Sally Potter's Movies Stand Out in July Retrospect

Monday, July 5, 2010

July movie releases include a documentary about Hugh Hefner and "The Girl Who Played With Fire." But ahead of all other viewing options, Jennifer Merin says don't miss the re-release of Sally Potter's "Orlando," back in high-def.

Jennifer Merin(WOMENSENEWS)--July's new movies include several superb narrative features and documentaries directed by women. But before we look at those, let's praise Sally Berger, a curator at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), for putting together a remarkable retrospective (July 7 to 24) of the films and videos of Sally Potter, the brilliant British feminist moviemaker. Now in her 60s, Potter has been making films since she was 16.

As a filmmaker, Potter invites you to experience profound emotional insights and transports you to uncharted realms of imagination and intellect. Her films aren't easy escapes and she often had mixed reviews, but as director, writer, actress, dancer, choreographer and composer, Potter is a rare entity: the complete cinematic artist.

The retrospective starts with a digitally re-mastered, high-definition version of "Orlando" (1992), one of Potter's best known films. Based on Virginia Woolfe's novel of the same title (and based on the life of Vita Sackville-West), "Orlando" stars Tilda Swinton as the poet who, ordered by Queen Elizabeth to remain young forever, lives for over four centuries; first as a man, and then as a women. The film is beautiful and evocative. You don't have to be in New York or at the MoMA to see it. The new version will be released on July 23 in select theaters nationwide.

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Sally Potter and Pablo Veron in "The Tango Lesson."

But if you can get to the museum, the retrospective includes 14 films that reflect the range of Potter's repertoire, including "Gold Diggers" (1983), "The Tango Lesson (1997) and "Rage" (2009), plus a filmed version of the production of Bizet's "Carmen" (2007) that Potter directed for the English National Opera. It also includes five experimental shorts (1969-1986) presented as a single program and "I Am an Ox, I Am a Horse, I Am a Man, I Am a Woman: Women in Russian Cinema" (1990), a 60-minute documentary about women in Russian cinema.

Hot July Docs

There's no sighting of Potter, however, in filmmaker Angela Ismailos' documentary, "Great Directors," opening in New York and Los Angeles on July 9. The film recognizes and offers insight into the creative processes of Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani and Agnes Varda, as well as Bernardo Bertolucci, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach, David Lynch and John Sayles.

Several other documentaries are also good enough to lure you into theaters in July.

"Restrepo," opening July 2 in limited release, is one of this year's most important films. Made by journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, who were embedded with a platoon of U.S. soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, the documentary is a jarring look at the stress, adrenalin and shock of actual combat. It shows the devastating experiences

suffered by U.S. troops--and allows you to draw conclusions about the consequences to their wives and families back home. The film is comparable to Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker"--but it's real life.

Another doc, "Countdown to Zero," opening in limited release on July 23, is Lucy Walker's alarming report on the history of nuclear proliferation and the current status of nuclear weapons. Using archival footage and commentaries by statesmen--Carter, Gorbachev, Musharraf and Blair--and expert commentators--notably Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent whose cover was blown by Robert Novak, the late news columnist--the film shows how close we are to potential disaster due to failed diplomacy, accidents or terrorist acts.

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