Three women in Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse

New Films by Women — March 13, 2020

This idea was originally to share new films made by women in theaters and on streaming. With the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, I don’t want to encourage people to go to theaters. Social distancing is a proven way of mitigating a pandemic’s spread through a community. In an effort to encourage that, I’ll focus on what’s new or recent in streaming.

I may add theatrical release films that are digitally rentable in future weeks. It’ll shift around a bit as I get it figured out. In the long-term, once the coronavirus pandemic has passed and the need for social distancing passes with it, I’ll go back to covering theatrical films as well.

I find this especially frustrating because one of the films I was looking forward to most is director Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”. I also really enjoy the theatrical experience, seeing something on the big screen with an audience. Yet it is far more important to limit social movement for the time being. My own desire to see a film should never supersede the safety of others, so I’ll hope to cover it when it becomes available to stream or rent.

There are countless opportunities to cover other films by women that you can access while maintaining the social distancing practices that can keep yourself and others in your community safe.

Lost Girls (Netflix)
directed by Liz Garbus

 

You may not have heard of Liz Garbus, but she’s been nominated for two Oscars as a director. This was for documentary films. “The Farm: Angola, USA” documented life in Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison. The second was “What Happened, Miss Simone?” It addressed the civil rights activism of singer Nina Simone. She also directed “Bobby Fischer Against the World” for HBO.

You may know some of her other films better. She executive produced “Street Fight”, about Cory Booker’s 2002 campaign for mayor of Newark, as well as “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, which discussed the torture of prisoners and human rights violations conducted by U.S. Army and C.I.A. personnel at Abu Ghraib. Her list of documentaries both directed and produced makes her one of the most important filmmakers you probably haven’t heard about.

“Lost Girls” isn’t a documentary, but it is based on real events. That claim often gives me pause, as films tend to use this term to mislead and exaggerate more than present those real events. Such events as the Long Island serial killer aren’t always treated with respect. I do have hope that one of the most important documentary filmmakers we have can translate the story in an accurate manner.

Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse (Amazon)
directed by Leonora Lonsdale

 

This isn’t a film, but rather a two-part miniseries based on an Agatha Christie novel. It’s already aired in the UK, and received considerable praise. It’s one of those storytelling triumvirates which is rare in the film industry – a screenplay by a woman (Sarah Phelps), based off a woman’s novel, directed by a woman. This shouldn’t be notable – men are enabled to do it this way all the time – and yet it’s still seen seldom enough that it’s worth noting when it happens. The series itself looks stylish, moody, and tremendously well cast.

Sitara: Let Girls Dream (Netflix)
directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

 

I’d also like to mention this short animated film out of Pakistan. It centers on two girls who one day hope to become pilots. To say much more would be to disrupt or ruin the film’s message. It’s only 15 minutes, and it’s well worth watching.

Guilty (Netflix)
directed by Ruchi Narain

 

This is an Indian film by director Ruchi Narain. A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape and what follows plays out both on a personal level and in the media. It’s a bit difficult to get as much information about the film as I’d like, but it’s supposed to look into aspects of victim-blaming. It’s advertised along the lines of a thriller over whether the accusation is real or not. That gives me some pause. I don’t know how it intends to handle an accusation like this. I’m wary of the potential of a twist that might undermine belief in the victim, though this worry could be unfounded just because of the “thriller” nature of how it’s being advertised.

Knives and Skin (Hulu)
directed by Jennifer Reeder

 

This is one of the stranger ones on here. At first it seems it’s straight out of the vaporwave horror movement. The trailer reminds me quite a lot of “Lost River”, which most critics panned and I loved. It’s also reminiscent of “It Follows” and “Donnie Darko”. That may be the trailer trying to capitalize on those connections, but it’s hard to tell if the satirical throughline is more openly comedic than in those movies. All these films take place in a heightened sense of a satirized reality, but they still take themselves seriously enough to be tense and frightening – and films like this usually don’t get the kinds of theatrical pushes they deserve.

System Crasher (Netflix)
directed by Nora Fingscheidt

 

This is a German drama about a nine year-old girl who needs mental health issues addressed before returning to her mother. It was Germany’s entry for the Oscars under Best International Feature Film (previously the award was called Best Foreign Language Film). It earned nominations in the European Film Awards under Best Film, Best Actress, and the University Award (an award voted on by students).

The new theatrical films I hoped to cover this week are films I will instead wait to cover until they come out on streaming and digital rental. They include Eliza Hittman’s unplanned pregnancy drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”, Sally Potter’s film about dementia “The Roads Not Taken”, and Tucia Lyman’s found footage horror “M.O.M. Mother of Monsters”. I’ll list them so they can be on your radar, but please heed social distancing practices.

Some recent releases I got a chance to see and review before coronavirus became a public health danger. They include Cathy Yan’s tremendously fun and subversive super-antihero film “Birds of Prey”, and Autumn de Wilde’s extremely smart and expertly designed Jane Austen adaptation “Emma”.

Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow”, Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, Stelle Meghie’s “The Photograph”, Kitty Green’s “The Assistant”, Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”, and co-director Jennifer Lee’s “Frozen II” are all recent releases that should make it to streaming and digital rental in a few months.

I do know Marielle Heller’s Mr. Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is on streaming platforms already, and I hope to re-frame future weeks to focus a little bit more on what’s already accessible. I hope the top section covering streaming originals is a good start to what you can watch now without having to leave home.

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