April 11, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

Opening This Weekend
Persepolis - English language version, co-directed by Marjane Satrapi - I loved the French version so I'm sure it's just as good in English since the directors worked with the actors in the same way to make the English version. SEE THIS MOVIE!
Here's my review: Persepolis

Remaining In Theatres
Nim's Island (which I will be checking out this weekend)- has anyone else noticed how low-key this release has been?
Under the Same Moon
My Blueberry Nights- Norah Jones (the singer) stars in this film about a young woman trying to get over her obsession with an ex-boyfriend by going on the road and meeting up with other people equally as obsessed as she is. Co-stars David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman and Jude Law. The film has an amazing soundtrack with songs by Cat Power, Jones and Cassandra Wilson.) (NY & LA)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
The Other Boleyn Girl
Jellyfish (NY)

Directed by a Woman, not starring a Woman

News Briefs

  • One of the highest ranking women in theatre, Mara Manus who cleaned up the Public Theatre from a financial mess, will step down from her position as Executive Director this summer. The NY Times piece makes inferences on conflicts between her and new Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. What else is new? Chief Who Ended Fiscal Crisis Resigns from Public Theatre (NY Times)
  • One of the most highly praised documentaries of the year Trouble the Water (co-directed by Tia Lessin about a Katrina survivor) which won awards at Sundance still does not have a distributor. Eugene Hernandez at IndieWire said that one of the reasons could be that the movie is perceived as "too black." What's Up With Water? (IndieWire)
  • Screen Gems is planning a hip-hop version of Emma and Natalie Portman will star in another version of Wuthering Heights.
  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey from Grey's Anatomy) has signed on to star in the Hallmark Channel original movie “Accidental Friendship.” She will play a woman who finds herself homeless. Her life looks to be tumbling into an abyss until she unexpectedly crosses paths with a female police officer who helps put her life back on track. The movie, written by Anna Sandor (Felicity: An American Girl Adventure), is set to go into production early next month to premiere sometime in late November or December. (Hollywood Reporter)
  • Logo will premiere Sordid Lives: The Series on July 23 at 10p about a dysfunctional southern family and citizens of Winters, TX. The television series, which is created, written and directed by Del Shores, will star Bonnie Bedelia (did yuo see her last week on CSI?- I think she's be a great love interest for Grissom), Beth Grant, Leslie Jordan, Rue McClanahan, Olivia Newton-John and Caroline Rhea. (Cynopsis)

April 9, 2008

Pondering the Chick Flick

Most women who work in the film business in any capacity absolutely hate the term "chick flick." They all wish the term had never been invented (who should we blame for this?) since it seems that even films made before the term was coined in the late 1980s with this definition -- "a motion picture intended to appeal especially to women" (Webster's On-line Dictionary) -- have been shoved into this category. And let's make no mistake about this: the chick flick is a pejorative and demeaning. And to take it a step further: by assigning films that star women or are about women as "chick flicks" we take away any power the women might have since quite frankly we can't say anything of import in a "lite" "chick flick" film.

It used to be the women could star or co-star in romantic comedies, but the reality in Hollywood today is that most movies that star women and are about women are no longer coined romantic comedies, they seem to be stuck with the chick flick moniker. We all know that there are other movies and stories that star women and deal with issues of substance, but most of those films now have to go the indie route and will usually not get seen by a large audience.

The studios are not in the business anymore of making movies that star women because quite frankly they don't play well overseas and the international market has become a huuuge priority for the studios. Just look at the handful of recent releases starring women from this year: You have Nim's Island (which I have not seen yet and is more targeted at kids even though it stars Jodie Foster); The Other Boleyn Girl; and the one true success this winter 27 Dresses.

The others like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Penelope, Mad Money, Bonneville, some better than others, all struggled, with Miss Pettigrew (the best movie of the lot doing the best with $10 m so far.)

As you can tell I am ambivalent at best with regard to the chick flick and so when I saw the NY Times story this morning with the Title "Wary Hollywood Plans More Chick Flicks (and Hopes to Lure the Guys) it made me want to tear my hair out. The premise is that Hollywood is all nervous about two movies now shooting Confessions of a Shopaholic starring Isla Fisher and directed by P.J. Hogan (a guy) based on the Sophie Kinsella novel, and Julia & Julia starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams directed by Nora Ephron and based on the best selling memoir of the same name.

The male producers of the film are really trying to make it clear that these films are for a wide audience not just women. Uber producer Jerry Bruckheimer said about his film Shopaholic: “We all have spending habits, a lot of us do,” and Laurence Mark said about Julie & Julia: "We hope this will be a movie for everyone who likes eating."

What pissed me off about this is that they never have these conversations or issues with movies that star men. Why is everyone so nervous about movies that star women? It's probably because that Hollywood is predicated on the fact that women will go see movies that star men and that men won't go see movies that star women.

But women go to the movies, we bought over 50% of the tickets in 2006 (according to the MPAA) and in fact older women are growing as an audience. It's just that we don't run out on opening weekend because maybe we have other priorities and also maybe because the theatres are too crowded. I think that Hollywood should a) make better movies that star women cause no one wants to see a stinker; and b) stop worrying about getting men to come see movies about women and try and figure out how to get WOMEN to see these movies cause we all know they are doing a bad job at that.

Hollywood Plans More Chick Flicks (And Hopes to Lure the Guys)

April 8, 2008

Pretty is What Changes- Interview with author and TV writer Jessica Queller

What would you do if you watched your mother wither away and suffer from breast and ovarian cancer and then discovered that you had the gene that gave you an 87% chance of getting the same cancer? Jessica Queller, a Hollywood TV writer (The Gilmore Girls, Felicity and Gossip Girl) was confronted with this quandary after testing positive for the BRCA-1 gene. In her new, powerful memoir Pretty is What Changes, Queller takes us through her mother's illness, her devastation and her own brave journey towards a preventive prophylactic mastectomy to prevent her from getting any type of cancer. From her TV experience, Queller clearly knows how to write accessibly and her book is interesting, informative and at times very scary and heartbreaking.

Queller answered some questions about her book and about being a woman writer in Hollywood.

Women & Hollywood: How did you come up with the title Pretty is What Changes?

Jessica Queller: I spent a lot of time trying to come up with the right title for this book. One of the titles I considered was "There Is No Better Place" which was a quote from my mother. When my mother was gravely ill she continued to fight like a wildcat to survive. The hospice nurse, Sharon, told my sister and I that hanging on after her body was ready to go would only increase our mother's suffering. Sharon instructed us to tell our mom that it was okay to let go -- assure her that we would always love her and think of her every single day -- but that we would be okay without her. My sister and I obeyed, and one afternoon I assured my mom that we'd be okay and that she would "go to a better place." My mother raised her eyebrow skeptically and said to me, with her morphine-slurred words, "There is no better place." That summed up my mother's passion for life, desire to go on living. She wanted to live so desperately. Cancer cut her life short.
My mother was a great beauty (a dead-ringer for Jacqueline Bisset) and a glamorous fashion designer. Another large theme in the book is how her ideas about beauty -- and my own ideas about beauty -- evolved through the course of my mother's illness. She put great emphasis on 'prettiness' and taught my sister and I that the most important thing for a girl was to be pretty. As cancer ravaged my mother, all artifice was stripped away and my mother's true soul shone through -- her fierce love for her daughters, her love of life. It became apparent to her, and to my sister and me, that true beauty went far beyond the external -- it was about the soul, inside stuff -- the choices we make, how we live our lives. I've always been a great fan of Stephen Sondheim and the lyrics from Sunday In The Park With George, "Pretty isn't Beautiful, Mother" kept running through my head. The fact that prettiness is not true beauty. I sent the full quote to my editor, Julie Grau: "Pretty isn't beautiful, mother. Pretty is what changes. What the eye arranges is what is beautiful." Once we both saw the lyrics in print, it became apparent that "Pretty Is What Changes" was the title we'd been looking for.
W&H: It seems that the turning point for you was the writing of the op-ed piece in the NY Times. Talk a little about how that experience made you realize you had something to say on this topic.
JQ: When I tested positive for the BRCA-1 mutation I wasn't at all ready to deal with it. I had only taken the test because I felt certain that I would NOT carry the gene mutation and I thought it would be comforting to have a clean bill of health in writing. I was shocked to test positive and I stuck the test results in a drawer, blocking it out for three months. My college friend Kay happened to be an editor at the Op-Ed page of the NY Times. She asked if I'd be interested in writing an Op-Ed piece on the subject. I had no intention of doing research on my own behalf, but the notion of writing an Op-Ed piece was so exciting to me that I said of course I would become an expert on the subject and interview doctors all around the country! In the course of doing research for the 'article' I became educated about BRCA and also realized that I was in danger. It was writing the article that forced me to confront my own medical situation. There was an outpouring of responses to the article which quite naturally led to the notion of writing a book.
W&H: You have an amazing support structure of friends and family who helped you in your decision making process, the surgery and the recovery. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to help their friends get through such difficult times. What worked best? What was a total disaster?
JQ: My friends were incredible to me throughout my ordeal. The most meaningful thing was how supported I was. A few of my best friends were a bit aggressive in the beginning when i was in denial about having the gene -- they nudged me (or shoved me!) toward dealing with the matter. They were blunt but always loving. Once I began the journey of educating myself and deciding what course of action to take my friends were purely supportive, listening for hours as I processed the information and obsessed. So many of my friends supported my decision to take preventative action full-heartedly and without any judgment. They made me feel courageous for taking action. Overall, the most important thing a friend can do in this situation is to listen, to support, to be present and loving.
W&H: Hollywood is so obsessed with unrealistic expectations about how women should look and places unrealistic expectations on them. How do you handle that obsession in your work and your life?
JQ: Hollywood is not a healthy place for women!! Even though I've lived there on and off for a decade, I still feel like a New Yorker and identify with being a New Yorker. The ideal of beauty in Hollywood tends to be blond, buxom and botoxed. That has never been my taste or aesthetic. I try to remain true to myself, remember that beauty is made up of more than the exterior -- that intelligence, humanity, compassion, humor all go into making a woman a true beauty. Of course I try to take care of myself -- i exercise, go for facials, etc! But I do my best not to internalize Hollywood's beauty standards and to value my own.
W&H: You're back at work now that the writers strike is over. What has changed for writers and what's it like being a woman TV writer in Hollywood?
JQ: Being a woman TV writer in Hollywood can be trying. It's not unusual to be the only woman on the staff and to be in a frat-like atmosphere in the writers' room. The main tool to get you through is a good sense of humor. I've been fortunate lately in that I've worked on female-centric dramadies with other amazing women writers. I have come across quite a few female bosses who are bitchy and mean to other women -- I find this shameful and depressing. Thankfully I've met many more incredible, nurturing women than I have bitchy ones. I feel it's essential for women to help each other, support each other, especially in this business. I do find that good people flock together. I've been amazingly fortunate in the friendships I've made with other female writers I've worked with.
W&H: You've written on some of the most beloved female-centric shows in recent times like Felicity and the Gilmore Girls and now the hot Gossip Girl. Talk a little about how these types of shows have evolved and what effect they have on girls and young women today.
JQ: I've worked on Felicity, The Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl. These shows all carry great appeal to young female viewers. Each of these shows have presented different images of young women, yet all of the portraits seem to resonate greatly. It's gratifying for me to hear how girls identified with Felicity or Rory on The Gilmore Girls. The Gossip Girl characters are less earthy, much more dominated by wealth and privilege. I think there has always been a vicarious pleasure in watching shows about rich and pampered people who get to live lives beyond what most of us can imagine.
W&H: What advice would you give a young woman who wants to be a TV writer?
JQ: If you want to be a TV writer, I think it's important to define what type of TV writer you want to be -- find a niche and stick to it -- at least at first while you're establishing yourself as a useful commodity. Do you want to write procedural shows like Law & Order and CSI? There's a need for women's voices in procedurals, an arena dominated by men. If you want to write relationship shows then make sure your samples reflect this and show you off well. Keep writing, keep honing your skills, don't turn anything in that you're not proud of.
W&H: What do you want women (and men) who read your book to get out of it?
JQ: Cancer has become an epidemic in our society. I feel lucky that there was a genetic test available to warn me of my predisposition to two deadly cancers. I hope that the description of my mother's suffering and death will impart to people how scary cancer can be, and inspire those at high risk to seek information that could spare them that sort of horror. I especially hope that my story will help others at high risk not to feel afraid to take preventative action.
Book is available everywhere now.

April 7, 2008

Interview with Lisa F. Jackson, Director of The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

Getting back up to speed after a week away and wanted to remind folks that tomorrow night at 10pm on HBO is the premiere of Lisa Jackson excellent documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.

Here is a rerun of an interview I did with Lisa when the film premiered at Sundance earlier this year.

Women & Hollywood: Why did you want to make this movie?

Lisa Jackson: It's an invisible story as a lot of women's stories are, the horrific tale of the systematic rape and mutilation of hundred and thousands of women. It's just stunning to me that nobody was reporting it. The NY Times did one story on this angle of the war. But what they are doing to women…not only the militias from the neighboring countries but the Congolese army itself. I interviewed soldiers who were raping the very women they were supposed to be protecting.
W&H: It was amazing that when you were talking to the rapists how they had a complete and total disconnect from the harm they were actually causing.
LJ: They [the Congolese army] see themselves as just "raping" whereas the militias are the one who mutilate the women and fire guns into their vaginas. But the end result is exactly the same. The women are shunned, turned out from their villages and abandoned. So the end result is exactly the same and that they parse the difference is just ridiculous, the disconnect is pretty profound.
W&H: You made yourself a character in the film. Why did you do that?
LJ: It wasn't something I was initially going to do but people who saw rough cuts said that I absolutely had to because it was through telling them my story [of being raped] that the barriers between us came down.
W&H: What compelled you to go to the Congo?
LJ: Here was this story, the stories of these women and no one was telling it. It seemed important to me not to have some hand wringing piece but to actually listen to the women's stories. These are women who are silent and to be able to share their story with someone who was not judging them was an experience none of them ever had.
I went to Kinshasa on frequent flyer miles and with documentaries you never know what you are getting into. I don’t have much experience shooting in conflict zones but a friend working with the UN Peacekeepers was able to get me a UN credential. I then made my way east to where the real nightmare was unfolding.

My radar is particularly attuned to those voices, which are the other side of war. I thought for years of doing a survey film on the fate of women and girls in conflict zones because of the ongoing devastating effects of war. So I went to the worst place first to shoot.

I am continuing the theme and have been to Colombia twice in the last three months doing a film on displaced women. It is said that 60% of the women in Colombia have suffered either physical or sexual violence. This is another one of those invisible stories, and it is a requirement of a documentary to find stories that otherwise you would never hear about.
W&H: How did it feel being a first world white woman going into a third world country?
LJ: I thought that through before I went. I was a white woman in the bush with a camera. I might as well have been dumped from a spaceship. I thought that as much as I could it was important to let them know I was one of them so I brought photographs to demystify where I was coming from and I shared my story of rape. They kept asking me about the war [thinking that rape only occurs in timer of war]. They asked lots of questions including, did you family know you were raped? How was it is you got married? They were fascinated that I had a boyfriend, and they were stunned to hear that I chose not to have children.
Their questions pointed to how different we really were. I feel an intense responsibility to them. It was the rare woman who would tell me her story without pleading for help for her and her sisters.
W&H: Why do you think that women directors are so well represented in documentaries versus features?
LJ: I've only made documentaries for 35 years, but the thing about docs especially now, is that you have the option of doing it on your own. On this film I shot it, did the sound, directed, and edited it -- I was a one-person band. I tried for almost a year to get funding. I have never done a doc this way but you really do have that option especially working on a small scale. You have a lot more control. This is also a film that nobody would have funded because it's such a bummer subject, but once people see it they are shocked that nobody has done it before. I knew that once I got over there are started filming that I would get support because people would see from the women's faces hear their stories and realize what a compelling subject it was.
W&H: What can people do to help?
LJ: We are putting together an outreach strategy around the culture of impunity to hopefully pressure the Congo government to prosecute rapists. We will provide resources where people can donate money. But also it's important for the first world to look at its role. This is an economic war. The blood of Congolese women are on our cell phones. It's important to understand that it's not just a bunch of crazy Africans killing each other. There is an economic imperative behind the pillaging, killing and rape.
To strike at the women is to strike at the heart of the culture. If you destroy women the civilization collapses.
For more information and to see the trailer: http://www.thegreatestsilence.org/