Review: “Higher Ground” (2011)

A film by Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga directs and stars in this movie about a women’s journey of faith.  The film is based on Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir, This Dark World. She breaks the movie up into chapters, such as “Summons” and “Waiting for Dawn” that deal with different parts in her journey.  Corinne grows up with a sister and parents that are in love but break up when they lose their third child.  Corinne goes to church as a young girl and tries to make sense of religion and how she fits into the picture.

The film goes on and shows Corinne as a teenager finding love with a boy in a band called the Renegades.  They marry at a young age after she becomes pregnant.  The band travels and on one particular trip Corinne brings their young child along and they are in an accident.  They crash into a lake and frantically search for their toddler that they had placed in a cooler.  They find her and are convinced that God saved her.  They join a fundamentalist sect and raise their family in the group.  They have two more children.  The group is very traditional and Corinne goes along with it until she starts to realize that maybe it’s not for her.  The group is very strict about women doing any teaching.  She tries to share what she has learned from the bible to the group and gets chastised for preaching.  She also gets called out for wearing a dress (a maternity dress no less) that garners too much attention.

I think we can all relate to this film because religion or spirituality is in most of our lives in some shape or form.  It can be a struggle to make your way and try and figure out what you would like to believe.  I thought that Corinne was very brave to leave the group when she no longer believed what they did.  It was all she had known and took courage to walk away from her family and friends.  Farmiga did a great job with the flow of the movie and kept it moving along nicely.  This film was a great start for Farmiga as director.

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Lotus Wollschlager is the official Her Film movie reviewer.  Find her bio on the Her Film Reviews page.

Reproduction & Abortion (in film & TV) Week at Bitch Flicks

One of my favorite websites, and an incredibly important source for feminist film & television discussions, is Bitch Flicks.  This month, they’ve launched another great theme week: Reproduction & Abortion in film and television.  Check out some of these articles listed below and stay on the BF site to read more!  They’re posting pieces all this week.

“Procreation at the End of Civilization: Reproductive Rights on Battlestar Galactica
by Leigh Kolb

“Where Are My Children?
by Erik Bondurant

“The Dancer’s Dilemma”
by Myrna Waldron

 

 

INTERVIEW: Cassandra Hollis, director of “A Praying Grandmother”

BIOGRAPHY

Filmmaker Cassandra Hollis

Cassandra Hollis has directed, produced and written eight films, many of which are award-winning. The award-winning SAG film, The Altar, is airing now through 2013 on the TCT television network in the U.S. and airing on television networks in the U.K. and  South Africa. Her three-part film series about the Underground Railroad, Mattie, Johnny and Smooth White Stones: Parts I, II, & III, was selected for inclusion in the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program and distributed in schools, universities and libraries throughout the U.S. and Canada. In June, Mattie: Part III will screen at the 2012 Harriet Tubman Underground Conference in Cambridge, Maryland. Currently, she is co-producing a feature film with Gospel great, Helen Baylor, based on Ms. Baylor’s life story, A Praying Grandmother: The Helen Baylor Story.
(Bio updated by Her Film 4-5-12.)


Her Film:  Can you talk a bit about your newest film and what drew you to this topic?  How did you reach out to the film’s subject, renowned gospel singer Helen Baylor?

Cassandra Hollis: Amazingly, this project “found” me. Ms. Baylor saw me on a local television talk show discussing my previous 8 films and she said the Lord told her I was “the one.” For years, she’d wanted to tell her life story in film but never felt right about the
timing nor about who she could entrust her story with. She said she told her husband that she wanted to contact me and before I left the station, I received a note that they had called.

Poster for A Praying Grandmother (Courtesy of C. Hollis)

HF:  In addition to you adapting Helen Baylor’s life story — published as No Greater Love (Vision Publishing 2007) — you are also working directly with her on the film and she appears with you in the pitch video on your website.  Can you describe the type of relationship you have and the challenges that also go along with this filmmaker/film subject dynamic?

CH:  Yes, she is the Co-Producer of the film and we have become like family during the process of bringing her story to life. As a filmmaker, working with her as I adapted her autobiography into the screenplay was unlike any writing experience I have ever had. Her
recall is amazing. She can describe details of some of the biggest triumphs and tragedies in her life. She even remembers details of furnishings, etc. It was rewarding to me as the screenwriter that when she read the screenplay, she said that not only did she feel like she
was reliving everything but that it seemed I was there as it happened.  It was great being able to just call her or send over questions as I worked on the script.

Some of the challenges in our filmmaker/film subject relationship include just maintaining the daily grind of what it takes to bring a project like this to the screen. We live in different states and she travels a great deal with her singing career so sometimes it may take a few days to get a response back when I needed it yesterday (smile). I am just so proud of her commitment to share her story so that someone else may be delivered and helped. We’re on the same page with the same vision for the film so ultimately it all works out well.

HF:  You’ve worked in television as on-air talent, as a producer and a director.  To what extent do you draw off of your early experiences in this arena to inform your filmmaking, especially in the context of narrative filmmaking when much of your past work has been journalistic?

CH:  What a great observation. I believe I draw a great deal from my journalistic roots and they readily inform my choices in subject matter. My films have addressed all sorts of social issues and ills, including homelessness, abortion, abstinence, centenarians,
Underground Railroad.. I have been able to address these issues within the context of narrative filmmaking and never been accused of making say a glorified documentary or glorified news story. So my films really just show the humanity behind whatever the issue may be. The issue is positioned as subtext largely because I’m not necessarily preaching about it. Nor am I necessarily taking a position. I just present it for audiences to choose whether they want to focus on it or stay focused on the characters and plot.

HF:  Every experience in life changes us somehow, and as filmmakers, we spend so much time dealing with a script, story structure, etc.  It is inevitable that these experiences change us as people and artists.  How has your experience making A Praying Grandmother changed you as a person and as a filmmaker?  What lessons have you learned in the process that you could share here?

CH:  As a filmmaker, making this film has helped me to grow as a producer as well as director. My previous projects involved smaller budgets and therefore, I had not experienced all of the details along the way that must be covered when bringing a project to the big screen. I knew what the steps were but had not done them. Experience is the best teacher. Because of this experience I am well equipped to do more films on a large scale. I believe it helped me take my vision to global status.

Grandmother Hudson, grandmother of Helen Baylor (Courtesy of C. Hollis)

Personally, I have even more compassion for people. To some degree, I’ve always wanted my films to help people. But, with this project I think lives will be saved. It has taken that mandate to a higher place for me. I really feel a sense of responsibility and urgency with all of the recent tragedies in the Entertainment industry. Helen was a rising R&B star plagued by her addictions to cocaine and all kinds of drugs. But she had a ‘praying grandmother’ who literally did not cease to pray for her. Someone needs to see that the power of prayer can really help pull a person from the depths. Someone needs to see that you can be delivered from drugs by the power of prayer. Prayer often becomes a cliche’ but Faith and prayer are powerful weapons. Someone needs to see that and get help. As I mentioned before, the film does not preach and is not super spiritual. It simply, elegantly and powerfully tells what happened to this amazing, annointed Gospel Great and how she lived to tell it!

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To learn more about this film or to connect with the filmmaker, please visit:

Website: www.holyhillproductions.com

Twitter: @HelenBaylorFilm and @cassandrahollis

Facebook: /cassandrahollis

LinkedIn: /CassandraHollis

REVIEW: “The Future” (2011)

“The Future” (2011)

A Film by Miranda July

Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) live a quiet life in L.A. until they decide to adopt a stray cat that is terminally ill.  They can’t get “Paw-Paw” right away so they have to wait a month before they can pick him up.  They both start to see life in a different light and start to adapt accordingly, quitting their jobs and keeping their eyes and ears open for new opportunities.

Jason finds himself going door to door selling trees to help reduce global warming.  His organization’s goal is to plant a million trees.  He purchases a used hair dryer and befriends the previous owner, spending more and more time with him when he sees how lonely the man is.

Sophie also quits her job and promises her friends that she will record herself doing 30 dances in 30 days.  She can’t quite muster up the courage to do this and never even sends one out.  She is frustrated that Jason seems to have all these fantastic and moving experiences while she has yet to encounter anything.

While at the shelter, Sophie notices a drawing and decides to purchase it.  The artist is there and his daughter has left his home number on the back of the drawing.  He runs a banner and sign company.  On a whim she calls him and ends up going to his home under the false pretense that she needs a sign.  What follows is the start of the demise of Sophie and Jason’s relationship.

Throughout the film you hear the narrative of Paw-Paw who is an interesting addition to the film with his childlike, yet somewhat creepy, voice.  The cat feels so happy to be waiting for Sophie and Jason to return and finally feels like he belongs.   Paw-Paw has had such a sad life and is hoping for a fresh start with Jason and Sophie.  It was a nice touch to hear about life from Paw-Paw’s perspective.

The film has some mystical qualities such as being able to stop time.  It’s done in a way where it seems realistic enough to the main characters, and you see them struggle with getting a grip on their own realities.  Miranda July (as Sophie), throws in some of her performance art here and there in some majorly awkward but silly scenes.   In one interesting performance art scene she realizes that she made a huge mistake in leaving Jason.  He knew and accepted her much more than anyone else.  July doesn’t disappoint by bringing her own quirky style to the film as shown in her previous work (see below).

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Lotus Wollschlager is the official Her Film movie reviewer.  Find her bio on the Her Film Reviews page.

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More information on Miranda July:

The Future website and its Oracle transmedia component

MirandJuly.com: biography

Learning to Love You More (website archive of web/non-web project)

Joanie 4 Jackie (archives of chainletter video movement founded by July)

From Bitch Flicks: 11 Films that Celebrate Inspiring & Trailblazing Women

Great post from one of my favorite sites: Bitch Flicks, in celebration of International Women’s Day yesterday (March 8 — this year and every year.)

They ask: What films inspire you?  Check out this awesome list of inspiring titles:

Happy International Women’s Day:

11 Films that Celebrate Inspiring & Trailblazing Women.

Strong women and women who are realistically portrayed, aren’t THAT common in film, especially Hollywood studio pictures.  Some films with powerful and inspiring central female characters that I have loved throughout the years (or some, very recently) are:

Harold and Maude (1971) / The genius Ruth Gordon plays the title character, a quirky, empowering, and inspiring heroine.  Watching this film is one of my earliest memories.

Where Do We Go Now? (2011) / Directed, co-written & starring Lebanese filmmaker-actress, Nadine Labaki, this film is an emotional and stunning tale of women.

Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994 TV movie) / Stars one of my favorite actresses, Irene Bedard, in this biopic of Mary Crow Dog, a Lakota activist who participated in the Wounded Knee (South Dakota) protest in support of Native American rights and the rejection of abuse by the FBI. (Based on the autobiography Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog (with Richard Erdoes)).

Waitress (2007) / Written, directed and starring the late, incredible actress-filmmaker Adrienne Shelly.  I love this film for its artful balance of the humor and heartbreak of life.

Mi Vida Loca (1993) / Written and directed by the amazing Allison Anders. Albeit I was 15 when I first saw it, and knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker even then, but I hadn’t seen women portrayed like this, nor seen the story of this community told.

Leona’s Sister Gerri (1995) / A biographical documentary by Jane Gillooly about a woman named Gerri Santoro who is shown in a photograph (published 1973) as an “anonymous woman” dead from an illegal abortion.  Santoro is the woman, a mother of two, who died in 1964.  This photograph helped fuel the pro-choice struggle in the 1970’s.