'Women and Girls Lead' in September Cinema

Friday, September 9, 2011

September brings a big gust of PBS programming and community screenings that show how girls and women are confronting war, famine and abuse. A documentary about a dolphin who gives inspiration to amputees is also in the mix.

(WOMENSENEWS)--September, it seems, began in retrograde: not one of the films opening on Labor Day weekend was directed by a woman.

Meanwhile the holiday's big femme-centric feature, the French thriller "Love Crime,"has an older and younger woman--formidably portrayed by Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, respectively--pitted against each other in mortal competition. No siree, sisterhood was not this month's starter.

However, September does see the launch of "Women and Girls Lead," a multiyear, multiplatform, global femme-centric cinematic initiative intended to raise consciousness about issues and empower women to take action against gender bias and other social injustice. "Women and Girls Lead" is created by ITVS, the nonprofit that provides much of the content for PBS, and partnering organizations, including the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the Girl Scouts.

The heart of the initiative will be the broadcast of 50 female-empowering documentary features on public television, with a rich variety of interactive online opportunities.

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Each film shows women taking action and changing the world for the better in countries wracked by civil war, famine and human rights abuses, including the United States. As part of the initiative, filmmakers Abigail Disney, Gini Reticker and Pamela Hogan are presenting "Women, War and Peace," a series of five films about the roles of women in conflict zones. The films, including the acclaimed "Pray The Devil Back To Hell" and the recently completed "Peace Unveiled," will be screened at community-sponsored events in cities across the United States. (I will be moderating post-screening panel discussions at several events.) If you can't find a screening in your area, you can work with ITVS outreach to sponsor one.

Mainstream Flicks

Now, back to movies in the mainstream. Two notable movies come to theaters today, Sept. 9. "Tanner Hall," a first feature written and directed by Tatiana von Furstenberg (Diane's daughter) and Francesca Gregorini (Barbara Bach's daughter, Ringo Starr's step- daughter), is a coming-of-age drama about four teens trying to define themselves and their life goals while attending an exclusive Rhode Island boarding school. The film is a strong ensemble piece, starring Rooney Mara, whose breakout performance here led to her casting for the role of Liz Salander in the upcoming English version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

The second opener is Heather Courtney's "Where Soldiers Come From," another coming-of-age story. This one is a documentary about high school buddies from rural Michigan -- from the director's hometown, in fact -- who join the National Guard and are unexpectedly deployed to Afghanistan, where they explode IEDs and are so completely traumatized they can't re-enter civilian life. Courtney chronicles their stories with compassion and insight, capturing their personalities and quirks. These are good kids.

Each is every mother's son. And their disillusionment and anguish are heart wrenching. A must-see! Sept. 16 brings four intriguing openings. My top pick is "Jane's Journey," Lorenz Knauer's captivating documentary about the life and times -- and extraordinary accomplishments --of Jane Goodall, famous for her seminal studies of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. Goodall, a prominent but also intensely private person, gives the filmmaker access to her innermost thoughts and concerns, caught in on-camera interviews and voiced narration over a wealth of archival footage. At age 75, Goodall, who works nonstop on environmental causes, is an inspiration to us all.

An older women is at the heart of the story told in "My Afternoons With Margueritte," a charming French film (with English subtitles). Gisele Casadesus plays the title role, a well-read senior citizen who befriends a lonely and illiterate younger man (played by Gerard Depardieu), and they give each other purpose. It's a lovely story and a lovely film fizzing with star chemistry.

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Definitely going to see the films you listed here. Thanks!