apr 24, 2018

My 2018 Tribeca Film Festival Coverage

Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-Muslim woman to become an American legislator. (Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
My review of Norah Shapiro's documentary, Time for Ilhan, which is making its world premier at the festival, is here: http://www.filmjournal.com/reviews/film-review-time-ilhan

A snapshot from Love, Gilda, of legendary comic Gilda Radner. (Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)


Lisa D'Apolito's documentary, Love, Gilda, is about the late Gilda Radner, best-known as an original cast member of "Saturday Night Live." My review of the film, which made its world premier at Tribeca, is here: https://www.biography.com/news/gilda-radner-documentary-love-gilda-review


This is an e-mail sent to media critic and web series producer Anita Sarkeesian, one of Cynthia Lowen's subjects the documentary Netizens. (Photo courtesy of Susan Norget Public Relations)

 My review of Cynthia Lowen's documentary, Netizens, about cyber crimes committed against women is here: http://www.filmjournal.com/tribeca-doc-netizens-highlights-online-harassment-women

Apr 15, 2018

Notes on Recently Published Features and Reviews


Recy Taylor, the subject of the documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor.
I have added links to my interview with John Curran for Chappaquiddick, an historically significant film about the events surrounding the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Also newly posted is my interview with Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao for The Rider, one of the best narrative films released this year. My interview with Nancy Buirski for The Rape of Recy Taylor, a groundbreaking documentary chronicling the culture of rape during the Jim Crow era, is in the Spring issue of Cineaste (not online but still on newsstands), along with my review of Criterion’s Blu-Ray release of Orson Welles’s Othello (1952).

Feb 2, 2018

An Alternative to the Super Bowl: Women's Films, Women's Voices

A still from Christine Choy and Marlene Dann's "To Love, Honor and Obey," screening at Metrograph in New York City.
 The film industry has definitely embraced the female demographic lately, filmmakers, distributors and public relations representatives trumpeting "women-led movies" or "directed by a woman." The fact is that many of these films are not about women at all, nor are they shot from a female character's point-of-view, and if they are, they would not do not pass the Bechdel Test.

One refreshing alternative opening this weekend, "Tell Me," is a series of films by and about women (and curated by a woman) at New York City's Metrograph movie theater. Another is Please Stand By, a woman's quest film starring Dakota Fanning, that will open across the country. Ms. Fanning's character is autistic, an even more unusual twist in female-centered narratives. My review of the film is here: http://www.filmjournal.com/reviews/film-review-please-stand. Here is my article about "Tell Me: http://www.filmjournal.com/women-talk-about-their-lives-metrographs-incisive-tell-me-series

Jan 4, 2018

Writing During the Winter Storm with No Name

This is 10th Avenue in New York City at about 4 PM today. The broad, two-lane street, which leads to the Lincoln Tunnel (between Manhattan and New Jersey) would be clogged with traffic if it were any other day. Take a look at the flag atop the building at the left. The wind was about 30 mph. and gusts were fierce. I love snow . . . and this much snow slows the city down. I have to admit that it slowed me down, too. I did not get much writing done, except for two Twitter posts, and the link I added here under "Features, Print and Online" for my interview with Maysaloun Hamoud. Her movie,"In Between," opens tomorrow and it features three very unusual female, Muslim characters.

Dec 27, 2017

Christmas Thoughts of a Part-time Academic

This is our cat, Lucia, who has learned that if she rubs her cheek against that golden ball, the lights turn on and off. This has nothing to do with the blog post except that it is my favorite 2017 holiday photo!
When you are an academic, the holidays are always fraught with anxiety because it is also the end of the semester. Spreadsheets must be created, and grades calculated. This year, that task was complicated by Microslop's Windows 10. You know Microslop, publisher of the sloppiest code on the planet. Windows 10 has managed to affect the interface of every application I use, including Excel . . . but no more on this subject, otherwise I would have to title this post "Holiday Rant."

Computing and submitting student grades on time is complicated by online grading—and the mysterious practices of tech departments. (When I began teaching undergrad classes, there were no tech departments.) I have taught at four colleges since the advent of online grading systems, in two different states and, without fail, each December and June, the tech department schedules upgrades to the "system," either right before the grades are to be submitted or during the week when they are due to be posted for students. At one college, my department required midterm exams (not a usual practice in film or literature), after which professors were given 5 days to submit a midterm grade—just before Thanksgiving break. On the second day, we received an e-mail from the tech department stating that the "system" would be down for an unscheduled but minor "overnight" upgrade.

The upgrade erased everyone's password. It took several hours for all of us in the department to realize that we were not experiencing the usual problems of forgetting our password, or using an outdated password, or having our number lock or cap lock on—the error message was, in fact, the fault of the "system." Since people in different academic departments rarely talk to each other, and there were only a half dozen beleaguered students on the Help Line, and all of us got a busy signal when we called them, the entire institution was in meltdown until we received a second message from the tech department at 2 PM telling us what we already knew . . . But only a select few received that message because we had been clever enough to give the tech department our private e-mail addresses. Without a password, no one could access their college e-mail.

I am too pragmatic a person to be nostalgic; as a woman, I rarely feel that any aspect of my life was better in the past than it is now . . . but I have to admit that I miss the practice of each professor posting grades on their door (by the last four digits of every student's Social Security number). When I was a student, that end-of-term ritual of visiting professors’ offices, where they were required to be at their desks, often yielded informal conversations that, as an undergraduate, one simply did not have with professors outside one's major. For instance, I have the most wonderful memory of an astronomy professor I had as an undergrad.

Dec 9, 2017

2017 "Best Quest for Identity Films"

A still from the Dardenne Brothers' film "The Unknown Girl."
In the archetypal quest for identity, the young hero embarks on a perilous journey and, in the popular parlance, “comes of age.” This is a patriarchal view of the quest for consciousness and meaning. In my book, Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero’s Encounter With the Beast, that process, which I call the “Great Round” (after Eric Neumann’s illustration in “The Great Mother”) is a lifelong endeavor, an undertaking that heals the hero’s psychological wounds. In the book, I discuss the ways in which the conventions of the quest, drawn from Ancient Greek tragedy, myth and folklore, and Medieval epic poems, are adapted to the cinematic art form.

One of these conventions is the appearance of the “Beast of individuation,” a person who compels the heroic personality to confront their wounds. He or she signals a return to the past, always a dangerous enterprise in which the hero enters a temporary state of confusion. The past and the present co-exist. Not every hero survives and some quests end in despair or madness. Regardless of the outcome, heroic personalities seek a conscious existence and are therefore singular—and inspiring. My list of “2017 Best Quest Films of the Year” is not one filled with stories of knights in shining armor, but rather of tales of protagonists who undertake a quest for meaning.

And, there are 13, in alphabetical order.

A still from Edoardo De Angelis's "Indivisible."
Links to my coverage of these movies, or to the dates of Facebook posts (my page, MariaGarciaNYC, is devoted to quest films), follow.

A Woman, A Part: Facebook post, March 21st

Felicite (Director Interview): http://www.filmjournal.com/features/mothers-quest-alain-gomis-f%C3%A9licit%C3%A9-chronicles-african-womans-drive-save-her-son

Future Perfect: Facebook Post, March 14th; L’Ultima Parola, http://mariagarciawriter.blogspot.com/2017/03/new-directorsnew-films-2017.html

Nov 22, 2017

Writing Women Back Into History

A studio shot of Hedy Lamarr, the subject of a new documentary. (Courtesy of Zeitgeist and Kino Lorber)
In the past few weeks, I have written about four female-centered stories, which is quite unusual. Rarely do I have the opportunity to review one film a month with a female protagonist, and most years, I am lucky to speak to three or four female directors. In October and November, I interviewed three, one of whom is celebrating her theatrical debut.

Under "Feature Articles, Print and Online," there is a link to my interview with Alexandra Dean for her biodoc Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story that will open in theaters this Friday. The documentary is about the late Austrian-born Hollywood actress's little-known talent for invention. In the course of our conversation, Ms. Dean spoke about her passion for finding other women's stories, especially about innovators who have been written out of history.

Brett Morgen's documentary Jane (link to my review appears in "Film Reviews, Print and Online"), about Jane Goodall, is another important reminder of the work of women in science. While Hedy Lamarr only received posthumous recognition for developing a communications system that served as the basis for WiFi and Bluetooth, 83 year-old Ms. Goodall, a primatologist, is world-renowned, and remains the leading expert in chimpanzees.

Lastly, I reviewed Thomas Morgan's Soufra, a wonderful documentary about Mariam Shafar who is the third generation of her family to live in a refugee camp in Lebanon. The title of the film is also the name of her catering business that consists of an all-female crew of chefs, sous chefs and kitchen helpers, Palestinian and Syrian women who also live in the camp. The documentary breaks every stereotype of Muslim women audiences are accustomed to seeing onscreen.

This is a still of Vevo Tshanda Beya, the star of Félicité. (Courtesy of Strand Releasing)
Earlier this month, I neglected to add a link to my interview with Alain Gomis for Félicité (it is under "Features") a sublime women's quest film set in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo. The eponymous performer and uncompromising single mother questions the purpose of her life when her son is involved in a motorcycle accident and she must raise a large sum of money for his surgery. It is one of the finest narrative features of 2017.

Two of the three interviews I conducted with female directors will be published in the next few months. While I wish I could say this represents a trend, I do not think it does. On the other hand, recent events have turned the tide. Women speaking out about their sexual assaults, for instance, will soon be reflected in our most popular art form.

It has been 26 years since Anita Hill testified to sexual harassment at the hands of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and women hoped then that it would open a national debate on harassment. It did not, but now Ms. Hill is revisiting that testimony. I hope some smart woman filmmaker will seize the opportunity and tell Ms. Hill's story, as well as those of the other women never called before the Senate hearing that day who were also victims of Justice Thomas's crimes.

Oct 31, 2017

How to Write Women out of History

Left to right, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Byrd; Woody Harrelson as LBJ; and Kim Allen as Jackie Kennedy in a scene from Rob Reiner's LBJ opening this weekend.
Biography.com just posted my review of LBJ, the standard white, male POV: Men run the world from the smoke-filled chambers of power. My review is here: https://www.biography.com/news/lbj-woody-harrelson-rob-reiner-biopic-review

Oct 11, 2017

Vanessa Redgrave and "Sea Sorrow"

Vanessa Redgrave is seen here in a still from her documentary Sea Sorrow. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is in the background, holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the United Nations in 1948.
Last week, at The New York Film Festival, a dignified and passionate Vanessa Redgrave, along with her son and producer Carlo Nero, appeared onstage at the Walter Theater. The press had just screened the 81 year-old actress's first documentary, Sea Sorrow, which is mainly about African and Syrian refugees who reach Europe by boat. It was such an unusual afternoon, I felt I had to write about it. My editor at Film Journal International agreed. Here is my "Screener Blog" post is here: http://www.filmjournal.com/vanessa-redgrave-electrifies-new-york-film-festival-press-screening

Sep 24, 2017

Postscript: "Victoria and Abdul"

Judi Dench, Stephen Frears and Ali Fazal on-location for Victoria and Abdul.
My interview with director Stephen Fears is the cover story in this month's Film Journal International: http://www.filmjournal.com/features/clerk-and-queen-stephen-frears-victoria-abdul-charts-surprising-bond-between-monarch-and

Sep 10, 2017

"Victoria and Abdul"

A still from the movie Victoria and Abdul  features Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal as her "munshi" or teacher Abdul. (Photo courtesy of Peter Mountain/Focus Features)

The upcoming film, Victoria and Abdul, about Queen Victoria’s relationship with an Indian man in her senescence, is likely to garner Oscar attention for its star performer, Judi Dench. Ms. Dench also portrayed a younger Victoria in John Madden’s Mrs. Brown. Excellent direction by Stephen Frears, lush cinematography and a terrific cast of characters, will make it the talk of the fall season. My review is here: https://www.biography.com/news/victoria-and-abdul-film-review. Check back for my interview with Frears in Film Journal International.

Aug 30, 2017

Dolores Huerta: Written Out of History No More

Dolores Huerta at a Delano Grape Boycott in California.

Peter Bratt’s documentary Dolores corrects the historical record of the United Farm Workers—and it needs correction. The labor movement that originated in the late 1950s, and that grew into a union, erased from its corporate memory one of the most charismatic labor organizers of the 20th century, Dolores Huerta, replacing her with the equally well-known organizer Cesar Chavez. The two were actually co-founders of the UFW. My interview with Dolores and the filmmaker is here: https://www.biography.com/news/dolores-huerta-documentary-interview. Bratt's documentary represents a great way to celebrate Labor Day weekend in New York City. It will open on 9/1 at the IFC Theater.

Aug 14, 2017

Movies I Don't Want to See Anymore


Francis Ford Coppola has said many times over the years that the American film industry churns out the same movies every year because it is built on profit. He's right. It is not that Americans don't want to see well-made, engaging films, or that we do not produce great filmmakers, it's that investors are risk-averse. And, actually, it may be harder to make an original film today than it was in Coppola's heyday. Anticipating the fall season, one of the busiest times of year for film critics, I thought I would do a bit of my own griping.

Movies I don't want to screen anymore are ones that . . .

Are about competitive female relationships, or about women who are obsessed with other women because they’re jealous or needy, especially not ones made by male directors.

Feature evil female characters when the people they refer to are male historical figures. Note: a woman did not invent nerve gas.

Are about men rescuing women, except in cases where the woman may be drowning.

Feature a white person who rescues an African-American from a life of poverty. Maybe it's happened but this is not the historical moment for that narrative.

Feature ladies of a certain age who are scoffed at.

Are about women who are serial murders. I think there have been four in the entire history of the world.

Are lesbian romances that are obviously intended as soft porn for heterosexual men. (Really, we know these movies when we see them.)

Are geographically challenged. All deserts are not alike. There are no mountains in Texas, nor are there tigers or lemurs on the African continent.

Are about grown men or male buddies who are acting like frat boys. They’re never funny, in real life or the movies.

Are male fantasies in which women rescue men who are ignorant, lazy or abusive, and need a second chance.

Are about rapists, pedophiles, sociopaths and psychopaths that suggest they can be rehabilitated. It is not true and we shouldn't tell our children that it is.

Are about rape and that suggest that the motive for rape is sexual attraction. It’s not. Rape is a motivated by violence, not sex. 

At the end, I can’t answer the question: Why did the filmmaker make this movie?

Aug 8, 2017

International Cat Day



Ever cat lover knows that Jean Cocteau's Beast in La Belle et la Bête (1946) is a feline creature. Look at those lion ears and that noble nose! Cocteau's lover, Jean Marais, endured five hours of preparation by the make-up artist every day of the on-location shoot in order to be transformed into this magnificent creature. He could only spring from the imagination of an ailurophile. Cocteau's masterpiece was long the inspiration for my recently published book, Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero's Encounter with the Beast.

Check my Twitter page for my favorite cat movies.