RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD (2017): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Director Catherine Bainbridge’s Rumble is a dynamic music history lesson, giving much-needed credit to Native American traditional music for its influences on the rock and jazz that make up American culture today. It also draws much needed attention to the vicious oppression that has shaped how Native American music developed, and has kept its contributions out of the spotlight. (GPG: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

“Be proud you’re an indian, but be careful who you tell,” was a motto among Native American musicians trying to get popular, described by one of the interview subjects in Rumble. “[Becoming a star] just doesn’t happen for people like us,” he continues, repeating what he was repeatedly told as a child when he dreamed of making a career out of his music. Despite the fact that Native American musicians have been uncelebrated, though, they have absolutely been influential in musical development—and some have become famous, though without their roots being widely known (presumably having been careful who they told).

“Rumble,” a song almost everyone will recognize but few, including myself, know by name, is the only instrumental song that has been banned due to its potential to incite youth violence. Link Wray, a musician with Native American ancestry, wrote the song (or so the story goes) while improvising music to cover up the fact that he didn’t know to play “The Stroll,” another popular ‘50s song. The strident chord progression and use of distortion paved the way for punk—Iggy Pop and band members from the Ramones describe hearing it for the first time and being in awe.

From that jumping-off point, we get to learn about the highlights of Native American contributions to rock: Charlie Patton, a “pre-blues” musician who played guitar in a percussive manner because he had learned to play from people who weren’t allowed to own drums, and Mildred Bailey, a jazz singer who got famous at speakeasy gigs because her band members, all people of color, weren’t allowed to play more high profile venues. The most notable profile is that of Jimi Hendrix, whose distinctive guitar style, as well as his fashion, is extremely tied to his Native American roots—and finally the end of the film gives memoriam to Randy Castillo, one of the most influential heavy metal drummers of the ‘80s.

Rumble covers Native American influence on musical genres and eras as far back as slave spirituals, through Woodstock, Guns N Roses, and even up to the Black Eyed Peas. As a viewer, the throughline is clear; you can hear among your favorite Bob Dylan songs the rhythm in the traditional song that begins the film, and you leave with a much expanded appreciation for American musical tradition—as well as a greater awareness for the violence that formed that tradition.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (7/27/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Link Wray.

Middle Photo: Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Bottom Photo: Robbie Robertson.

Photo Credit: Rezolution Pictures

Q: Does Rumble pass the Bechdel test?

Yes!

While a documentary typically doesn’t pass the Bechdel test due to the format of the genre, there are several all-women vocal groups featured in the film that are shown singing and chatting together.

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GIRLS TRIP (2017): Review by Lindsy Bissonnette

Written by Erica Rivinoja, Tracy Oliver, and Kenya Barris, and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Girls Trip is the story of four best friends reuniting in New Orleans for a weekend of well-deserved fun. Unfortunately, they’re all in for more than they bargained for when old friends, and new enemies, appear. Girls Trip hits home while exploring the struggles of getting older, but will have you screaming with laughter the entire time. (LMB: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

“Ryan Pierce” (Regina Hall) has the perfect life: a loving and wonderful husband, “Stewart Pierce” (Mike Colter), and a fantastic career as an award winning author and TV personality. She has the rest of the world wondering how she can do it all. However, when she is off camera, a different side of her is revealed. Early on in the film we realize her life of loneliness and exhaustion are mainly due to her unhealthy and emotionally abusive marriage.

Stewart has brainwashed Ryan that she needs him in order to be successful; that her fans are buying into them as a package, and will never accept her on her own. The stress of her job coupled with the negativity in her marriage have her running on empty. But when Ryan is asked to be the keynote speaker at the annual Essence Festival in New Orleans, she agrees and decides to make this mini vacation a reconnection opportunity for her and her three best friends.

Cue the Flossy posse, the name the fierce foursome gave themselves in college: “Sasha Franklin,” (Queen Latifah) a prominent journalist who has fallen on hard times and now runs a gossip blog; “Lisa Cooper” (Jada Pinkett Smith) a party-girl turned divorcee mom; and “Dina” (Tiffany Haddish) the ever-wild child who still acts like she’s 21. Despite the riff between Ryan and Sasha that happened years ago, all four girls are excited to be reunited for a weekend of partying and fun.

Things take a complicated turn when the Stewart’s mistress is also present at Essence Festival, and Sasha, Lisa, and Dina come to Ryan’s rescue in an effort to protect her from public humiliation. You’ll have to go see the film to find out what exactly happens and if the Flossy Posse is able to stick together!

Girls Trip hits home on the nerve-wracking process of getting older and the struggle to find happiness. From career-driven women, to family-drive women, to the party girl, this film has it all, and does not disappoint with not one comedic relief, but three. This film is a story of friendship and sisterhood, with the beautiful reminder to never doubt your self-worth with quotes like “[my friends] give me permission to be who I am” which will have you reaching for your phone to call up your best friend. Girls Trip is a celebration of good fun, good friends, and the importance of staying connected.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (7/21/17)

Top Photo: The girls get off the airplane and head to their weekend of fun.

Middle Photo: Sasha and Ryan during a night of surprises.

Bottom Photo: All four girls enjoy their time in New Orleans.

Brigid's 2 Cents Photo: Lisa ziplines across Bourbon Street

Photo Credits: Michele K. Short

Q: Does Girls Trip pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes.

There are tons of scenes of women talking. Lisa has conversations with her mother about the trip, Ryan has conversations with her agent about her career, and the girls all have countless conversations about their lives, their memories, and their futures.

With 89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and all-around praise for Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver’s Girls Trip, I expected to laugh, clap and cheer for another crack in the glass ceiling of female-led comedies. But much like the megahit Bridesmaids, I left the theater feeling disappointed, lacking a connection to the humor, plot or characters.

Instead of focusing on the struggle of maintaining friendships, the film succumbs to the lowest common denominator that average moviegoers find so incredibly hilarious - bodily fluids. This time it’s on a zipline across Bourbon Street instead of a sink of a bridal store. Why put effort into the dialogue when there could be a drawn-out acid trip? My opinion may be in the minority, but can’t comedy better, smarter than that? (BKP: 2.5/5)

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THE WRONG LIGHT (2016): Review by Roza Melkumyan

Directors Josie Swantek Heitz’s and Dave Adams’ documentary The Wrong Light takes place in Thailand, where the business of human trafficking is prevalent. The film begins by diving into the personal story of activist Mickey Choothesa, focusing on his work rescuing young girls from brothels and bringing them to the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA). However, after interviews with some of these girls and their parents, the team finds things that just don’t add up. Heitz and Adams are forced to question the validity of Mickey’s stories, and soon discover the truth hidden behind COSA’s walls. (RMM: 4/5)

 Review by FF2 Intern Roza M. Melkumyan

COSA (Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia) is a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) run by former war photographer Mickey Choothesa. Based in Northern Thailand, COSA’s mission is to rescue girls who have been sold, or are at risk of being sold, into the sex trade. At COSA, these girls are given a loving home and community as well as a quality education. The girls see Mickey as family and consider COSA to be their home. The team follows the stories of two girls in particular, Fon and Eye, who, despite having been trafficked, take advantage of the opportunities COSA has to offer now that they are free.

Animations are coupled with narration to tell the tragic stories of both girls, who were sold into sex slavery at very young ages. Though Fon knows that her mother decided to sell her away, she still loves and supports her, and comes home often to help her mother with the farm. The team decides to interview Fon’s mother to ask about her decision, but Mickey assures them that she will not admit to her actions. Sure enough, Mickey’s questioning -- which he conducts in Thai -- gleans no real answers. Wanting to be sure of the truth, however, the team decides to take a more direct approach, and they conduct a second interview without telling Mickey, choosing to use Fon’s aunt as a translator. Again, the team asks Fon’s mother if she sold her daughter to a brothel, and she denies it. She moves away from the camera and begins to speak to her sister in Thai. She tells her sister, “Mickey tricked us.”

Unsure of who is telling the truth, the directors ask Mickey to take them to the brothel where he claims to have rescued many of COSA’s girls. He leads them to the home of a woman and her daughter, and Mickey’s story begins to falter as he insists that there was a brothel here before. With growing suspicions, the team decides to ask the girls directly for their stories, and are shocked when both Fon and Eye immediately deny that they were trafficked. Upset, the girls ask why Mickey would make up such lies.

What begins as a documentary exploring COSA and its mission to save young Thai girls from the sex trade, becomes a search for the truth that Mickey seems to be hiding. Back in the U.S., the team continues to search for answers, digging into Mickey’s past and reaching out to his NGO contacts for information. When Fon and Eye call the team for help all the way from Thailand, things get even more serious.

The Wrong Light is a documentary that captures the real confusion, hurt, and conflict that both the filmmaking team and the Thai community experience, allowing for a genuine, organic unfolding of events and information. The team, unyielding in their search for the truth, delivers a chilling documentary that progresses from truth to doubt to truth again. The film does not omit moments of discomfort and confusion on the parts of all parties involved. The insistence of Heitz and Adams to show the audience those moments where they themselves stumble makes for a refreshingly honest documentary. More importantly, the team doesn’t allow Mickey to become the sole focus of the film by stressing the girls’ stories through interviews and follow-ups that exhibit their inner strength and resilience.

Along with beautiful animation sequences, The Wrong Light boasts a myriad of perspectives on the stories of Mickey, COSA, and its girls. An artfully constructed documentary that doesn’t shy away from the truth, this film is not to be missed.

© Roza M. Melkumyan (7/14/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Mickey looks into the camera.

Middle Photo: The team interview Fon’s mother.

Bottom Photo: Fon stands in the rain in her mother’s village.

Photo Credits: Dave Adams

Q: Does The Wrong Light pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?  

Yes!

During their interviews, the girls at COSA answer Heitz’s questions about how they like their new home, expressing their love for the other girls that they have gotten to know. Both Fon and Eye also express to Heitz their enthusiasm for school.

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AMNESIA (2015): Review by Brigid Presecky

Barbet Schroeder’s collaboration with writers Emilie Bickerton, Peter F. Steinbach and Susan Hoffman tells the story of an unlikely relationship set in the picturesque island of Ibiza. Marthe Keller stars as an aging, solitary woman whose life is altered when she meets a young musician. Despite any lulls, it will make viewers want to visit the world captured. (BKP: 3/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Viewers first meet Martha as an elderly woman, walking with a cane as the sun sets over the Balearic islands. Suddenly, the film cuts to 10 years earlier in the bright, sunny spring of 1990 (after the fall of the Berlin wall). The stage is set for the audience: the time, the place and the historical context. But like many interesting stories, it narrows its focus to a few characters to fully immerse us in a world we may never experience.

We meet younger Martha as she speaks English to a nagging German man. They banter back and forth with attitude, arguing about how she wants nothing to do with her country. Rather, she has decided to live on the island of Ibiza. Away from anything and everything that is German, she spends her days overlooking the beautiful landscape she now calls home.

The island, still known for its European nightlife, is home to the Amnesia nightclub, where their new DJ (DJ Gello) has just begun working. He also happens to be living next to Martha.

Their unique relationship becomes the centerpiece of the story, as the young DJ who goes by the name of Jo (Max Riemelt) falls in love with his newfound friend. As the camera lingers on their faces during heartfelt conversations, you get to know both on a deeper level, completely understanding their growing connection. When Jo’s family visits from Germany, an additional set of characters are introduced (Corinna Kirchoff as his mother, Bruno Ganz as his endearing grandfather) and become equally as engaging.

We spend time with these unlikely matches at a slower pace than viewers are used to with American films. Rather than cut after cut, the film has lengthy sequences of quiet moments and simple dialogue. They make you wish you were having dinner at their small wooden table, the waves and the birds sounding so crisp and clear they are characters in and of themselves.

The peaceful setting is the perfect backdrop to the story about adapting to new ways of life. The script tells the story of Martha and Jo, yet, will make viewers examine their own history and their own family dynamic, making them reflect on where they’re from, and more importantly, where they’re going.

© Brigid K. Presecky (7/24/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Marthe Keller and Max Riemelt in Amnesia

Middle Photo: Bruno Ganz as Jo’s grandfather

Bottom Photo: Bruno Ganz, Marthe Keller, Corinna Kirchhoff and Max Riemelt

Photo Credits: Vega Film, Les Films du Losange, Arte France Cinéma

Q: Does Amnesia pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No.

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THE FENCER (2015): Review by Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Based on a true story, writer Anna Heinämaa’s The Fencer follows an Estonian man on the run from the Soviet government who takes refuge posing as a teacher in a small Estonian village. The film is fun, in that it’s weird how the plot is basically School of Rock, but with fencing and set in the USSR, but it’s not a very well made film aside from that. (GPG: 3/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

“Endel” (Märt Avandi) has been fleeing the Soviets for years, ever since he was forcibly drafted by the Nazis during World War II. After hiding in Leningrad for years, he is close to being discovered there, and escapes to a small village in his home country of Estonia, where a friend has secured him a job as a P.E. teacher under an assumed name. When they meet, Endel brings up teaching the children fencing, since he has fencing training, but the principal, a strict, controlling man, dismisses it as “an activity unfit for the working man.” For reasons that remain unclear to the audience, Endel feels compelled to oppose this. I guess he’s really emotionally invested in fencing?

From there, the film takes a School of Rock turn, following the plot of the Jack-Black-starring classic comedy almost exactly. Endel starts a fencing club on the down-low, and his whole P.E. class joins. He initially clashes with some of the students, but eventually wins their respect and affection. Despite the principal’s opposition, Endel procures new equipment for the kids and, through hard work, turns the class of inexperienced village kids into a fencing team he can be proud of. And just as School of Rock’s “Dewey Flynn” (Jack Black) tries to take his kids to a Battle of the Bands, soon Endel gets the opportunity to take his class to an official Soviet fencing competition in Leningrad. There’s only one problem: Leningrad is the city Endel had to flee in the beginning of the film.

Endel hesitates when he hears about the competition, since he would be risking capture by the Russian Secret Police if he goes. He has just decided on saving his own skin, when he is reminded by his love interest “Kadri” (Ursula Ratasepp) of what a father figure he has become to the children—he realizes he can’t let them down by denying them the opportunity to compete. At the competition itself, Endel discovers the Secret Police are coming for him at the tournament hall, and must decide whether to abandon the children there with no way to get home, or be arrested. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it’s not a great one—all in all, a slow, dry film with melodramatic performances.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (7/25/17) FF2 Media

Photo Credit: Making Movies Oy

Top photo: Endel teaching a fencing lesson.

Middle photo: Endel practicing fencing on his own.

Bottom photo: Endel, with all the children, and his love interest Kadri.

Q: Does The Fencer pass the Bechdel test?

It does not. The named female characters have no contact with each other.

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MISTER UNIVERSO (2016): Review by Georgi Presecky

Director Tizza Covi and longtime film partner Rainer Frimmel follow the life of a circus lion tamer who loses something important to him in Mister Universo, an Italian drama with surprising depth, realistic friendships and a poignant portrait of the monotony that seemingly any job can take on when it isn’t one’s dream. (GEP: 4/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

Tairo Caroli stars as the titular lion tamer, a young performer in a dying profession - the most important parts of his act are aging and literally dying off, causing him to question his profession and his place. Though a work of fiction, Covi and Frimmel’s feature plays out like a scripted docuseries - think MTV’s Teen Mom, but quieter and less cringeworthy. As a result, the dialogue is simple to follow in its translated English, making the plight of Tairo and his fellow performers clear within the first 20 minutes.

While the circus seems to be be a point of fascination in modern fiction - from Neil Jordan’s Carnivalesque, released in June to wide acclaim, to Erin Morgenstern’s 2012 novel The Night Circus to Water For Elephants - it isn’t a glamorized, mysterious atmosphere in Mister Universo. It’s simply another place to work, with men and women who question their paths almost daily. There are cages and trains and tents, but rarely the roar of a crowd or excitement of a trick. It comes to life in the stories of Tairo's counterparts, whom he encounters throughout the film in his search for a lost lucky charm.

We feel Tairo’s growing impatience throughout the quiet 87 minutes - the monotony and uncertainty are simplistically portrayed, making viewers forget that training and tricking lions actually isn’t your average 9 to 5 job. The work itself is never the focus, but rather how it makes Tairo feel and how it affects his interactions with others, including friends, co-workers and family members. The affection he and his family members have for one another is evident, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the feature. This emotional realism keeps the plot from venturing into dull territory, and Tairo is immediately likable because of who he is rather than what he does. The words of others lift him up, and the directors' documentary style makes this exceptionally enjoyable to watch. The actors make these people feel very real in a seemingly effortless way, with everything from their body language to their easy cadence. 

Tairo's prized talisman is stolen early on in the film, and the rest of the feature follows his journey to regain it. His staunchest circus ally, Wendy Weber, is another highlight of Mister Universo, especially when she supports him in his quest to reclaim the amulet that means so much to him - in spite of the circus fortune teller’s belief that he’ll never find it. We slowly learn about his connection to the amulet - where he got it, why it matters, and what his family thinks about its loss. He searches for the man who gave it to him when he was a young child, but we know he's in search of something deeper without Covi having to spell it out.

Certain themes transcend language and profession, and Covi and Frimmel’s characters emulate the Aaron Sorkin adage, “it’s OK to be alone in a big city as long as you can find family there.” Tairo learns he has all the good fortune he needs in the people around him, and it brings life to an otherwise gloomy place. Tairo and Wendy's quest to find the lost item doesn't just enrich their experience, but that of the audience, making for a much more entertaining act than a lion jumping through hoops.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (7/24/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Wendy Weber in her circus uniform.

Middle Photo: Tairo and Giada, an aging lion in his pride.

Bottom Photo: Wendy and Tairo visit a special street in Rome where the water flows upward.

Photo Credits: Vento Film

Q: Does Mister Universo pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes. Though Wendy helps Tairo in his search for a new talisman, the conversations she has with other women aren't necessarily about him as much as the object itself.

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FALSE CONFESSIONS (2016): Review by Katusha Jin

Luc Bondy and Marie-Louise Bischofberger co-direct False Confessions -- in French Les Fausses Confidences -- starring Isabelle Huppert and Louis Garrel. The husband-and-wife duo create a movie that plays around with the psychology of love in its characters set in a surreal world.

Originating from the stage play Marivaux, Bondy collaborated with writer Geoffrey Layton to bring this story from the stage to the screen. (KIZJ: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katusha Jin

“Araminte” (Isabelle Huppert) is a wealthy widow who lives in an elegant but mysterious residential complex in twenty-first century Paris. As she performs her morning exercise routine with her Taichi master, a suspiciously attractive young man appears in the hallway of her home. It turns out the beautiful man is “Dorante” (Louis Garrel), a recommended candidate for the position of Araminte’s accountant. This spikes all sorts of whispers and gossip to spread around the house. The news of this handsome visitor reaches the ears of Araminte’s mother, “Madame Argante” (Bulle Ogier), who makes a dramatic effort to dissuade her daughter from hiring Dorante. Madame Argante’s ulterior motive is that she wants her daughter to marry “Comte Dorimont” (Jean-Pierre Malo), a well-to-do older man, and worries Dorante could be a distraction. However, this is all in vain as Araminte finds it difficult to reject Dorante’s innocent charming self.

It is soon revealed that Dorante does, in fact, have his own secret intentions. The young man is completely and utterly in love with Araminte, to the point of obsession. Complications arise as Dorante’s uncle purposely misleads “Marton” (Manon Combes), Araminte’s confidante, to believe his nephew is attracted to her. Lies upon lies build up and confuse the kind natured Marton who truly begins to fall for Dorante. All this makes for a very confused household with layers of he-say-she-say.

False Confessions looks at love from an internal perspective and explores it through the psychology of the emotion. Bondy and Bischofberger take away any distractions from the outside world and keep us in this staged castle for most of the film. The house looks extravagant, yet has shoes scattered everywhere. Any scenes that include the outside world are blown out and overexposed, leading to a loss of detail in the light areas of the picture. The production design, by Luciano Tovoli, and the music, by Bruno Coulais, do well to ensure that something feels obviously “off” about the place.

The cast performs in a dramatic manner, which brings out the work’s theatrical quality. A special mention goes to Huppert who convincingly brings to life an eccentric lady, who falls in love with the idea of someone being smitten with her. The light-hearted tone of the piece is very amusing and the unusual style of its presentation is refreshing. Bischofberger and Bondy do a commendable job creating Bondy’s final feature – a story about how love can change a person and consume his thoughts, and what an individual does in the name of love.

© Katusha Jin (7/14/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: “Araminte” (Isabelle Huppert) and “Dorante” (Louis Garrel) in a park.

Middle Photo: “Madame Argante” (Bulle Ogier) entertaining a guest.

Bottom Photo: “Marton” (Manon Combes) eager to introduce Dorante to Madame Argante.

Photo Credits: Big World Pictures

Does False Confessions pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes, but this is a close call.

Towards the end of the movie, Marton asks Araminte if she should leave. Marton is also very apologetic towards Araminte and fears losing her trust. However, it should be mentioned that most of the film’s dialogue revolves around Dorante.

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500 YEARS (2017): Review by Georgi Presecky

Pamela Yates’ 500 Years is a political documentary about her native country, Guatemala, and the violence and oppression that has plagued its indigenous people for hundreds of years. However important the topic may be, boiling down centuries of context, turmoil and prejudice into a two-hour documentary is an ambitious task, leading to a film fit for a college lecture hall. (GEP: 3/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

The Guatemalan Army massacred 100,000 Mayans, and Yates has created a worthy depiction of life after such an unspeakable, immeasurable tragedy. She begins with “The Trial,” in which former president Rios Montt is “accused of ordering murders, rapes and tortures during his government.” 500 Years frequently employs the use of text  to communicate much-needed context about Guatemalan history, including the unsettling fact that its army was armed and train by the United States government when President Reagan was Commander in Chief. The trial offers necessary context about how the elite Guatemalans view the indigenous people as an inferior race, an important understanding of the human rights violations that occurred and transitions into parts two and three. 

If the widespread success of Making a Murderer and The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story are any indication, audiences love entering a courtroom. Those American series were watched by millions - imagine if the charges against Steven Avery and Simpson were multiplied by the thousands, as Montt and his charges are in Guatemala. How many people were watching?

Parts two and three focus on the aftermath of the trial, which at first was a successful step in the right direction before Montt’s guilty verdict is overturned. “Uprising” and “frustration” aren’t strong enough words for the natives, especially as even more corruption is uncovered in President Otto Perez Molina’s government. In spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, there are small glimmers of hope that Yates zeroes in on, especially in the film’s depiction of the demonstrations and protests.

While it might be tempting to compare the Guatemalan plight with the American one (i.e. marches against police brutality, protesters at airports standing against President Trump’s travel ban in January), but audiences should resist. The centuries of oppression and outright killing of Mayans in Guatemala are presented in a straightforward (albeit cluttered) manner in Yates’ third documentary on the subject (following When the Mountains Tremble and Granito: How to Nail a Dictator). 500 Years puts American life in perspective - though our own government seems to be coming apart at the seams, it’s difficult to fathom that there are mass-murders being ignored in supposed democracies across the globe. If you thought hearings, testimony and mass protest were becoming ubiquitous in our culture, this documentary is proof on a much larger scale of the hopeful impact that standing together in protest can have. Yates and her feature are proof that someone is listening, whether the historical context is clear or not.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (7/15/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Former dictator General Ríos Montt with his defense attorneys at his genocide trial.

Middle Photo: Social anthropologist, journalist and author Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj credits her family and her private education for her opportunities in life as a Mayan.

Bottom Photo: Guatemalans celebrate the arrests of the president and vice-president, now awaiting trial.

Photo Credits: Daniel Hernandez Salazar, Melle van Essen, Saul Martinez

Q: Does 500 Years pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes. Many Mayan women discuss their plight and their background, the most notable of whom is Nimatuj.

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BIRTHRIGHT – A WAR STORY (2017): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

Birthright: A War Story is a call-to-arms for anyone who is still complacent about the erosion of OB/Gyn healthcare services for women in the USA since the ascension of the Tea Party in 2010.

It turns out that even someone like me -- a Second Wave Warrior for almost 50 years now -- has no idea how bad things already are for women in many "Red States," especially in the Deep South. Heartbreaking! (JLH: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Media Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

When the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed Roe v Wade in 1972, many Feminists (like me) thought the worst was over. Of course, we knew that in the interim, the Republican National Committee had used Roe as a wedge issue to divide the Democratic Party, but we thought -- or at least I thought -- the fight was primarily about abortion.

Wrong! Wrong!! Wrong!!!

Abortion Rights turn out to be old news. Since the takeover of the Republican Party by its "Tea Party" wing (a supposedly "grassroots" movement that was, in fact, heavily subsidized by Far Right Republican and Libertarian donors), the state legislatures they have voted in since 2010 have begun waging an all out attack on routine gynecological and obstetric care in the name of "Personhood."

Civia Tamarkin -- the filmmaker who wrote and directed Birthright: A War Story -- does of deft job of presented the historical background for these issues, and she lets many experts from all sides say their say. I have not doubt that the Pro-Life advocates (especially the women) are sincere in their religious and moral convictions. If, for them, opposition to abortion is a matter of principle, then I do understand that, insofar as they believe life "begins at conception," then, for them, abortion is an act of murder.

HOWEVER, that is all old news now and no longer something that Tamarkin wants to shine her spotlight in Birthright: A War Story. No, her new revelations have to do with restrictions on what most of us -- on the Pro-Choice side -- would consider routine OB/Gyn.

So she devotes the bulk of her runtime to the first-person stories of totally ordinary women caught in the snares of draconian laws passed in their home states since 2010. To be clear, by "ordinary women," I mean non-activists -- including women who most likely would never dream of having abortions just because they had the right to do so (aka discretionary). This is not about invasive ultrasound wands used to intimate women who ask for legal abortions; this is about physicians prohibited from providing the medical intervention called for -- by their training and their Hippocratic Oath -- in life threatening circumstances.

Tamarkin opens with the story of Danielle Deaver of Nebraska (also told by Danielle and her husband Robb at the time on ABC News). There are more stories to come... each one more grim than the last 🙁

© Jan Lisa Huttner (7/15/17) FF2 Media

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CHASING CORAL (2017): Review by Amelie Lasker

Co-written by Vickie Curtis and from Jeff Orlowski--director of the award-winning documentary Chasing Ice--Chasing Coral is an engagingly crafted climate exposé. The film has a focus on the ways in which climate scientists publicize the importance of their work. It follows coral and ocean scientists and documentarians as they record the bleaching and dying of coral reefs due to global warming.

Although the science is accessible and convincing, the documentary is most successful because it follows the passions of photographer and climate activist Richard Vevers, engineer and documentarian Zack Rago, and a number of other scientists and artists. The filmmakers follow their sense of hope that climate change can be stopped. (AEL: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Amelie E. Lasker

Chasing Coral’s filmmakers take a personal approach to the problem of documenting climate change, following the individuals who are most passionate about the beauty and significance of coral. Richard Vevers, CEO of the Ocean Project, leads an expedition to photograph the bleaching of coral reefs, in order to show people that climate change is making a rapid and tangible impact on an entire ecosystem, and that it is getting worse every year. Zack Rago, a young engineer and marine biology enthusiast, designs and places the cameras for the project. John “Charlie” Veron, the leading researcher on coral anatomy, serves as Rago’s role model, and as a reminder of the history behind this kind of passion for science.

Richard Vevers points out that people don’t seem to be aware of the disastrous effect of climate change on coral reefs, and that this lack of awareness is a problem of advertising. With this project, he attempts to make science communicable by juxtaposing the beauty and variety of coral reefs with the dramatic ways in which they disappear.

However, the technology involved in this project is not simple. Cameras have to be left deep underwater, remaining intact and in focus for several weeks or months against the elements. It’s the diving work of Zack Rago and his team, work that is tedious and sometimes dangerous, that illustrates the strong sense of motivation behind the project. Rago knows coral is essential to an entire ecosystem. He is fascinated by coral as a beautiful creature in its own right, one he would never want to see extinct. No matter how difficult the work gets, he never doubts the importance of his message.

I’ve often found documentaries or articles about climate change to be incredibly frightening. They show dystopian graphics of what will happen if we don’t make a change, and they terrify us into feeling powerless. However, Chasing Coral has a different tone. The filmmakers focus on people who see firsthand the extent to which rising temperatures have already destroyed coral reefs, and yet who are not discouraged. Vevers asserts that abating climate change is very possible with enough large-scale collaboration.

In my favorite scene in the film, Rago gets to meet his role model, Charlie Veron, in person. Veron, an experienced coral researcher, remarks that he is almost relieved to be escaping his career when he is, at a time that feels so dire. Rago sits across from him full of hope, ready for a full career of doing tangible work to help the ocean. If documentation of climate change has a problem of advertising, Vevers and Chasing Coral’s filmmakers have found a way to solve it. For its encouraging and essential message, this documentary is a must-see.

© Amelie E. Lasker (7/24/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Richard Vevers takes pictures of bleached coral.

Middle Photo: Some coral, after bleaching and before death, turns brilliant neon colors.

Bottom Photo: Zack Rago dives for pictures.

Photo Credits: Netflix

Q: Does Chasing Coral pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

 No.

One female marine biologist, Dr. Ruth Gates, is featured often, but the film’s three primary figures are male.

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