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Feb 06 2015

Women's Pictures - Ava DuVernay's "I Will Follow"

Anne Marie of "A Year With Kate"fame returning to TFE with a new series!

Welcome to Women's Pictures,a new series dedicated to celebrating female directors.From the matriarchal melodramas of the 50s (from which this series draws its name),to the 90s chick flicks,to the surprisingly durable stereotype that female filmmakers aren't mainstream enough for "big"pictures,films for women or by women continue to be ignored or maligned.To this I say: Screw that!Women directors are as varied and interesting as the many movies they make.

Each month,we will examine four(ish) movies by a female director in chronological order.All genres,time periods,creeds,colors,and languages are open for examination.We'll meet auteurs we might have missed,shine a light on corners of cinema previously obscured,and maybe even redefine what "Women's Pictures"means.

This month,in honor of Black History Month,Selma's two Academy Award nominations,and the recent happy announcement of a new TV series,our first female filmmaker isAva DuVernay!(You may recall thatNathaniel met herat AFI Fest this year.She'd been up for 48 hours editingSelma,but still managed to be gracious and charming.) Her story (self-starter-publicist-turned-self-starter-director) is by this point well known,even if the two feature-length narratives she made beforeSelmawere only recently made available VOD.Before Oprah,Oscars,亚博主页or a seven figure budget,DuVernay made her first film,I Will Follow,in 2010 for $50,000.

So,what kind of a first film is a former publicist going to make?A very personal one...

Based on DuVernay's relationship with her own aunt,I Will Followis a sad and quiet movie about mourning.The film follows Maye,a makeup artist Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield),over the course of one day as she moves out of the house she shared with her recently deceased,much beloved aunt,Amanda (Beverly Todd).Amanda--only shown through Maye's flashbacks--was an exuberant free spirit who played drums for studios.Maye worshipped her,so when Amanda decided to forgo painful breast cancer surgery,Maye quit everything to move with her to Topanga Canyon (for the trees).Now that Amanda has passed,Maye has the painful duty of sorting through her belongings and moving out in one day.

DuVernay describedI Will Followas a "mood piece."There's no structured beginning and end beyond the passing of morning into night.Instead,the film is a series of conversations between Maye and the various people who touched her life during the year that she cared for her aunt.The empathetic moving man,the widowed neighbor,the jealous cousin,the emotionally tangled booty call,the reticent nephew: each conversation allows Maye to express her grief in a new way.DuVernay's script never leans on the easy crutches of misery or nostalgia;though both are expressed,along with anger,jealousy,regret,humor,and loneliness.Maye's grief,unlike her slowly packed up house,is messy and unprocessed.

DuVernay is talented,but at timesI Will Followfeels like the first time feature effort that it is.Shots are framed with blunt practicality.Some of the supporting characters lose their individuality behind their symbolic importance.What's missing most is a sense of progression;the film is front-loaded with mounting tension between Maye and Fran (Michole White),Maye's cousin and Amanda's daughter.That tension explodes into a painful battle of blame one-upsmanship,magnificently acted by Richardson-Whitfield and White.However,after Fran leaves,the film fails to regain its momentum.Ultimately,I Will Followis DuVernay's experiment with how characters shift the mood of a film.

However,the biggest takeaway fromI Will Followis how well DuVernay understands people.(Makes sense for a publicist.) Through small moments,DuVernay shows how the memory of a loved one can color things as mundane as DVR'd TV shows,as trivial as arguments over Nass and Jay Z,or as important as how much of our lives we can devote to another person.I Will Followis unstructured,unceremonious,and utterly heartfelt.

Upcoming Films This Month:

Thursday,2/12:Middle of Nowhere(2012) (available on Amazon Prime) - Ava DuVernay's second full length film features some very familiar faces and netted her Best Director at Sundance.

If you have suggestions for future Women's Pictures directors,post them in the comments or find Anne Marie  onTwitter!

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Reader Comments (31)

Love this!What a great idea for a series.Looking forward to it!

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharles O

How exciting!Very much looking forward to this series.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

great idea!and love the spotlight on DuVernay as the first one up.loved her story in the roger ebert doc LIFE ITSELF about this film and his support of her work.

it could be fun if you did a month of Oscar-winning actresses as directors: Jodie Foster,Angelina Jolie,Barbra Streisand,Diane Keaton,Helen Hunt.Look at one film from each of them each week and see if being an award-winning actress brings anything to their directorial efforts...

February 6,2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Debra Granik?Patty Taylor?Lina "will probably have the largest female director filmography for a while"Wertmuller?

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Great idea,Anne Marie,and great first choice.I nominate Dorothy Arzner (The Wild Party,Christopher Strong,Craig's Wife,The Bride Wore Red) and Ida Lupino (Outrage;Hard,Fast and Beautiful;The Hitch-Hiker;The Trouble with Angels).

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola!and omfg Jane Campion duh

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterClarence

Anne Marie,you are such an interesting writer,that I will follow where ever you go,but I second Volvagia,Paul Outlaw and Clarence and add Kasi Lemmons.I love Eve's Bayou.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Meant Jenkins.Oops.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia


I assume you will do the big ones like Coppola,Campion,Wertmuller,Denis,and Agnes Varda.I hope you find room for some Sally Potter (Orlando),Claudia Llosa (The Milk of Sorrow),Maya Deren,Cholodenko,Penny Marshall,maybe some Mira Nair,Elaine May (preferably Ishtar),Susanne Bier,Heckerling,Andrea Arnold,Granik Miranda July,and Niki Caro.Maybe Jennie Livingston/Paris is Burning.Barbara Kopple for one of her two Oscar winners would be great too!

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

What an amazing idea for a series.I loved a Year With Kate.I'm definitely looking forward to more of Anne Marie's writing and specifically on this subject.Excited.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterThe Pretentious Know it All

Thanks for the suggestions,everybody!I'm adding them all to the list.The good news is that this is a very long list,and getting even longer!

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I would love to read about Lucrecia Martel.In a perfect world,I'd be reading about her on the daily.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Wonderful news and a very timely series,this year more sexism has been on display than usual.
I find that others have listed most of the names that sprang to my mind.
I look forward to reading your work and I know it will be insightful and thoughtful as usual.
That just made my day.:)

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I recommend,if you can find them,the films of Miwa Nishikawa (Wild Berries,Sway,Dear Doctor) and Naomi Kawase (I dislike Hanezu,but it might be interesting in this series;others that I recommend more unreservedly and I think might be available subtitled somewhere are Suzaku,The Mourning Forest,and Still the Water).Warning: somehow,Kawase films,when they work,always make me cry.Japanese female directors are still a rarity,but I do think it's important to look at the work by the ones who manage to find a place in the firmament.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBRB

I'd like to suggest Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me,The Secret Life of Words,Elegy).

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterThe Pretentious Know it All

Fantastic!Lisa Cholodenko,Kelly Reichardt,Agnieszka Holland,and of course moneymakers like Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers.And I think someone else mentioned Susanne Bier and Claire Denis.Can't wait for this series!One suggestion--can you let folks know where they might find the films,if they're available streaming?

Interesting how so many of these women are also the screenwriters.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPam

BRB & TPK - Thank you for the additional suggestions!I'm unfamiliar with all three of these directors,so I'm happily adding them to the list.

Pam - My goal is to make this series as accessible as possible,so I'll try to focus on the most easily accessible films.As an advantage this month,I WILL FOLLOW & MIDDLE OF NOWHERE are available on Amazon,and SELMA is still in theaters!

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I would love to read your thoughts on Nicole Holofcener's work.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Happy Happy Joy Joy!

I love that there are sooooo many names already thrown out there....yet still not enough!

Has anyone mentioned Mary Lambert?Me and some friends were remembering her forgotten,obscure surreal flick Siesta,starring Ellen Barkin,Isabella Rossellini,Grace Jones and Jodie Foster.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

I Will Follow is also on Netflix Instant (haven't seen it yet but am excited to watch)!

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Fantastic idea for a series.Director suggestion: Sarah Polley.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterErko

Joan Micklin Silver (the beautiful Hester Street),Barbra Streisand and Jodie Foster.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Lucrecia Martel would be a great one to spotlight.I think she's the best female director currently at work.

February 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJan S

Julie Taymor.

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Larisa Shepitko (The Ascent),Céline Sciamma (Tomboy,Girlhood),Amy Heckerling (Clueless),Deepa Mehta (Fire,Water,Earth),Tonie Marshall (Venus Beauty Institute),Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry),Moufida Tlatli (The Silences of the Palace),Hermine Huntgeburth (The White Massai),Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham).

Since most of those are foreign or queer directors,their films might not be readily available,but I think they're all worthy of being showcased in this series.

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterFergenaprido

Ooh,I'll add my voice to those requesting Nicole Holofcener,Kelly Reichardt and Julie Taymor.

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

i second Lucrecia Martel.And Celine Sciamma.Agnes Varda,Claire Denis.

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterClara

Susanne Bier.Yikes,what a roller-coaster her career has been.

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterTheis

Ava DuVernay lost the Best Director Image Award to Antoine Fuqua.

YES,that did happen.Who is going to challenge that one?

Apparently,sexism exists outside of the Academy.

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Anyone with sense will challenge that one.

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Wait,really?I admit to no knowledge about how Image Awards voting works,but how did the director ofThe Equalizerbeat the directors ofBelle,Beyond the Lights,ANDSelma?

February 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

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