Special Report: Women Directors at the Box Office in April 2014

Special Report: Women Directors at the Box Office in April 2014

The April
releases directed by women were dominated by non-fiction, with eleven
documentaries to six features and one anthology film. The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, from married filmmakers
Dayna Goldfine and Daniel Geller, was the most successful doc and highest-grossing film of the month. The San Francisco-based Goldfine and Geller, who
previously made Ballets Russes (2005)
and Something Ventured (2011),
discovered an intriguing unsolved mystery during a trip to the Galapagos
Islands, involving several groups of Utopians who left Germany and Austria just
before World War II. Within two years, four of the original settlers on
Floreana Island were missing or dead. This Zeitgeist Films release grossed
$122,795 from 14 theaters, with a larger rollout in May and June. 

Jennifer
Baichwal’s 2006 documentary Manufactured
Landscapes
introduced Edward Burtynsky’s hauntingly beautiful large-scale
industrial photographs to a wider audience. The two Canadians collaborated again
on Watermark, which focuses on his photographs
documenting how different populations use their water resources. Entertainment
One released the Baichwal/Burtynsky collaboration (both have a director credit)
in 16 U.S. theaters, where it’s made $71,349. Watermark takes a macro view of global interactions, while Manakamana is decidedly micro. Stephanie
Spray and Pacho Velez met at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL director
Lucien Castaing-Taylor made the eerie Leviathan
with Verena Paravel), and their collaboration blends anthropology with
experimental filmmaking. Manakamana
documents a series of cable-car journeys to the mountaintop temple of the Hindu
goddess Bhagwati in Nepal. The Cinema Guild release has grossed $9,176 from one
theater. 

Hilla Medalia has
explored the fraught relationship between Jews and Palestinians in her native
Israel before, in To Die in Jerusalem
(2007), about two teens killed in a suicide bombing. Dancing in Jaffa is a more hopeful portrait, following ballroom
dancer Pierre Dulaine as he returns to his hometown to teach 150 Jewish and
Palestinian 11-year-olds how to move gracefully together. The IFC Films release
opened in 13 theaters, grossing $66,701. Hilla Medalia will be at the Cannes
Film Festival later this month with a special presentation of The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon
Films
, about the larger-than-life producers Menahem Golan and Yorman
Globus, Israeli cousins who redefined American genre films in the 1980s. Photographer-turned-filmmaker Diedre Schoo looks at a different form of dance in her debut
documentary, Flex is Kings, directed
with Michael Beach Nichols. The Brooklyn street dancing known as flex involves
extreme positions that would make the most advanced yoga devotee pause, and
encounters between performers are seen as battles where movement is the weapon of
choice. The Brooklyn-based Baxter Brothers Film Releasing is handling the
distribution, but has not posted earnings. 

Two of this
month’s documentaries are available through Tugg, the online service that
allows anyone to arrange a local screening of a film from their extensive
library. Kathryn Bertine, who makes her filmmaking debut with Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls &
Power of Women’s Professional Cycling
, knows her subject well. A
professional racer and author (As Good as
Gold
), she was also one of the female athletes who petitioned the Amaury
Sport Organization to once again include women’s cycling in the Tour de France.
(A women’s race once ran alongside the men’s competition, but that ended in
1989). This year, the women’s 90-kilometer La Course will take place on July
27, ending on the Champs Elysee just prior to the last leg of the men’s 3,200-kilometer
race. Half the Road, distributed by
First Run Features, began its theatrical run in New York, where it grossed
$2,923 from two theaters. Sylvia Caminer worked primarily in television (where
she won a directing Emmy) before making the feature documentaries An Affair of the Heart (about Rick
Springfield) and Tanzania: A Journey
Within
(aka Kwanini). Caminer
captures the life-altering trip of an American who accompanies her friend from
the University of Miami back to his native Tanzania. Heretic Films released Tanzania: A Journey Within on April 25
to coincide with World Malaria Day, but no grosses for its theatrical run are
available. 

Documentary
portraits of Jayson Blair and Cesar Chavez appeared in theaters prior to their
television premieres. (Neither reported grosses.) Journalist Samantha Grant
produced news content for CNN, NPR and Frontline
before directing her first feature documentary, A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at The New York
Times
, about the scandal that shook the foundation of the venerable
newspaper. A Fragile Trust premieres
on the PBS series Independent Lens on
May 5. The cable networks Pivot and Univision News acquired Cesar’s Last Fast just prior to its
world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and they will broadcast it
in English and Spanish later this year. A companion piece to Diego Luna’s
biopic Cesar Chavez (released in
March by Pantelion Films and Participant Media, Pivot’s parent company), this
documentary about his 1988 Fast for Life is credited to directors Richard Ray
Perez and Lorena Parlee. Perez used extensive footage shot by Paralee, who made
the video The Wrath of Grapes for the
United Farm Workers and was Chavez’s press secretary and spokesperson during
the fast. She died in 2006 of breast cancer at the age of 60.

The Slamdance
Film Festival provided the launch for two debut documentaries: Bible Quiz and Vanishing Pearls. (No grosses were reported.) Nicole Teeny’s Bible Quiz looks at the annual
evangelical Christian competition through a determined 17-year-old who’s got
more than memorizing quotations on her mind. Slamdance Studios is releasing the
2013 Grand Jury Award winner theatrically, with Virgil Films handling future VOD
distribution. Nailah Jefferson’s Vanishing
Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache
premiered at Slamdance 2014,
when the upstart festival was celebrating its 20th anniversary. Jefferson
explores a small African-American Louisiana delta community still reeling from
the devastating 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Vanishing Pearls arrives in theaters via Array Releasing, the
distribution arm of the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement founded
by filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

The features released
this month include three American indies, three French-language films and a
period piece from Argentina. IFC Films acquired Hateship Loveship, based on the Alice Munro story, at the 2013
Toronto International Film Festival. Director Liza Johnson (Return) guides Kristen Wiig through her
first dramatic role as a shy caregiver who’s manipulated by the tech-savvy
granddaughter of her employer. Playing in 13 theaters, Hateship Loveship has grossed $27,843. Ellie Kanner specializes in
offbeat love stories (Crazylove, Wake), and her latest, Authors Anonymous, is a comedy about
support groups and the corrosive effects of professional jealousy. It is also
Dennis Farina’s final film. Screen Media Films has not reported theatrical
grosses, and Authors Anonymous is
currently available on VOD, including iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. 

Gabrielle, the second feature from
Louise Archambault, won the Audience Award at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival
and was submitted by Canada as their Academy Award entry for Best Foreign
Language Film. The lead role is played by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard who, like her
character, has Williams syndrome and sings in a Montreal choir. She won a
Canadian Screen Award for her performance. Entertainment One opened Gabrielle in one theater for a $4,900
gross. Lucia Puenzo adapted her novel Wakolda
into The German Doctor, a sinister
drama about an Argentinian family in 1960 who realize their houseguest is Dr.
Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s notorious Angel of Death. Puenzo (XXY, The
Fish Child
) uses the intimate tale to comment on her country’s role as a
haven for high-ranking Nazis. The Samuel Goldwyn Films release, which screened
at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, has grossed $50,014 from five theaters.

While the 13th
Tribeca Film Festival was taking place in New York, Tribeca Films released two
films from women directors in theaters. Beneath
the Harvest Sky
and Bright Days Ahead
are also available as VOD from various cable providers as well as iTunes,
Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Vudu. The married directors Aron Gaudet
and Gita Pullapilly return to Maine for their first feature, Beneath the Harvest Sky, about a group
of teens chafing at the confines of small-town life. Their first film was the
documentary The Way We Get By (2009),
which follows Maine senior citizens (including Gaudet’s mother Joan) who greet every
soldier who arrives at the Bangor International Airport on their way to, or
returning from, overseas war zones. Beneath
the Harvest Sky
has grossed $21,128 from eight theaters in Maine and is expanding
around the country in May. Bright Days
Ahead
is writer/director Marion Vernoux’s adaptation of Fanny Chesnel’s
novel Une Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Blancs
(A Girl with White Hair). Fanny
Ardant stars as a recent retiree who loves her husband and yet pursues an
affair with a younger man. The common male storyline (a second youth in middle
age, a passionate love affair) is being rewritten for women, including
Sebastian Lelio’s Chilean film Gloria,
starring the wonderful Paulina Garcia. (Nancy Meyers also explores this
territory with Something’s Gotta Give
and It’s Complicated.) Bright Days Ahead grossed $8,143 from
four theaters.

The Players (Les Infidèles) couldn’t be further from Bright Days Ahead in its depiction of French women dealing with
marriage and infidelity. The anthology has eight directors and they are nearly
unanimous in portraying married women as pestering scolds, young women as
reckless sexpots, and French men as unrepentant horndogs. Relief from the incessant
sex jokes and barely submerged misogyny comes from Emmanuelle Bercot’s La Question, which addresses the
hypocrisy of French mistress culture during a marital confrontation that puts a
couple’s vision of their happy union at stake. The Weinstein Company film,
which made a paltry $10,854 from 50 theaters after being released without
reviews or promotion, is already available on Netflix Instant. Bercot presents
the only fully formed, articulate wife in The
Players
, making a powerful case for the importance of women directors to
provide a nuanced female perspective. 

Rankings,
grosses and theater numbers for April 2014 are courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

#29 | The
Galapagos Affair | $122,795 | 14 theaters

#33 | Watermark
| $71,349 | 16 theaters

#34 | Dancing in
Jaffa | $66,701 | 13 theaters

#35 | The German
Doctor | $50,014 | 5 theaters

#38 | Hateship
Loveship | $27,843 | 13 theaters

#40 | Beneath
the Harvest Sky | $21,128 | 8 theaters

#45 | The
Players | $10,854 | 50 theaters

#48 | Manakamana
| $9,176 | 1 theater

#49 | Bright
Days Ahead | $8,143 | 4 theaters

#56 | Flex is
Kings | $5,418 | 1 theater

#57 | Gabrielle
| $4,900 | 1 theater

#59 | Half the
Road | $2,923 | 2 theaters

Serena Donadoni
is a freelance film critic in Detroit. She runs thecinemagirl.com (with movie
reviews, interviews and more) as well as The Cinema Girl blog, which tracks
movie releases and has a page devoted to women directors. Follow her
@TheCinemaGirl.

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