Round-Up of October Movies Directed by Women

Round-Up of October Movies Directed by Women

There are
several milestones among the 22 films directed by women that were released in
October. Among the ten features is Carrie,
the first wide-release (3,157 theaters) studio film from a female director to hit
theaters in 2013. Of the twelve nonfiction releases, The Square garnered headlines as the first film to be picked up by
the new documentary unit at Netflix. 

Carrie is only the third film from writer
and director Kimberly Peirce, whose 1999 debut Boys Don’t Cry brought gay-bashing and transgender issues to the multiplex
and won Hilary Swank a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena. Peirce’s
2008 follow-up, the insightful Stop-Loss,
went the way of most films about veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan: it received a
tepid critical response and was largely ignored by audiences. 

Her take on Carrie did marginally better, opening
third on October 18 (behind holdovers Gravity
and Captain Phillips) and grossing
$32 million during the month (with a reported budget of $30 million). The
horror genre has had numerous successes in 2013, but this version of Stephen
King’s debut novel about a bullied teen with telekinesis suffered from remake
fatigue. (In addition to Brian DePalma’s 1976 Carrie, there’s a 1999 sequel and a 2002 television movie.) The
prominence of the Sony Pictures release did put Kimberly Peirce back in the
public eye, including a lengthy profile in The New York Times Magazine that
focuses extensively on the travails of female filmmakers.

Diablo Cody also
smartly addressed gender issues during interviews for her directorial debut, Paradise. Like Peirce, Cody’s first film
was a major indie hit (and her Juno screenplay
won an Oscar). Cody’s subsequent career has been varied, but has not replicated
that early success. The series she created, United
States of Tara
, ran for three seasons on Showtime while the other films
she’s written, Jennifer’s Body
(directed by Karyn Kusama) and Young
Adult
(with her Juno director
Jason Reitman), have not come anywhere near the $143 million gross of her 2007 teen
pregnancy comedy. 

Paradise, produced
by Mandate Pictures (which also did Juno
and Young Adult), is another tart and
humorous look at a woman in transition, with Julianne Hough as a sacrificial lamb who trades her conservative religion for a sojourn into Sin City. (Lamb of God was the original title.) Image
Entertainment gave Paradise a very small
theatrical opening on October 18 (when it received mostly scathing reviews) and
will release the DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, November 12.

The French
writer and director Claire Denis has dealt with the vagaries of the film marketplace
since her 1988 debut Chocolat was an
international hit. She’s also been around long enough to see the
reconsideration of one of her most maligned films, Trouble Every Day (2001), which was re-released by The Film Desk on
October 11. Nothing this Halloween was as terrifying as Beatrice Dalle and
Vincent Gallo devouring their sexual partners in Denis’ intimate horror film,
and Trouble Every Day found an
appreciative audience at New York cultural institutions like BAMcinematek. It
also generated more interest for her latest film, the dark psychological
thriller Bastards, which IFC Films opened
in theaters a few weeks after its New York Film Festival screening.

Success of The Square at major film festivals has made
Jehane Noujaim’s timely documentary the object of awards season speculation. The
Cairo-born director of Control Room
and Startup.com (with Chris Hegedus) explores
the political aftermath of the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising — events that are
still very much unfolding. The Square
won the Sundance Film Festival’s audience award in January, and Noujaim
returned to Egypt last summer to capture the new wave of protests and ouster of
Mohammed Morsi. Her updated version of the documentary won the People’s Choice
Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. In the midst of
a self-financed release for Oscar consideration (feature length documentaries
must complete a seven-day commercial run in New York and Los Angeles), The Square was picked up by Netflix and
will be available for streaming in early 2014. The Square was succeeding on its own terms, grossing $32,700 in a
week from a few theaters and gaining enthusiastic reviews, and its high-profile
pick-up by Netflix (with Lisa Nishimura as VP of Original Documentary Programming)
is prompting discussions about new documentary distribution models.

Another Academy
Award contender quietly opened in October. Zinda
Bhaag
, directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi (and produced by Gaur’s
husband Mazhar Zaidi), is the first film that Pakistan has submitted for Oscar
consideration in 50 years. Zinda Bhaag,
which translates as “get out if you can,” looks at frustrated young men in
Lahore who contemplate emigration. Partners Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews explore
a very different group of disenfranchised men in their debut comedy Zero Charisma: devoted Dungeons and Dragons-style gamers whose
hierarchy is threatened by an outsider. The married filmmakers Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster looked
close to home for their documentary subjects, following son Idris and his
friend Seun through the educational system in New York City. Their American Promise is an examination of
race and class as well as a personal epic spanning 13 years. Italian-born
designers Lella and Massimo Vignelli became quintessential New Yorkers (they
created the iconic subway system graphics), and their 50-year marriage and
creative collaboration is chronicled by another couple, Kathy Brew and Roberto
Guerra, in Design is One.

A range of
perspectives within the LGBT community is represented by four documentaries and
one feature, including Stacie Passon’s controversial Sundance debut Concussion, starring Robin Weigert as an
affluent housewife who explores lesbian prostitution after a head injury, and Peaches Does Herself, which documents an
outrageous rock musical about gender identity that makes Hedwig and the Angry Inch look like Disney Channel programming. The
first documentary from Linda Bloodworth Thomason (creator of Designing Women, that glorious 1980s hybrid
of big hair and sassy feminism) is Bridegroom,
a sobering account of legal inequality told through one gay couple’s personal
tragedy. While Bridegroom is
currently streaming on Netflix, Marta Cunningham’s Valentine Road is airing on HBO. She explores the stunning 2008 death
of a California eighth-grader shot in the classroom by a fellow student after
openly exploring his sexual orientation. Heather Winters takes a decidedly upbeat
approach to Two: The Story of Roman &
Nyro
, a real-life version of The New
Normal
with songwriter Desmond Child and his partner having twins via
surrogate and then incorporating her into their family.

Music is all-important
to the Scottish duo in Jeanie Finlay’s The
Great Hip Hop Hoax
, who pretend to be American to achieve success in Great
Britain, and to the American ethnomusicologist of Oka! who records the Bayaka while observing the systematic
ostracism of this Pygmy tribe. Although Lavinia Currier’s gentle feature film Oka! was initially released in 2011, concerns
about protecting ethnic minorities in the Central African Republic take on a
new urgency with current fears of genocide. In Naomi Jaye’s Yiddish-language The Pin, two Jewish teens fall in love
while hiding from the Nazis in Lithuania, an act of defiance that reverberates
decades later. For the Dutch chef in Threes Anna’s Silent City, moving to Japan to study fish preparation results in
culture clash and a disheartening isolation. 

The natural
world provides solace in Shasta Grenier and Sabrina Lee’s Not Yet Begun to Fight, which profiles a Vietnam vet who introduces
a new generation of veterans to the quiet pleasures of fly-fishing. Author and
renowned conservationist Dayton O. Hyde is the subject of Suzanne Mitchell’s Running Wild, which explores his life, philosophy
and biggest project, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Deborah Koons
Garcia’s Symphony of the Soil
examines the global impact of maintaining the earth’s top layer, while Kalyanee
Mam focuses on Cambodia’s vital water system in A River Changes Course, which has won numerous festival awards
including the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at this year’s
Sundance Film Festival.

Here are the top
grossing female-directed films in October and their rankings, courtesy of Box
Office Mojo: 

#4 | Carrie | $32,074,837

#30 | American Promise | $60,500

#31 | Concussion | $42,606

#36 | The Square | $32,700

#46 | Bastards | $12,247

#48 | Design is One | $9,745

#50 | Zero Charisma | $8,487

#54 | Trouble Every Day | $6,100 

Serena Donadoni is
a film critic and freelance writer in Detroit. The Cinema Girl blog lists movie
releases by month, and she began compiling a list of films directed by women after
noticing the quantity (176 and counting) and variety arriving in theaters every
week. It’s become the most viewed page on the blog. She tweets about film and
other topics @TheCinemaGirl and reviews a movie a day @SerenaDonadoni.

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