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.

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):

Future Perfect: Facebook Post, March 14th; L’Ultima Parola,

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. 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:

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:

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:

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: 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: 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.

Jul 8, 2017

Getting Away From My Computer

The long holiday weekend was a slow time for press screenings, and that allowed me to stay ahead of a few writing deadlines . . . and to get away from my computer!

On July 4th, my husband and I headed to the East River for New York City's Macy's fireworks. The crowd was so relaxed, and it was fun to hear everyone oooing and ahhhing throughout the magnificent spectacle. We met a young Canadian couple from Toronto who told us that they did not expect so elaborate a show.

The next day, I was walking home from the supermarket and stopped to snap a picture of these delightful sunflowers someone planted in a 23rd Street tree well. The flowers are nearly six feet high.

The same evening, we took our usual walk along the river, except this time we crossed the highway near 12th Street. As we walked uptown, we found this fascinating live sculpture, a cracked orb about 3 feet across; inside is a tiny yard. (We did not see a sign that named the artist.)

It is as though this gifted artist let us see inside his or her head where this lovely place exists as a memory. The artfully cracked openings draw the viewer in, providing differing perspectives; the portholes also let in the sunlight that nourishes the live plants. We were reminded of eggs, a symbol of life, and of Christmas ornaments we hung on the tree as children.

Sometimes, New York City even surprises a native New Yorker.

Jun 20, 2017

"All Eyze on Me"

Actor Demetrius Shipp, Jr., who bears a striking resemblance to rapper Tupac Shakur, is the best thing about the new biopic. (Photo courtesy of distributor Summit Entertainment)
By now, everyone will have read Jada Pinkett's tweets about "All Eyze on Me," in which the actor explained that her friendship with the late hip-hop star Tupac Shakur is misrepresented in the biopic. In my review on, written before Jada's tweets, I explain how Tupac himself is shortchanged in the film. You can read it here:

Jun 13, 2017

Just Updated HRWFF Coverage

I just added a link to my interview with Cristina Herrara Borquez for No Dress Code Required (see below) that screened at Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The film will be opening in New York City in August.

Jun 12, 2017

Me at Maysles Cinema with Filmmakers of "Raising Bertie"

L to R, Margaret Byrne, Jon Stuyvesant, and me at Maysles Cinema, New York City (Photo credit: Savio Zigbi-Johnson).

Last night, I moderated a post-screening Q&A with "Raising Bertie" director Margaret Byrne and producer/director of photography Jon Stuyvesant at Maysles Cinema in West Harlem, a wonderfully intimate place to see movies. (Those who remember the West Village venue The Thalia will love this theater.) The documentary is quite unusual, first because it spans several years in the life of its subjects, three young Black men, and second because these teenagers are not inner-city—but rather from a rural area in Bertie County, North Carolina. It was a terrific audience and a lively discussion. Next, the filmmakers move on to L.A. where the film will begin screening on June 23rd.

Jun 8, 2017

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

A still from Pamela Yates's documentary 500 Years: Life in Resistance, which is about the struggle for indigenous rights among the Mayan people of Guatemala. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch Film Festival).
This is a festival I cover every year for Film Journal International. While HRWFF's films are not always easy to watch, the commitment and courage of human rights filmmakers and, often the people they profile, are inspiring.

A strong line-up this year will introduce audiences to the travails of those living in Chile, China, Guatemala, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, Turkey and Qatar. Two documentaries, one about racism and another about a First Amendment rights struggle, are set right here at home. My overview of HRWFF is here:

An interview with the winner of HRWFF's Nestor Almendros Award for courage in the filmmaking, Zaradasht Ahmed for Nowhere to Hide, which is about an Iraqi nurse whose city falls to Islamic State, can be found here:

An interview with Tiffany Hsiung for The Apology, which about three women who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II, is here:

Check back on Monday for an interview with Cristina Herrera Borquez for No Dress Code Required, that portrays the struggle of a gay couple in Mexicali, Mexico against institutionalized homophobia:

May 30, 2017

Kudos to Jessica Chastain!

What Ms. Chastain had to say after serving on the Cannes Film Festival Jury and watching 20 films in 10 days:
"I do believe that if you have female storytelling, you also have more authentic female characters. This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in ten days. And I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women, from the female characters that I saw represented.
And it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest. There are some exceptions, I will say. But for the most part, I was surprised with the representation of female characters onscreen in these films. And I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life. Ones that are proactive, have their own agency, don’t just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view."