Oct 9, 2016

"Fuocoamare" ("Fire at Sea")

A still that depicts Samuele, one of Gianfranco Rosi's subjects in the documentary Fire at Sea (courtesy of Kino Lorber)

I have just added a link (to the left of this column) to my post on Film Journal International's "Screener Blog." It is an interview with Italian human rights filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi (El Sicario, Room 164). His documentary, Fire at Sea, won the Golden Bear at Berlinale earlier this year; it is about Lampedusa's role in the rescue of refugees arriving by boat from Libya. Fire at Sea, which screened at the New York Film Festival today, is Italy's entry for the Academy Awards. Rosi's film follows several of Lampedusa's denizens, including an adolescent boy, Samuele (pictured above) and Dr. Pietro Bartolo, the Sicilian island's sole physician.

Sep 30, 2016

Faculty Appointment in the Navajo Nation

This is Buffalo Pass, a mountain road in the Navajo Nation.
This time of year, New York City-based film critics are attending press screenings at the New York Film Festival. That is where I would be as well, but this past August, I accepted a faculty appointment in the English Department at Diné College, in Tsaile, Arizona. It was founded as a community college in 1968, the first Native American institution of its kind. The college now offers several B.A. degrees to its approximately 1,600 students, the majority of whom are Navajo. Students also come from neighboring tribes, including the Hopi, and from indigenous communities across the United States, as well as from other countries.

Tsaile consists of a gas station and its store, and Diné College. The town is about 7,100 feet above sea level, and is in the Navajo Nation, the reservation of the largest group of indigenous people in the United States, the Diné ("the people" in the Navajo language). A reservation that my husband and I have visited many times over the last 20 years (we were here on 9/11), the Navajo Nation is known to most Americans as an area that encompasses some of America's most beautiful national parks, including Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelley. For the Diné, it is their homeland, the place of their ancestors, its boundaries the four sacred mountains, Mount Blanca, Mount Hesperus, Mount Taylor and the San Francisco Peaks. The nation spans three states, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, and its official language is that of the famous Navajo Codetalkers.

I will continue my work as a film critic and feature writer, so please do check back here for links to my movie reviews and features. I am at this moment preparing for several filmmaker interviews with directors of documentaries and features screening at NYFF. I will also continue to cover new quest films on my Facebook public page (https://www.facebook.com/MariaGarciaNYC), which I began with the publication of my recent book, Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero's Encounter with the Beast.

This is my backyard in Tsaile, where I see bluebirds every morning.

Aug 6, 2016

"The Little Prince" now a Girl's Quest Film

Mark Osborne's The Little Prince had its premier yesterday in theaters and on Netflix.
If Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s children's book, "The Little Prince," never appealed to you as a girl, perhaps it was because you felt a man's nostalgia for his boyhood, rather than a world seen through a child's eyes. And, you would be right. Actually, "The Little Prince" was for the French author (and real-life pilot) a mid-life return to his boyhood wisdom. It is the story of a boy and a man, but now it is a girl's quest movie. You can read my review of of the film here: http://www.filmjournal.com/reviews/film-review-little-prince.

Jun 16, 2016

Human Rights Watch Film Festival Coverage

A still from George Kurian's The Crossing. (Courtesy of Human Rights Watch Film Festival)
The last of my interviews for the Human Rights Watch Film Festival was just posted on Film Journal International's website: http://www.filmjournal.com/features/george-kurian-the-crossing-syrian-refugee-short-human-rights-watch-film-festival. This one is with George Kurian for The Crossing, a documentary short about a group of Syrians who had been living in Cairo, and decided to risk yet another emigration, this time to Italy. Links to my other filmmaker interviews appear below.

Jun 13, 2016

Human Rights Watch Festival Coverage

A still from Mehrdad Oskouei's documentary Starless Dreams, which screened this weekend at HRWFF. (Photo courtesy of HRWFF.)

Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which opened on June 10th, comes to New York City every year, and I have been covering it for nearly a decade (for Film Journal International) because it remains one of the most important venues for short subject and feature-length human rights documentaries and narrative films. My overview of the 2016 slate is here: http://www.filmjournal.com/features/advocating-women-female-issues-dominate-human-rights-watch-fest.

Daniel Beaty and Omari Hardwick in a still from Jamal Joseph's Chapter & Verse. (Photo courtesy of HRWFF.)

As part of my coverage, I interviewed Iranian filmmaker Mehrdad Oskouei for his documentary Starless Dreams, about a juvenile detention ward for girls: http://www.filmjournal.com/features/juvenile-injustice-starless-dreams-painfully-intimate-look-imprisoned-girls-iran. It screened at HRWFF this weekend. You can read my interview with American filmmaker and former Black Panther Jamal Joseph for his debut narrative feature Chapter & Verse, the story of a former inmate who returns to his Harlem neighborhood: http://www.filmjournal.com/features/fathers-and-sons-jamal-joseph-depicts-redemption-harlem-chapter-and-verse. The film screened on Sunday, June 12th, to a full house. Check back for my upcoming interview with George Kurian for The Crossing, a documentary short about a group of Syrian refugees that will screen at HRWFF on June 15th and 16th.

May 17, 2016

Ousmane Sembene's "Black Girl"

Mbissine Thérèse Diop, the star of Black Girl.
Films were meant to be seen on a large screen, and the new, stunning print of the late Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl (1966) is a case in point. This classic film, an indictment of French neocolonialism, has not been available for many years. Shot from an African-Senegalese perspective, it also represents a rare movie from the point-of-view of a woman of color. Read my review here: http://www.filmjournal.com/reviews/film-review-black-girl. Also, a link to my 2004 interview with the filmmaker for his last film, Mooladé (2004) is here: http://www.filmjournal.com/sembene-ousmane

Apr 22, 2016

Laura Bispuri's "Sworn Virgin" Opening This Weekend

Iconic Italian filmmaker Paolo Taviani (Caesar Must Die) and Laura Bispuri at a luncheon during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
Laura Bispuri's sublime quest film, "Sworn Virgin," opens this weekend in New York City.

The textures of Sworn Virgin, glacial mountains and rivers, adamantine canyons, or the slick, tiled ledges of a public pool, and the worn surfaces of a city apartment, are all so palpable that the quest of its unusual protagonist actually resides in the progression from the first of these to the last. Hana’s (Alba Rohrwacher) Albanian-Kanun roots, a culture that dates back to the Middle Ages, and is as unyielding as the rocky peaks of her remote village, compel her at a tender age to relinquish her feminine identity. In a somber flashback, Hana becomes Mark, a “sworn virgin,” a woman who lives as a celibate man. 

Now, she herds goats, smokes, and drinks raki with her male companions, and lives alone in a sparsely furnished cabin. When the film opens, Hana-Mark is free, having escaped the arranged marriage she would have endured living as a woman. She wields a gun, and need not worry, as the village women do, that the bullet given to their husbands by their fathers as a wedding day gift, may be used with impunity against them. Orphaned as a girl, as many heroes are, Hana-Mark lives by the oath she swore before the village’s male elders and Gjergi (Bruno Shllaku), her stepfather and benefactor, to whom she feels a great debt.

As Bispuri’s accomplished first feature unfolds, winter takes hold and Hana-Mark is snowbound. Trapped in her wooden cabin, she tosses and turns on a narrow bed, yearning for the touch of another human being. She soon realizes that her life must change yet again. Convention demands a journey: Hana-Mark crosses a river that will forever sever her from the land that has, up until now, defined her. Literally and figuratively adrift, she travels to Italy to see Lila (Flonja Kodheli), her step-sister, Gjergi’s daughter. The last time the two were together, Hana-Mark pointed a rifle at Lila as she ran down the beach with Stjefen (Luan Jaha), the man she married. Lila was “promised” to another man, and it was Hana-Mark’s duty to shoot her in order to protect their family’s honor.

Sworn Virgin is inspired by a novel of the same title by Albanian writer Elvira Dones. Her protagonist, Hana, is a college student who abandons her studies in order to care for her dying uncle. He lives in a village that follows Kanun tradition, so the unmarried Hana must become a sworn virgin. After her uncle dies, she travels to America to visit her cousin Lila. Like the novel, Sworn Virgin begins in the present, although in Italy rather than America, with flashbacks to Hana-Mark’s childhood spent with Lila and her family, and to her life as a sworn virgin. Bispuri’s contrasting and atmospheric settings, inspired by Dones’s use of geography or environment as a metaphor for her protagonist’s state-of-mind, moves from the frozen, sparsely populated mountains to water, and then to warmer climes and a densely populated city. Like all quests, it is a journey of the heart.

As Bispuri illustrates, sworn virgins are not often lesbians; in fact, the Albanian word translates as “he-she,” an identification of gender, not of sexuality. The tradition still exists in several Serbo-Croatian countries. Girls are sometimes compelled to become sworn virgins so that they may work outside the home and support families in which there are no boys, or to preserve the line of inheritance because women and girls do not own and cannot inherit property under Kanun law. It is this unusual circumstance, in which a woman rejects one patriarchal code that reduces her to chattel, so that she may become a working and contributing member of a patriarchal society, that makes Sworn Virgin a sublime metaphor for a woman’s lifelong quest for individuation. When the film opens, Hana-Mark is in her early thirties, having lived as a sworn virgin for fourteen years.

Since sworn virgins take a vow of celibacy, the threat for men of female sexuality is neutralized, as is the persistent challenge women represent to the myth of male superiority, the foundation of patriarchal societies. Sworn virgins are a fabricated third gender whose promise of celibacy to their male elders includes the acknowledgment that these overseers may murder them if they break their oath. Hana-Mark is compelled to reexamine her former identity, her assumed and unexpressed sexuality, in order to live authentically. On a metaphorical level, as Bispuri eloquently illustrates throughout the film, sworn virgins represent the predicament of all women living in patriarchal societies: if women wish to be contributing members of society, and the equal of men, they must censure their sexuality as Hana does, or at least not use it to their advantage—regardless of their sexual preferences.

If Bispuri’s hero is unusual, Sworn Virgin is nevertheless a classic quest movie, and a rare example of a quintessentially feminine journey. Below is my interview with the filmmaker, which took place at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015.

I feel that you made this film for all of us women who feel that we have two identities, two halves we have to continually reconcile.

Laura Bispuri: Yes, and maybe more than two lives.

Apr 20, 2016

Tribeca Filmmaker Interviews

Jenny Gage, director of the documentary "All This Panic"
See my Tribeca Film Festival coverage under "Feature Articles, Print/Online" (to the left of this column), which consists of interviews with the directors of three documentaries, "All This Panic," "Pistol Shrimps," and "Southwest of Salem."

Mar 3, 2016

A New Review of My Book

My book is reviewed in the current issue of Cineaste, now on newsstands. The review begins: ". . . Maria Garcia combines her work as a film critic and scholar with her expertise in gender studies and offers a provocative contribution to the male-dominated field of film theory. With examples culled from a disparate array of genres and national cinemas, Garcia veers away from the Freudian paradigm that serves as the basis for much feminist film theory and instead draws heavily from Jungian psychology as a departure point for her ideas about identity and the self . . ." Later, the reviewer writes: "A purely Jungian approach to film interpretation, with evaluations of archetypes and paths to individuation, is, of course, not novel; a careful study of the hero's journey through a feminist lens, predicated on Jungian thought, however, feels innovative and inspired, capable of stimulating new and deeper understandings of familiar tales."

Feb 17, 2016

A Man To Remember During Black History Month

Race, a new biopic about Olympic athlete Jesse Owens, will be opening in theaters this weekend. The African-American track and field star won a record-breaking four gold medals in a single Olympiad—the controversial 1936 games in Berlin. My interview with Race director Stephen Hopkins was just posted on Biography.com:  http://www.biography.com/news/jesse-owens-movie-race-interview.

Feb 11, 2016

My Book Trailer

I did not know what a book trailer was until a friend sent me one for a novel she was reading. I thought: What fun! Readers get to see the author, and to hear her voice. Very few authors of "scholarly books" make a book trailer, but it seemed like such a good idea: introduce myself and summarize "Cinematic Quests for Identity" in 2 minutes. (That's a writing challenge.) I hope you will watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiVZIxrkbvI

Feb 2, 2016

Closing in on Oscar Night . . .

If you have ever wondered how a production designer’s drawings express the vision of the film director, or what a re-recording mixer does, or the nature of the relationship between composers and film directors, click on the links to the left, “About Film Production.” All three articles contain interviews with past Oscar winners, and will give you a greater appreciation for the diverse group of artists that contribute to the making of a motion picture. (I have updated the links so that they may now be read on Film Journal International’s website instead of on Heistbox.) BTW, If you are a fan of short films, please use the links under “Film Reviews (Online)” to read my reviews of this year’s Oscar-nominated Live Action and Documentary shorts. They are playing in theaters across the country this week, and will likely be available on iTunes later this year.

Jan 28, 2016

A Lesson Plan: Just in Time for the Spring Semester

Professors of film, literature into film, literature, and mythology, I have written a lesson plan that will take your class through several weeks of the upcoming semester. Click on "Features" on my book page: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442246973. The lesson plan is classroom-tested! I have been a part-time instructor/lecturer of writing, film and lit classes for over two decades.

Jan 19, 2016

Remembering Janis

Janis as she appeared in her high school yearbook.

In my Biography.com article about Janis Joplin, I imagine some of the things she might have been remembered for had she lived longer. You can read it here: http://www.biography.com/news/janis-joplin-biography-facts