38% of the features screening at DOC NYC this year are directed or co-directed by women — 39 films of the 104 screening. The good and bad news is that there are simply too many films by female filmmakers to catch all of them during the fest, which kicks off today and runs until November 19th. We’ve chosen some highlights of the programming, including women-helmed portraits of the Middle East’s first all-female race-car team, a rock n’ roll legend and an advocate for HIV awareness in the American South.
Plot summaries courtesy of DOC NYC.
“Motley’s Law” – Directed by Nicole N. Horanyi
What it’s about: More than five years into her practice as a defense lawyer in Kabul, the first and only Western lawyer — not to mention the only woman licensed to work in the Afghan courts — no-nonsense attorney Kimberley Motley finds herself at a crossroads. Though originally motivated to provide for her children’s futures, her experiences have ignited a personal drive to fight against corruption and abuse. With the withdrawal of international troops looming, can Motley brave personal threats and an unstable country to continue her work?
Why we’re interested: Women are scarcely represented in leadership roles in films, so we always welcome the opportunity to see women in positions of authority on screen — in this case, a female lawyer. “Motley’s Law” sounds like a sophisticated, morally complex fish-out-of-water story, with a subject far from home and tasked with balancing the safety of herself and her family while staying true to her beliefs.
“Daddy Don’t Go” – Directed by Emily Abt
What it’s about: What lies at the root of America’s fatherhood crisis? “Daddy Don’t Go” takes an intimate look at the struggles of four diverse, disadvantaged NYC fathers to beat the odds stacked against them and defy the deadbeat-dad stereotype. Fighting against homelessness, unemployment, bureaucracy and, in some cases, a criminal past, Alex, Nelson, Roy and Omar want nothing more than to honor their responsibilities and provide for their children.
Why we’re interested: As hard as we rally and as loud as we shout in favor of more female-centric films, fatherhood isn’t explored nearly as frequently as motherhood is on the big screen (which can be traced to the fact that women are so often defined in whole by their roles as mothers in Hollywood). So we anticipate with excitement a doc that takes a close, hard look at what it means to be a dad, particularly in the U.S., where fatherhood is synonymous with providing, but so many American men are impoverished and/or unemployed.
Director Emily Abt is a former New York City caseworker and, in an interview with Women and Hollywood, she explained that the doc seeks to “remove the negative lens through which many underprivileged fathers are currently viewed.” She also described the film as her “most feminist [project] to date.”
What it’s about: The 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference was a watershed event in the global struggle for women’s rights. Now, on its 20th anniversary, “MAKERS: Once and For All,” retraces the suspenseful months leading up to Beijing and the high-stakes drama of the event itself.
Why we’re interested: This conference marked the largest gathering of women ever assembled, and what brought them together was the fight for gender equality — in education, health care, human rights and myriad other facets of life around the world. 189 countries participated in this landmark event. Now, 20 years later, we welcome the chance to compare how far we’ve come with how far we’ve yet to go in the fight against sexism and inequality.
In a soon-to-be published interview with us, co-director Dyllan McGee explained that the more she learned about the Beijing Women’s Conference, the more she “saw this was an enthralling and under-appreciated story, full of suspense, triumph and great relevance to today’s world.” Hell, just consider how cinematic Hillary Rodham Clinton’s famous declaration at the event was: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
What it’s about: Demolishing stereotypes while avoiding wrecking their cars, the Speed Sisters are the Middle East’s first all-female race-car team. Demonstrating high-octane talent and the marketing savvy to draw attention to their camera-friendly lineup, this diverse, engaging group competes in Palestine’s makeshift motor-sports circuit across the West Bank, overcoming Israeli checkpoints and restrictive societal expectations to become role models for a new generation of young Arab women in the process.
Why we’re interested: Full disclosure: We don’t know much about race-car driving. That being said, the Speed Sisters definitely make us want to learn more about the fast-paced, high-stakes sport that they risk so much to participate in.
“In the aftermath of 9/11, I have wanted to tell a story that would bridge the ever-growing gap between the Arab world and Canada, where my family lived,” director Amber Fares told Women and Hollywood. “To put it mildly, perceptions of Arabs in countries like the U.S. and Canada were skewed. When I came across the Speed Sisters, I realized that I found a story that could help bridge that gap. I liked the idea that these women were doing something that was completely unexpected. When people think of Palestine, they don’t normally equate it with race-car driving, let alone women racing. I saw an opportunity for a surprising story from the Middle East that people all over the world could relate to.”
“Janis: Little Girl Blue” – Directed by Amy Berg
What it’s about: Since her death from a heroin overdose in 1970 at age 27, Janis Joplin has been a ubiquitous presence on posters, t-shirts and classic rock radio. This documentary transforms the icon back into a human being. The film excavates unseen material, interviews Joplin’s confidants and uncovers personal letters. The resulting portrait gives us fresh insight into the mighty talent behind famous versions of “Piece of My Heart,” “Cry Baby” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Why we’re interested: In the trailer for “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” an interviewee says Janis Joplin “took a flag and made a place in rock n’ roll for women.” Joplin didn’t start singing until she was 17, but in the decade between discovering her voice and her untimely death at 27, she secured a spot in the annals of rock.
Oscar nominee Amy Berg, who has been working on the film for nearly eight years, will uncover the person behind the persona. “I want people to think about how much Janis has influenced them personally and women in general. I want them to have a greater understanding of Janis, as she is so much more than a woman who drank Southern Comfort and died of an overdose,” said Berg in an upcoming interview with Women and Hollywood.
“Wilhemina’s War” – Directed by June Cross
What it’s about: While the perception of AIDS in America has changed from the death sentence it once was to a disease managed by medicine, in the deep South, HIV continues to claim the lives of rural black women in epidemic numbers. Despite facing institutional and personal obstacles every step of the way, 62-year-old Wilhemina Dixon works tirelessly to combat the stigma and care for her daughter and granddaughter, both HIV+.
Why we’re interested: When Women and Hollywood asked director June Cross the biggest challenge in making the film, she responded “Funding it. People think AIDS is over. They don’t want to do stories about poor black people. Poor, uneducated black women don’t have a voice in society.” What Cross says is all too true, and we want — and need — to learn more about why HIV affects certain populations disproportionately, particularly disenfranchised ones. Wilhemina Dixon’s war to educate about HIV is a battle we will readily engage in.