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Filmmaker Pamela Yates Nails a Dictator

Friday, June 3, 2011

Directors Kathryn Bigelow and Pamela Yates enjoy the New York spotlight in June. Bigelow gets a retrospective at the MOMA and Yates' new documentary about a genocide trial in Guatemala spotlights her own role in providing forensic evidence.

Subhead: 
Directors Kathryn Bigelow and Pamela Yates enjoy the New York spotlight in June. Bigelow gets a retrospective at the MOMA and Yates' new documentary about a genocide trial in Guatemala spotlights her own role in providing forensic evidence.



(WOMENSENEWS)--For amazing cinema this month, look to Pamela Yates' latest, "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator."

It opens the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, taking place at New York's Lincoln Center from June 17 to 30. Nineteen films will be presented and many are directed by women or focused on women's rights issues and achievements around the globe.

But the spotlight goes to Yates and this remarkable companion film to a documentary she made decades ago. "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator" is about the heroic efforts the Guatemalan people are making to bring to justice the former military commanders responsible for the genocide that ripped apart their country during the 1980s. And, Yates tells the story of her own involvement with the case.

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Her 1982 documentary, "When the Mountains Tremble," exposed the genocide to international scrutiny and gave its lead character, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, a public platform that eventually led to her receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Now, a quarter of a century later, the footage Yates captured of soldiers carrying out mass killings has been used in court as forensic evidence against the very commander who gave her permission to shoot it and against Guatemala's former president and commander-in-chief.

The film is gripping. But not only that, it is in itself evidence of the importance of filmmaking. If you think films can't change the world, see this film and think again. If you can't make the festival screening, "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator" opens theatrically this fall and will be broadcast by PBS's "POV" in 2012.

Bigelow in the Spotlight

June also brings kudos to the film department of New York's Museum of Modern Art for honoring director Kathryn Bigelow with a mid-career retrospective of her work, up to and including "The Hurt Locker" (2008), the film for which she became the first woman in history to win an Academy Award for "Best Director."

"Crafting Genre: Kathryn Bigelow" kicked off on June 1 with a screening of Bigelow's first feature, "The Loveless" (1982), and the premiere of the recently completed 35 mm preservation of "Set Up," a short she completed in 1978. Bigelow introduced the evening's program and participated in a post-screening Q and A. The retrospective continues through August 13, giving Bigelow fans the opportunity to see all of her films--eight features and a number of shorts--on the big screen. It also includes exhibits of Bigelow's scripts and other memorabilia.

Bigelow is one of the best! By making feature films only of her own design and maintaining control over them from start to finish, she has, as a female director, consistently defied genre and gender pegging.

And, now, back to the calendar for June's most noteworthy theatrical openings.

On June 3, "Beautiful Boy" tells a tragic tale that echoes some of our worst headlines. Directed by Shawn Ku, and starring Michael Sheen and Maria Bello, it is the story of what happens to a married couple who is struggling to keep their relationship alive when they receive news that their 18-year-old son went on a shooting spree at college, then killed himself. The film is well made and moving.

June 3 also brings the opening of "Love, Wedding, Marriage," a trite dramedy about a female marriage counselor--herself a newlywed--who must suddenly deal with her own parents' divorce. Scripted by Anouska Chydzik and Caprice Crane, the film stars Mandy Moore. Trite. Treacle. Tripe.

A Charming Documentary

On June 8, Lisa Leeman's "One Lucky Elephant" opens in limited release. This charming documentary follows Flora the elephant and the man who cares for her like a father. David Balding, owner of a small circus, adopted her as an infant from an elephant orphanage and made her the star of his show--and his life. Now Flora has reached maturity and she needs the company of other elephants. It is with mixed feelings that Balding seeks to find Flora a new home.

Opening on June 10, "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" is one of the season's tween treats. Based on Megan McDonald's books, the script was written by Kathy Waugh and Megan McDonald. Third grader Judy (played by Jordana Brewster, a twinkly newcomer) sets out on a series of adventures with her unconventional Aunt Opal (played by an overacting Heather Graham). The books are a hit with tweens and the film might be too. But anyone out of that age range will find it all too sophomoric.

For more adult fare, turn to "My Afternoons with Margueritte," a French feature based on the book by Marie-Sabine Roger. The quietly dazzling film is about an uneducated and lonely man (Gerard Depardieu) who forms an unusual bond with an elderly, well-read and utterly rad woman (Gisele Casadesus). The film is utterly charming and life-affirming. A real treat.

Also worthy is the June 10 opener, "The Cameleon." Based on a true story, it is about how a family whose son has disappeared is taken in by an imposter, a sly criminal, who convinces them--particularly the wife and mother--that he is their blood. The intrigue, ripe with unusual and unexpected plot twists, features fine performances by Framke Janssen, Ellen Barken and Emilie de Raven, and is quite engaging.

'The Original Horse Whisperer'

On June 17, Cindy Meele's exquisite profile, "Buck," opens in limited release. In this emotionally satisfying documentary, Meele follows the legendary Buck Brannaman, the soft-spoken cowboy who's generally referred to as "the original horse whisperer." Brannaman's brand of homegrown wisdom is nurturing and refreshing, and it is reflected in every aspect of this touching nonfiction film.

Opening on June 24, there's "Page One," Andrew Rossi's insider documentary about The New York Times and how it's trying to survive and capitalize on the new media changes that are currently afoot. Co-written by Kate Novak, the documentary is incomplete. For example, no mention is made about the company's 2005 purchase of the online giant About.com, for which I also write. Still, The Times remains the world's newspaper of record and Dave Carr, who's one of the featured players, is a feisty, funny and insightful reporter. This documentary is a must-see.

Opening only in Oregon, "Raw Faith" is a fascinating documentary about a female Unitarian minister who decides to leave the clergy after years of dedicated service, in order to pursue personal goals; namely to connect with her sense of sensuality and find intimacies. As we see in Wm. Peter Wiedensmith's intimate documentary, Marilyn Sewell is a force to be reckoned with and a fascinating character, too.

June 24 also sees the opening of "Bad Teacher," one of the summer's projected comedy blockbusters. It stars Cameron Diaz as pedagogue who doesn't care a lick for the kids and has her sights set on finding a man to keep her in frills. Cliche from start to finish. Diaz is a fine comedian and it's painful to see her in projects that don't let her realize her potential.

Lastly, and also opening on June 24, is "A Little Help," a comedy starring Jenna Fischer as a woman trying to care for her nasty-mouthed bratty son after the death of her philandering husband. The movie needs a little help. Well, actually, more than a little help.

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In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com (http://documentaries.About.com ) and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (http://www.AWFJ.org ), a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the Broadcast Journalists Association.

For more information:

Alliance of Women Film Journalists
http://www.awfj.org

Museum of Modern Art:
http://www.moma.org.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival
http://www.hrw.org/en/iff