Stream Films About Remarkable Women III

 Architect Dame Zaha Hadid “Queen of The Curve”:  Zaha Hadid, An Architect, A Masterpiece 2016. Partly in French with English subtitles, partly in English.  Documentary directed by Carine Roy. At age 11, Bagdad born Hadid (1950-2016) decided on architecture and never looked back. The first woman to be awarded The Pritzker Prize in Architecture (2004), she drew and then figured out how to construct her visions. For years the firm Hadid started after leaving Rem Koolhaas entered competitions without building anything. Subsidized by wealthy, cultured parents, she waited until her moment.

Signature designs undulate and curve in a way unimaginable before the innovator. Her organization worked with technicians and contractors developing brand new software, methods, and materials. At the time of filming, 64 people were handling 46 international projects. Everything is sleek, clean, and sterile. There’s not a bench, plant or sculpture in one of her lobbies or plazas. She was honest, blunt, obstinate, and confident. Whatever you think of the result, Zaha Hadid was a ground breaker. A few expert talking heads participate.  Rent on Amazon Prime.

Three Accomplished Black Women at NASA: Hidden Figures 2016 Loosely based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly about female, black mathematicians who advanced NASA during the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. Directed by Theodore Melfi. Though liberties are taken, this film will be a revelation to most. It depicts Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), mathematicians who respectively calculated important flight trajectories and became a NASA programming supervisor and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) a NASA engineer.

All three begin as “human computers” in a segregated division at Langley Research Center, Virginia. Assigned to an all male team, Katherine endures constant derision until superior Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) gives her enough responsibility to prove herself. Even then, she’s passed over until she saves the day during the John Glenn launch. (Author Lee Shetterly pointed out Katherine was not, in truth, solely responsible.)

Dorothy teaches herself programming when no one (no man) in the department can manage a new computer set-up. Mary finds a fatal flaw in a design, but cannot be promoted without certification which she must attend classes at an all white high school. We see the women at work, at home, and facing a bigoted community. And cheer as they’re recognized. Inspiring. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Thirteen year-Old Female Eagle Huntress: The Eagle Huntress 2016 Documentary. Kazakh language with English subtitles. Directed by Otto Bell. The extraordinary story of adolescent, Mongolian Aisholpan who was, to date, one of a very few and certainly the youngest girl to become an eagle huntress. Fortunately born to parents who believed girls could do anything boys could, round-faced, rosy-cheeked Aisholpan (not a tomboy) approaches her father Nurgaiv with sincere desire to follow seven generations of nomad men and learn to hunt with an eagle. “It’s not a choice, it’s a calling.”

The process begins when Aisholpan is taken to the mountains to capture the golden eaglet she would then be responsible for raising and training. (The bird is neither small nor defenseless.) We see the process step by step. Thick gloves and bird masks are employed.  At school, she regales excited dormitory mates with what she’s doing. When the time comes for the annual festival, Aisholpan competes. Next winter, she and the bird must actually hunt (foxes) in the frozen Altai Mountains. You’ll never see anything like this. Compelling and heartwarming.

Aisholpan stated her wish to study medicine and become a doctor. The filmmakers made the eagle huntress and her family “profit participants” in the documentary and established a fund to help pay for her higher education. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Actress/Inventor Hedy Lamarr: Bombshell-The Hedy Lamarr Story 2017 Written and directed by Alexandra Dean. Most know Hedy Lamarr as a glamorous actress/producer (with six husbands) who became a star with 1938’s Algiers. (She made 30 films in 28 years.) Covering this aspect, the film offers clips, home movies, and newsreel footage of her Austrian youth, early acting – notably the European film, Ecstasy in which she was portrayed as having an onscreen orgasm – and Hollywood success. We then turn to Hedy Lamarr, inventor.

Born to immigrant Jews, the artist felt strongly about the Nazis. At the beginning of WWII, she and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes that used frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology (transmitting radio signals by rapidly changing the carrier frequency). Spread-spectrum techniques are employed in Bluetooth and Wifi technology.

Invited to join The National Inventors Council, she felt she’d be of more use selling war bonds. In fact, Larmarr sold approximately $25 million (over $350 million today) worth of war bonds during a period of 10 days. A great story. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Outsider Artist Maud Lewis: Maudie 2017 A biographical drama. Directed by Aisling Walsh. 1930s. Maud Downey (cinematic treasure Sally Hawkins) lives in Nova Scotia with her aunt and brother. She has crippling arthritis, equally crippling shyness and carries the grief of having lost a child seeded in rape. Told her brother has inherited and sold the house out from under her, she answers an ad for a cleaning lady placed by gruff fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke – first rate). Maud agrees to room and board, but the shack is so tiny, the two have to share a bed.

Everett is monosyllabic and demanding. With no recourse, Maud makes the best of everything. To cheer up the shack, she begins painting shelves, then walls with flowers, birds, animals. The art is untrained and charming. When every surface is covered, she uses pieces of discarded wood and paper. One of Everett’s customers from New York buys a painting. Word gets out. The couple marry, Maud learns her child is not dead, her health degenerates. They never move from the shack.

In life, Lewis had a very small house, at 10 ft × 12 ft.  Walsh wanted to be accurate in creating a replica, but the structure had to be enlarged to accommodate a film crew. Hawkins, a hobbyist painter, tried to duplicate Maud’s style. Poignant and oddly uplifting. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Mabel Stark Tiger Trainer: Mabel, Mabel Tiger Trainer 2018 Documentary Directed by Leslie Zemeckis. “I hope each new season until my number is up finds me demanding ‘Let them come.’” (The call to let her tigers into the ring.) Born to sharecroppers in 1869, Mary Ann Haynie and her six siblings were orphaned when she was 17. She was the only one who chose not to go with an abusive stepfather and struck out on her own. After a train-on-the-job nursing position, she ran off with a carnival worker ending up on circus grounds.

Mary saw her first tigers and had the epiphany that would direct the rest of her life. There were no women big game trainers/performers. Setting her sights on the show’s trainer Mr. Stark, she married her first husband to learn the craft. He taught her “the kindness method,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Men like Clyde Beatty, who had his own circus, went big game hunting and brought animals back alive. “You can train them, but not tame them,” he said.

Mary raised cubs, talked to the beasts, fed, bathed, and cleaned up after them for three years. If one was sick, she slept with him. Husbands came and went. All were somehow involved with the show. She developed her own “full contact” act (as Mabel) even dancing with a tiger, which is extremely dangerous. Knocked down and torn apart, the trainer never blamed animals and immediately returned to the ring. If these acts still existed, you wouldn’t look at them the same.

The film delves deeply into big cats, the way they react, methods by which they should be treated, almost unavoidable outcomes. Several other trainers add experience and insight. Watching 76 year old Mabel with her animals speaks volumes. Entertaining and intriguing if a bit long. Free with Amazon Prime. Robert Hugh’s fictional biography entitled “The Final Confession of Mabel Stark” was optioned by Sam Mendes for his then wife Kate Winslet, but nothing came of it. One can only imagine technical challenges.

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay 

About Alix Cohen (1793 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.