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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 7.May.23

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power
dir-scr-prd Nina Menkes
with Nina Menkes, Rosanna Arquette, Charlyne Yi, Catherine Hardwicke, Eliza Hittman, Joey Soloway, Amy Ziering, Maria Giese, Laura Mulvey, Penelope Spheeris, Lara Dale, Julie Dash
release US 21.Oct.22,
UK 12.May.23
22/US 1h47

london fest

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Like a university lecture spiced up with whizzy clips and graphics, this documentary explores a huge topic with exhaustive research. Movies have been made from a specifically male perspective for more than a century, and scholar-filmmaker Nina Menkes notes how objectifying women has caused problems for both the industry and wider society. It's a dense and indulgent film, but what it has to say is urgent and essential.
Because some 95 percent of filmmakers are men, it's hardly surprising that everything about the movies has a male gaze. What Menkes explores in her stage talk is the politics of it all, examining how scenes have traditionally been directed, shot, edited and scored to make men the subjects and women the objects of the action. Accompanied by various experts, she discusses how this has fuelled a pervasive culture of frat-boy toxic masculinity throughout the Western world, and it also helped open the door for sexual abuse and workplace discrimination throughout the film industry.
With more than 175 movie clips that span the whole length of cinema history, starting as early as 1896, the evidence is compelling. Yes, these scenes have been carefully curated, and there are certainly many clips that could offer contrasting viewpoints. But Menkes acknowledges that even the exceptions include aspects of gender bias. For example, if a man is naked, he's usually shown full-bodied and in action. If filmed in close-up detail and passive, like most women are, then he is clearly in a position of powerlessness.

In other words, this documentary carefully outlines how gender has fed into the language of cinema, and also how this has affected the way we see the world around us. This becomes especially intriguing when discussed by female filmmakers like Hardwicke, Hittman and Soloway, and of course Menkes herself, as they recognise that they too have inadvertently used male perspectives in their work. Tellingly, the first woman to win the best director Oscar was working with a crew almost entirely headed up by men.

The huge number of examples can feel somewhat overwhelming, as they combine to reinforce each of Menkes' points with real force. Indeed, the masculine eye has been a dominant force in the movies, and it extends right through culture today, such as revealing uniforms for female athletes and string bikinis required for Love Island girls (while the boys wear shorts). And the film's final section offers some hope, as more women take positions of power in the industry and put their perspectives on-screen.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 6.Mar.23

Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn
dir Timothy Harris
prd Hunter Johnson, Derek Helwig, Shannon Sun-Higginson, Lorna Miller
with Malcolm Kenyatta, Matt Miller, John Fetterman, Conor Lamb, Bob Brady, Sheila Simmons, Holly Otterbein, Jonathan Tamari, Julia Terruso, Manu Raj, Mary Kenyatta, Lee Daniels
release UK Mar.23 flare,
US Mar.23 off
23/US 1h35

bfi flare film fest

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Matt Miller and Malcolm Kenyatta
Covering a vital political campaign in perhaps too much detail, this documentary is essential for what it says about American politics. Using a fly-on-the-wall style over two years, filmmaker Timothy Harris zeroes in on a milestone candidate who rejects the idea that only straight white guys can run the country. As a gay Black man, Malcolm Zenyatta knows rather a lot more about the state of his community.
It opens on election day 2020, when Zenyatta is a Pennsylvania state representative speaking out against Donald Trump. Zenyatta is the first openly LGBTQ person of colour who is running for the US Senate. But he comes from one of his state's poorest districts, and raises less than a tenth of what his main Democratic competitor Fetterman can. Indeed, Fetterman has such an advantage that he skips the debates. Accompanied by his husband Miller, Zenyatta is able to connect with voters because he knows how it feels for the political system to fail him.
Of course, Zenyatta also knows exactly how it feels to be marginalised and attacked for being Black and queer, so he can tap into a public that is frustrated by the way the entire political system has failed them. He takes on the issue of rising gun violence in Philadelphia, reminding voters that "we know what we need to do, we just need the political will to do it". And he hits a nerve when he says that nobody who works full-time should be forced to live in poverty without health care.

This is given resonant context as the film fills in Zenyatta's personal back-story. As a young man in his 20s, he lost his parents specifically because they had no access to health care. And he was inspired to stand up and make a difference by his grandfather, a leading civil rights activist who inspired Zenyatta to action when he was just 11 years old. While he lost his 2022 primary against Fetterman, he remains an active Pennsylvania state representative.

Zenyatta is a seriously inspirational figure, both for who he is and what he says. So we listen when he points out that to date every single senator elected to represent Pennsylvania has been a white man. "Why should we elect the least-bad straight white millionaire?" he asks. And while his identity fuels his message, he is also able present a hopeful challenge society at large: don't just be here, be noticed.

cert 12 themes, language 18.Mar.23 flare

Still   A Michael J. Fox Movie
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir Davis Guggenheim
prd Davis Guggenheim, Annetta Marion, Jonathan King, Will Cohen
with Michael J Fox, Tracy Pollan, Sam Fox, Aquinnah Fox, Schuyler Fox, Esme Fox, Danny Irizarry, Hannah Galway, Bradley Peters, Susan Bressman, Siobhan Murphy, Ryan Order
release US/UK 12.May.23
23/US Apple 1h35


Now streaming...

Assembled warmly and unflinchingly, this documentary is a powerfully moving portrait of the actor who charmed the world in the 1980s and 1990s and has lived with Parkinson's for three decades. Michael J Fox tells his story openly, using his own brand of offhanded humour to recount events from an intimate perspective while offering new insights into the disease. And filmmaker Davis Guggenheim expertly crafts a riveting narrative.
From his childhood in Edmonton, Michael drops out of high school and moves to Hollywood at 18 to further an acting career. Just as he is giving up hope, he lands his now-classic role in the 1982 sitcom Family Ties, then juggles 24-hour working days while simultaneously shooting Back to the Future (1985). At the peak of his career, he hides his 1991 Parkinson's diagnosis, returning to television for Spin City in 1996. Then opening up about his condition gives him a newfound freedom, supported by his wife Tracy as he becomes an outspoken activist.
The film's title refers ironically to his lifelong inability to stop moving, and even in present-day physical therapy sessions he is constantly advised to take it slowly. Indeed, Fox's acting career has hinged around his kinetic physicality and impeccable timing. And Guggenheim captures him in new interviews showing that he's lost none of his quirky spark in retirement. He's also unafraid to take on the big questions about his condition, refusing to live anything less that at full speed. And he also won't allow even a hint of pity.

To trace his career, Guggenheim assembles a range of superb TV and film clips, including terrific behind-the-scenes footage, all edited together inventively to recreate his personal life in a vivid counter-beat to his on-screen persona. There are also gorgeously shot recreations featuring actors (Irizarry and Galway play Fox and Pollan) seen mainly in silhouette, seamlessly edited into other scenes. This is accompanied by a wonderfully energetic song score.

At each step along the way, the film circles back to how this disease adds a whole new context to Fox's life, forcing the audience to see the issues of fame and success through the eyes of a man who has finally found happiness in taking action and enjoying life with his wife and four children. It's an involving and entertaining film that features brightly funny commentary alongside some intensely emotional moments. For those of us who grew up with Fox, it's essential.

cert 15 themes, language 4.May.23

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