Wadjda is the first feature from award-winning director Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first woman from Saudi Arabia to direct a feature-length film. It follows the story of a Saudi girl who enters her school’s Koran-reciting competition because she wants to use the prize money to buy herself a bicycle. However, this is a country where bicycle riding is frowned upon for girls. Since premiering last year at the Venice Film Festival, Wadjda has been winning awards at film festivals all over the world, including the Audience Award for Best International Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Although Wadjda is the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, it won’t be playing there any time soon. Movie theaters are banned in the country.
Directed by Amy Marquis, this project funds the first of ten short films following the personal stories of visitors whose lives have been changed by America’s National Parks. The films are being timed to celebrate the upcoming 2016 National Parks Service centennial.
As explained on the project’s Kickstarter page, it looks like they’ll start with this one:
“Love in the Tetons.* This September, something really special is happening in Grand Teton National Park: A wedding. But not just any wedding. The groom is a young Mexican-American from south-central Los Angeles, who had no connection with nature until an urban-youth program introduced him to the national parks and completely changed the trajectory of his life. The bride hails from a long line of migrant farm workers in Texas, but in 2006, at age 21, she left home for the first time to visit Kenai Fjord National Park in Alaska– an experience that empowered her to break out of the migrant-worker cycle. Today, she serves as both an interpretive ranger and the youth and diversity outreach coordinator in Grand Teton National Park. We’ll embed ourselves with their families, dig into stories about the generations of hard work and sacrifice that helped guide them to this special day in the Tetons, and reveal an important new vision of the “American Dream”– one that blooms out of our living, breathing national parks.”
Click here to go to the Kickstarter page for National Park Experience and support women filmmakers!
By now you may have heard of this one. It’s the documentary project on Alice Guy-Blache, who in 1896 became the world’s first female director (and one of the world’s first filmmakers, period). She created her own movie studio and made over 1000 films over the next twenty years, pioneering film technology and developing techniques such as the close-up. Yet she has been lost to history, as have so many of the women who trailblazed the film industry in its earliest years.
Now a couple of filmmakers, Pamela Green and Jarik van Slujis, are raising money on Kickstarter to tell Alice’s story in a documentary feature film. They have raised over $70,000 but they need $200,000 for the project to get made. They have five days to go in their Kickstarter campaign, and if they don’t raise the rest of the $200,000 in that time, they will forfeit the $70,000 already pledged. Now is a great time to get yourself over to Kickstarter and throw in a few bucks for this incredibly important project!
As have so many before me, I recently fell in love…with Kickstarter. It’s such a fine resource for filmmakers and it’s so fascinating to watch new film projects come together. I love how the site lets me be a part of the process by kicking in a few bucks. Frankly, crowdfunding gives me hope for the future of film because it takes the funding process out of the hands of studio execs and puts it in the hands of Internet randoms like myself. If you wonder about its possibilities for women’s film and women’s concerns, just take a look at this stopmotion short project called Henrietta Bulkowski, directed by Rachel Johnson. Be sure to take a look at her earlier short, The Toll Collector. I love how that one digs down deep into the soil of women’s insecurities about their own bodies using detailed animation that allows us to get lost in the toll collector’s little world. I expect great things to come of Johnson’s new short!
If you want to support women’s films, Kickstarter is a great way to do it, and Henrietta Bulkowski is a great place to start.
Pitch Perfect is a rollicking Glee-style comedy written by 30 Rock writer-producer Kay Cannon. Its addictive mixes and melodious cast are sure to draw high notes of laughter from audiences. Anna Kendrick (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, 50/50) plays Beca, a natural loner who dreams of becoming a professional DJ. Though it’s her freshman year, she has no interest in being in college, so she sulks around campus wearing dark eyeliner until her professor father pressures her to take part in university life. To appease him, Beca joins the Barden Bellas, an all-female competitive a cappella group that has been humiliated in the previous year’s finals. The group has lost most of its members and is desperately seeking newbies. Fortunately for the Bellas, no one can say no to a naked Brittany Snow (Hairspray).
The Bellas’ leader, a type-A control freak named Aubrey (Anna Camp), is reluctant to accept Beca because she finds the wannabe DJ a bit too “alternative” (whatever that’s supposed to mean twenty years after 1992) for the group’s prim demeanor. Still, Aubrey has little choice but to accept any girls who will audition, so she ends up with a motley collection that includes a sex addict (played by the gorgeous Alexis Knapp), a not-so-in-the-closet lesbian, a girl who speaks so quietly that no one can hear her (but who tends to mouth things like, “I ate my twin in the womb”), and Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy, “the best singer in Tazmania with teeth.”
As part of this ensemble, Beca may excel at mixing, but her character seems a bit off-key. Because Beca doesn’t have much personality other than being anti, Kendrick isn’t given enough of a chance to stand out as a comedian. Instead, the real rock star of this film is Rebel Wilson. We get to see more of her here than in Bridesmaids or Bachelorette, and it’s hardly possible to overstate her absolute brilliance as she delivers some of the best lines in the film, of which the trailer highlights only a few. Whether she’s purring a line under her breath or belting out a solo, she steals every scene she’s in.
Honorable mentions go to John Michael Higgins (Bad Teacher) and Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, People Like Us) as the anything-goes competition announcers. Their humor comes from their brutal and hilarious honesty, as when one group performs using sock puppets and finds itself introduced as “The Sockappellas, proving that it doesn’t get better for everyone after high school.” The thing that makes this film so much fun (other than its diverse, aberrant characters) is how perfectly it locates the comedy in the seriousness with which these contests are taken. As Banks’s character explains, in the world of a cappella, “A mistake can haunt you for the rest of your life — and affect your children.”
Also noteworthy is Bumper (Adam DeVine), the wonderfully slimy lead singer of the Treble Makers, a group of guys who are geeks in real life until they get on the stage, where they’re the bosses of collegiate a cappella. Even in his few scenes, DeVine (Workaholics) creates one of the film’s most memorable characters. He’s kind of like a mini Jack Black.
One can only hope and pray for a sequel featuring Wilson and DeVine as the leads. What a sophomore year that would be.
Final Verdict: Overall, Pitch Perfect is a riotous comedy with a sharp script, perfect casting and courageously-mixed music. It’s every bit as hilarious as the world of collegiate a cappella competitions should be.
Sound of My Voice is a science fiction-suspense tale about a beautiful young woman from the future who returns to the past where, sick and dying, she assembles younger versions of the people she loves to prepare them to survive the coming apocalypse.
At least, that may be what this film is about. On the other hand, it may be a psychological thriller about a pleasantly-crazy lady living in a basement in the San Fernando Valley, teaching a bunch of gullible idiots to eat worms and kidnap schoolgirls.
Either way, it’s a good movie.
Aspiring journalist Peter (Christopher Denham) is at the end of his rope. Determined to avoid a mediocre existence as a substitute schoolteacher, he must do something big with his life. He and girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) plan to make their names filming an undercover documentary about a mysterious Los Angeles cult leader. The two are initiated into the cautious circle of followers. They smuggle in a camera and learn the secret handshake. Peter and Lorna are set to expose the cult, but almost immediately things get real, and the two lovers find themselves divided over whether to get out or fall ever deeper in.
Brit Marling plays the clan’s leader, Maggie, whom we first meet as she assembles her devotees in the basement of a vacant home. She points to a tattoo on her ankle: “The number 54 refers to where I come from . . . 2054. Your future.” This Maggie is no raving mad Charles Manson-type. Instead she’s a sweetly soft-spoken muse draped in white, a blonde goddess surrounded by a toga-party of misfit adults. She doesn’t claim to be a returned Christ or ask her followers to give up their life-savings. She wants only to be with the ones she loves and teach them to survive the dark days she knows are coming.
Marling co-wrote the script with Zal Batmanglij, who directed the film. She also co-wrote and starred in Another Earth(directed by Mike Cahill), and both films premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Overall, the film intrigues as it moves ominously along. Some unforeseen movements in the plot keep viewers on their toes, and the aspects of the cult that at first seem most ridiculous pay off in the end in a satisfying way. The brilliant thing is that the film keeps us guessing. Is Maggie a meticulous fake or a bonafide, legitimate time traveler? The film gives just enough information to leave its audience hungry for more, and thankfully, more may be on its way, as the writers have promised that Sound of My Voice is just the first in a trilogy that will open up a much wider world.
Now, off to practice that handshake.
Final Verdict: Significantly better-looking than your average basement cult leader, Brit Marling gives an ethereal performance in a film that will leave you thinking about faith, skepticism, and the many alternative forms of sustenance that may be required to survive futuristic world crises.