The breakable glue of adult relationships, the search for one’s freedom, fictionalizing an iconic British political figure. And documentaries, unmissable accounts exposing the horrific lifestyles of children, delving deep into the life a legendary singer, suffering mothers of the third world. Educate yourself some more with the following extraordinary film-making from women.
Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004) – Zana Briski
Winning the 2004 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids is produced, written, and directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. A documentary where Briski, a photographer, puts herself slap bang in the centre of a group of children (the title is pretty self-explanatory) and forms a bond with them as she shares and encourages her own passion for taking pictures. A shared education and compassion all around. Criticized, and causing quite a stir, with claims it broke the laws of ethical film-making and was somehow glorifying the illegal events it depicts (both notions something tons of documentaries have to accept each year). Briski took a brave step to force our eyes open, and keep them that way. We miss way too much of what really goes on in the world, so let’s not shoot the messenger, one who brings art and truth into the blind-spot reality. Watching the kids and Briski interact certainly has its fair share of emotive moments. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Everyone Else (2009) – Maren Ade
A German couple take a break in Sardinia, introverted, moody Chris (Lars Eidinger), and quirky, carefree Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) are an odd couple on the surface, that somehow fit. Maren Ade proves a talent for the casual, observational drama, while drip-feeding a true-sense of everyday comedy we all experience (something she received plaudits for with her recent Cannes entry Toni Erdmann). Adult relationship dynamics though are the main course here, and Ade has a deft touch at allowing us to see that the freedom of alone time and vacation can have its emotional pitfalls. Chris and Gitti’s casual banter demonstrates some romance, but also a more fragile bond after all, as they find natural ways to nit-pit at each other’s indiscretions. Fascinating to watch both excellent actors play out the greater significance of the smaller things between a loving couple, in particular Minichmayr who demonstrates that her character has the greater capacity to be noticeably affected by such events. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) – Liz Garbus
What Happened, Miss Simone? by Liz Garbus is a wonder to behold. A master of documentary film-making, with a resume that includes the seminal works The Farm: Angola U.S.A., Girlhood, and Bobby Fisher Against the World, Garbus’ Miss Simone skillfully reflects on Nina Simone’s musical genius, her tumultuous journey from small town child prodigy to pop superstar, and her ongoing struggle with mental illness. The film shows Simone’s role as an outspoken civil rights advocate, and how in turn that makes her a showbiz outcast. Perhaps the most powerful moments in the film are when we hear Simone’s daughter talk about the mental and physical abuse that Nina both received and dished out. Filled with previously unseen interviews and musical performances, Garbus shows us the pitfalls of success, and just how close genius and madness oftentimes are. From a musical standpoint, the film highlights most of Simone’s most important works, and gives viewers unfamiliar with her work a great introduction to that unmistakable voice that was so full of pain and sadness and love and hate. Like all great works of art, What Happened, Miss Simone? stays with you long after you first encounter it. In the end it leaves you black and blue and with a dull ache and sadness as you discover that ultimately what drove Simone to be such a brilliant artist also brought her so much suffering. – – – Tim J. Krieg @FiveStarFlicks
The Iron Lady (2011) – Phyllida Lloyd
So Meryl Streep finally got her Oscar. Her third, that is. The discussions around poor Viola Davis may still echo in the film world, but it is much more often than not difficult to argue against Streep. Phyllida Lloyd’s take on chapters of the life of Britain’s first Prime Minister is perhaps less grand than we perhaps anticipated, and far more bittersweet – that the iron lady of the title was in fact a human being who could fall to illnesses like dementia. We know a lot of the history like the back of our hand, so it might be refreshing to see the personal, later-life side of Thatcher, even if it is terribly sad at times. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
A Walk to Beautiful (2007) – Mary Olive Smith
Mary Olive Smith’s awakening documentary A Walk to Beautiful (broadcast on television on NOVA on PBS) won an Emmy for Outstanding Informational Programming – Long Form. It’s a diamond amidst the rough. A heart-swirling take on five Ethiopian women not only having to suffer physical turmoil of childbirth injuries, but also facing being shut out by their families and community. Their medical conditions arise from the lack of heath care and the very real and extreme poverty they experience. Their spiritual and actual journey take them to the Fistula Hospital, where these extraordinary women can be treated. Accustomed to the conditions they could have only imagined are still tough to comprehend for them, so on the flip-side, when proper care and support is provided to these women in their physical conditions, their reactions hold an endearing apprehension. “I have come home cured. Share my joy.” one young woman says to her father as they embrace on her return. Wonderful. – – – Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Originally published in July 2016.