What research goes into this weekly feature? It’s good for readers to have an idea about the process, as well as its advantages and disadvantages. Not everything gets covered, and knowing what goes into these articles helps you know what does.
Titles: To start, I run through a dozen-plus sites to find everything released on as many platforms as I can. Right now, this includes Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV, CBS All Access, Shudder, Acorn, Peacock, TV Guide for network and cable shows, video on demand release calendars, new physical release earnings, and various sites that catalog anime premieres.
Directors/Showrunners: The next step is looking up every director and showrunner for every new movie and show. Movie directors are easy to find on IMDB, but showrunners aren’t listed as such there. For bigger series, a Google search can usually tell you who a showrunner is, as well as offering confirming articles. Often this doesn’t work for smaller shows, which means digging through articles and interviews to determine who a showrunner is. Anime in particular is very difficult, especially because there’s often slim information available about newer directors.
Write-up: After this, I learn what the movies and series are. Sometimes I’m familiar with them, sometimes I’m not. I want to be able to tell you about each in a way that helps you determine if it’s something you’d like to watch.
Sometimes I know who the director or showrunner is. I can tell you what they’ve done before, or some interesting elements of their directorial style – maybe you recognize them, too, or you enjoyed a previous film of theirs.
Some weeks – such as this one – there are a lot of first-time directors. I like to include some introductory research so that you can start learning who they are, too. Including a bit about who they are and what they’ve done is important. Women directors and showrunners don’t become household names without people talking about them and valuing their perspectives, experiences, and past projects. It’s great to discover a new director you love and begin to go through their catalog of past projects.
How can you watch? All the information so far goes into the write-up. Then, the most important part: where can you watch these? This is the most important because the whole point of this article is to get people to learn about and watch films that might otherwise pass them by. Women creators don’t get the same advertising backing and platforming as men do. They don’t get the same praise or focus in the media that encourages people to watch what they’ve made.
Before COVID-19, how to watch something was usually fairly simple. Movies were in theaters or on streaming platforms; TV shows were on streaming or cable. Not to be too dramatic, but as theaters (rightfully) remain closed, the morass of video-on-demand viewing, virtual theatrical options, live viewings that can only happen on a certain date when the moon is half past a quarter-to-three and you’re on the third paragraph of a Jane Austen novel being read to you by your second favorite cat…it all starts to chew away at my soul. Deep breath.
That’s not to complain, it’s just to say that it can sometimes be a messy process. I’d love to say, “Here’s the place you go to watch this,” and sometimes I can, but it’s often a longer description of different ways to watch it at different price points, and why that can get a bit complex. The simpler I can get it, the more likely you are to go and watch something, so I want to make it as accessible as it can be to you.
What is and isn’t covered? The combination of all this means that I’m sure I’ve missed something along the way. When I do, I’ll try to feature it. For instance, the entry for “Dead Still” this week is something I should have included last week. When I do that, I’ll just include it the next week with a mea culpa like this one.
It also means that at some point I have to limit the scope. I don’t include reality shows, game shows, or kids shows – and this is less of a judgment on genre or context than it is about just how difficult it becomes to glean information about who’s running these shows.
What would I like to include? I’d also really like to include movies and shows written by women. I may start doing this at some point, when I have more research time to be able to do it reliably. Beyond that, I’d also like to compile information about films and shows where the cinematographers and editors are women, but that absolutely starts getting into the research weeds.
Ideally, it’d be great if this feature one day becomes useless. I’d love to have a more centralized place to find out information about new movies and shows by women, and who those women are. In my dreams, that would have a release calendar, searchable listing database, and an equivalent section for movies and shows by directors of color. If there’s someone who wants to help me make that, hit me up.
In the meantime, this approach might be imperfect, but I hope it does some of the work to encourage people to watch more of what’s made by women. I hope it starts the process of familiarizing us better with women filmmakers and normalizing the idea of seeking their work out. Let’s get into exactly that:
Dead Still (Acorn TV)
showrunner Imogen Murphy
“Dead Still” is an Irish-Canadian mini-series set in 1880s Dublin. Memorial photography was popular during this era. It involved taking an image of the recently dead as a keepsake and remembrance. Photography was early in its development, so it was a very complicated process. When a murderer seems to be patterning their crimes after the work of a particular memorial photographer, he of course must get involved in the investigation.
Imogen Murphy serves as lead director (essentially showrunner), directs 4 of the 6 episodes, and co-wrote all of them. Her experience tends toward the darkly comic, which “Dead Still” is leaning into quite hard. She directed half of “Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope”, which earned a great deal of praise beginning in 2016. (Cathy Brady directed the other six of its 12 episodes.)
New episodes of “Dead Still” are premiering weekly on Acorn TV, taking the show through June 15.
The High Note (digital rental)
directed by Nisha Ganatra
This is one I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Its initial theatrical release was slated for May 8, but amidst COVID-19, that was bumped back. Focus Features has decided to release it straight to video-on-demand on May 29 instead.
One thing that’s interesting about this is that Marvel’s “Black Widow” was originally set to release on May 1. Generally, almost nothing new premieres against an MCU film. “Legally Blonde 3” and “The High Note” were both set to premiere the week after. With “Black Widow” directed by Cate Shortland and “The High Note” directed by Nisha Ganatra, this would have marked a very rare occasion where an event movie and a movie counter-programmed against it would’ve both been directed by women. That’s not a bad thing; films directed by men do this so regularly it’s not really of any note. It would have been good to see as a milestone in something that will hopefully become just as regular an occurrence.
Canadian-American director Nisha Ganatra is best known for her 2019 film “Late Night”, starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson as a new writer trying to update a late night host losing her relevancy.
“The High Note” is written by Flora Greeson; this is her first feature screenwriting credit.
The price point for “The High Note” is a theatre-going equivalent, not a rental one. It’s $20 to rent on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, or through Xfinity. It will likely be several weeks or longer before it goes down to a traditional rental price.
Papicha (virtual theatrical)
directed by Mounia Meddour
Algeria fought – and in some ways continues to fight – a war against religious conservatism. Attacks were often made not at military targets, but against civilians. 200,000 died in the 1990s in a civil war that often cropped up in unexpected ways.
“Papicha” follows a young student in 1997. She wants to be a fashion designer, but strains against conservative extremists that threaten women and demand they be covered and unseen. It was Algeria’s entry into the Academy Awards for Best International Film, though it failed to get a nomination.
Director Mounia Meddour has helmed two documentaries, and “Papicha” is her first feature-length narrative film.
“Papicha” can be rented through a number of theaters. Unfortunately, I can’t find a central listing for all the theaters playing it. Various theaters list it independently, but I can’t check dozens of theaters each to confirm their legitimacy. I’ll recommend the best place to watch it as Film at Lincoln Center, where it can be rented for a 3 day period for $10.
Film at Lincoln Center is vetted, but it may be worth it to check the independent cinema near you to see if they have it (or other independent and foreign films you’d like to see). “Virtual theatrical” releases mean that a portion of the ticket cost goes to the theater itself, so it can be a good way to support independent cinemas in your community during the pandemic. See if yours has it.
Stage: The Culinary Internship (virtual theatrical)
directed by Abby Ainsworth
Here, the “stage” in the title refers to a French word. A “stage” is an unpaid position in a kitchen. There, a cook learns the techniques of a chef in order to further their career. The documentary follows a number of chefs who are starting out. They work long hours, going unpaid under nine-month contracts at Mugaritz, a Michelin-starred restaurant.
This is director Abby Ainsworth’s first documentary feature.
Major recognition to Cargo Film & Releasing, which features a central resource right here for all the different places where you can watch “Stage: The Culinary Internship”. This makes it remarkably easy to click through to the theater you’d like to support by renting the film. It looks like the going rate is $10 for a 48-hour rental.
Take a look at new movies + shows by women from past weeks.
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