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Sundance: The Disappearance of Shere Hite

If it’s true that sex researcher Shere Hite revolutionized how we view women’s sexuality, then why isn’t she better known? A new documentary by director Nicole Newnham brings writer Shere Hite back into the spotlight where she belongs. 

When The Hite Report was published in 1976 it caused a major stir. Hite had canvassed hundreds of women with a series of intimate questions about their sex lives and how they personally achieve orgasm. Women responded back anonymously and Hite collected these quite illuminating responses into a book. The biggest takeaway from the responses: intercourse was not the primary way women reached orgasm. Hite received nothing but vitriol from men and from the press for her research. Pushing back against the patriarchy and revealing the truth about women’s sexuality made her a controversial figure. As her notoriety grew, Hite began to withdraw, eventually to leave the US behind and never look back.

The Disappearance of Shere Hite features extensive interviews with those who knew Shere Hite best as well as archival clips of her many appearances in the media. The film effectively brings Shere Hite back in the limelight and serves double duty as both a biographical documentary and a scathing expose on how women are treated by the media.

 

The Disappearance of Shere Hite premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Eileen

Set in 1960s Boston, Eileen stars Thomasin McKenzie as the title character, an assistant working at a juvenile detention center. Eileen spends her days taking care of odds and ends at the prison and her nights by taking care of her alcoholic and emotionally abusive father. When psychologist Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) joins the prison staff, Eileen is smitten. Rebecca is blonde, well-dressed, well-mannered and speaks in a lilting Mid-Atlantic accent. Eileen and Rebecca form a close bond that turns sinister as they take an interest in a local criminal case.

Directed by William Oldroyd and based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen is a solid drama with two very captivating leads. McKenzie and Hathaway play off each other much like Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett do in Carol (2015). There are somethings about the film that worked and some things that didn’t. The LGBTQ storyline is left ambiguous which is a bit of a disappointment. There is a tonal shift that takes this from dramatic love story to murder mystery. Earlier scenes hint at something being afoot but the story’s twist will still catch viewers by surprise. New Zealand born actress Thomasin McKenzie really nails the Boston accent. She doesn’t overplay. Instead it’s a bit more subtle and natural which Massachusetts locals, like myself, will appreciate.

Eileen premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields

Actress and model Brooke Shields achieved a level of fame that is unparalleled today. From the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Shields was a recognized face on television, film and advertising. From adolescence she was considered one of the most beautiful girls in the world. Unfortunately, this lead to her becoming one of the most sexualized children in all of entertainment history. Shields garnered controversy with her ad campaign with Calvin Klein and provocative roles in films like Pretty Baby (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980). Powerful men in the industry took advantage of Shields’ beauty, fame and passive nature. And behind Shields’ controversial success was her mom and manager Teri Shields, who believed that her child really special and that Brooke should be shared with the world.

Director Lana Wilson’s Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields is an eye-opening documentary about Shields’ extraordinary life and the dangers minors face in the media. Produced by ABC News Studios, this doc will be released in two one-hour segments. The first hour is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Although its clear there was backlash even then about Shields and how her mother was handling her career, it’s still shocking to see just how much these industries were allowed to get away with. It shines a much needed light on some hard truths. The second half explores Shields’ adult years including her two marriages, her battle with postpartum depression and how her career evolved over time. The biggest surprise is when Shields reveals that she was raped at the age of 20 by someone in the film industry (who goes unnamed).

Talking heads include Shields herself and her close friends including Laura Linney, Drew Barrymore and Judd Nelson. A one time watch at best.

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Sometimes I Think About Dying

Office worker Fran (Daisy Ridley) lives a simple and quiet life. Her days consist of work, cottage cheese, glasses of wine and Sudoku. She’s painfully shy which makes partaking in office culture, her only social sphere, all that more awkward. During quiet moments she daydreams about death, imagining the various ways her dead body could be discovered. Things change when Robert (Dave Merheje) joins the office. He’s sociable, funny and he’s taken an interest in Fran. Thus begins a courtship that requires an incredible amount of patience for Robert as he tries to lure Fran out of her shell. 

Directed by Rachel Lambert, Sometimes I Think About Dying is on the surface a story about female loneliness. Fran, brilliantly played by Daisy Ridley, is an introvert severely lacking in social skills and awareness, preventing her from establishing meaning relationships with other people. However, the movie’s strength lies in how it captures corporate monotony and contemporary work culture. Lambert’s film examines every minutiae when it comes to work interactions. There is much to take away from how the film depicts the intricacies of office politics from meaningless rituals to strict expectations on behavior.  Ridley and Merheje play off each other beautifully and it’s easy to become invested in their relationship. I appreciated that Lambert leaned more on a slow build up with the two protagonists rather than rely solely on the shock value of cringey behavior.

Sometimes I Think About Dying premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Alta Valley

Lupe (Briza Covarrubias) is a hard-working Mexican-Navajo Diné woman just trying to make ends meet and support her family. When her mother Adamina (Paula Miranda) is hospitalized, Lupe will go to any length to acquire the funds needed for a possible life-saving procedure. Her quest to meet her father Carl (Micah Fitzgerald) and ask for his help leads her on a treacherous journey. Along the way she meets Maddy (Allee Sutton Hethcoat), a gun-toting cowgirl who is on the run from a dangerous cartel. The two form an unlikely bond as they join forces on a roadtrip through the Alta Valley.

Written and directed by Jesse Edwards, Alta Valley offers viewers a classic western style thriller as a platform to share the important story of the Diné people (given name: the Navajo). In his director’s statement, Edwards writes “this project is an honest and heartfelt attempt to make an action film, that starts an essential conversation around colonization, land ownership, and reparations toward Native American people.”

Alta Valley can at times be melodramatic and overwrought. However, its bolstered by interesting characters and its effectiveness as a message film. It explores themes of family, greed, language  and land ownership with great respect for the Diné people. It flips the script on westerns of the past while also offering fans of the genre plenty of shoot outs and beautiful cinematography of the vast Utah landscape.

Alta Valley is having its world premiere at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the official website for more details on the film.

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