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Sundance: Call Jane

Call Jane stars Elizabeth Banks as Joy, a stay-at-home wife pregnant with her second child. Joy and her husband Will (Chris Messina) soon discover that Joy’s pregnancy is causing her congestive heart failure. The doctor gives her two options: die carrying the child or have an abortion. It’s 1968, still a few years away from Roe vs. Wade, and abortions are illegal underground operations. After a scare, Joy discovers  “Call Jane” a service involving a network of suburban woman who arrange abortions for women in need. The initiative is run by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver) who takes Joy under her wing. Corrupt doctor Dean (Cory Michael Smith) charges $600 per procedure which is out of reach for most women who seek the service. Joy and Virginia team together to make abortions available to more applicants but do so in a safe, affordable yet unconventional way. Joy does all of this while keeping it secret from her husband, daughter (Grace Edwards) and neighbor Lana (Kate Mara).

Based on the true story of the Jane Initiative, Call Jane is directed by Phyllis Nagy, best known for her stunning adaptation Carol (2015). Call Jane has similar pacing as Carol. The film takes its time telling its story. Patient viewers will be greatly rewarded. Call Jane shines a spotlight on the history of abortion but also offers us a look into a future where abortions may become illegal again. Women will seek out abortions regardless of their legality and while the Jane Initiative saw no casualties, many other women have died from botched back alley abortions. This film won’t change anyone’s mind about abortion. But it does serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come and what we have to lose.

Call Jane premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Memphis ’69

“But the music prevailed…”

Directed by Joe LaMattina, Memphis ’69 is a new documentary that serves as a time capsule for the 1969 Memphis Birthday Blues Festival held on the 150th anniversary of the city’s founding. Made up almost entirely of archival footage from the three day festival, a few title cards at the beginning give the film some context. The festival ran from 1965 to 1969 during a time of much racial strife in the city. It was one year after the Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the KKK held a rally in the city concurrent with the event.

The folk and blues revival of the 1960s helped launch new stars of the genre but also allowed for the rediscovery of older blues performers. A wide range of blues, folk, country and even gospel musicians performed on stage for a motley crew of attendees. The attendance fluctuated throughout the three days but it never put a damper on the spirits of the musicians who played their hearts out. 

Memphis ’69 takes viewers on a time travel trip to this one-of-a-kind blues festival. It lingers over many of the performances and also captures the spirit of the time. All of the performers featured in the documentary are long gone and this film now serves as a tribute to them.

Performers featured in Memphis ’69 include:

  • Rufus Thomas
  • Bukka White
  • Nathan Beauregard (106 year old, blind performer)
  • Sleepy John Estes
  • Yank Rachell
  • Jo Ann Kelly
  • “Backwards” Sam Firk
  • Son Thomas
  • Lum Guffin
  • Rev. Robert Wilkins & Family
  • John Fahey
  • Sid Selvidge
  • Molloch
  • John D. Loudermilk
  • Furry Lewis
  • Piano Red
  • Jefferson Street Jug Band
  • The Insect Trust
  • Johnny Winter
  • The Salem Harmonizers
  • Mississippi Fred McDowell

Memphis ’69 was screened at Slamdance 25 and is nominated for a Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature.

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