Tyler Perry is the critical elephant in the room as Hollywood elites discuss diversity.
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When it comes to the minuscule percentage of women directing films, the numbers are less depressing within the independent film scene.
But a new study shows that little progress was made in 2015, and that a disturbing disparity between men and women directors in the space has continued in the past year.
Women accounted for 28 percent of directors whose films screened at top U.S. film festivals last year, according to the annual study “Women in Independent Film” released on Thursday. While still far from reflecting 50-50 parity, the number is markedly better than the 9 percent of women directors who helmed major-studio films in 2015.
Led by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the study focuses on women’s representation at 23 U.S. festivals, including AFI Fest, SXSW and the Tribeca Film Festival.
“The findings indicate that while women fare better in independent films, particularly documentaries, than in studio features, they are not close to achieving parity in the independent realm,” Lauzen said in a statement.
Indeed, 35 percent of documentary directors working the festival circuit last year were women. Compare that with the mere 19 percent of women directors who worked on narrative features.
When crunching the numbers on directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers as a group, women made up 25 percent of those working on U.S. festival circuit films — a figure that has not changed significantly since 2008-09, when Lauzen’s team began its study.
“Women’s representation on independent films is stagnant,” Lauzen said. “In spite of the increasing dialogue about this issue, the numbers have yet to move. We are not seeing year-to-year growth.”
"A Place at the Table," a documentary produced by Participant Media and distributed by Magnolia Pictures, will do more than just explain America's hunger crisis. The movie's opening-weekend ticket and digital sales will provide food for children affected by it.
Plum Organics has partnered with the two film companies behind the doc, as well as the Perseus Books Group, to donate one organic "Super Smoothie" pouch to a baby or toddler in need for every ticket, online download and copy of the companion book or e-book purchased March 1-3.
Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush directed the documentary, which follows three people struggling with food insecurity in America. It includes interviews with Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio.
“At Plum, we believe each and every little one in our country deserves to be nourished to his or her full potential,” Neil Grimmer, CEO of the organic baby-food producer said. “'A Place at the Table' illustrates how we as a nation are falling short on this basic commitment to our children. We're excited to provide people with the opportunity to take one action against food insecurity by helping us donate a Super Smoothie to a baby or toddler in need."
Here's the trailer:
“Amour” was always the clear favorite in the Oscar foreign-language category, and its win on Sunday was one of the least surprising parts of a generally unsurprising ceremony.
But if Michael Haneke’s drama hadn’t been in the mix, there’s a good chance that Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” would have emerged as a serious contender for the prize.
The film is the wrenching story of a teenage girl who becomes a child soldier in an unnamed African country – and then, because she can see the dead, the “witch” of the gang of rebels.
Starring the remarkable Rachel Mwanza, who won the best-actress award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it will receive a post-Oscar release from Tribeca Film on Friday in New York and March 8 in Los Angeles.
Born in Montreal to a Vietnamese father and a French-Canadian mother, Nguyen has made four features. He was able to secure a visa for Mwanza and bring her to the Oscars.
How did you hit upon the story?
I was hunting for good stories, and I just found this amazing story about Johnny Htu, who was a Burmese child soldier. Johnny was nine years old, and he woke up one day and said he was the reincarnation of God. He became a kind of half God. He was forbidden to walk on the soil, because they were afraid it would soil his visions, so he was carried around all day. And he would smoke cigars every day.
As a storyteller I thought his story had power and humanity and all the elements that make a good film. And slowly I got pulled into the child-soldier element.
Did you meet with child soldiers while writing the script?
I went to Burundi to meet ex-child soldiers. What I saw in Africa was this complete superimposition of these heavy, intense, war-ridden countries where the love stories are the same as here. You still have boyfriends and girlfriends, and the girlfriends that are jealous because the boyfriend came home late last night. It's very simple. I find that odd and beautiful at the same time, and I wanted to try and convey that.
The story has its supernatural elements – but did you feel pressure to accurately convey a world of child soldiers in which truly horrifying things have happened?
Absolutely. And for me, the way to get it right was not to try to make the characters symbols for any political point of view. In fact, for many drafts we were so worried that we wouldn’t give the right message that we weren’t telling a good story. In the end, that was the greatest gift that this film has given me: to accept brutal honesty and truth.
In what way?
The best example is the rebels forcing children to kill their own parents. It’s not a generalized way of indoctrination, but it’s quite frequent. We kept trying to make it so maybe the [lead character] didn’t really kill her parents. Maybe she got slapped and lost consciousness, and the general put his finger on her finger, and we keep thinking that she did kill them but she didn’t. And it didn‘t work. In the end, we just had to say, “No, this is how it is.”
Where did you find your lead actress, Rachel Mwanza?
Well, I was really fearful that we weren’t going to find the right actress, because in this case I wouldn’t have a movie. One of the reasons we chose to shot in the Congo is because there was great amazing natural talent there. I guess it‘s from the heritage of verbal storytelling, you know?
And so we did an open call for actors. We already had the intuition that kids from the street could be pretty amazing, because of their rawness and their fearlessness. And it turned out to be pretty true. In the cases where these people could project their own personal lives onto the screen, it was just amazing. And Rachel was the best of them. She had this nonchalance. I guess when you live in the streets and you sleep on the side of the road, you don't care anymore about what people think. You're just there. And that's an amazing tool for an actor.
Was she living on the streets?
She was living on the streets. But as soon as we cast her we established a reinsertion program. She has a caretaker and she has a place to live, and she's back in school. But at the time she was still living on and off the streets.
Does she want to act more now?
She does. I'll have to be honest, there's a long way before she can work. She doesn’t know how to read yet. She’s learning, and she’s getting better. And she has her Facebook page so we can contact her. But she’s still a long way from understanding the subtleties of dialogue. I thinking there’s at least five to 10 years of work.
So Uncle Kim, which is what I am, tells her that she should learn another trade. But she hates me for doing that. She’s a teenager. [laughs] We bought Rachel a phone, and she said, “Kim, I can't put music on this.” There wasn't an MP3 reader and she couldn't take pictures, so she wanted a better phone.
How could she act in your film if she couldn’t read?
Because we work in such a different way. The actors never read the script, and we filmed in continuity. Every day it was like directed improvisations. All of the script and the dialogue was written, but the idea was to direct the improvisation in such a way that the dialogue would appear even though they never read it. And what's strange is that it did. Maybe 85 percent of what is on the page is there on the screen, and the rest is better.
How did you hit upon that process?
I had seen “Fish Tank,” and Andrea Arnold's work method was a huge inspiration. It blew me away in regards to performances. For me, that's my mantra: everything for authentic performances. You don't have a film, for me, if you don't have those performances.
I think Andrea Arnold is really influenced by Cassavetes, and their approach really echoes what I want to do from now on: organize everything so the actors are projecting their own selves on the screen. It makes it really real and raw.
It it hard to get financing when the process is that unconventional?
It was for a while. But Canada has a funding system that is quite organized and specific, and we were fortunate that the script had the strength to convince script analysts that it should be done.
The hardest part was convincing people that there shouldn‘t be Caucasian actors in the film. I’ve seen a lot of films where Africa gets saved, symbolically, by North America. And I wanted to give a voice to the real heroes in the stories.
You’ve made several other films, but “War Witch” was your first to get an Oscar nomination and receive this kind of attention. What was different this time around?
I do feel that “War Witch” was a breakthrough for me, where I was rediscovering my initial impulses to do film. The first three films, they’re my babies and I love all of them. But I did feel that when I did the one before this, “City of Shadows,” I had reached a kind of wall where the pressures of funding institutions, producers, co-production deals and all of that put a kind of varnish over the film that. It wasn’t raw and I didn’t feel that my hand was at the heart of the actors, in a way. I let down the actors because I didn’t push them to where they should have gone.
But in a way, I guess you have to do these films and scrape your knees and stand up.
So what did you do differently?
The big thing was not overpreparing, oddly enough. You prepare in a different way. You prepare in the way of understanding the characters, understanding the people, getting drunk with people in Kinsasha and understanding their lives. It’s not storyboarded anymore. It’s more like, we look at what’s happening and where the actors want to go and we bend our method to what they’re doing on the set. Very different from the previous films.
“Stoker,” the psychological thriller from director Park Chan-wook, averaged an impressive $22,689 per theater in its specialty box-office debut this weekend.
Fox Searchlight released the film, starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman, in seven theaters and its grossed $158,822 over the three days. In "Stoker," a mysterious and charming man comes to live with a young woman and her unstable mother after her father dies.
Also debuting was “Leviathan,” the documentary about the commercial fishing trade in the North Atlantic. It took in $10,018 on one screen at New York's IFC Center, distributor Cinema Guild reported.
Tribeca Films' “War Witch,” the Best Foreign Language Oscar-nominated tale of a 14-year-old African girl telling her unborn child the story of her life amid a war, opened to $10,260 on two theaters.
Also opening was "Hava Nagila," a documentary on the history, mystery, and meaning of the ubiquitous Jewish standard that follows the around-the-world journey of the song from Ukraine to Youtube. Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis and Leonard Nimoy appear in the film, which took in $9,521 from a single New York theater for International Film Circuit.
The Weinstein Company expanded “Quartet,” Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut set in a retirement home for musicians, from 356 theaters to 725. It took in $1.7 million, an average of $2,428 and raised its domestic total after eight weeks to $8.9 million.
A sequel to the 2001 cult comedy hit “Super Troopers” could begin shooting as early as this year, according to Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme, two-fifths of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe.
Broken Lizard, formed at New York's Colgate University in 1990, has written and starred in such films as “Super Troopers,” “Club Dread” and “Beerfest,” all of which member Jay Chandrasekhar directed.
“Super Troopers,” which stars the quintet as a group of lovable, degenerate cops working in Vermont near the Canadian border, grossed $23 million at the box office for Fox Searchlight. Made on a shoestring budget, it alienated many with its crude humor but endures among a young adult crowd.
There have been rumors and discussion of a sequel for years, but Heffernan and Lemme told the website GuySpeed.com this week that it may happen as soon as this year.
“We wrote the script and handed it in to Fox, and now we’re just negotiating the time and the place and hopefully shoot it some time this year. I have to start growing my mustache now,” Heffernan said.
Fox and representatives for various members of the group did not immediately respond to TheWrap's calls for comment.