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“Lawrence of Arabia” is no stranger to receiving restorations. To mark its 50th anniversary in 2012, it received a digital 4K restoration that took three years to complete. If you think that means we don’t need another, well think again.
Read More: 15 Essential Movies Shot On 70mm Film, From ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ to ‘Dunkirk’
International distributor Park Circus is getting ready to bring David Lean’s 1962 masterpiece back to the big screen the way it was always meant to be experienced: 70mm. That’s right, the company has given a 70mm restoration of “Lawrence of Arabia,” meaning one of the great theatrical experiences in movie history will see another day.
“Lawrence of Arabia” stars Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence, a British archaeologist and military officer who travels to the Arab Peninsula to act as a liaison during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in Wwi. He gets caught up »
- Zack Sharf
Did you ever wonder how the Middle East got to be the way it is? Many experts believe part of the answer to some of the region’s modern tensions lies in how national boundaries were drawn by European colonial powers after World War I. That a British woman played a role in the shaping of the boundaries of the Middle East – Iraq in particular – is a little known fact. That woman, Gertrude Bell, is the focus of the documentary Letters From Baghdad.
In a time when women were rarely independent, the strong-willed and aristocratic Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was a unique exception, traveling alone to the Middle East, and then immersing herself in the culture and history of the region, »
- Cate Marquis
“Wonder Woman” captured the weekend zeitgeist with reviews as good as any new adult-appeal specialized opener — and gobbled up potential audience. But that’s not the sole reason the specialty box office went to hell this weekend.
“Churchill” (Cohen), with the pedigree of an arthouse crossover winner, went nationally in top theaters but failed to capture more than desultory business. A trio of niche releases showed some mid-level interest in New York and Los Angeles — “The Exception”(A24), “Letters from Baghdad” (Vitagraph), and “Band Aid”(IFC) — but none looks likely to cross over beyond the big-city arthouse market.
The scariest weekend news: the total lack of response to Ken Loach’s Cannes 2016 Palme d’Or-winner “I, Daniel Blake.” While it’s been a long wait after a year-end qualifying run, it’s shocking that the well-reviewed BAFTA-winner met with near total disinterest.
- Tom Brueggemann
After the misfire of biopic “Queen of the Desert,” it was clear that intrepid traveler and influential Arabist Gertrude Bell, reductively known as “the female T.E. Lawrence,” needed her reputation rescued from Werner Herzog’s ill-advised effort. In stepped directors Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl with “Letters From Baghdad,” a carefully researched documentary that uses an extraordinary wealth of appealing archival footage accompanied by Tilda Swinton’s voiceover as Bell. The directors’ backgrounds as editor (Krayenbühl) and photographer (Oelbaum), together with their appreciation for the lands Bell felt most attached to, are clearly on display in the largely sensitive way they handle the material on visual and historical levels.
Getting Swinton on board doing double duty as voiceover actor and executive producer was a wise marketing decision, while the involvement of Thelma Schoonmaker and Kevin Brownlow assured appropriate attention would be given to the artistic and archival sides. The film »
- Jay Weissberg
Interview by Kate Gardner
Sabine Krayenbühl is an award-winning editor with over 20 theatrical documentaries and narrative features to her credit. Her work includes Oscar and Independent Spirit Award-nominated “My Architect,” for which she received an American Cinema Editors (Ace) Eddie Award nomination. Her other credits include “Mad Hot Ballroom,” “Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies,” “My Reincarnation,” and “Kiss the Water.” Krayenbühlis is a long-term member of New York Women in Film and Television. “Letters from Baghdad” is her directorial debut.
Zeva Oelbaum is an award-winning producer and photographer. She recently produced “Ahead of Time,” a feature length documentary about centenarian journalist Ruth Gruber which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film opened theatrically across the U.S. and was broadcast on Showtime Channel. She previously worked as a still photographer. Her work has been extensively published in periodicals such as The New York Times Magazine, and her photographs are in international public collections including the Bibliothèque nationale de France and The Brooklyn Museum.
“Letters from Baghdad” opens in New York today, June 2.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Sk&Zo: “Letters from Baghdad” is a feature length hybrid documentary about a true original — Gertrude Bell — sometimes called the “female Lawrence of Arabia.” Voiced and executive produced by Academy Award-winning actor Tilda Swinton, the film tells the dramatic story of this British spy, explorer, and political powerhouse who helped shape the modern Middle East after Wwi.
Using stunning never-seen-before footage of the region shot a century ago, the film chronicles Bell’s extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of male colonial power.
In a region of the world notorious for conflicting narratives, we wanted to reveal the unfiltered views of the important players of the day. So, one thing that makes our film stand apart is that the story is told entirely in the words of Gertrude Bell and her contemporaries, excerpted from their intimate letters, private diaries, and official documents. It is a unique window into a remarkable woman and the tangled history of Iraq and although it takes place in the past, it is eerily current.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Sk&Zo: We have both traveled extensively in the Middle East and are very familiar with many of the regions that Gertrude Bell explored 100 years before us. We were attracted to Bell as a compelling character after we both read her definitive biography by Janet Wallach, “Desert Queen.”
We discovered how enormously powerful and influential she had been during her day, yet is virtually forgotten today. Even a recent biography about her colleague and friend T.E. Lawrence omitted her completely. We wanted to find out why.
She left behind over 1600 private letters that revealed a fascinating woman who was arrogant, vulnerable, confident, and complex. A perfect subject for a film!
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Sk&Zo: Gertrude Bell championed the diversity of the Middle East and observed that the people of the region were more tolerant of other ethnicities and religions than the rigid Victorian England of her youth. She had a sincere interest in other cultures and a curiosity and passion to discover a world she was unfamiliar with.
Our hope for the viewer is that they come away from film with a more nuanced understanding about the history and the peoples of this portion of the Arab world. Gertrude Bell became an inspiration to us and we hope that she can inspire others as well, especially young women.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Sk&Zo: We encountered many challenges. Our first concern was that we would not find enough archival footage of the Middle East from 100 years ago, but we were dazzled by the quantity and quality of the footage we uncovered in archives around the world.
Our second challenge was finding funding for a historical documentary which was centered around a person that had died nearly a century ago. How would we bring her and her story to life? It had to be told from her point of view by creating a narrative that would take the viewer back in time to a place completely unexpected.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Sk&Zo: Luckily we received two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. We also launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign and were able to raise money with tax-deductible contributions through our fiscal sponsor, Ifp. With the help of our UK co-producer, Missing In Action Films, we were able to receive valuable UK tax incentives for our shoot in London.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Sk&Zo: The best and worst advice was the same. Everyone said, “Don’t do a historical documentary; it’s too hard to fund and too hard to sell.”
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Sk&Zo: There is only one answer: Let your passion lead the way.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
W&H: Have you seen opportunities for women filmmakers increase over the last year due to the increased attention paid to the issue? If someone asked you what you thought needed to be done to get women more opportunities to direct, what would be your answer?
Sk&Zo: In the documentary field, women have been pretty well represented. There is always room for improvement.
“Letters from Baghdad” Directors on Spy, Explorer, and Political Powerhouse Gertrude Bell was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Women and Hollywood
MaryAnn’s quick take… This may be Werner Herzog’s most conventional film, but its mostly untold true story knows what it means for a woman to choose a life of adventure and intellect. I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Have you heard that there is a new movie, a sweeping biopic of a major historical figure, written and directed by Werner Herzog, starring Nicole Kidman, James Franco, and Robert Pattinson? Seems like kind of a big deal, doesn’t it? Seems like the kind of movie you’d hear a lot about. Instead, Queen of the Desert has been sitting on a shelf since it debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015 — more than two years ago — because… why? Why did it just now get a »
- MaryAnn Johanson
He’s taken one of the most fascinating and unconventional routes with his stardom.
The thinkpiece-industrial complex is running at full speed this spring to update the cinephile community’s consensus of major stars. In case you’re behind, adjust your opinions to reflect the following changes: Reese Witherspoon is still good, Kristen Stewart is now really good, Anne Hathaway is great because her haters were sexist, and Nicole Kidman is underappreciated despite receiving an Oscar nomination this very year.
One star whose evaluation has yet to appear from the hot take factory is Robert Pattinson, who features in two theatrical releases this April, Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert (quickly dumped in theaters and VOD over two years after its 2015 Berlin premiere) and James Gray’s The Lost City of Z. Five years ago, the cultural ubiquity of “R-Pattz” was so enormous that the future President of the United States tweeted about him six times »
- Marshall Shaffer
The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin has acquired the archive of British theater and film actor Peter O’Toole.
O’Toole began his career as a theater actor in Britain and went on to receive eight Academy Award nominations for films including “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “My Favorite Year,” and “Venus.” His 1962 role as the titular character in “Lawrence of Arabia” made him a household name. In 2002, O’Toole received an honorary Academy Award for his lifetime of work.
The archive contains several theater and film scripts, as well as O’Toole’s writings, including drafts and notes from his three memoirs, the last of which remains unfinished and unpublished since his death. Letters between O’Toole and other renowned members of the film and theater industries are also included, with correspondents like Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Michael Caine, Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, and Laurence Olivier among them. »
- Erin Nyren
MaryAnn’s quick take… One of the most cinematically beautiful documentaries ever is a phenomenal portrait of a shamefully forgotten woman who helped shape political history. I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
If there was any justice in the world, T.E. Lawrence — aka Lawrence of Arabia — would be known as “the male Gertrude Bell,” instead of Bell being spoken of, when she is spoken of at all, as “the female Lawrence of Arabia.” Lawrence, 20 years her junior, was barely out of diapers when Bell first journeyed from England to the Middle East, and by the time he was traipsing around the desert, he was using intelligence on the local landscape — political and well as geographical — that she had gathered by living and working among the Arab tribes and gaining their enormous respect. »
- MaryAnn Johanson
Henry Bevan with his top five movie explorers…
The film follows the exploits of the real-life explorer Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam, leading up to his famous disappearance in 1925. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his disappearance have turned Fawcett into a figure almost as mythological as the city he was looking for.
His “myth” has impacted culture and he has inspired the creation of many fictional explorers. Inspired by the film’s Us release, here are the Top 5 Movie Explorers.
5) Milo Thatch – Atlantis: The Lost Empire
If there is one hallmark of many movie explorers it is that they must be obsessed with finding a lost city. Milo Thatch from Disney’s underrated Atlantis: The Lost Empire has been searching for Atlantis his whole life. »
- Henry Bevan
Queen of the Desert, 2015.
Written and Directed by Werner Herzog.
A chronicle of Gertrude Bell’s life, a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.
Movies right here like Queen of the Desert are why directors such as Quentin Tarantino have stated they’re entering retirement after a set number of films. Werner Herzog (who wrote and directed the film) is obviously one of the most revered and iconic filmmakers of all time, but there comes a point where you lose your touch and start pumping out junk. Furthermore, no one wants to see prestigious directors churning out terrible offerings that are slight blemishes on an otherwise outstanding resume.
It’s a shame Queen of the Desert »
- Robert Kojder
What does it say about the current appeal of Werner Herzog's fiction films when his star-studded 2015 period adventure, Queen of the Desert, hasn't been released until now? Between its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival and its appearance in U.S. cinemas, the German director has released two documentaries—both stellar—and shown yet another fiction drama on the festival circuit, the truly bizarre Salt and Fire. Now in theatres, Herzog's first fictional feature film since his two-shot salvo of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and My Son, My Son, What Have You Done? in 2009 is certainly his most expansive drama for decades. With a cast of James Franco, Robert Pattinson, and Damian Lewis, all led by Nicole Kidman, Queen of the Desert adapts the true saga of Gertrude Bell, an utterly unique woman who at the turn of the last century plunged into the »
Films About Women Opening This Week“Their Finest”
“Their Finest” sees Gemma Arterton as Catrin, a young woman hired to write lines for women in British war propaganda movies. It’s a movie within a movie dealing with gender roles in the ’40s that at times feels all-too-relevant. Catrin’s paid less, she’s treated like a second class citizen, yet she endears herself to the operation which is vital to the morale of the British citizens during the war. Arterton, one of the finest young actresses working, infuses Catrin with some serious spunk in her endeavor to be taken seriously. (Melissa Silverstein)
Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Lone Scherfig.
Read Women and Hollywood’s interview with Gemma Arterton.
Find tickets and screening info here.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a mess. She gets kicked out of the apartment she shares with her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) — which served as a way station for her partying friends — and she winds up on the floor of her childhood house in the town everyone tries to escape from. She re-meets a childhood friend (Jason Sudeikis), starts to work in his bar, and then discovers that she is fueling a Godzilla-like monster wreaking havoc on Seoul, South Korea. The premise is crazy, but the movie works. There is a twist, which I won’t reveal, that illuminates a great gender discussion and sets Gloria on the path to taking her life back. (Melissa Silverstein)
Find screening info here.
Queen of the Desert (Opens in NY and La) (Available on VOD April 14)
Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) chafes against the stifling rigidity of life in turn-of-the-century England, leaving it behind for a chance to travel to Tehran. So begins her lifelong adventure across the Arab world, a journey marked by danger, a passionate affair with a British officer (James Franco), and an encounter with the legendary T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson). Stunningly shot on location in Morocco and Jordan, “Queen of the Desert” reveals how an ahead-of-her-time woman shaped the course of history. (Press materials)
Bethany (Also Available on VOD)
Claire (Stefanie Estes) and her husband (Zack Ward) find themselves moving back into Claire’s childhood home only to have the abusive and traumatic memories of her mother come back to haunt her. As her husband starts to get more work, Claire finds herself mixed up in a fog of past and present with a mysterious figure haunting her memories. What is this small figure that is trying to reach out to her, and what does it want? (Press materials)
The Assignment (Also Available on VOD)
Hitman Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) is given a lethal assignment, but after being double-crossed, he discovers he’s not the man he thought he was — he’s been surgically altered and now has the body of a woman. Seeking vengeance, Frank heads for a showdown with the person (Sigourney Weaver) who transformed him, a brilliant surgeon with a chilling agenda of her own. (Press materials)
Find tickets and screening info here.
Films About Women Currently Playing“The Zookeeper’s Wife”
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Also Available on DirecTV)
Despite the Falling Show — Written and Directed by Shamin Sarif (Also Available on VOD)
Here Alone (Also Available on VOD)
God Knows Where I Am (Documentary)
Dig Two Graves (Also Available on VOD)
A Woman, a Part — Written and Directed by Elisabeth Subrin
Raw — Written and Directed by Julia Ducournau
The Women’s Balcony — Written by Shlomit Nechama
Sophie and the Rising Sun — Written and Directed by Maggie Greenwald (Also Available on VOD)
The Lure — Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska
20th Century Women
Films Directed by Women Opening This Week“Alive and Kicking”
“Alive and Kicking” is a feature-length documentary that takes an inside look into the culture of Swing dancing and the characters who make it special. It explores the culture surrounding Swing dance from the emergence of the Lindy Hop to the modern day international phenomenon. The film follows the growth of Swing dance from its purely American roots as an art form, to countries all over the world. “Alive and Kicking” looks at the lives of the Swing dancers themselves to find their personal stories and why this dance fills them with joy. (Press materials)
Find tickets and screening info here.
i hate myself :) (Documentary) — Directed by Joanna Arnow (Opens in NY) (Available on VOD April 11)
Nebbishy filmmaker Joanna Arnow documents her yearlong relationship with racially charged poet-provocateur James Kepple. What starts out as an uncomfortably intimate portrait of a dysfunctional relationship and protracted mid-twenties adolescence quickly turns into a complex commentary on societal repression, sexuality, and self-confrontation through art. (Press materials)
Find screening info here.
Glory — Co-Written and Co-Directed by Kristina Grozeva (Opens April 12)
Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov), a railroad worker, finds millions of leva on the train tracks. He decides to turn the money over to the police, for which the state rewards him with a new wristwatch that soon stops working. Meanwhile, Julia Staikova (Margita Gosheva), head of the PR department of the Ministry of Transport, loses Petrov’s old watch, a family relic. Here starts his desperate struggle to recover both his old watch and his dignity. (Press materials)
Films Directed by Women Currently Playing“David Lynch: The Art Life”
For Here or to Go? — Directed by Rucha Humnabadkar
The Prison — Written and Directed by Na Hyun
Cezanne and I — Written and Directed by Danièle Thompson
Bluebeard — Written and Directed by Soo-youn Lee
Films Written by Women Opening This Week“Smurfs: The Lost Village”
In this fully animated, all-new take on the Smurfs, a mysterious map sets Smurfette (Demi Lovato) and her friends Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) on an exciting race through the Forbidden Forest leading to the discovery of the biggest secret in Smurf history. (Press materials)
Find tickets and screening info here.
After James (Dan Stevens), a blind man, inexplicably regains his vision, he becomes possessed by a drive to make a better life for himself. However, his new improvements — a nicer home, a higher paying job, tailored suits, luxury car — leave little room for the people who were part of his old, simpler life: his wife (Malin Akerman) and close friend (Oliver Platt). As his relationships buckle under the strain of his snowballing ambition, it becomes uncertain if James can ever return from darkness. (Press materials)
Find screening info here.
Films Written by Women Currently Playing
A Dog’s Purpose — Written by Cathryn Michon
The Red Turtle — Co-written by Pascale Ferran
TV Premieres This Week
Casey Anthony: An American Murder Mystery (Miniseries) (Premieres April 9 on ID)
Lies, betrayal, and murder. What happened to Caylee Anthony? This three-part special looks inside one of the most controversial murder cases in American history. Explore the captivating investigation with interviews from the family at the center of it all. (Press materials)
Drawing on unpublished diaries, memoirs, and letters, “The Great War” tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators, and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African-American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American “code talkers,” and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten. It is a story of heroism and sacrifice that would ultimately claim 15 million lives and profoundly change the world forever. (Press materials)
Pop’s new original comedy series turns the camera on real-life friends who are bonded by a sisterhood only they can share as former child stars who grew up in the ’90s limelight: Jodie Sweetin (“Full House,” “Fuller House”), Christine Lakin (“Step By Step”), and Beverley Mitchell (“7th Heaven”). In this improvised comedy, the three actresses play exaggerated versions of themselves in their current Hollywood lives. With the support of one another, this girl squad can take on anything when it comes to parenting, marriage, friendship, and revived careers in Hollywood. (Press materials)
VOD/DVD Releasing This Week“Toni Erdmann”
3 Hikers (Documentary) — Written and Directed by Natalie Avital (VOD, Available Now)
Brimstone (DVD, April 11)
Hidden Figures (VOD/DVD, April 11)
Ovum — Written by Sonja O’Hara (VOD/DVD, April 11)
Picks of the Week from Women and Hollywood
Finding the Balance: Crowdfunding Picks
Guest Post: How One Non-Profit Changed The Game For Parents At SXSW
April 2017 Film Preview
On Women and Hollywood This WeekIronheart aka Riri Williams: Marvel
Melissa Stack to Make Directorial Debut with Vacation Comedy
Actor Asia Kate Dillon Questions Emmys’ Gender Binary Acting Categories
Pussy Riot Documentary “Act & Punishment” Gets U.S. Release
Finding the Balance: Crowdfunding Picks
Shonda Rhimes’ MasterClass on Writing for Television Is Now Available
Iliza Shlesinger’s Late-Night Show “Truth & Iliza” Gets Premiere Date
“That’s So Raven” Spinoff Ordered to Series
Trailer Watch: “Anne” Can Do Anything a Boy Can Do and More
Bette Midler to Be Honored by Drama League, Keeps Breaking Broadway Records
Trailer Watch: Chelsea Handler Is Back and Brasher than Ever in Season 2 of “Chelsea”
Wtf of the Day: Marvel Exec Thinks Female & Diverse Characters Are Ruining Sales
Tallgrass Film Festival to Launch Female-Helmed Doc Competition
Trailer Watch: “Wynonna Earp” Is on the Fury Road Express in Season 2
Character First: April VOD and Web Series Picks
Gurinder Chadha Moves to TV with FremantleMedia-Backed Bend It TV
Guest Post: What Inspired Me to Make a Film About Retirees
Lifetime and National Women’s Soccer League Announce 2017 Game of the Week Schedule
Guest Post: How One Non-Profit Changed The Game For Parents At SXSW
Sony Buys Rights to Emil Ferris’ Graphic Novel “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters”
Women Execs Appointed at British Film Institute, Creative BC, and Annapurna
HBO Announces TV Adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend”
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs Accepts CinemaCon Pioneer of the Year Award
Weekly Reads from Around the Internet
The Women of “Iron Fist”: Marvel Continues to Struggle in Developing Their Woman Characters by Victoria Goff (Bitch Media)
How Feud Recreates the World of 1963 Hollywood, According to its Production Designer by Caroline Framke (Vox)
Female-Written ‘Daria’ Was Groundbreaking and Would Still Be an Exception Today by Carey Purcell (Mic)
Follow Women and Hollywood on Twitter @WomenaHollywood and Melissa Silverstein @melsil.
To contact Women and Hollywood, email email@example.com
Weekly Update for April 7: Women Centric, Directed, and Written Films Playing Near You was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
Welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly look at the new movies hitting theaters this weekend, as well as other cool events and things to check out.
Three New Movies May Have Trouble Making Much of a Mark
After a couple impressive March weekends with one new box office record, and a couple impressive openings, we’re now into April, and of the new movies, there just doesn’t seem like anything can defeat last week’s powerful duo of DreamWorks Animation’s The Boss Baby--which exceeded all predictions with $49 million, taking the top spot from Beauty and the Beast. Ghost in the Shell didn’t even do as well as I thought it may, opening with just $19 million, those late reviews helping to kill its weekend.
- Edward Douglas
Nicole Kidman and director Werner Herzog bring to life the true story of a trailblazing woman who found freedom in the Middle East. Gertrude Bell (Kidman) leaves behind her buttoned-up life in England for Tehran. Her excursion across the post-World War I Middle East takes her from finding love with a British officer (James Franco), and an encounter with the legendary T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson) – the character that inspired the film Lawrence Of Arabia. While that previous cinematic classic that will come to mind several times while watching this one, the nostalgia doesn’t help matters across this long desert trip.
Nicole Kidman lends the famous traveler, writer, and cartographer just the right amount of spitfire and gumption, especially towards the beginning of the film – she looks towards the heavens and wishes for an earthquake to take her away from a lavish party that she doesn’t want to be attending. »
- Michael Haffner
If there’s one thing that April showers bring, it’s a plethora of films that feature women holding both the camera and the pen. Female screenwriters, in particular, drive this month’s selection of women-centric and women-created films; over a dozen female-written projects of all genres, shapes, and sizes will hit the silver screen. We at Women and Hollywood could get used to this number — couldn’t you?
As promised, April immediately kicks off with the release of various female-written projects, including the kid-friendly blockbuster “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” Swing dance documentary “Alive and Kicking,” and the much anticipated drama “Their Finest.”
Directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Gaby Chiappe, “Their Finest” highlights British female scriptwriters who were employed during the Second World War to bring write dialogue or “slop” as they called it to war time propaganda films. By doing so, this film emphasizes the (often-ignored) historical role that women have always played behind the screen.
“Colossal,” a SXSW favorite starring Anne Hathaway, also opens on April 7. “Colossal” takes the notion of personification to the next level, as a young woman discovers that a monster and its destructive actions, though thousands of miles away, are somehow tied to her ongoing mental breakdown. It’s also a classic story of a potential relationship that goes awry and how ugly and global the repercussions can be. A quirky combination of comedy, sci-fi, action, and a bit of drama, this film will surely highlight how female protagonists fight back.
On April 14, “Little Boxes,” written by Annie J. Howell, finally hits theaters. As many will recall, this film signed one of the biggest distribution deals during last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It follows an interracial family who moves from New York City to a less-than-cultured suburb in Washington. Starring Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis, and Armani Jackson, this dramedy offers a timely commentary on race, class, and intellectualism.
For those interested, mid-April offers a healthy dose of feature documentaries, including Vanessa Gould’s “Obit.” Gould and her team provide a first-hand look inside the obituary department of The New York Times and, by doing so, challenge viewers to pose their own questions about life, memory, and the passage of time.
Women-centric thriller “Unforgettable” also opens mid-April, specifically the 21st. Directed by Denise Di Novi and co-written by Christina Hodson, this film explores the all-too familiar (and at times problematic) trope of female jealousy between ex-wife and new fiancé.
April’s final weekend features “The Circle” and “Below Her Mouth.” Another spring release starring Emma Watson, “The Circle” follows a young woman assigned to work on a project for a major social media company. As she delves deeper into this digital world, she uncovers the dangers of a thoroughly public life.
Focusing instead on “real” interpersonal connections, “Below Her Mouth” explores a weekend affair between two very different women. Directed by April Mullen and written by Stephanie Fabrizi, this film contemplates how a single event may alter one’s life forever.
Here are all of the women-centric, women-directed, and women-written films debuting in April. All descriptions are from press materials unless otherwise noted.
In Waziristan, “one of the most dangerous places on earth,” Maria Toorpakai defies the Taliban — disguising herself as a boy, so she can play sports freely. But when she becomes a rising star, her true identity is revealed, bringing constant death threats on her and her family. Undeterred, they continue to rebel for their freedom.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an out-of-work party girl who finds herself in relationship trouble with her sensible boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), and is forced to move back to her tiny hometown to get her life back on track. She reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a good-natured bar owner with a coterie of drinking buddies (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell), and resumes her drinking lifestyle. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a larger-than-life creature begins attacking Seoul, South Korea on a nightly basis, captivating spectators around the world. One night, Gloria is horrified to discover that her every move at a local playground is being mimicked on a catastrophic scale by the rampaging beast. When Gloria’s friends get wind of the bizarre phenomenon, a second, more destructive creature emerges, prompting an epic showdown between the two monsters.
In this fully animated, all-new take on the Smurfs, a mysterious map sets Smurfette (Demi Lovato) and her friends Brainy (Danny Pudi), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), and Hefty (Joe Manganiello) on an exciting race through the Forbidden Forest leading to the discovery of the biggest secret in Smurf history.
“Alive and Kicking” is a feature-length documentary that takes an inside look into the culture of Swing dancing and the characters who make it special. It explores the culture surrounding Swing dance from the emergence of the Lindy Hop to the modern day international phenomenon. The film follows the growth of Swing dance from its purely American roots as an art form, to countries all over the world. “Alive and Kicking” looks at the lives of the Swing dancers themselves to find their personal stories and why this dance fills them with joy.
With London emptied of its men now fighting at the Front, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the British Ministry of Information as a “slop” scriptwriter charged with bringing “a woman’s touch” to morale-boosting propaganda films. Her natural flair quickly gets her noticed by dashing movie producer Buckley (Sam Claflin) whose path would never have crossed hers in peacetime. As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley, and a colorful crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation. Although Catrin’s artist husband looks down on her job, she quickly discovers there is as much camaraderie, laughter, and passion behind the camera as there is onscreen.
After James (Dan Stevens), a blind man, inexplicably regains his vision, he becomes possessed by a drive to make a better life for himself. However, his new improvements — a nicer home, a higher paying job, tailored suits, luxury car — leave little room for the people who were part of his old, simpler life: his wife (Malin Akerman) and close friend (Oliver Platt). As his relationships buckle under the strain of his snowballing ambition, it becomes uncertain if James can ever return from darkness.
“Bethany” (Also Available on VOD)
Claire (Stefanie Estes) and her husband (Zack Ward) find themselves moving back into Claire’s childhood home only to have the abusive and traumatic memories of her mother come back to haunt her. As her husband starts to get more work, Claire finds herself mixed up in a fog of past and present with a mysterious figure haunting her memories. What is this small figure that is trying to reach out to her, and what does it want?
“Queen of the Desert” (Opens in NY and La) (Also Available on VOD)
Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) chafes against the stifling rigidity of life in turn-of-the-century England, leaving it behind for a chance to travel to Tehran. So begins her lifelong adventure across the Arab world, a journey marked by danger, a passionate affair with a British officer (James Franco), and an encounter with the legendary T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson). Stunningly shot on location in Morocco and Jordan, “Queen of the Desert” reveals how an ahead-of-her-time woman shaped the course of history.
“The Assignment” (Also Available on VOD)
Hitman Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) is given a lethal assignment, but after being double-crossed, he discovers he’s not the man he thought he was — he’s been surgically altered and now has the body of a woman. Seeking vengeance, Frank heads for a showdown with the person (Sigourney Weaver) who transformed him, a brilliant surgeon with a chilling agenda of her own.
“Glory” — Co-Written and Co-Directed by Kristina Grozeva
Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov), a railroad worker, finds millions of leva on the train tracks. He decides to turn the money over to the police, for which the state rewards him with a new wristwatch that soon stops working. Meanwhile, Julia Staikova (Margita Gosheva), head of the PR department of the Ministry of Transport, loses Petrov’s old watch, a family relic. Here starts his desperate struggle to recover both his old watch and his dignity.
“A Quiet Passion” (Opens in NY; Opens in La April 21)
Cynthia Nixon delivers a triumphant performance as Emily Dickinson as she personifies the wit, intellectual independence, and pathos of the poet whose genius only came to be recognized after her death. Acclaimed British director Terence Davies exquisitely evokes Dickinson’s deep attachment to her close knit family along with the manners, mores, and spiritual convictions of her time that she struggled with and transcended in her poetry.
It’s the summer before sixth grade, and Clark (Armani Jackson) is the new-in-town biracial kid in a sea of white. Discovering that to be cool he needs to act “more black,” he fumbles to meet expectations, while his urban intellectual parents Mack (Nelsan Ellis) and Gina (Melanie Lynskey) also strive to adjust to small-town living. Equipped for the many inherent challenges of New York, the tight-knit family are ill prepared for the drastically different set of obstacles that their new community presents, and soon find themselves struggling to understand themselves and each other in this new suburban context. (Tribeca Film Festival)
“Maudie,” based on a true story, is an unlikely romance in which the reclusive Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) hires a fragile yet determined woman named Maudie (Sally Hawkins) to be his housekeeper. Maudie, bright-eyed but hunched with crippled hands, yearns to be independent, to live away from her protective family and she also yearns, passionately, to create art. Unexpectedly, Everett finds himself falling in love. “Maudie” charts Everett’s efforts to protect himself from being hurt, Maudie’s deep and abiding love for this difficult man, and her surprising rise to fame as a folk painter.
“Heal the Living” — Co-Written and Directed by Katell Quillévéré (Opens in NY)
“Heal the Living” follows how a car accident sets into motion a chain of events that affects everyone from the parents of the 17-year-old brain-dead teenage boy to the hospital staff to a mother of two (Anne Dorval) in need of a heart transplant.
After falling victim to a humiliating prank by the high school Queen Bee (Claudia Lee), best friends and world-class geeks, Mindy (Eden Sher) and Jodi (Victoria Justice), decide to get their revenge by uniting the outcasts of the school against her and her circle of friends.
“Tommy’s Honour” — Co-Written by Pamela Marin
“Tommy’s Honour” is based on the powerfully moving true story of the challenging relationship between “Old” Tom and “Young” Tommy Morris, the dynamic father-son team who ushered in the modern game of golf. As their fame grew, Tom (Peter Mullan) and Tommy (Jack Lowden), Scotland’s Golf Royalty, were touched by drama and personal tragedy. At first matching his father’s success, Tommy’s talent and fame grew to outshine his father’s accomplishments and respect as founder of the Open Championship in 1860 with a series of his own triumphs. But in contrast to Tommy’s public persona, his personal turmoil ultimately led him to rebel against both the aristocracy who gave him opportunity and the parents who shunned his passionate relationship with his wife.
“By the Time It Gets Dark” — Written and Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong (One Week Only in NY)
“By the Time It Gets Dark”
“By the Time It Gets Dark” encompasses multiple stories in Thailand whose connections are as spiritual as they are incidental. We meet a pair of actors whose paths take them in very different directions. We meet a young waitress serving breakfast at an idyllic country café, only to later find her employed in the busy dining room of a river cruise ship. And we meet a filmmaker interviewing an older woman whose life was transformed by the political activism of her student years and the Thammasat University massacre of 1976. (Toronto International Film Festival)
An art world upstart, provocative and elusive artist Maurizio Cattelan made his career on playful and subversive works that send up the artistic establishment, until a retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2011 finally solidified his place in the contemporary art canon. Axelrod’s equally playful profile leaves no stone unturned in trying to figure out: Who is Maurizio Cattelan?
Katherine Heigl stars as Tessa Connover, who is barely coping with the end of her marriage when her ex-husband, David (Geoff Stults), becomes happily engaged to Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) — not only bringing Julia into the home they once shared but also into the life of their daughter, Lilly (Isabella Rice). Trying to settle into her new role as a wife and a stepmother, Julia believes she has finally met the man of her dreams, the man who can help her put her own troubled past behind her. But Tessa’s jealousy soon takes a pathological turn until she will stop at nothing to turn Julia’s dream into her ultimate nightmare.
“Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” explores the remarkable life of Jeremiah Tower, one of the most controversial and influential figures in the history of American gastronomy. Tower began his career at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1972, becoming a pioneering figure in the emerging California cuisine movement. After leaving Chez Panisse, Tower went on to launch his own legendary Stars Restaurant in San Francisco. Stars was an overnight sensation and soon became one of America’s top-grossing U.S. restaurants. After several years, Tower mysteriously walked away from Stars and then disappeared from the scene for nearly two decades, only to resurface in the most unlikely of places: New York City’s fabled but troubled Tavern on the Green. There, he launched a journey of self-discovery familiar to anyone who has ever imagined themselves to be an artist.
Empires fall, love survives. When Michael (Oscar Isaac), a brilliant medical student, meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between Michael and Ana’s boyfriend Chris (Christian Bale), a famous American photojournalist dedicated to exposing political truth. As the Ottoman Empire crumbles into war-torn chaos, their conflicting passions must be deferred while they join forces to get their people to safety and survive themselves.
Set in a colorful yet gritty 1970s Boston, “Free Fire” opens with Justine (Brie Larson), a mysterious American businesswoman, and her wise-cracking associate Ord (Armie Hammer) arranging a black-market weapons deal in a deserted warehouse between Ira arms buyer Chris (Cillian Murphy) and shifty South African gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley). What starts as a polite if uneasy exchange soon goes south when tensions escalate and shots are fired, quickly leading to a full-on Battle Royale where it’s every man (and woman) for themselves.
“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” (Documentary)
“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City”
In 1960, Jane Jacobs’ book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was also an activist, who was involved in many fights in mid-century New York to stop “master builder” Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda.
“Tomorrow” (Documentary) — Co-Directed by Mélanie Laurent
As mankind is threatened by the collapse of the ecosystems, Cyril, Mélanie, Alexandre, Laurent, Raphäel, and Antoine, all in their thirties, explore the world in search of solutions that can save their children and future generations. Using the most successful experiments in every area (agriculture, energy, habitat, economy, education, democracy, and so on) they try to put back together the puzzle which may tell a new story of the future.
How do you condense a lifetime into 500 words? Digging into the endless details of the luminaries, icons, and leaders of our day, often with only a few short hours until deadline, New York Times obituary writers wrestle with how to elegantly and respectfully shape the story of a life. Step inside “the morgue” — a catacomb-like archive of meticulously ordered files and photographs that provide the raw material for a constant flow of high-profile obituaries. Meet the writers who toil at the juncture of past and present. While the job may seem morbid, they are ultimately reporting on life. (ReFrame Film Festival)
When Mae (Emma Watson) is hired to work for the world’s largest and most powerful tech & social media company, she sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics, and ultimately her personal freedom. Her participation in the experiment, and every decision she makes, begin to affect the lives and future of her friends, family, and that of humanity.
“Below Her Mouth” is a bold, uninhibited drama that begins with a passionate weekend affair between two women. Dallas (Erika Linder), a roofer, and Jasmine (Natalie Krill), a fashion editor, share a powerful and immediate connection that inevitably derails both of their lives.
“Buster’s Mal Heart”
An eccentric mountain man (Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”) is haunted by a recurring dream of being lost at sea. He discovers that the dream is real and that he is, in fact, one man in two bodies. As the silent and broken man at the center of this beautiful and mysterious drama, Malek delivers a powerful and disturbing performance. (Cucalorus Film Festival)
Freelance war reporter Alex Quade covers U.S. Special Operations Forces (Sof) on highly classified combat missions. Since 2001, she has embedded with elite Sof, including the U.S. Army Special Forces or Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy Seals, and CIA clandestine operatives to tell their stories from the front lines. “Danger Close” follows Alex as she lives alongside these highly trained forces on some of the most daring missions ever documented in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Renee Morgan (Noomi Rapace) is a single mom, who is deathly terrified of spiders. While en route to meet up with a friend, she is violently abducted by a group of strangers. After enduring intense yet strange questioning and examinations, some about her fear of spiders, Renee soon discovers that she is now the subject of an underground experiment. Her captors explain to her that she has a genetic abnormality that can potentially allow her to “rupture” and reveal her alien nature. Renee must find a way to escape before it is too late.
“Voice from the Stone” (Also Available on VOD)
“Voice from the Stone”
Set in 1950s Tuscany, “Voice from the Stone” is the haunting and suspenseful story of Verena (Emilia Clarke), a solemn nurse drawn to aid a young boy (Edward Dring) who has fallen silent since the sudden passing of his mother.
“Displacement” (Opens in La) (Also Available on VOD)
A young physics student (Courtney Hope) must find a way to reverse a deadly quantum time anomaly and solve the murder of her boyfriend (Christopher Backus) while battling short-term memory loss and time slips caused by the event.
April 2017 Film Preview was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Kelsey Moore
“In the desert, every newcomer is an enemy till you know him to be a friend,” says Gertrude Bell, voiced by Tilda Swinton, in a new trailer for Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum’s “Letters from Baghdad.” The documentary tells the story of Bell, who was once considered the most powerful woman in the British Empire. The spy, explorer, and political officer’s life is also being brought to the big screen by Nicole Kidman, who plays the trailblazer in Werner Herzog’s upcoming “Queen of the Desert.” After decades of being overlooked and underestimated by history, Bell’s extraordinary life is finally receiving well-deserved attention.
Born in 1868, “Bell traveled widely in Arabia before being recruited by British military intelligence to help draw the borders of Iraq after Wwi, establish the modern state of Iraq, and reshape the modern Middle East in ways that still reverberate today,” “Letters from Baghdad’s” official synopsis details.
“She knows more about the Arabs and Arabians than almost any other living Englishman or woman,” a character in the documentary observes. It was Bell who created the Iraq Museum — famously ransacked during the American invasion in 2003 — to preserve and protect cultural artifacts and antiquities of the region.
“Using stunning, never-seen-before footage of the region from 100 years ago, and more than 1,600 letters written by Bell and her contemporaries, the film chronicles Bell’s extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British male colonial power,” the film’s description hints. “All dialogue in the film is excerpted verbatim from original source material.”
“We have both traveled extensively in the Middle East and are very familiar with many of the regions that Gertrude Bell explored 100 years before us. We were attracted to Bell as a compelling character after we both read her definitive biography by Janet Wallach, ‘Desert Queen,’” Krayenbühl and Oelbaum told Women and Hollywood. “We discovered how enormously powerful and influential she had been during her day, yet is virtually forgotten today. Even a recent biography about her colleague and friend T.E. Lawrence omitted her completely. We wanted to find out why.”
The filmmakers described Bell as “a fascinating woman who was arrogant, vulnerable, confident, and complex,” and emphasized that she “championed the diversity of the Middle East and observed that the people of the region were more tolerant of other ethnicities and religions than the rigid Victorian England of her youth. She had a sincere interest in other cultures and a curiosity and passion to discover a world she was unfamiliar with,” they said. “Gertrude Bell became an inspiration to us and we hope that she can inspire others as well, especially young women.”
“Letters from Baghdad” marks both Krayenbühl and Oelbaum’s directorial debut. The doc made its world premiere at the 2016 Beirut International Film Festival and opens in NY June 2.
Trailer Watch: Explorer Gertrude Bell Takes Center Stage in “Letters from Baghdad” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
U.S. audiences are finally going to have the opportunity to see Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Gertrude Bell in “Queen of the Desert.” The biopic of the renowned British archaeologist, explorer, writer, traveler, cartographer, spy, and political officer’s life will be released April 7 in La and NY, and will also be available on VOD, a press release has announced.
Written and directed by Werner Herzog (“Grizzly Man”), “Queen of the Desert” made its world premiere at the Berlinale in 2015. The drama follows “a trailblazing woman who found freedom in the faraway world of the Middle East,” its official synopsis details. “Gertrude Bell (Kidman) chafes against the stifling rigidity of life in turn-of-the-century England, leaving it behind for a chance to travel to Tehran. So begins her lifelong adventure across the Arab world, a journey marked by danger, a passionate affair with a British officer (James Franco), and an encounter with the legendary T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson). Stunningly shot on location in Morocco and Jordan, ‘Queen of the Desert’ reveals how an ahead-of-her-time woman shaped the course of history.”
“I think I’m good at casting and that’s a very decisive part of what I do. And Nicole Kidman is the ideal,” Herzog has said. “She gives a performance that is unprecedented. I have not seen anything like this at least in a whole decade from any actress in any film. So it’s of a phenomenal caliber.”
The “Lion” actress is receiving excellent reviews for her performance in HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” The limited series sees Kidman playing a woman in an abusive relationship. Kidman is also serving as an executive producer on the murder mystery.
Kidman’s upcoming projects include Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” set during the Civil War, Season 2 of Jane Campion’s feminist mystery series “Top of the Lake,” Rebecca Miller’s comedic drama “She Came to Me,” and “Photograph 51,” the story of an X-ray crystallographer and the role she played in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.
Check out the new trailer for “Queen of the Desert” below. “I’m not afraid. For the first time in my life I know who I am,” Gertrude says. “My heart belongs to no one but the desert.”
“Queen of the Desert” Gets a U.S. Release Date and New Trailer was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
Sand can be pretty divisive. It’s coarse, rough, irritating, and it gets everywhere, but in this trailer for Queen Of The Desert, sand is greatly preferable to a stuffy life in England. The film stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, a writer, archaeologist, explorer, and political operative who played a crucial role in forming the borders of modern-day Iraq. The film also features James Franco, Damian Lewis, and Robert Pattinson—who happens to be playing a young version of T.E. Lawrence, another person famous for his love of the desert—and it was written and directed by Werner Herzog.
The film has been sitting on various shelves for a while now, with the last trailer coming out over a year ago. Now it has a proper release date, and fans of Herzog, Kidman, and sand will be able to see it in theaters and on-demand services on April ...
- Sam Barsanti
"The deeper we immersive ourselves into the desert, the more everything seems like a dream." IFC Films has released yet another official Us trailer for the Werner Herzog feature film Queen of the Desert. This premiered at the Berlin Film Festival way back in 2015 and was originally slated for release that year. Unfortunately it's a totally awful film, with no redeeming qualities (despite a rather intriguing cast) and was shelved for two years. It looks like this is finally going to see the light of day, and it's going to be forgotten quickly, but here's the new trailer anyway. Nicole Kidman stars as the legendary Gertrude Bell, who was an important British figure in Middle East relations in the early 1900s. The cast includes James Franco as Henry Cadogan, Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence and Damian Lewis as Charles Doughty-Wylie. I mean it when I say this film is terrible »
- Alex Billington
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