The Serendipity of Agnés Varda

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipədē/ noun

  1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

Three film festivals. Three opportunities to celebrate Agnés Varda.

Telluride Film Festival (TFF46) dedicated their festival to her memory. Mill Valley (MVFF42) hosted Mind the Gap celebrating women in the industry and screened a film featuring Varda, Serendipity. Varda would applaud the festival’s (lead by the wonderful Zoe Elton) gender equity mission to have 50% of films feature women directors programmed by 2020. Denver (DFF42) also screened Varda by Agnés and has a great Women + Film program started 14 years ago by Tammy Brislin and supported, and now lead, by Barbara Bridges and her foundation.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Telluride tribute and screening of Varda by Agnés. What an incredible panel with her family and friends there to speak. Martin Scorsese spoke about her visit with JR to his The Irishmen set. She teased him about his lack of female characters. They seemed to have had a warm relationship and he considers her a great talent. Varda’s daughter and son discussed carrying on her vision and what it was like growing up with a mother who documented their lives wherever they lived. Tom Luddy, a founder of the festival, is actually featured in the documentary! He introduced Varda to her uncle in Sausalito and helped get her crew together to film their meeting–Uncle Yanco, in 1967. He was also instrumental in encouraging her to film the Black Panther movement in Oakland. It was a pleasure to hear him speak and then see a younger Tom Luddy on the big screen.

Those serendipitous moments continued. I traveled to Mill Valley to help manage the Outdoor Art Club for the festival and one of our events was a reception for Serendipity. Prune Nourry’s documentary is her story of how her work as a sculptor and her journey through breast cancer was incredibly intertwined; reflected and refracted. She is a French sculptor married to the art photographer JR. The film includes a sequence filmed by Varda when Prune Nourry shaves her head. During the Q & A after the screening, Nourry revealed that during that filming, Varda had breast cancer too. “She had the young woman’s version of cancer, aggressive and fast”, Nourry said shaking her head. “I had the old woman version, slow to spread and easier to stop.” Agnés would die of her breast cancer a few months later.

The documentary is powerful and beautiful and celebrates the transcendence of art. It was also incredibly personal to me having myself had a breast biopsy and a family that has suffered the ravages of breast cancer. The night of the screening, I had just received news of a new case of breast cancer in my own family. What a sad serendipity. Watching JR, in his sunglasses even at the evening film screening, supporting his wife as she travels with her film, I thought of the wonderful film, Faces, Places (Visages Villages). And again, there was the frission of synchronicity.

Now I’m the Denver Film Festival and the one film that fit into the schedule for my two busy film festival buddies…Varda by Agnés. As we had drinks post-film, I shared the story of Prune Nourry’s connection to Varda and my own relationship to her film, Serendipty. My life is full of serendipity and I’m grateful for my wonderful friends who share my journey. Now I want to get back to SF to visit JR’s photography exhibit at SFMOMA…on thru April 2020.

Motherhood at the Movies

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Women are making headlines. We’re standing up for our rights and saying #Metoo, #TimesUp and #EqualityNow.  And our voices are being heard. _101312188_hi046747529

An amazing 82 women commanded the red carpet this week at the Cannes Film Festival. They stood in solidarity to show how few women filmmakers have had films in competition in comparison to the 1600 male filmmakers in Cannes’ history. Rallied by the International activist group 5050X2020, their voices were heard and they got results in a pledge to work toward gender parity at this prestigious festival!

There are a wide range of films featuring mothers at your local cineplex. This Mother’s Day, you could see a drama, a rom-com, a thriller and a comedy!  What are the messages these films portray?  It’s clear that women need support in Tully and Overboard:  Charlize Theron gives an extraordinary performance in Tully as a mother pushed to the breaking point by exhaustion and postpartum depression. The writer/director team of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have crafted an intimate portrait of motherhood and a rare look at one woman’s overwhelming challenges.

Anna Faris is literally Overboard as a working class mother who gets revenge on the pompous millionaire who dumps her off his yacht…by claiming him as her husband. This gender-switch to the Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell romantic comedy gives this film a needed update. In this film, the mother has supportive friends and family and her children are in on the joke. The message seems to be that even a playboy can be saved by hard work and the love of a good woman.

Women become warriors if their children are threatened in Breaking In and A Quiet Place:  Gabrielle Union is the Mom-on-a-mission as she rescues her children from the home invaders. The thriller has the tagline: “Payback is a Mother”.  Childbirth never looked so horrific as the scene in A Quiet Place when Emily Blunt is trying to remain silent while giving birth…and she knows that aliens are hunting her family!

If you were looking for a more cheerful look at motherhood, we learn that Moms want to have fun. Melissa McCarthy plays a newly-divorced mother who decides to join her daughter at college. Life of the Party makes it seem like college is a series of fun hi-jinks. The daughter seems chagrined but accepting…and the awkward scenes between the two are played for broad laughs.

Women need support. We can be warriors. And we want to have fun. It’s wonderful to see so many films showcasing the complexities of what it is to be a woman. If you live in a major city, you could celebrate how far we’ve come with Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s documentary, RGB. This intimate look at Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is touching, inspiring and a lot of fun. This is a woman who made her mark with the awesome support of her husband, has lead the charge on gender equality and clearly knows how to have fun!

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Read this nice review from The Economist about how the Notorious RGB is a “trailblazer for gender equality”.  It’s the movie all women deserve to see! Let’s all stand for gender equality by supporting films made by women, films starring women and showcasing our stories. Our voices need to be heard!

Where to find films made by women?

When I read statistics about the lack of women in movies…both as filmmakers and as stars, instead of getting angry…I get motivated!  Sure the movie theaters are full of action movies right now, and yes, most of them feature men or have male-driven stories, but there are ways to support women filmmakers even in small towns and suburbs.  It just takes a little research.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/11/mans-celluloid-world-study-finds-women-under-represented-film

One of the first things I did upon moving to a smaller town from the film-blessed City of San Francisco, was to find small venues that screen art-house fare.  Museums, art galleries, colleges, even local Community Centers often have film nights.  I joined a film-oriented Meet-up Group and found local film-lovers to bond with and, to offer advice on where to find MY FILMS…the non-Hollywood fare.

I look to Indiewire to supply me with film news as well as my favorite film magazine from London, Total Film.  I also read a number of Entertainment sections of both local and national publications for film reviews and discussions.  Women in Hollywood is a great blog featured on Indiewire that often has a list of what female-centric films are in cinemas that week and great blog posts like this one :http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/in-honor-of-international-womens-day-here-are-the-things-you-can-do-to-support-female-filmmakers-and-female-films

So, don’t despair.  Make yourself AWARE!

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Here in Longmont, CO, there’s a lovely museum called the Firehouse Art Center. (http://firehouseart.org/)  There are movie screenings on the first Friday of the month.  March 7,  there was a screening of short films created by two women (Gloria Chung and Marcella Ernest-Kwe) and a Skype interview.  The event was free with a suggested donation of $10 and there was free popcorn and beer & wine.

In the city of Boulder, CO, only 15 minutes away, there are a couple of art house movie theaters.  There is the single screen at the Century Cinemas that features Cinearts films.  There’s the classy single screen theater at the Dairy Art Center called the Boedecker Theater—where you can have wine and beer and wander the art gallery before or after the screening (http://www.thedairy.org/venue/boedecker-theater/).  The historic Boulder Theater downtown occasionally has screenings (and hosts the Boulder International Film Festival).  And finally, there is the Colorado University International Film Series, IFS, (https://www.internationalfilmseries.com/) with screenings in two auditoriums.  Tonight there is a film by a woman filmmaker, Lydia Smith called Walking The Camino.

In the nearby town of Lyons, we have the new Lyons Cinema and Photography Art Center featuring short films this Friday, March 21 (including short films by MaryLee Herrman);  And if you travel to Denver, there are many art house theaters (Mayan, Chez Artiste) and the SIE FilmCenter – Denver Film Society.  This week is the Women + Film Voices Film Festivals featuring over 20 films by and about women!

So don’t despair…become AWARE!  Seek out the films that fuel your imagination and support the women who tell our stories!