Tag : film

The Lilith Blog

August 15, 2019 by

“Ask For Jane” Tells the Abortion Story You Never Heard, But Should Have

For those of us born at the tail end of the 20th century, a world without legal abortion is tough to imagine. Bluntly showing a society in which unwanted pregnancies can quickly become death sentences and where even talking about abortion can lead to jail time, newly released biopic “Ask for Jane” makes sure we know exactly what this world looked like.

The film, directed by Rachel Carey and released one short year after Lilly Rivlin’s documentary “Heather Booth: Changing the World,” tells the story of the Jane Collective, an underground, illegal abortion service run out of Chicago between 1968-1973. Created by a college student who connected pregnant women with abortion doctors through her dorm room phone, the “Janes” developed into a volunteer network dedicated to providing safe abortions to women at the lowest possible cost. In 1971, after discovering that one of their “doctors” faked having a medical license, a number of the Janes even became “abortionists” themselves, doing the procedure for whatever price each woman could afford to pay. The makeshift clinic was eventually raided in 1972 and led to the arrest of seven volunteers who would become infamous as the “Abortion 7.” Despite facing up to 110 years in prison, the Janes continued helping pregnant women while out on bail. All charges against them were dropped shortly after abortion was made legal nationwide. In the final years before Roe v. Wade was decided, the Janes provided 11,000 women with safe abortions.

Far from devolving into partisanship, “Ask for Jane” stresses that the right to abortion is imperative for every woman regardless of whether she is Democrat or Republican, Catholic or atheist. All women can find themselves pregnant when they don’t want to be. All women are on the losing side of the war. The film shows teenagers, rich Park Avenue wives, low-income workers, survivors of rape, college students, women of color, mothers—every imaginable type of woman in the clinic waiting room. Speaking at a talkback following a screening of the film in Manhattan, creator and star of “Ask for Jane” Cait Cortelyou pointed to this diversity as the most important aspect of the movie. “I was interested in humanizing those stories,” she said, “because I feel like a lot of the conversation has gotten away from the individuals who are affected by the policies that are made.”

Yet, beyond reinforcing the necessity of safe, legal abortion for all women and introducing audiences to a badass activist group that is ignored in high school history class for the sake of covering more white guys, “Ask for Jane” distinguishes itself by representing a brutal and holistic picture of women’s reproductive welfare that extends far past abortion itself.

The lack of knowledge surrounding sex, for instance, is consistently cited as a major cause of unplanned pregnancy throughout the film. One of the characters—all of whom are fictionalized—works at a Catholic high school where she smuggles sex ed pamphlets to students, raging that abstinence-only education leaves kids clueless and at risk. Today that simple fact remains true, with those schools and states teaching girls to keep their legs closed having higher teen pregnancy rates than their condom-wielding, pill-popping counterparts.

The overwhelmingly patriarchal nature of society at the time (today too, let’s be real) further stands as a clear impediment not only to women’s autonomy but also to their general health. A newly engaged character asks an elderly, male gynecologist for a birth control prescription. He refuses to give her one on the grounds of her unmarried status. Luckily, he assures her, if she returns with a husband who will give his permission, she can get the pill. Similarly, a pregnant mother of two learns that a tumor in her abdomen can be removed, but she runs the risk of losing her baby in the process. Though she immediately agrees to the surgery that will save her life, it’s not up to her. As the legal owner of her body, her husband gets to decide whether she lives or dies.

Today, in the midst of the most virulent wave of anti-abortion legislation since Roe v. Wade, “Ask for Jane” serves as a reminder that such a vicious restriction as the outlawing of abortion does not emerge in a vacuum and cannot be fought in isolation. Rather it is a by-product of a society run by and for men that considers the purpose of women to be childbearing. Period. Women are denied education regarding their own anatomy and safe sex. They are refused birth control. Men decide what women may or may not do with their bodies. It’s not just that abortion is illegal, it’s that all of society is built for women to have kids—whether they want to or not. And if there is a push to take us back to the days of criminalized abortion, there is a push to restore the larger social order that came with it, something that must be fought with the same fervor as anti-abortion legislation itself.

“Ask for Jane” is not a movie for viewers to leave behind in the theater with sticky floors and popcorn containers. Rather, it is the motivation for burnt-out activists to keep fighting in the face of crushing opposition. It is the hope that all women will unite on this issue and fight for the protection of legal. It is the source of anxiety propelling the idle to action, turning “heartbeat” bills and abortion-provider deserts from headlines on our phones to a bleak reality accessible even to those who never lived in a United States that criminalized abortion. And, most importantly, it is the game plan, reminding us to direct our energies not only to abortion, but to the availability of birth control, comprehensive sex ed, and the abolition of patriarchal culture. To keep the fight for women’s reproductive health on track, movies like “Ask for Jane” are crucial. In the words of Gloria Steinem herself: “It is a movie that should be seen by every American.”

 

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July 9, 2019 by

Daria Martin: Tonight the World •

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 12.15.36 PMAn unusual new exhibition of works by artist Daria Martin explores the unconscious memories of her paternal grandmother, who fled the former Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust. Martin’s art springs from an extensive archive of dream diaries her grandmother created over a 35-year period, originally chronicled for the purposes of psychoanalysis. This multimedia exhibition includes two films, one created using computer gaming technology that takes users on a journey through a 3-D rendering of the villa in Brno as it appeared when the grandmother lived there, and another, with actors, that presents a reimagining of four of the grandmother’s dreams.

The installation operates simultaneously as a portrait of Martin’s ancestor, a self-portrait, and an exploration of intolerance, migration, loss, resilience and intergenerational trauma. The exhibition was co-commissioned by Barbican Centre, London, and The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco where it is showing through February 19, 2020. thecjm.org/exhibitions/110

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The Lilith Blog

April 17, 2019 by

Golden Girls of the Silver Screen

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Well told and illustrated with charm, Renegade Women is a coffee table book for our feminist pop cultural age. It offers more than 60 informative and whimsically illustrated portraits of female movers and shakers in the entertainment field.

Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough chats with author Elizabeth Weitzman about the importance of highlighting their impressive accomplishments. 

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The Lilith Blog

April 12, 2019 by

A Film About Faith… Starring Jewish Men, Men and More Men

Comparing practices across religions can provide insights into customs and beliefs, and highlight our shared humanity. I approached the film “Sacred,” recently shown on PBS, expecting to be enlightened. A feature length documentary, it’s been shown at more than 75 film festivals around the world, had a week-long run at the Rubin Museum in NYC and numerous screenings at congregations, theaters and universities.

In many ways, “Sacred” does not disappoint. A travelogue of religious practices in over 25 countries, the film is a visually rich mosaic. The diverse and pluralistic material is treated with respect and even reverence, and the overall message is solid: there are a variety of ways to approach the spiritual, that there’s no one answer and no monopoly on truth. 

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April 12, 2018 by

Girls at Hasidic Summer Camp

Be on the lookout for Pearl Gluck’s Summer, a short film of sexual exploration set in a Hasidic sleepaway camp in the Catskills. Gluck, 45, went from growing up Hasidic in Borough Park, Brooklyn, to college at Brandeis, with a quirky feminist affection for her roots. At the film’s world premiere at the January 2018 New York Jewish Film Festival, she cheerfully admitted to autobiography in this film she wrote, directed and produced.

The 18-minute film captures the ferocious energy of a camp full of adolescent girls and the gentle secrecy of two friends’ illicit inquiry into a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. (Though with all the current complexities of “consent,” one girl’s pressuring another makes this reviewer a little uncomfortable.) The attractive young rebbetzin entrusted with the campers’ moral education stays on message: “You are always in the presence of God, but you are also always in the presence of matchmakers.… Above all, don’t mess up your chances for a good match.” Look for Summer, with score by The Klezmatics’ Lisa Gutkin, on the film festival circuit.

Gluck’s Hasidic filmic feminism goes back to Divan (2003/Netflix, Amazon, Fandor). It’s her own Hasidic tale, journeying through Hungary in search of the ancestral couch where revered rebbes slept. Not a one-note filmmaker, her latest film, The Turn Out, explores sex trafficking at America’s rural truck stops. More on Gluck’s films and contact information to arrange screenings, at palinkapictures.com

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July 15, 2014 by

Much More Than An Israeli “Private Benjamin”

Zero Motivation film

Zero Motivation film

“Zero Motivation” is a new and delightfully poignant Israeli film that zings myths of women’s equal participation in the Israeli army, with frank humor and staple guns to battle the military’s bureaucracy and sexism.

Inspired by her own experiences with other women relegated to boring assignments in administrative offices for their mandatory two-year army service, writer/director Talya Lavie’s debut premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where it garnered two awards. “We believe a new, powerful, voice has emerged,” crowed the jury for the competitive Best Narrative Feature award. The jury for the second annual Nora Ephron Prize for a female director or screenwriter, which included Delia Ephron, offered similar acclaim, stating that “Zero Motivation” was “definitely the most hilarious film we saw at the festival…the winning film is a fresh, original, and heartfelt comedy.” But this isn’t just an Israeli version of “Private Benjamin”; this film is far more darkly pointed and complex.

The film follows one year in the life of soldier-secretaries in the human resources office at a desert base in the south of Israel in 2004, a year marked by rapid changes in technology and gender relations. The narrative unfolds in three chapters. The first expands on Lavie’s 2005 20-minute film-school thesis, “The Substitute” (available online with an English transcript), focusing on the naïve schemes of Daffi (Nelly Tagar), who hails from a northern town, to find a replacement so she can transfer to Tel Aviv. Part 2, “The Virgin,” focuses on Daffi’s best friend, Zohar (Dana Ivgy, a renowned young film star), for whom “anything is better than the kibbutz”—even a forlorn desert outpost. As the titular virgin, Zohar is enticed by the unfamiliar presence of men she wasn’t raised with, and begins to take sexual risks. When she is briefly liberated from paperwork, her first assignment on guard duty becomes a vengefully comedic moment that involves humiliating male nudity at the point of a gun. By Part 3 Daffi has become “The Officer,” to the frustration of their ambitious, perpetually thwarted supervisor Rama (Shani Klein), who wants to make her pioneer soldier mother proud, despite the rebellious women serving under her and the condescending men over her.

Lavie deftly balances comedy with deadly serious issues. She sensitively portrays an array of women from diverse social strata, including an immigrant from Russia and one from Ethiopia. Focusing the lens tightly on young female soldiers, she reveals the ways in which these women are at once fully developed adults and game-playing teenagers. Mean girl cliques, eating disorders, text-messaging miscommunications, boyfriend troubles and suicide loom larger than any external enemy. Opening first in Israel, Canada, and Australia, Zeitgeist Films will put this must-see for Jewish feminists in theaters across the U.S. later this year. Don’t miss it.

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April 3, 2014 by

Capturing the Elderly Visiting Each Other

“Oma & Bella” is the indie film Alexa Karolinski (in bottom photo, below) made about her grandmother and her grandmother’s friend —two Holocaust survivors in their 80s —who live together in Berlin. They cook, talk about food, entertain friends and family, play cards and remember their parents, their losses and their coming to life again after the Holocaust, when they felt a need to get dressed up and party to make up for a youth they never experienced. Bella (left, in the images below) moved in with Regina (the Oma, or grandma, of the filmmaker) to help her recover from surgery, and just stayed. The pair are the envy of their elderly friends for hav- ing found this comfy solution to loneliness. (75 minutes, in German with English subtitles. omabella.com)

LILSp14 elderly visiting each other 4

 LILSp14 elderly visiting each other 3

LILSp14_elderly visiting each other 1

LILSp14 elderly visiting each other 2

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Feminists In Focus, The Lilith Blog

February 12, 2014 by

Meet on Screen the First Woman Rabbi

via filmlinc.com

via filmlinc.com

How do you make a documentary about Regina Jonas, the world’s first woman rabbi, when only one photograph survives?

It helps if you’re pushed to do the deed by Elsa Klapheck, the contemporary German rabbi whose book, Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi, is the definitive source on this extraordinary woman, born in Berlin in 1902 and ordained in 1935. (The book has been translated into English by Lilith contributor Toby Axelrod. Klapheck, ordained in Frankfurt, is the first woman rabbi in the Netherlands.)

“Regina” — Diana Groó calls her film “a poetic documentary” of Regina Jonas — made its U.S. premiere in January at the 23rd NY Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum. The 63-minute film is in English. 

Groó, 40, who seems either doomed or destined to be identified as a Jewish Hungarian filmmaker, stayed true to the hundreds of documents Regina Jonas managed to save for posterity. The poetry comes with the archival footage – going back to 1900s Berlin — combined with music and voices. British actress Rachel Weisz is the voice of Regina Jonas. Others giving life to archival material include Groó’s grandmother, 86, the same age as Jonas’s students would have been, and a survivor of four concentration camps. 

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