Tag Archive | women

FINDING AMARGOSA

Marta TutuThis week I learned that the legendary Marta Becket passed away in January. I had no idea. I visited her opera house for the first time on Christmas Eve but her impact on my life hit back around 2009-2010.

I was divorced and had left my beloved Santa Monica for a studio in Koreatown with an actual paper-thin Murphy bed that folded down from the wall and was possibly the kind of bed you get in hell. I hated my new neighborhood, I was free but alone, I was nursing yet another heartbreak and creatively things couldn’t have been bleaker. I used to sit in the generic apartment-furnished armchair, staring out at the brick building next door, where people would literally scream out of their windows at all hours for reasons unknown. Because they could, I guess.

My mom told me about this amazing documentary she’d seen called Amargosa and I immediately ordered it from Netflix. On DVD. When I saw it, I was deeply moved by Marta’s story – one of a frustrated artist who took a giant leap into the unknown to create something that didn’t make any sense at the time. She left her metropolitan New York world behind to settle in Death Valley and refurbish a dilapidated performance hall, where she danced to a crowd that she literally painted on the walls – because there was no audience – until National Geographic discovered her.

Opera House

The story of a woman without an opportunity to create the kind of work she wanted to, stepping off the grid to start living a different kind of story, spoke volumes to me. I felt the stirrings of something akin to that for myself or the idea, at least, that something else might be possible. As soon as I finished the documentary I rushed to find out if Marta was still alive and performing. She was, but she was heading into her final performances of the The Sitting Down Show because she could no longer dance and was ready to retire. I was determined to be there but a winter storm hit; those isolated Valley roads were flooded, nearly impassable, and phone lines were down. The Amargosa website warned of treacherous travel and I sadly abandoned the idea.

Several years passed. I sort of forgot about visiting the opera house although Marta remained an inspiration to me. I thought of her often, whenever I floundered around wondering what the hell I was doing in Hollywood. Every time the thought arose that I should create my own work, forge my own path, I would beat it down with resistance but then Marta would be there, like a beacon in the background. More time passed. I saw Diane Bell’s first film, Obselidia, and its scenes at the Amargosa Opera House reminded me that Marta’s legacy was still there…waiting.

Cut to December, 2016. Bone weary, shattered, burned out in every possible way…I’m in the middle of packing up my life in a limited number of boxes that I can snail-mail home to Boston. I’m finally calling it quits. A friend has come to stay and this is my camping/hiking/national park exploring friend. The one who will join me on any wilderness adventure. Each time we meet, we excitedly plan where to go next. We know we have a short window this time. We’re both exhausted. It needs to be a place we can drive to in a day and one that won’t be closed from all of the snow. Then it hits me: Death Valley. All those years in California and I still hadn’t been. They were at the tail end of a winter storm and about to get hit with some epic flooding but we had just the right amount of time to miss the worst.

We hit the road late on Christmas Eve day and drove like demons to make the show. The opera house had confirmed via e-mail and phone that there was a dancer who was going to perform that night. Then there wasn’t because she’d been injured. Then there was because they were mistaken or at any rate she was still going to perform. We didn’t have time for any pit stops. We ate snacks in the car. The two-lane road out to Death Valley Junction was pitch black with no cell service, my aging car was insistently fogging up in the rain and we’d hit huge pockets of flooding that were impossible to see ahead of time. We nearly missed the opera house because the valley was so dark but we swerved in and I jumped out to tell them we were there. There was no time for a bathroom or food or even to buy our tickets. Marta’s personal assistant was manning the door. She said to go over to the hotel afterwards to pay for our seats but, for now, to enjoy the show.

The opera house was toasty from the wood-burning stove and I couldn’t get over the rough wood floors or the detailed murals. It was beautiful. The assistant spoke to the small audience of tourists, telling us that Marta still lived on the grounds and that she was too ill to come over but that she knew we were there and that “she is happy” we were. A young Dominican dancer had been tapped by Marta to perform. She explained in broken English how grateful she was because, in her home country, the opportunity to dance was non-existent. She danced a short program from Marta’s past, including some of Marta’s own choreography. She wore Marta’s costumes – delightfully out-of-style – and there were long pauses while she changed. A little dog in the audience quietly growled whenever a new costume appeared. The ballerina danced in front of scenery that Marta painted. The faded red curtain opened and closed jerkily. The dancer’s pointe shoes were worn to shreds. The entire experience felt like pure anthropology and I held both joy and sorrow in my heart.

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Afterwards we walked over to the hotel and someone opened a vacant room for me so I could finally use a bathroom. The room was scrubbed clean but old and in some disrepair. We wandered around the hotel filled with Marta’s photos and memorabilia. We were left to ourselves in the vacant gift shop. The lobby had a Christmas tree, a cat lounging on a desk, and a guy playing the guitar for his friends. Finally an employee appeared at the front desk and seemed pleasantly surprised that we had stuck around to pay for our tickets. We were starving but there was still no cell service. I asked the employee if she could give us directions to a restaurant somewhere and she told us that the hotel’s cafe was serving a complimentary Christmas Eve dinner, courtesy of Marta.

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I think walking into that cafe on Christmas Eve was the moment when, on a micro level, I started to heal from the burn-out of the previous few years. People from all over the world were gathered at the counter and tables. The employees were warm and welcoming and explained the menu. When they found out we were Vegetarians they said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” Even now, I cry when I think of it. To be in a place that meant so much to me as an artist, to be exploring a part of our American wilderness, to be surrounded by fellow travelers on a holiday eve…it was pure gratitude. Pure joy. I was remembering the core of who I was – the things I actually care about, the values that actually mean something to me. It wasn’t about booking a guest star or walking the red carpet or getting the next audition. It was about being in the world. Being present. Being loved.

Cafe

Marta Becket changed my life because she lived hers with full authenticity. She surrendered to her art and allowed it to move her where it wished instead of trying to control or resist the outcome. She taught me that it’s not only possible to forge my own path – it’s desirable. I am forever grateful for her life and work.

Marta Photo

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REVIEW: THE TEMPTATION GAME

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Over the past few years I’ve come know and love the feminist publication Agnès Films so I’m very happy to be joining them as a Staff Writer. Please check out my first review of THE TEMPTATION GAME.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM A YEAR OF FILMS BY WOMEN

 

Ocean Waif

In October of 2015, Women in Film Los Angeles launched a challenge that asked people to watch one film a week by a woman for a year and to share and discuss those films on social media. To date they’ve reached over 11,000 pledges and are still going strong.

What I’ve learned from my year of women-directed films is much the same as what I’m hearing from everyone else–namely, that you really have to dig if you want to consistently discover female filmmakers. Here are my observations from the year:

  • I wanted to watch current films, not just the standards that everyone already knows. It was much easier to find independent films with female directors; very difficult to find mainstream studio films. The Wrap recently released this stat:

    …of the 149 movies currently slated for a wide release from the six legacy studios over the next three years, only 12 have female directors. That means a whopping 92 percent of the major motion pictures due in theaters through the end of 2019 will be helmed by men.

  • Sometimes I couldn’t find a narrative feature at all and that’s when I started filling out my year with shorts and documentaries–both of which are much more prolific in terms of female directors. Once again, it all comes back to money and opportunity. What can you make when you have neither? I scoured other people’s lists to see what they were watching and the same films came up over and over again (as they will on my list too). There were limited choices; sometimes nothing appealed to me and I had to go outside the box to find something I wanted to watch.
  • This process of deliberately watching films from female perspective is what finally drove home to me how much of my life–and the lives of all women–have been shaped by the male gaze and point-of-view. Our stories are not being told and so, because we don’t see ourselves on screen or the potential for what we can be on screen, we often don’t see another choice but to accept and perpetuate the myths and stereotypes of what a woman is or what she can and should be. Of course there are many exceptions (thank you, new Star Wars franchise) and media is not the only thing that shapes a life but I’d never before realized just how critical a role it actually did play for me. What could the world look like for future generations of women if we were truly represented?
  • One of my reasons for taking the pledge was to find a director for my own feature project. I fell in love with a lot of new filmmakers but one issue remains: most of them don’t have the breadth of experience that male filmmakers have and may require a leap of faith. Years and years go by between most women’s first and second features…sometimes more years than you can believe and it’s actually tragic how long it takes for a woman to find the funding or opportunity to make one film, let alone several.
  • A highlight: Ashley Judd seeing my blog about her film Come Early Morning (one of my all-time favorites) and writing a lovely comment to me on Facebook.
  • I watched 35 Narrative Features, 8 Narrative Shorts, 6 Documentary Features and 3 Documentary Shorts.
  • My Top Five new films that I discovered and highly recommend are: Stray Dog (Documentary Feature) by Debra Granik, Into the Forest (Narrative Feature) by Patricia Rozema, Hostile Border (Narrative Feature) by Kaitlin McLaughlin & Michael Dwyer, Cigarette Candy (Narrative Short) by Laura Wolkstein and Emotional Fusebox (Narrative Short) by Rachel Tunnard.
  • I remain committed to working with women directors and am very inspired and excited by the prospect. I also remain committed to seeking out films by women on a regular basis and especially to supporting them at the box office and on social media–two places where it counts.
  • Join the movement and take your own #52FilmsByWomen pledge HERE.

The Films

LOVE & BASKETBALL (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood

OBSELIDIA (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Diane Bell

BLEEDING HEART (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Diane Bell

GAS FOOD LODGING (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Allison Anders

STORIES WE TELL (Documentary Feature) / Directed by Sarah Polley

COME EARLY MORNING (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Joey Lauren Adams

SELMA (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Ana DuVernay

STRAY DOG (Documentary Feature) / Directed by Debra Granik

ANOTHER KIND OF GIRL (Documentary Short) / Directed by Khaldia Jibawi

JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (Documentary Feature) / Directed by Amy J. Berg

I DON’T CARE (Narrative Short) / Directed by Carolina Giammetta

LIFE IN COLOR (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Katharine Emmer

ADVANTAGEOUS (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Jennifer Phang

THE INTERN (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Nancy Meyers

HOSTILE BORDER (Narrative Feature) / Co-Directed by Kaitlin McLaughlin & Michael Dwyer

TOUCH (Narrative Short) / Directed by Jen McGowan

SPEED DATING (Narrative Short) / Directed by Meghann Artes

BELLE (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Amma Asante

GIRLHOOD (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Celine Sciamma

ENOUGH SAID (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Nicole Holofcener

HOTEL 22 (Documentary Short) / Directed by Elizabeth Lo

MIELE (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Valeria Golino

SEQUIN RAZE (Narrative Short) / Directed by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro

EMOTIONAL FUSEBOX (Narrative Short) / Directed by Rachel Tunnard

CIGARETTE CANDY (Narrative Short) / Directed by Lauren Wolkstein

WAITRESS (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Adrienne Shelly

THE PIG CHILD (Narrative Short) / Directed by Lucy Campbell

WATER (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Deepa Mehta

TALLULAH (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Sian Heder

WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED (Documentary Feature) / Directed by Gillian Armstrong

FANGIRL (Documentary Short) / Directed by Liza Mandelup

ALWAYS WORTHY (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Marianna Palka

STRANGERLAND (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Kim Farrant

BONESHAKER (Narrative Short) / Directed by Frances Bodomo

PINE RIDGE (Documentary Feature) / Directed by Anna Eborn

BRIDGET JONES’S BABY (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Sharon Maguire

IMAGINE I’M BEAUTIFUL (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Meredith Edwards

BIG STONE GAP (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Adriana Trigiani

CERTAIN WOMEN (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Kelly Reichardt

SUFFRAGETTE (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Sarah Gavron

OPERATOR (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Logan Kibens

RED ROVER (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Brooke Goldfinch

INTO THE FOREST (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Patricia Rozema

BRIGHT STAR (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Jane Campion

ALWAYS SHINE (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Sophia Takal

IT HAD TO BE YOU (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Sasha Gordon

AMERICAN HONEY (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Andrea Arnold

THE DRESSMAKER (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

LEARNING TO DRIVE (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Isabel Coixet

THE WINDING STREAM (Documentary Feature) / Directed by Beth Harrington

THE INTERVENTION (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Clea Duvall

DESERTED (Narrative Feature) / Directed by Ashley Avis

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