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April 2016 Film Preview

April 2016 Film Preview

There are plenty of opportunities to catch a female-centric and/or women-directed film in April. The month kicks off with “God’s Not Dead 2,” starring Melissa Joan Hart. The former teen witch plays Grace, a teacher who becomes entangled in a dramatic court case that tests her religious liberty and beliefs.

On April 8, Melissa McCarthy’s newest comedy, “The Boss,” opens nationwide. McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, the richest woman in the world. Life is good — until she’s caught for insider trading. She loses her empire and is eager to build it back up, forcing her ex-right hand woman (Kristen Bell) to help. Soon, Michelle sets her sights on a new task: creating the most profitable Girl Scout troop ever.

If you’re looking to support women-directed independent films, April 15 is the perfect time to catch something in NYC, LA or on VOD.  Amanda Marsalis’ “Echo Park” is a quiet love story between Sophie (Mamie Gummer) and Alex (Anthony Okungbowa) set in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles. Sophie and Alex dive headfirst into love, but Sophie’s past and Alex’s future threaten the couple’s happiness. “The Syndrome” is a gripping documentary directed by Meryl Goldsmith that explores “Shaken Baby Syndrome” — a medical condition that is responsible for many parents being falsely accused of child abuse despite the condition’s tenuous scientific backing. The film is opening in select theaters and will also be available on VOD. 

After months of anticipation, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” premieres this month. The prequel to the 2012 film “Snow White and the Huntsman” features Charlize Theron reprising her role as Queen Ravenna, and this time she is joined two new A-list female cast members. Emily Blunt plays Freya, the Ice Queen and younger sister to Ravenna. Betrayed by her sister, Freya wages a war against Ravenna, with the Huntsman caught in the middle. Warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) fight alongside Freya, but their forbidden love jeopardizes their lives. The blockbuster promises breathtaking cinematography, heart-racing action and awe-inspiring costume work.

April concludes with some family-friendly comedic fare, “Mother’s Day” and “Ratchet and Clank.” Like “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve,” “Mother’s Day” features interweaving stories. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a single mom looking to reinvigorate her life post-divorce, while Miranda (Julia Roberts) is a successful entrepreneur whose past comes back looking for her. The film also features Kate Hudson as Jesse, a woman forced to spend the holiday with the quirky mother (Margo Martindale) she’s spent her life trying to get away from. The animated film “Ratchet & Clank,” directed by Jericca Cleland, is an adaptation of the hit video game series. The movie centers on the unlikely duo of Ratchet (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) and Clank (David Kaye), a feline-like mechanic and robot, respectively, and their battle with the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti).  Rosario Dawson and Bella Thorne also voice characters.

Here is a list of women-centric, directed and written films releasing in April. All descriptions are from press materials, unless stated otherwise.

April 1

“God’s Not Dead 2”

Welcome back to Hope Springs, home not only of Hadleigh University, but also Martin Luther King Jr. High School, where beloved teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) helps students understand and enjoy history. Her love of teaching, her love for her students and her love of life all come from the same place: her love of Christ. When a student later asks an honest question about Jesus in the classroom, Grace’s reasoned response lands her in big trouble — almost before she even finishes giving her answer. With the principal and superintendent joining forces with a zealous civil liberties group, Grace faces an epic court case.

“Meet the Blacks” – Co-Written by Nicole DeMasi

The Black family is getting out of Chicago in hopes of a better life. After Carl Black (Mike Epps) recently came into some unexpected funds, he takes his family and leaves the hustling lifestyle behind for something better. Carl, his wife Lorena (Zulay Henao), son Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson), daughter Allie Black (Bresha Webb) and cousin Cronut (Lil Duval) pack up and move to Beverly Hills. Turns out, Carl couldn’t have picked a worse time to move. They arrive right around the time of the annual purge, when all crime is legal for twelve hours.

“Standing Tall” – Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot; Written by Emmanuelle Bercot and Marcia Romano (Opens in NYC and LA)

Emmanuelle Bercot’s stirring narrative focuses on feisty teen Malony (Rod Paradot), who contends a neglectful single-parent household and attempts by a committed judge (Catherine Deneuve) to straighten out his act. That bumpy relationship forms the backbone of a story in which the system designed to help kids like Malony collides with his evolving individuality. (Indiewire)

“Darling”

In “Darling,” a young woman (Lauren Ashley Carter) takes a seemingly simple job as the caretaker for an enormous, historic New York estate. In fact, as she’s picking up the keys, the woman who hired her mentions that it’s the oldest house in New York. And with that age comes several stories, including odd rumors about the former caretaker, who the young woman discovers committed suicide. With that, she is out the door, leaving the replacement with a check and the first pangs of anxiety about her latest career move. But with no other choice, she resigns herself to her decision and starts to get to know the place. When she finds herself frightened by an innocuous encounter with a man on the street, she starts to spiral out of control.

“Sold” 

A young girl, Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia), leaves her home in a quiet village in the Nepali Himalayas in the expectation of a job in big city India. However, upon her arrival in Kolkata, she soon realizes she has been trafficked into a prison brothel, where she must struggle daily to survive against impossible odds. A U.S. photographer (Gillian Anderson) hears her cries for help and works with an NGO to spearhead a dangerous mission to rescue her. Finally, Lakshmi must risk everything for freedom. “Sold” is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a clarion call to action.

“No Home Movie” (Documentary) – Written and Directed by Chantal Akerman

“No Home Movie” is an intimate documentary that paints a portrait of Akerman’s mother, a Holocaust survivor living in Belgium, over the last years of her life. (Indiewire)

“H.” – Co-Written and Co-Directed by Rania Attieh 

The film follows two women, each named Helen, who live mirrored lives in the town of Troy, New York. The first Helen (Robin Bartlett) is in her 60s, lives with her husband and takes care of an eerily lifelike baby doll called a “Reborn Doll,” which she cares for as though it were alive. The second Helen (Rebecca Dayan) is in her 30s, has a successful art career and is four-months pregnant.

One night, something unexplainable falls out of the sky and explodes over the town. In the aftermath of this event, bizarre and unexplainable things begin to happen. As people in the town go missing en masse and unnatural cloud formations begin appearing in the sky, the two women find themselves and their lives spinning out of control. “H.” explores change and being changed. Helen and Helen are changed by forces outside of their own control. 

“Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” – Written and Directed by Chantal Akerman (Restored Print, Opens in NYC) 

A singular work in film history, Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” meticulously details, with a sense of impending doom, the daily routine of a middle-aged widow — whose chores include making the beds, cooking dinner for her son and turning the occasional trick. 

“Catching the Sun” (Documentary) – Directed by Shalini Kantayya (Opens in NYC)

Through the stories of workers and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and China,Catching the Sun explores the global race to lead the clean energy future. Over the course of a solar jobs training program, “Catching the Sun” follows the hope and heartbreak of unemployed American workers seeking jobs in the solar industry. With countries like China investing in innovative technologies and capitalizing on this trillion-dollar opportunity, “Catching the Sun” tells the story of the global energy transition from the perspective of workers and entrepreneurs building solutions to income inequality and climate change with their own hands. 

April 6

“Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt” (Documentary) – Written and Directed by Ada Ushpiz (Opens in NYC)

Forty years after her death, Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century’s most brilliant and influential philosophers, remains a figure of fierce controversy. A German Jew who fled Europe for New York in 1941, she was the author of many studies of history, violence, anti-Semitism, revolution and power. But none were more provocative than the book “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” in which she coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe how a man as seemingly insignificant as Adolf Eichmann could be responsible for mass murder. Arendt was pilloried for her criticism of some Jewish leaders and criticized for a love affair with her professor, Martin Heidegger, a Nazi supporter. In this no-holds-barred documentary, Ada Ushpiz lets Arendt’s critics have their say, but she also features the woman herself, most dramatically, in a 1964 interview for German television in which she shares fascinating insights into Eichmann: “His inability to speak was connected to his inability to think.” Rarely has an intellectual, even one as public in her pronouncements as Arendt, incited so much anger, praise, devotion and scorn.

April 8

“The Boss”

Melissa McCarthy headlines “The Boss” as a titan of industry who is sent to prison after she’s caught for insider trading. When she emerges ready to re-brand herself as America’s latest sweetheart, not everyone she screwed over is so quick to forgive and forget.

“The Invitation” – Directed by Karyn Kusama

In this taut psychological thriller by Karyn Kusama, the tension is palpable when Will (Logan Marshall-Green) shows up to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and new husband David (Michiel Huisman). The estranged divorcees’ tragic past haunts an equally eerie present; amid Eden’s suspicious behavior and her mysterious house guests, Will becomes convinced that his invitation was extended with a hidden agenda. Unfolding over one dark evening in the Hollywood Hills, “The Invitation” blurs layers of mounting paranoia, mystery and horror until both Will — and the audience — are unsure what threats are real or imagined.

“One More Time” 

Beautiful aspiring rock star Jude (Amber Heard) is stuck in a rut, relegated to recording commercial jingles and lost in a series of one-night stands. When she is evicted from her Brooklyn apartment, she is forced to move into the Hamptons home of her wealthy — and selfish — father Paul Lombard (Christopher Walken), an over-the-hill, Sinatra-esque crooner angling for a musical comeback. As the two reunite, Jude is forced to confront her problems, including troubled relationships with her father and overachieving sister (Kelli Garner), as well as her wobbly career and faltering love life. As Jude and Paul butt heads, they unexpectedly find themselves on a journey that may redefine their lives.

“Be Here Now: The Andy Whitfield Story” (Documentary) – Directed by Lilibet Foster (Opens in NYC)

“Be Here Now” is an inspiring love story about TV star Andy Whitfield and his wife Vashti, who together take on the most heroic role he’s ever had to play. With matching “Be Here Now” tattoos, they vow to go on a quest to heal Andy’s cancer — embracing life, rather than fear. They trusted Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lilibet Foster to follow their intimate life, hoping that by sharing their journey, they may inspire others’ challenges and dreams. Their determination, courage, humor and love remind the audience that the journey is more important than the destination.

“Look At Us Now, Mother!” (Documentary) – Written and Directed by Gayle Kirschenbaum (Opens in NYC and LA)

What trauma could make a child certain that she was born into the wrong family? What wounds are inflicted when the home that’s supposed to be a haven isolates her as an outsider; when her mother’s words are rarely nurturing but instead, ruthlessly shaming, demeaning and critical? What will it take for the adult that child becomes to forgive such a past? Is forgiveness even possible? This is the dilemma that Emmy award-winning filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum faces in her relentlessly honest and bitingly funny documentary, “Look at Us Now, Mother!” Her film is about the transformation of a highly charged mother/daughter relationship from “Mommie Dearest” to Dear Mom, from hatred to love. The documentary is the expanded version of the funny, award-winning festival favorite film “My Nose,” in which we follow her mother’s relentless campaign to get Gayle to have a nose job.

“High Strung” – Co-Written by Janeen Best Damian

When a hip hop violinist (Nicholas Galitzine) busking in the New York subway encounters a classical dancer (Keenan Kampa) on scholarship at the Manhattan Conservatory of the Arts, sparks fly. With the help of a hip hop dance crew they must find a common ground while preparing for a competition that could change their lives forever.

April 15

“Barbershop: The Next Cut” – Co-Written by Tracy Oliver

It’s been more than 10 years since our last appointment at Calvin’s Barbershop. Calvin (Ice Cube) and his longtime crew, including Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), are still there, but the shop has undergone some major changes. Most noticeably, the once male-dominated sanctuary is now co-ed. The ladies bring their own flavor, drama and gossip to the shop challenging the fellas at every turn. Despite the good times and camaraderie within the shop, the surrounding community has taken a turn for the worse, forcing Calvin and our crew to come together to not only save the shop, but their neighborhood.

“The Adderall Diaries” – Written and Directed by Pamela Romanowsky

Writer and Adderall enthusiast Stephen Elliott (James Franco) reaches a low point when his estranged father (Ed Harris) resurfaces, claiming that Stephen has fabricated much of the dark childhood that that fuels his writing. Adrift in the precarious gray area of memory, Stephen is led by three sources of inspiration: a new romance, the best friend who shares his history and a murder trial that reminds him more than a little of his own story. (IMDb)

“Echo Park” – Directed by Amanda Marsalis; Written by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta (Opens in NYC and LA)

Starring Mamie Gummer and Anthony Okungbowa, “Echo Park” takes viewers inside a diverse East Los Angeles neighborhood where residents contend with life and love while being challenged to define themselves in spite of their zip code. Sophie (Gummer) flees from her life of status and security, developing an unexpected romance with Alex (Okungbowa) who is also in search of a new start. “Echo Park” chronicles the heartbreak and heartbeat of a thriving city through the eyes of a talented new woman filmmaker.

“Wedding Doll” (Opens in NYC, Opens in LA April 29)

Hagit (Moran Rosenblatt), a young talented woman with a mild mental deficiency who lives with her mother Sara (Assi Levy), a divorced mother, in a small suburb town in the desert. She has a part time job in a toilet paper factory and longs to be independent. Her mother, who gave up her dreams, works as a chambermaid in a hotel and her life surrounds around taking care of her daughter. Hagit’s biggest dream is to get married. Secretly and without the knowledge of her mother, she’s in love. In her mind, she believes that one day they’ll get married. The announcement of the closing of the factory shakes Hagit and Sara’s life and jeopardizes Hagit’s love story.

“Sky” – Directed by Fabienne Berthaud, Co-Written by Lucy Allwood

Fleeing from the scene of a terrible crime, a young woman (Diane Kruger) embarks on a life-changing road trip across California and Nevada.

“Hostile Border” – Written and Co-Directed by Kaitlin McLaughlin

Raised in the U.S., Claudia (Veronica Sixtos) is an undocumented immigrant chasing the bling of the lux life and living beyond her means in a twisted version of the American dream. When she’s arrested by the FBI for credit card fraud, Claudia is quickly deported to México. Speaking no Spanish and lost in her foreign “homeland,” she reluctantly takes refuge at her estranged father’s cattle ranch. As she clashes with her unyielding father (Julio Cedillo), her attempts to return home to the U.S. thrust her into a dangerous bond with a handsome and dangerous foreign smuggler, Ricky (Roberto Urbina). Caught between her father’s sermons, Ricky’s promises and the encroaching military, Claudia must navigate a tightrope of impossible choices. Both a slow burning thriller and western, the film follows the transformative journey of a young woman confronting the high price of American ideals in the dark places between two cultures.

“Rio, I Love You” – Co-Directed by Nadine Labaki; Co-Written by Nadine Labaki and Elena Soarez

“Rio, I Love You” is the Brazilian film from the franchise “Cities of Love” that has also portrayed Paris and New York. Eleven directors accepted the challenge of translating love into captivating stories that connect to each other over a period of two days in the city. It’s a declaration of love and passion to the Marvelous City, from some of the most important directors in the world today. A cinematographic kaleidoscope reflecting the human and physical diversity of the city, the film tells stories of transient, eternal, bitter, conflicted and tender loves, through an international cast. Harvey Keitel, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Fernanda Montenegro, Rodrigo Santoro, Vincent Cassel, Vanessa Paradis, Ryan Kwanten and Jason Isaacs, among many others, star in these stories.

“The Syndrome” (Documentary) – Directed by Meryl Goldsmith (Also available on VOD)

In “The Syndrome,” filmmaker Meryl Goldsmith teams with national award-winning investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith to expose the unimaginable nightmare for those falsely accused of “shaken baby syndrome.” A child abuse theory responsible for hundreds of prosecutions each year in the U.S., this documentary focuses on the men and women dedicating their lives to defending the prosecuted and freeing the convicted. “The Syndrome” examines how the myth of “shaken baby syndrome” began and unflinchingly exposes the people who have built careers on, and profited from, this unsubstantiated theory that has led to the convictions of too many innocent people and ruined the lives of countless others.

April 22

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

The fantastical world of Snow White and the Huntsman expands to reveal how the fates of The Huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) are deeply and dangerously intertwined. Long before the evil Queen Ravenna was thought vanquished by Snow White’s blade, she watched silently as her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), suffered a heartbreaking betrayal and fled their kingdom. With Freya’s ability to freeze any enemy, the young ice queen has spent decades in a remote wintry palace raising a legion of deadly huntsmen — including Eric and warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) — only to find that her prized two defied her one demand: Forever harden your hearts to love. When Freya learns of her sister’s demise, she summons her remaining soldiers to bring the Magic Mirror home to the only sorceress left who can harness its power. But once she discovers Ravenna can be resurrected from its golden depths, the wicked sisters threaten this enchanted land with twice the darkest force it’s ever seen. Now, their amassing army shall prove undefeatable — unless the banished huntsmen who broke their queen’s cardinal rule can fight their way back to one another. 

“The Meddler” – Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria (Opens in LA and NYC)

“The Meddler” follows Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon), recent widow and eternal optimist, as she moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter (Rose Byrne). Armed with an iPhone and a full bank account, Marnie sets out to make friends, find her purpose and possibly open up to someone new.

“Nina” – Written and Directed by Cynthia Mort

She was one of the century’s most extraordinary talents, a 15-time Grammy nominee and Grammy Hall of Fame Recipient; her mesmerizing songs and passionate politics combined to make her the unforgettable Nina Simone (Zoe Saldana). But fame and fortune came with a price, and her later years were riddled with depression, alcohol abuse and isolation. Rediscovering the meaning of her life and work took courage, strength and one true friend: Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), the man who started out as her assistant and eventually became her loyal manager. With Clifton’s encouragement, the “high priestess of soul” began a courageous journey back to her music, and eventually, herself.

“Sworn Virgin” – Directed by Laura Bispuri; Written by Laura Bispuri and Francesca Manieri (Opens in NYC)

Hana Doda (Alba Rohrwacher), still a girl, escapes from her destiny of being a wife and a servant, a future imposed on women in the harsh mountains of Albania. Following his uncle’s guide, she appeals to the old law of the Kanun, which gives women, taking an oath of eternal virginity, the chance to embrace a rifle and live free as men. For everybody Hana becomes Mark, a “sworn virgin.” But something alive pulses and frets under these new clothes. Her choice becomes her prison and those immense mountains seem so narrow now. Mark decides to set out on journey, too long put off. She leaves her land and arrives in Italy, where a new journey begins; a continuous and subtle path, crossing the line of two far away and different worlds: Albania and Italy, past and present, masculine and feminine. Slowly Mark discovers her body again. She experiences the vertigo of touching other bodies and she finds caring, loving people life had denied her. She opens up to an unexpected and prohibited love’s chance. Mark rediscovers Hana, finally piecing back together the two souls that for years have lived inside her body. She is reborn as a new, free and complete creature.

April 27

“Eva Hesse” (Documentary) – Written and Directed by Marcie Begleiter (Opens in NYC)

As the wild ride of the 1960’s came to a close, Eva Hesse was cresting the wave of a swiftly rising career. One of the few women recognized as central to the New York art scene, she had over 20 group shows scheduled for 1970 in addition to being chosen for a cover article in ArtForum Magazine. Her work was finally receiving both the critical and commercial attention it deserved. “Eva Hesse” deepens the understanding of this extraordinary artist, not only in terms of her ground-breaking work, but also the life that provided the fertile soil for her achievements. With dozens of new interviews, high quality footage of Hesse’s artwork and a wealth of newly discovered archival imagery, the documentary not only traces Eva’s path but engages in a lively investigation into the creative community of 1960’s New York and Germany. 

April 29

“Mother’s Day” – Co-Written by Anya Kochoff and Lily Hollander

Bringing together Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts along with Jason Sudeikis, “Mother’s Day” is a celebration of mothers everywhere. This big-hearted comedy invites us all to enjoy the laughter, tears and love as three generations come together in the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

“Ratchet & Clank” – Co- Directed by Jericca Cleland

Two unlikely heroes struggle to stop a vile alien named Chairman Drek (voiced by Paul Giamatti) from destroying every planet in the Solana Galaxy. Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is the last of his kind, a foolhardy “Lombax” who has grown up alone on a backwater planet with no family of his own. Clank (David Kaye) is a pint-sized robot with more brains than brawn. When the two stumble upon a dangerous weapon capable of destroying entire planets, they must join forces with a team of colorful heroes called The Galactic Rangers in order to save the galaxy. Along the way, they will learn about heroism, friendship and the importance of discovering one’s own identity.

“A Beautiful Planet” (Documentary) – Directed by Toni Myers

This documentary about humanity’s relationship with Earth includes footage from the International Space Station and is narrated by Jennifer Lawrence. (Rotten Tomatoes)

“Viktoria” – Written and Directed by Maya Vitkova (Opens in NYC)

Maya Vitkova’s stunning debut feature “Viktoria,” which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year, follows three generations of women in the final years of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria and the early years of the transition to democracy. The film focuses on reluctant mother Boryana (Irmena Chichikova) and her daughter, Viktoria (played by Daria and Kalina Vitkova), who in one of the film’s surreal, magical touches is born without an umbilical cord. Though unwanted by her mother, Viktoria is named the country’s Baby of the Decade and is showered with gifts and attention until the disintegration of the East Bloc. Despite throwing their worlds off balance, the resulting political changes also allow for the possibility of reconciliation.

“Pali Road” – Co-Written by Victoria Arch

A young doctor (Michelle Chen) wakes up from a car accident and discovers she is married to another man (Sung Kang) and living a life she can’t remember. Her search for the truth to her past life will lead her to question everyone around her and her entire existence.

“3rd Street Blackout” – Co-Directed and Co-Written by Negin Farsad

Negin Farsad and Jeremy Redleaf play Mina and Rudy, an incredibly tech-savvy couple (she is a neuroscientist and TED-talker and he is an app developer) who have recently begun living together in a Third Street tenement walk-up. Since they do absolutely everything on computers and a host of other digital devices, their biggest issue is whose Netflix queue will take precedence over the other’s. Then, when Hurricane Sandy hits, they are shocked to discover that they can no longer use their prior — and primary — modes of communication. When they have a spat and Rudy decamps to Brooklyn, they are each forced to resort to new (meaning old) ways of connecting to people and, with the help of friends, neighbors and assorted East Village denizens, they try to make their way back to one another.

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