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

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

A much-needed profile
of Anita Hill is one of the top-grossing films directed by women in March, with
the highest monthly gross of a female-directed documentary so far this year. Anita has made $80,281 from seven
theaters, with Samuel Goldwyn Films handling the platform release (theatrical
only, no VOD). Frieda Lee Mock explores the incendiary 1991 Senate hearings, which
went from the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the trial of Anita Hill, with
the calm and reasoned approach of her subject. Anita truly lets Hill speak, and the law professor recalls this life-changing
event with an illuminating directness and lack of rancor. A feature documentary
Oscar-winner for Maya Lin: A Strong,
Clear Vision
, Mock was the first Governor of the AMPAS Documentary Branch
and currently serves as co-chair of the DGA Documentary Awards Committee. 

Opening on the
same day (March 21) as Anita is the
portrait of another activist, feminist and author, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (from
LeeLee Films and First Pond Entertainment). Korean-American director Grace Lee made
a documentary in 2005 about other women with her name, and she found an amazing
subject in the Chinese-American Boggs, now 98. The outspoken radical has not
softened with age, and American
explores her role in the civil-rights movement, as well as her
views on Detroit, where she’s lived for half a century while watching the slow
decline of an industrial powerhouse and symbol of American capitalism.
Filmmaker Maria Iliou goes back to the era of Boggs’s childhood with her
historical documentary From Both Sides of
the Aegean: Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey – Greece 1922-24

(from non-profit Proteus). It’s her third collaboration with historian
Alexander Kitroeff, using archival images to illuminate modern Greece and the
tumultuous history of the region. These limited releases have not reported

Rachel Boynton (Our Brand is Crisis) explores big money
in Big Men, which looks at an
American petroleum company’s foray into oil-rich Ghana. Six years in the making,
the documentary digs into the environmental and social impact of Western
corporations extracting natural resources from Africa, as well as the Big Men who chase profits on both sides
of the Atlantic. Briefly released last June, the Plan B production is getting a
careful theatrical rollout via Abramorama, grossing $35,406 from three
theaters. Mirra Bank looks at a different form of American influence in The Only Real Game, about the love of baseball
in Manipur, the former kingdom turned Indian state that has its own rich sports
history as the birthplace of polo. Bank wrote a guest post for Women and
about making The Only Real Game
in the volatile region. Her self-released documentary has grossed $1,892 from
one theater. 

While Hollywood
is shorthand for commercial, mainstream American filmmaking, Bollywood has
become an umbrella term for populist Indian movies that feature musical
interludes. They rarely get much attention from American critics, but Bollywood
features (in a variety of genres) regularly play in major U.S. cities,
including films from female directors like Nupur Asthana. Her second feature, Bewakoofiyaan, is a romantic comedy
about an ambitious young couple whose free-spending ways upset her father, a
traditional bureaucrat. Like many Bollywood releases, Yash Raj Films opened Bewakoofiyaan in the U.S. on the same
day as in India (but did not report grosses).

films directed by women are making inroads at American cinemas this month.
Released in 30 theaters by Cohen Media Group, Emmanuelle Bercot’s On My Way has grossed $149,613, which
puts it at #21 for all March films. The French actress, screenwriter and
director often has multiple roles in her films: Bercot co-wrote the Polisse screenplay with director Maiwenn
and both women starred in the 2011 crime drama, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes.
She stays behind the camera (as co-writer and director) for On My Way, which sends Catherine Deneuve
on an emotional road trip. Italian actress Valeria Golino (Rain Man, Respiro) also
opts not to appear in her first feature as co-writer and director, Honey (Miele), about a woman who assists the terminally ill with their
planned deaths. Emerging Pictures is distributing Honey as part of the Cinema Made in Italy initiative to bring new
Italian films to American theaters. Oscar winner The Great Beauty (released by Janus Films and grossing $2.7
million) was first in the series, but no box-office information is available
for Honey.

Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love was one of the more
than 30 films from women directors that screened at the 2013 Sundance Film
Festival. Her feature debut, an unvarnished look at a teenage girl’s sexual
awakening, is getting a platform release from Variance Films (without VOD) and
has grossed $11,664 from the first theater on its national rollout. Jessica
Goldberg’s directorial debut Refuge
is adapted from her play, which won the 1999 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for
women dramatists. (She wrote Refuge
while studying at Julliard.) The 2012 film stars Krysten Ritter as a woman
focused on caring for two teenage siblings when she finds unexpected romance.
Strand Releasing opened Refuge on
March 28 in one theater and it grossed $1,274. Family relationships are even
more strained in Jocelyn Engle and Arno Malarone’s Awakened, which follows a woman investigating the circumstances surrounding
her mother’s death. The thriller with supernatural elements was released by
Gravitas Ventures, which did not provide grosses.

Dutch writer and
director Miriam Kruishoop moves out of her comfort zone with Greencard Warriors (formerly Crosstown), about the difficult choices
facing undocumented immigrants in the United States. Her Los Angeles-set drama
has one brother opting for the military while the other struggles with gang
life. The German director Wiebke von Carolsfeld is comfortable working in
English, adapting Aislinn Hunter’s debut novel Stay about a Canadian woman (Taylor Schilling) living in rural Ireland
with a disgraced academic (Aidan Quinn). Her pregnancy challenges their insular
existence. Distributed by New World Cinemas and Kino Lorber, respectively,
neither film has reported grosses.

Two self-distributed
documentaries cover the sacred and the profane (without releasing box office figures).
In Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of
, Elena Mannes and Peter C. Jones profile the Trappist monk who
adopted Eastern religious practices and helped originate Centering Prayer. The
influential theologian has published more than 30 books, including Open Mind, Open Heart. For Exposed, Beth B dives into the cheeky
world of modern burlesque, where humor and social commentary are as important
as titillation. A provocative artist in her own right, Beth B was featured in
Celine Danhier’s documentary Blank City
(2010), which revealed how the 1970s punk aesthetic influenced New York
independent filmmakers (including Jim Jarmusch and Bette Gordon). Exposed marks her first theatrical
release after a decade making television documentaries. 

grosses and theater numbers for March 2014 are courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

#21 | On My Way
| $149,613 | 31 theaters

#25 | Anita |
$80,281 | 7 theaters

#32 | Big Men | $35,406
| 3 theaters

#42 | It Felt
Like Love | $11,664 | 1 theater

#50 | The Only
Real Game | $1,892 | 1 theater

#51 | Refuge | $1,274
| 1 theater

Serena Donadoni
is a freelance film critic in Detroit. She runs (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

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