Chicago Feminist Film Festival: ‘Crystal Swan’ Tells A Darkly Comic Version of the American Dream

We all know about the American Dream. We see it in movies, we read about it history books, we talk about it all the time. In achieving this proverbial dream, we have achieved the pinnacle of success and freedom, whatever that means. In her directorial debut, Darya Zhuk paints a different picture of chasing the American Dream in the newly sovereign nation of Belarus, one that is funny, tragic, and confused.

In Belarus in the 1990s, Velya (Alina Nasibullina) is an aspiring DJ who wants nothing more than to move to Chicago, home of house music. She and her strung-out boyfriend party all night, and she survives by living at home and stealing from her mom. But, Belarus’ bureaucracy makes it virtually impossible for an unemployed woman living with her mom to leave the country. In an attempt to trick the system, she buys a letter of employment from a factory, but this backfires as she writes down the wrong phone number, which means the embassy can’t call to verify her “employment.” So, she heads to the phone number’s address in the factory town of Crystal City to ensure she gets her visa. This leads to a clash of the classes in the name of reaching that American Dream.

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Chicago Feminist Film Festival: ‘Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché’ Is An Important Documentary With a Few Problems

Alice Guy-Blaché was not only the first female director, but also one of the first film directors, period. But odds are you’ve never heard of her. She directed nearly 1,000 films (including what’s regarded as the first narrative film), founded her own movie studio, and shaped cinema today. But due to a film canon dictated by male power, her legacy was almost erased. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché tells her story, but unfortunately forgets quite a few figures along the way.

Alice Guy-Blaché was a French film director and from 1896 to 1906, was most likely the only female film director in the world. She experimented with cinema, creating some of the first examples of close-up, hand-colored film, and synchronized sound. She wrote comedies and tragedies, and created films, such as The Consequences of Feminism, that interrogated gender roles. She was a working mother who ran her own movie studio. So how is it possible that so few people have heard of her?

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‘Madeline’s Madeline’ Expertly Blurs the Line Between Performance Art and Reality

Madeline’s Madeline is unafraid to delve into the volatile psyche of a teenage artist. Art is so often used as a tool to sort through perplexing emotions, so it makes sense that struggling teens tend to lose themselves in this low-cost form of therapy. This semi-experimental fever dream poses the question: At what point in the creative process does art as personal self-expression begin to do more harm than good?

Madeline (newcomer Helena Howard) is a 16-year-old actress in a physical theater troupe, fresh out of a brief stay in a psychiatric ward. Her teacher Evangeline (Molly Parker) is at once forceful and understanding, as if Fletcher from Whiplash actually had a heart. On the flip side is Madeline’s mother Regina (Miranda July), an unstable but ultimately loving helicopter parent whose moods, like Madeline’s, violently change at the blink of an eye. From a more neutral perspective, Regina’s actions may come across as a frustrated, terrified mom doing her best to make sure her daughter stays healthy. But the eyes of a teenage girl, especially one with mental illness, see the world through a distorted lens. I know this because I once was one.

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Fall 2018: Female Directors

Unlike this summer, female representation behind the camera is being overshadowed this fall by the Ruben Fleischers, Damien Chazelles, and Bryan Singers. While you can’t expect many women-helmed movies at your local theatre, they’ll be making lots of noise on the festival circuit. Along with a description of the theatrical releases to look out for, this piece compiles a list of the female-directed feature films screening at major film festivals. Listing every film at every fall festival would make for an article as long as Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, so we trust our readers will be on the lookout for women filmmakers at their local festivals, as well as documentary and short films directed by women. All film descriptions are from press materials and all theatrical release dates are for the United States. 

Theatrical releases:

September 21 – NAPPILY EVER AFTER dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour

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Violet has it all: the perfect job, the perfect relationship and the perfect hair. Until an accident at her hair salon makes her realize she’s not living life to the fullest. This romantic comedy, starring Sanaa Lathan, is based on the novel of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas

September 28 – LITTLE WOMEN dir. Clare Niederpruem 

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A modern retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel follows the lives of the same sisters we know so well — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March — and detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood. Despite harsh times, they cling to optimism, and as they mature, they face blossoming ambitions, relationships, and tragedy, while maintaining their unbreakable bond.

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