When we selected the films we wanted to see, we only had one over-riding thought, which was to choose films we may not get a chance to see at our local theaters any time soon. We avoided the big Hollywood premiers because we can see those eventually at a local theater. One thing I find interesting is that without intending to, out of the eleven films we saw, four centered in the Muslim world and five were directed by women. Try to find that ratio at your local multiplex.
I've grouped the two films below, both directed by women, because they strongly evoke places and times with which I'm unfamiliar and gave us insight into lives we are unlikely to experience except through the movies.
In her directorial debut , visual artist Shirin Neshat adapts Shahrnush Parsipur's novel Women Without Men to the screen with mixed results. The story takes place in Tehran during the summer of 1953 as the Shah stages his coup. Following the lives of four women from different classes and circumstances, it weaves their stories together to illustrate how they attempt to break free of the oppressive restrictions imposed on them by the men who control their lives either directly or indirectly.
Nevertheless, Women Without Men is an impressive debut from an artist whose next film should be worth keeping an eye out for. One thing that came to my mind during the Q & A which followed the film: in contemporary Iran this film stands no chance of ever being shown in a theater or sold as a dvd. Thus it will never be experienced by the audience who would likely appreciate it the most- and that's a conundrum that I find simultaneously intriguing and depressing. It raises a lot of questions for which I have no answers but is the start of an interesting conversation.
Tanya Hamilton's Night Catches Us (the title refers to a Jamaican proverb) takes place in Philadelphia, 1976. Originating in a Sundance lab, it took Hamilton ten years to get this picture made. What floored me after viewing it was learning it was shot in only eighteen days. It looks and feels like they took a lot longer to shoot. Featuring a truly stellar cast (with one odd major exception), Night Catches Us is a period piece that looks at the very personal aftermath of the Black Panther movement from those who were involved in it.
When Marcus (an outstanding performance by Anthony Mackie of The Hurt Locker) returns home to his old neighborhood from prison, he has to contend with a reputation as a snitch, a Muslim brother who wants nothing to do with him (Tariq Trotter of The Roots), and some old relationships that have never been resolved.