WATER & POWER: A CALIFORNIA HEIST

Marina Zenovich, a producer and director known for her work in nonfiction, investigates the exploitation of California’s most valuable resource: water. Water and Power: A California Heist uncovers the hidden truths of California’s water supply from the 1960s and the issues they cause in the present day when public interests and private interests are in conflict. (KIZJ: 3.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katusha Jin

“From the very beginning it was about moving the water from where it was, to where it wasn’t.” –Mark Arax

The movie begins with a talking heads style interview with Mark Arax, a journalist and author, who describes California as the most “manipulated” landscape in the world.

After setting the somber, brave tone of the piece, Zenovich uses news broadcast clips to describe the seriousness of the drought experienced in California during 2015. We follow Donna Johnson, a Water Delivery Volunteer, as she delivers water to a Mexican immigrant who moved to America for the American Dream. However, what she has experienced here is far from that dream. Michael Lunsford, a Porterville Resident, also describes the struggles of having to drive into town in order to use other people’s homes to shower. Lunsford insists, “You may not have known your neighbor’s name before, but now you do…you might have to go over and ask to borrow a cup of water instead of a cup of sugar.”

Lunsford goes on to comment, “Mother nature’s dry, but there’s so much agriculture going on…when your next-door neighbor has orange growths for miles, how much water do you think he’s using to grow his oranges?”

With this, Zenovich directs us towards the bigger picture and reasoning behind why such a shortage of water exists.

John R. Wodraska, the General Manager of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California from 1993 to 1998, explains that John Wesley Powell had once said “whoever controls water will control the west.”

With this, the seed of doubt is planted, as we are exposed to the idea of corruption caused by the private interests of the rich.

The company “Wonderful and its owners, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, are investigated. It seems odd that despite the many years of drought in California, their nuts, which grow in the valleys of the state, seem to be making them richer than ever.

Zenovich takes her audience through the history of water supply in California from the 1960s, including the disputes between public interest versus private interest. She brings us back to current day, and again shows us the reality of those living in the drought to really hone in on the fact that water shortage is not a myth.

Throughout the documentary, music plays a large role in maintaining the suspense and build up. The immensely unnerving score imitates a ticking time bomb, which is matched with dramatic editing and beautiful aerial shots of the landscapes. Zenovich describes Water and Power as the documentary version of Chinatown. It tackles the privatization of water and aims to spread the understanding that water is not limitless. This documentary is an awakening force that really hits home. It aims to bring us together to solve the growing problem of a potential future of a world without guaranteed access to water.

©Katusha Jin FF2 Media (3/15/17)

Top Photo: Water and Power: A California Heist poster.

Bottom Photo: Green, flourishing agriculture beside dry, dying land.

Photo Credits: National Geographic

Does Water and Power: A California Heist pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

Women talk about the struggles of living without guaranteed access to water.

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: U-W | Tagged | Leave a comment

EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY (2017): Review by Jessica

Written and directed by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, Everybody Loves Somebody is a feel good, bilingual romantic comedy about a successful doctor named Clara who has given up on the romanticized idea of love. But when a new doctor and an old love both come into her life, Carla finds herself, for the first time in a longtime, questioning what—and who—she really wants. (JEP 3.5/5)

Review by Executive Editor Jessica E. Perry

“Clara” (Karla Souza, from TV’s hit How to Get Away With Murder) is an OB-GYN, and the epitome of a successful, independent woman. She has a high-powered job, a nice home in Los Angeles, and is incredibly close with her family. But Clara is also bitter about love, so much so that she doesn’t even realize it anymore.

But Clara’s parents have finally decided—after 40 years together and having raised a family— that they should get married. So they plan to hold a beautiful ceremony at the family home in Mexico, and as the sad single sister, Clara must find herself a “filler” date to bring with her to the wedding. Cue, the handsome new Australian doctor at her hospital, “Asher” (Ben O’Toole). Clara bluntly asks him to come away with her for the weekend to be her date for the wedding. Asher, intrigued by Clara, surprisingly agrees, and so they drive together down the coast to her parent’s beautiful home.

Surprisingly, Clara finds herself enjoying her time with Asher at the wedding. But when an old flame shows up, uninvited, Clara is immediately thrown back a decade to when she, and the handsome “Daniel” (José María Yazpik) were on the cusp of marriage. Daniel has been traveling the world with Doctors Without Borders for years, his return to Los Angeles, unannounced and shocking. But Daniel is like family, and so Clara’s parents welcome him back like nothing has changed.

Unfortunately for Clara, everything has. Asher is persistent and seems to know Clara better than she knows herself. While Daniel is her past, but insists that he’s changed and is now ready to be her future. Thrown into a classic will they won’t they love triangle, Clara must decide if she’s finally ready to abandon her qualms about love.

Written and directed by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, Everybody Loves Somebody is your everyday love story with a new cast of characters. Souza gives an honest performance as Clara, aptly capturing both what it is to be haunted by failed loves past, and also what it takes to be open to the possibility of finding something better. Funny, romantic, and grounded, Everybody Loves Somebody hits the right notes to set it apart from many tropes of the rom com genre, embracing independent career-driven women and challenging what love looks like from all angles.

©Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (2/27/17)

Top Photo: Everybody Loves Somebody poster.

Middle Photo: Clara and Daniel come to terms with what they still mean to one another.

Bottom Photo: Asher and Clara grow closer.

Photo Credits: Pantelion Films

Q: Does Everybody Loves Somebody pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

 Yes. But surprisingly, only just.

Clara and her sister, “Abby” (Tiaré Scanda), share numerous conversations together, but most revolve around Clara’s choices in love.

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: E-G | Tagged | Leave a comment

MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI (2016): Snippet by Jan

Perfectly told tale of a French boy who is sent to a group home after his mother dies. Screenplay by award-winning filmmaker Céline Sciamma, best-known for her 2014 film Bande de filles (called Girlhood in English although Girl Gang would be a better translation), is based on Gilles Paris' 2002 novel Autobiographie d'une Courgette. Animated with dazzling style and state of the art technique by Swiss director Claude Barras (making his feature film debut).

Although Switzerland nominated My Life as a Zucchini for the 2017 Best Picture Oscar, AMPAS "only" nominated it for Best Animated Film. I think it deserves both! (JLH: 5/5)

NOTE: Since the runtime for My Life as a Zucchini is only 70 minutes, it is being shown in the USA in conjunction with Barras's adorable 8 minute short The Genie in a Ravioli Can from 2006. Some American theatres are offering both the French version (shown with subtitles) and a dubbed version (in English). I am glad I chose the French version so that the accents match the affects, but I have no doubt that the dubbed version (voiced by well-known actors like Will Forte and Ellen Page) is great too.

WARNING: Stay in your seat when the credits begin to roll. There's a little treat at the very end 🙂

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2/25/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Altho his mother calls him "Zucchini," the boy's real name is "Icare." When the film opens, Icare lives alone with his mother. His father, who left them years ago, left no forwarding address...

Bottom Photo: Zucchini (the kid with the blue hair) finds a new family after his mother's death.

Q: Does My Life as a Zucchini pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Only kinda sorta.

Some of the girls in the group home clearly have relationships with one another, but we don't ever see them have "conversations" per se. And the headmistress has a few interactions with Camille's aunt, but neither of these women every get names.

Posted in Reviews: K-M | Tagged | Leave a comment

KIKI (2016): Review by Lindsy

To everyone and anyone who has ever felt like an unsafe outsider, know that you are not alone. Know that underneath the hustle and raucous of New York City is the throbbing heartbeat of the Kiki scene singing “you’re safe, you’re safe, you’re safe” to any and all young adults who will listen. With help of director Sarah Jordenö, the Kiki community has its story told on the silver screen. Written by Sarah Jordenö and Twiggy Pucci Garçon, KIKI is the cultural documentary New York City has craved. With beautiful cinematography, heartbreaking stories, and hope, the community wants to remind all of New York’s children that you are welcome and you are safe and to never be ashamed of who you are. (LMB: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

The Kiki community is a sublet of the Harlem Drag Circuit, where members of the community come together and compete under different categories like runway, vogue, femme for a chance to win cash prizes. But not only is the Kiki scene a way for communities to connect, it is a necessary outlet for teens in New York City, and anywhere else the subculture pops up.

The community is made up of several symbolic houses and within each house is a mother and father, or captain. These captains act as guardians, both emotionally and sometimes financially, to the other members of the house. They create a safe haven for the ethnically diverse LGBTQ who are fighting HIV/AIDS, have been kicked out of their homes, or just need a safe place to express themselves. The captains preach self-confidence, healthy communication, and self-love while the competitions provide a chance for friendly rivalry, promote awareness for local causes, and encourage teamwork within each house.

Director Sarah Jordenö masterfully creates a unique and honest lens, through which she delicately portrays each character, as she interviews various members of houses, and sometimes their parents. Between heart-wrenching stories of children kicked out of houses, living with diseases, and learning to accept who they are regardless of age, gender, and race, KIKI will both break your heart and make it sing. In a world determined to hold power over those who stand out, KIKI reminds us that fitting in means giving up a sacred part of yourself, and instead of giving into fear, embrace your differences and have confidence that we all find our tribe.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (2/24/17)

Top Photo: A sneak peek into one of the Kiki shows.

Middle Photo: A Kiki event.

Bottom Photo: Two members of the community dancing on the pier.

Photo Credits: Sundance Selects

Q: Does KIKI pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

YES!

Absolutely Kiki passes the Bechdel-Wallace test. Through the expression of self-love, the people in Kiki show the spectrum of sexuality and prove its fluidity. The documentary also follows several men who are now beautiful women, and the struggles they faced during transition.

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: K-M | Tagged | Leave a comment

LOVESONG (2016): Review by Giorgi

Lovesong’s many excellent performances are both sensitive and satirical at once, and the cinematography, while less flashy than most, is unassuming and soft in its storytelling. Filmmaker So Yong Kim’s latest is a bittersweet, character-driven film about a young mother and the long-time best friend who becomes her lover, with an ending not altogether happy or unhappy. (GPG: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto 

With her husband both physically and emotionally distant, “Sarah” (Riley Keough) is struggling to raise her 3-year-old daughter, “Jessie” (Jessie Ok Gray). As Sarah’s postpartum depression flares up, she and Jessie go on a road trip with her college friend, “Mindy” (Jena Malone), who clicks with Jessie instantly, forming the three of them into a little family for the few days they’re on the road. Sarah and Mindy also find a new dimension to their friendship when an unexpected moment of vulnerability leads them to sleep together.

They each struggle with how to react to their night together, and their relationship is both deepened and inhibited by it going forward. While they do not pursue it further, the attraction remains palpable between them in different valences as they each process their feelings while refusing to talk about them. Sarah stays in her marriage, and their friendship suffers as they each resent the other for being distant, while remaining unable to open up emotionally themselves. This comes to a head the weekend of Mindy’s wedding, years after the road trip, after the two have drifted far apart in the wake of what happened.

 Lovesong is meditative even in its most hectic scenes, always conscious of the wounds and longings at the core of its events. It depicts a straight womanhood that leaves friends like Sarah and Mindy without the words to describe the love between them, and that keeps them apart when they might have been together more fully. With minimalistic visuals and mournfully expressive acting, the story flows poetically, with an experimental and cathartic conclusion that resolves the story, while still being true to a narrative that lives in the unresolved.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (2/20/17)

Top photo: Sarah and Mindy share a moment on the day of her wedding.

Middle photo: Sarah and her daughter, Jessie.

Bottom photo: Sarah and Mindy on their road trip.

Photo Credit: Autumn Productions.

Q: Does Lovesong pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes!

All the main characters are women, and it is the complexity of their overlapping relationships, with almost an exclusion of men, that make up the plot! Men are sometimes mentioned but are barely ever onscreen.

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: K-M | Tagged | Leave a comment

AMERICAN FABLE (2016): Review by Lindsy

American Fable, written and directed by Anne Hamilton, is the fairytale thriller of a young pre-teen “Gitty” (Peyton Kennedy) and her family’s struggle to make ends meet when a corporation comes to buy all the farms. Feeling left out from the financial situation by her parents and older brother, Gitty is left alone with her imagination. The lines between fiction and reality begin to blur as she loses herself when on her own in unforgiving circumstances.  (LMB: 1.5/5)

Read FF2 Media's interview with Director Anne Hamilton.

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

“Gitty” (Peyton Kennedy) is an 11-year old girl with a wild imagination. She loves her dad “Abe” (Kip Pardue) and mother “Sarah” (Marci Miller) and even her older brother “Martin” (Gavin MacIntosh), despite how he teases her relentlessly. When a string of suicides occur at three different farms nearby, Gitty realizes that her life may not be as wonderful as she always thought.

While playing in the field at a silo on her family’s land, Gitty meets a man, “Jonathan” (Richard Schiff), who has been taken hostage. Later she learns that he works for a big business that has come to buy up the small farms. Jonathan begs Gitty not to tell her father that she found him, in fear of what Abe may do to him, but Gitty feels conflicted. Should she try and save the man who will destroy her home? Or keep quiet and let her father handle it.

Stress begins to take its toll on young Gitty as she begins to see supernatural sights, and have vivid nightmares which mix reality with fantasy, and recurring imagery of a black horse and a ram-horned woman begin to haunt her, while she is both sleeping and awake.

This story had the potential to be a really great film, a Wizard of Oz/Pan’s Labrynth esque style that includes a coming-of-age story, fantasy, and nightmare all into one. Unfortunately, there is no definitive direction and the film drags despite the interesting idea behind it. The symbolism is heavy-handed to the point that it is insulting to the intelligence of the audience. First Gitty finds a porcelain black stallion in an abandoned house nearby, in the next moment we see the ram-headed woman riding a black horse through the open door, later, Gitty buys a chess set at an estate sale, which is conveniently missing  a black knight piece and the list goes on and on. Most of the performances are over the top and the inconsistencies in character development make the story hard to follow and the characters difficult to connect to, sadly this film boasts itself as a fable, indicating a moral lesson, but there are no such lessons to be had at the end of this film, if you can make it there.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (3/17/17)

Top Photo: The ram-horned woman on the black horse follow Gitty through the field.

Middle Photo: Gitty finds a black horse in an abandoned house nearby.

Bottom Photo: Jonothan and gitty in the silo.

Photo Credits: Katrina Meier

Q: Does American Fable pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes.

There are several scenes between Gitty and her mother, and Gitty and Vera. They discuss honesty and  being true to yourself.

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: A | Tagged | Leave a comment

FROM NOWHERE (2016): Review by Lindsy

While other teenagers worry about prom and college, this film follows three students from the Bronx who have much bigger things to worry about. Unlike their friends, they are undocumented. With the help of a kindhearted teacher and lawyer they hope to stay in the US and attend college, but will they be able to stay out of trouble long enough to reach their court dates? Co-written by Kate Ballen and Matthew Newton and directed by Matthew Newton From Nowhere is the gut-wrenching story of the threat of deportation. (LMB: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Lindsy M. Bissonnette

“Moussa” (J. Mallory McCree) “Sophie” (Octavia Chavez-Richmond) and “Alyssa” (Raquel Castro) are not your average Bronx high schoolers. Moussa’s family is months behind in rent, Sophie is in an unsafe environment while her dad is in prison, and Alyssa is living with her sister who was able to marry an American. All of them have hopes for the future, but need papers.

With the help of their teacher “Jackie” (Julianne Nicholson) and a lawyer “Isaac” (Denis O’Hare) these three teens are forced to find documentation that their native countries are unsafe, in order for them to plead for asylum in the states. Meanwhile, Jackie has been researching scholarship opportunities for the three of them, ones that thankfully do not ask for social security numbers.

On top of all the normal stresses of high school; graduating, prom, hanging out with friends, and finding love, Moussa feels like a financial burden to his mother and older sister. Meanwhile Sophie’s living situation worsens and she begins to act out in school, which causes problems for the trio as they struggle to fit in.

From Nowhere is dark commentary on how students are affected by their home life, and the problems with immigration in this country. Gripping and eye-opening, this film is incredibly moving and a great political statement about the current state of the United States. With a great script and wonderful performances from all actors, it is definitely a film to see.

© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (2/24/17)

Top Photo: Alyssa cannot believe what is happening.

Middle Photo: Sophie, Moussa, and Alyssa try to decide what to do.

Bottom Photo: Sophie, Moussa, and Alyssa meet with Isaac.

Photo Credits:  FilmRise

Q: Does From Nowhere pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes.

From Nowhere has many scenes between women from Moussa’s sister and mother, Alyssa and Sophie, and the other girls in the high school. Jackie also has a scene between Alyssa and Sophie, and they talk about much more than just Moussa, they talk about their potential future.

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: E-G | Tagged | Leave a comment

1 NIGHT (2016): Review by Brigid

Writer/Director Minhal Baig tests the boundaries of time in a reflective drama about young love, fading love and one eventful night at a Los Angeles hotel. Anna Camp and Justin Chatwin star as a married couple who are reminded, by an unlikely source, of why they fell in love in the first place. A sweet theater treat just in time for Valentine’s Day. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

“You only get one prom.” 

“You get as many proms as you want. Let's make tonight prom.”

What if we could travel back in time? Filmmakers have brought that concept to life many times. Faded photographs remind us what we were doing and who we were when we were doing it, but if you could go back, would you? 

Thirty-something “Liz” (Camp) and “Drew” (Chatwin) just might. On the brink of their breakup, the married couple find themselves in a fancy hotel the same evening as a Senior Prom after-party, including sadsack “Bea,” (Isabelle Fahrman) who just got dumped, along with her childhood friend/yearbook photographer “Andy,” (Kyle Allen). 

The high schoolers’ blossoming relationship unknowingly throws salt in the wounds of Liz and Drew’s imploding union. He spent too much time working abroad, even cheating while “they were on a break.” (Where have we heard this before?) She didn’t appreciate the time he spent at home … and so on.

What makes 1 Night standout amongst the sea of independent films chock full of unhappiness is the outlook on growing up and holding onto hope even it feels like it’s vanished as quickly as youth. 

Baig communicates a clear message: it’s natural to look back on life and think things were simpler back in the day when, in reality, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the 18-year-old versions of ourselves were crying in the bathroom after a school dance or trying to anxiously figure out what comes next. It’s okay to want to go back and tell ourselves to not worry so much. An idea that is timeless, really.

All four players engage viewers in their vastly different acting styles, but Allen is a highlight as young Andy, perfectly playing the insecure, adorable photographer. He carries around an outdated camera; “a relic of how things used to be,” he says. This film, too, is a reminder of how things used to be in cinema. 

Sean Giddings score gives viewers a nostalgic feeling of both times-gone-by and the awaiting future. Despite tonal shifts between humorous chit chat and fantastical proclamations is a sweet story, quietly told with heart and humor. At one point, Liz and Drew sit in an empty movie theater and reminisce about the early days of their romance. “You always wanted to see these movies that no one ever heard of,” Drew says. Liz smiles, “I like underdogs.” Thanks to Minhal Baig, so do I.

© Brigid K. Presecky (02/09/17) FF2 Media

Top and Bottom Photos: Justin Chatwin and Anna Camp as married couple “Drew” and “Liz”

Middle Photo: Isabelle Fahrman and Kyle Allen as young couple “Bea” and “Andy”

Photo Credits: Canosa Productions

Q: Does 1 Night pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes!

Feeling like she let her youth pass her by, “Liz” (Anna Camp) gives unwarranted advice to 18-year-old “Bea” (Isabelle Fahrman) in the hotel bathroom. It’s brief, but poignant.

Posted in Reviews: # | Tagged | Leave a comment

A UNITED KINGDOM (2016): Review by Elyse

A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante (best known for the 2013 film Belle), is based on the true story of the marriage of Seretse Khama from Bechuanaland (now the nation of Botswana) and his English wife Ruth Williams.

Their love does not come without a fight as they must both battle against the racism and politics of their time, one that would like nothing more than to keep them apart. (EBT: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Elyse Thaler (with two cents from FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner)

The first act of A United Kingdom focuses on how “Seretse” (David Oyelowo) and “Ruth” (Rosamund Pike) meet and fall in love. Seretse is in London studying to be a lawyer so that when he returns to his native Bechuanaland (now the nation of Botswana), he will bring knowledge that will benefit his people. It is the late 1940s, so though as an African man Seretse is able to study law in London, there is still racial friction between blacks and whites. However, the friction is not enough to keep Ruth away from this handsome man who shares her love for jazz and dancing.

But before they can truly fall for one another Seretse must reveal who he really is, which is none other than the heir to the chiefdom of his home, Bechuanaland. Not only that, but he has been summoned home to take over for his uncle “Tshekedi Khama” (Vusi Kuneni), who has been ruling Bechuanaland in his absence. Despite his responsibilities, and knowing there will be sacrifices, Ruth does not hesitate. She continues to see Seretse, and when he finally proposes, the answer is easy for her. Leaving home to go with him to Africa means that they will get to be together, so she does not even pause to think; her answer is “yes”.

What does Ruth find in her new home? Culture shock, a strange new language, and being treated like a suspicious foreigner who only wants the title of Queen. Because of her choice of husband, Seretse's family in Bechuanaland shun her just as much as her own family in London.

On the other hand, Seretse must fight his own battles to prove to his people that he is ready and willing to lead. Even though not everyone (including his uncle) can see past his white wife, Seretse does manage to gain the trust of some. What he does not realize, however, is that even though his tribe might back him, that does not mean England will allow him and Ruth to make, what they believe to be, a political mockery of the new idea of apartheid and of the United Kingdom. The men behind England’s political game of chess will stop at nothing to keep Seretse and Ruth away from each other, even if that means banishing him from Bechuanaland.

Films based on true stories can sometimes be the hardest ones to successfully make, because in many cases the filmmakers add drastic changes to the plot to appeal to a “general audience.” While it would be surprising if parts of the plot of A United Kingdom were not tampered with to make the story more theatrical, as a viewer I couldn’t care less because the filmmaking, story, and acting beautifully held their own while keeping the message of love and unity despite differences clear.

Watching Oyelowo and Pike fall in love as Seretse and Ruth, set the tone for the whole movie. You truly felt like you were paying witness to two people feeling the flutter of butterflies from the first meeting, liking one another, and then falling for each other. The performances were natural and honest, the chemistry between the actors apparent. In fact, the chemistry was so believable that I searched the Internet to find out whether the pair had or have a real-life romance. Turns out, Oyelowo has been married to Jessica Oyelowo (who co-stars as “Lady Lilly Canning” in the film) since 1998.

Another relationship that stood out was the one between Seretse and his Uncle. Their love and respect for one another despite any disagreements played towards the broader theme the film represents: acceptance for one’s beliefs is not always immediately received, but through persistence and setting of examples, we all have the power to change even the most stubborn of minds.

Ruth spends a lot of time proving herself to her home country of England, her adopted country of Bechuanaland, her family (both biological and marital), and also to herself. Ironically, her true strength reveals itself when circumstances force her to be unwillingly separated from her husband. The literal distance between them forces Ruth to go from a shy, timid Englishwoman to a Queen who is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs and her people. This notable transition proves that a powerful love story does not mean the woman has to play a damsel in distress who lacks her own voice.

Racial division is, of course, where almost all problems stem from in the film. The director, Amma Asante, balances this theme and the romantic storyline well by emphasizing the juxtaposition of Ruth and Seretse in private, against their public lives. There is also a stark contrast between shots in England and Africa. Asante makes England look dark and mysterious; the English actors overly formal and stiff compared to the scenes in Bechuanaland where there is a unity among the people that feels unparalleled.

What is the purpose of film if not to affect its audience? Falling in love with Ruth and Seretse is easy as their characters are both real and endearing, their flaws making them that much more relatable. The difficult part of this film is the empathy and forgiveness that it asks the audience to have for those who would wish harm on the beloved couple.

A United Kingdom tells a beautiful and well thought out love story from the 1940’s while still being relevant for today’s time and audience. Superb acting, visually appealing shots, and also a lovely notion that even if we disagree in the beginning, that does not close all the doors to one day coming together side by side as members of the human species. Especially in today’s political atmosphere, I think we could all use a little hope and love.

© Elyse Bunt Thaler (02/20/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: “Seretse” (David Oyelowo) and “Ruth” (Rosamund Pike) in love.

Middle Photo: The real Seretse and Ruth overlooking Bechuanaland.

Bottom Photo: Ruth, Seretse, and their first child (daughter Jacqueline) home at last in Bechuanaland.

Photo Credits: Andreas Burgess

Q: Does A United Kingdom pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes!

Ruth has multiple scenes with Seretse’s sister “Naledi Khama” (Terry Pheto). At first Naledi does not believe Ruth belongs in Africa, but over time, they become allies.

On the other hand, "Lady Lilly Canning" (Jessica Oyelowo), who is the wife of British government's representative in Southern Africa, purports to be Ruth's ally, but she clearly does not have Ruth's best interests at heart.

Unlike most of my colleagues, I am not a big fan of Belle. So I went into A United Kingdom with an open mind and the best of intentions... but also a bit of cautious skepticism. Two hours later, however, I was completely won over!

The first act is a bit of a stretch.  Much as I love Rosamund Pike -- and I do! -- she seemed a bit too old to play “Ruth,” and that was a distraction. However, as Ruth aged in act two, Pike came into her own, and by act three she had become a commanding presence, fully believable and triumphant in the role.

There are no false notes in the telling of this tale. I do not know how closely it adheres to the facts of the matter, but I never experienced any cognitive dissonance -- as I often did in Belle. The narrative is engaging and the period details all feel just right.

I came out of A United Kingdom fully convinced that this man -- Prince Seretse Khama -- was able to transcend the racial and gender prejudices of his time precisely because he had this woman -- Ruth Williams -- at his side as both wife and partner.

According to Wikipedia, Seretse Khama renounced his tribal rights (just as A United Kingdom shows) and became the politician who helped to transform the people of Bechuanaland into the nation of Botswana. When independence was granted in 1966, Seretse became Botswana's first president. He served four consecutive terms, and died in office in 1980.

Ruth Williams Khama and Seretse Khama had four children (one daughter and three sons). Two of their sons were also elected to the presidency by the people of Botswana. Ruth remained in Botswana after Seretse's death in office in 1980, receiving recognition in her own right as "Mohumagadi Mma Kgosi" (mother of the chief, or queen mother). When she died at the age of 78, Ruth was buried in Botswana next to Seretse.

I am truly grateful to Amma Asante (and screenwriter Guy Hibbert) for bringing this important story to the screen, graced, as it is, by two excellent performances from David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. Brava! (JLH: 4/5)

© Jan Lisa Huttner (02/27/17) FF2 Media

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: A | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I AM JANE DOE

I Am Jane Doe is a harrowing documentary about the disturbing and abusive world of child trafficking. Painful in its honesty and incredibly informative, the Mary Mazzio film is honing in on a horrifying online world that is only growing while most Americans aren’t paying attention. (GEP: 4.5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

These 98 minutes are a parent’s worst nightmare. For all the episodes of Dateline that tell similar stories of kidnappings and missing person cases, the film adds another terrifying layer, telling stories of children who are essentially bought, sold and repeatedly raped. Featured parents wonder where their children are and whether they’re even alive – only to find out that they’re being sold to commit unspeakable acts. These young girls are preyed upon, often become addicted to narcotics and are told by their handlers that their problems will be solved if they enter this world – a world they aren’t aware is actually “modern day slavery.”

The well-organized timeline of I Am Jane Doe follows victims’ attempt to eliminate the availability of human trafficking on the Internet. Narrated by executive producer Jessica Chastain, the documentary uncovers the buying and selling of children on a website that is protected by federal law. It drives home the point that this is happening “in our own backyard” – the United States government protects backpage.com despite selling underage girls for sex.

In the case of I Am Jane Doe, its research is its strongest asset. The statistics and experts that are used to provide credibility to Mazzio’s documentary are precise, clear and shocking. It answers questions that everyday people might have about this issue –what is human trafficking? Who does it affect? How many kids have been abused, raped, bought and sold? The extensive research on this horrific trend in selling children for sex acts is evident, making the documentary all the more riveting – and, on behalf of the trafficked children and their families, infuriating.

While some documentaries seek to inform by utilizing two or three experts to support their claims, I Am Jane Doe relies on a variety of families, professors, lawyers, activists, trafficking experts – and even a former pimp - to educate its viewers. A variety of perspectives are provided throughout the film, which is edited concisely and clearly when considering what a large issue it tackles.

Despite the complicated legal cases, legislation and statistics, I Am Jane Doe boils down to one simple idea: It is illegal to sell drugs, online or otherwise – selling children and forcing them to commit acts that will affect their lives forever should absolutely be illegal. If you believe that certain ideas are not political, but universal human truths, watch I Am Jane Doe.

© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (2/28/17)

Top Photo: Jane Doe 3 and her mother are just two of many people affected by the sale of human beings on the Internet.

Middle Photo: The documentary's statistics show the drastic difference between sentencing for drug trafficking versus human t

Bottom Photo:  “There’s not a handbook that tells you how to handle it when your daughter’s raped,” according to the father of “J.S.,” a trafficking victim portrayed in the film.

Photo Credits: 50 Eggs Films

Q: Does I Am Jane Doe pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes.

The film is largely about young women who are trafficked and abused.

Posted in Bechdel-Wallace List, Reviews: H-J | Tagged | Leave a comment