Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
It’s an annual tradition; Oscar Season comes around and a Martin Scorcese picture is always sure to be getting plenty of buzz. This year the film in question is Silence starring Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Inside Llewyn Davis), as missionary priests searching for their mentor (Liam Neeson) in feudal Japan. It’s not surprising that the movie has people talking; besides its all star pedigree, issues of faith particularly the priesthood often make for great cinematic drama. Consider the following.
Boys Town (1938) Spencer Tracy’s performance as Father Flanagan who founds a sanctuary for underprivileged and delinquent young boys named Boys Town, earned him an Oscar. The movie was nominated for four more Oscars and won for Best Original Story. It also brought a lot of public attention-and funding-for the real Father Flanagan’s work. Besides Tracy’s legendary performance, you also get Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull, and Gene Reynolds. Plus this was the movie, that originated, “He’s not heavy-he’s my brother!”
The Exorcist (1973) Directed by William Friedkin and based on the novel of the same name, this movie made pea soup a catch phrase and a certain set of steps at Georgetown University a place of pilgrimage. It’s not only considered not only one of the greatest scary movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies period, this one kicked off a whole genre of exorcism themed movies, none of which quite compare to the original. In great part that’s because it not only has Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair’s iconic performances, but Max von Sydow as well as Father Merrin. But the movie’s emotional heart and soul comes from Jason Miller as the tormented Father Damien who’s suffered a crisis of faith after the death of his mother.
The Name of the Rose(1986) Jean Jacques Anand (The Lover, Enemy at the Gates) directed this Italian-French-German mystery drama was adapted from the Umberto Eco novel of the same name. Young novice Adso (Christian Slater is his very early years,) and his mentor Franciscan Friar William of Baskerville (Sean Connery in one of his more memorable non-Bond roles) in 1327, journey to a remote Italian abbey for a papal debate. The abbey in question houses one of the greatest libraries in Europe; it’s also astir from the recent suspicious death of one of the monks. More bodies turn up and William races to solve the mystery before the Inquisition is called in. It won the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film as well as two BAFTA awards including Sean Connery for Best Actor.
Black Robe (1991) Directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Double Jeopardy) this adaption of the Brian Moore novel tells the story of how young Jesuit priest Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau best known to American audiences for his roles on 24 and Vikings) is sent to a distant Catholic mission in a Huron village. LaForgue is accompanied by non-Jesuit assistant Daniel (Aden Young of The Starter Wife and I, Frankenstein) as well as a group of Algonquin Indians. Along the way complications in the form of Daniel falling for an Algonquin girl, and interactions with other First Nation peoples who are less than sympathetic to Father LaForgue and his mission. It is considered one of the best researched films featuring indigenous peoples and it includes dialogue spoken in the Cree, Mohawk, and Algonquin languages. It won the Genie Award for Best Canadian Film as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor.
The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) Directed by Carlos Carrera and starring Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel, Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the titular father and Ana Claudia Talancon (Fast Food Nation, Love in the Time of Cholera) as the young girl he begins a passionate affair with. As you can imagine it doesn’t end well. The movie created a firestorm in Mexico and the Catholic Church actually attempted to ban it. Despite or perhaps because of that, it became the biggest box office success in the country’s history and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
With Desierto now in theaters (read the review), and illegal immigration being such a hot topic in the presidential election this year, it seems only right to remember some of the following flicks about the immigrant experience.
Mojados: Through the Night (2004) Director Tommy Davis accompanied four men as they make a 120 mile journey across the Texan desert over the course of 10 days and edited into a 55 minute film. It won the Grand Prize at the San Antonio Underground Festival, Best Documentary at the Santa Fe Film Festival and Arizona International Film Festival, and the Audience Awards at the Kansas International Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival.
Sangre de Mi Sangre(2007) This Argentinean-American thriller tells the story of Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola) a young Mexican boy who travels to Brooklyn in search of his long lost father Diego (Jesus Ochoa of Man of Fire and Beverly Hills Chihuahua). But Pedro’s identity is stolen by a young imposter Juan (Armando Hernandez of Fast Food Nation) out to steal Diego’s savings. Pedro then teams up with the streetwise Magda (Paoloa Mendoza from The Undying) as he tries to find his dad. It won the Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic Film at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.
Frozen River (2008) Courtney Hunt made her debut writing and directing this crime drama. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo, The Fighter and Prisoners) is a working class mom hoping to purchase a new trailer home. She teams up with Native Hall Bingo Hall employee Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham from Skins and August: Osage County) in a dangerous business of transporting illegal immigrants from Canada to the U.S. by driving them over the frozen Lawrence River. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Best Female Lead from the Independent Spirit Awards for Melissa Leo, and was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay.
Sin Nombre(2009) Cary Joji Fukanaga (Jane Eyre, Beasts of No Nation, and True Detective) wrote and directed this Mexican adventure thriller. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan who later starred in the cult horror hit We Are What We Are) is a young Honduran girl. Along the way she ends up with two companions Casper (Edgar Flores) and Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) members of a Mexican street gang seeking to escape the violence. Besides being the film that put Fukanaga on the map it also won awards Best Directing and Excellence in Cinematography at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. (Yep I’m seeing a pattern for movies about immigration and the Sundance Film Festival, too.)
Which Way Home(2009) Rebecca Cammisa received a Fulbright scholarship to direct this documentary that would air on HBO. Cammisa followed several children trying to get from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. on top of a freight train known as “La Bestia.” (The Beast). It won an Emmy Award and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and Academy Award for Best Documentary.
It’s no secret 2016, is shaping up to be a very…ahem…exciting election season. Besides such issues of income inequality, the Supreme Court, reproductive justice, foreign policy, and so forth the increasingly dire news about global warming is weighing on many people’s minds-and makes Earth Day this year seem more weighted with symbolism than usual. Here are some more films that deal with environmental issues.
Erin Brockovich (2000) The biography of the real life Brockovich who successfully spearheaded a lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company for polluting the water of Hinckley, California was a commercial and critical success that was nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Soderberg) and won Julia Roberts the Oscar for Best Actress in the titular role of feisty single mom Erin. Albert Finney, Peter Coyote, Aaron Eckhart, all provide stellar performances as well.
Being Caribou (2005) Husband and wife team Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison spent five months following the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd. Allison an environmentalist and Heuer a wildlife biologist were weighing in on the Arctic Refuge Drilling controversy, by demonstrating how such drilling threatened the herd’s survival since their natural calving grounds are within the Refuge. Being Caribou won scores of awards including a Gemini Award and most popular Canadian film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Happy Feet (2006) Every emperor penguin sings a ‘heartsong’ to attract a mate, but when Memphis (Hugh Jackman) manages to drop the egg while his mate Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) is away their son Mumble (Elijah Wood) hatches without the gift of son. He can however, tap dance! While the main focus of this animated musical comedy is on Mumble’s struggle for acceptance, the driving catalyst is how over-fishing by man in the Antarctic waters has put the entire penguin colony at risk of starvation. Happy Feet won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film, the Saturn award for Best Animated Film, AND was the first Warner Brothers production to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Food Inc. (2008) This documentary directed by the Emmy nominated Robert Kenner examines the costs of industrial meat production and corporate farming in the U.S. It’s narrated by Michael Pollan author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser author of Fast Food Nation. Interview subjects include food activists, former politicians, organic food executives and more. Food Inc. was nominated for both the Independent Spirit Award and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Virunga (2014) Directed by Orlando von Einseidel, Virunga chronicles the fight to save the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from oil exploration. It primarilyfocuses on four figures: gorilla caregiver Andre Bauma; park warden Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo; chief warden Emmanuel de Merode; and French investigative journalist Melanie Gouby. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and after airing on Netflix it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.