February Films Abound for the Serious-Minded

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February delivers a predictable date-night movie but also a number of impressive documentaries either made by women or following women's stories. Subjects range from Daniel Ellsberg to a transgendered woman's homecoming in "Prodigal Sons."

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'Prodigal Sons' Chronicles Return

Patrick Dempsey and Jennifer Garner in "Valentine's Day.""Prodigal Sons," opening in limited release on Feb. 26, is transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed's autobiographical and extremely intimate documentary about her return to Helena, Mont., after a self-imposed exile for the many years during which she established a new life in New York. Reed's mission in returning to Helena is twofold. She's intent on reuniting with her family and facing the extremely emotionally challenging relationship she has with her adoptive brother, Marc, a semi-psychotic man whose brain injury is partially responsible for childish, cruel and sometimes violent behavior. Reed is also set to attend her 20-year high school reunion and reconnect with classmates who've never seen her as a woman.

Using archival footage of her high school days, when she was the football team's quarterback and co-captain Paul McKerrow, Reed speaks frankly about how she spent her youth struggling to find and express her identity. On the family front, during the filming, Marc, who's always been jealous of Reed's blood relationship to their parents, discovers that he's actually the son of the now-deceased daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Reed, the filmmaker, is a big fan of Welles and Marc's discovery adds an interesting wrinkle as Reed accompanies Marc to meet Welles' longtime companion in Croatia.

Reed's story is gripping and her honesty in exploring and telling it is compelling.

Doc Focuses on Lacrosse Players

Also opening Feb. 26 in limited release is documentary filmmaker Emily Abt's first narrative feature, "Toe to Toe," a femme-centric drama about two teenage lacrosse players, Jesse (Louisa Krause) and Tosha (Sonequa Martin). The teens overcome their vastly different opposite-side-of-the-track backgrounds to team up as friends on the field and off.

Abt garnered critical acclaim for "All of Us" (2008), the documentary in which she follows Dr. Mehret Mandefro, who brings heart and smarts to her South Bronx, N.Y., practice treating HIV-positive women. I haven't yet seen the film and there's no trailer available on the Internet, but "Toe to Toe," which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2009, seems to be promising.

Also be on the lookout for "Celine: Through the Eyes of the World," a new Celine Dion tour documentary directed by Stephane Laporte. The film follows the singer on her 2008-2009 world tour, in which she played to 3 million people in 25 countries. Due out in February, the actual date has not been set yet.

In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for ( and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (, a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada.

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