In five years (1968-1973), the Janes provided an estimated 11,000 safe abortions to women and girls in and around the city of Chicago. The documentary The Janes provides a somewhat chronological account of their work, ending with the public arrest of several of its members, the threat of long prison sentences, and the interventions of their attorney. But it’s so much more than a mere history lesson—it’s a vibrant, attentive film that emphasizes the collaborative spirit and radical potential of a small community able to do tremendous work on a large scale.
Given the precarious state of abortion rights in the U.S. and the fervent hope that we’ll make it to the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade next year, it’s fitting that Sundance included two films about the Janes, an underground network of women in Chicago in the late 1960s who helped procure safe abortions for those in need of them before the legalization of the procedure nationwide.
Directed by Phyllis Nagy—the brilliant screenwriter who adapted Patricia Highsmith’s novel Carol—and written by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, Call Jane employs a composite character, Joy (Elizabeth Banks), as a conduit through which to tell the story of the Janes. But Joy’s can-do spirit doesn’t strike the the right tone for an account of a collaborative, revolutionary group of women who put themselves at tremendous risk to procure safe abortions for desperate girls and women.
In her screening introduction, director Rita Baghdadi reasoned that she created Sirens, part of the World Documentary competition at Sundance this year, in order to make a film about women in the Middle East that wasn’t just about victimhood or struggle. What emerges is a beautifully-wrought and surprising portrait of Lebanon’s first and only all-women’s thrash metal band, Slave to Sirens.
Arresting and restrained, Nikyatu Jusu’s horror film Nanny will lure you in and remain with you long after the credits roll.
(This is one in a series of film reviews from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, focused on films by women, trans or nonbinary directors that tell compelling stories about the lives of women and girls.)
Currently premiering at Sundance, Calendar Girls is a documentary about a Florida dance troop made up of women aged 50-plus. Embracing whimsy in unicorn-themed headbands one minute and then discussing heavy subjects like death and assisted suicide the next, the Calendar Girls offer their perspectives on what it means to grow older while exploring the power of friendships, leisure, work and learning new things even later in life.
Winner of the Audience Award in the World Cinema: Dramatic category, Girl Picture manages to be a rare pleasure: an introspective film chronicling the tumultuous emotions, bewildering betrayals, and passions of young adult friendships and romance without devolving into unrealistic melodrama or saccharine platitudes.
Nina Menkes’s documentary Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power is based on a lecture Menkes, a filmmaker herself, began giving about the representation of women in film. Brainwashed has a clear thesis: The visual language of film (and its “male gaze”) objectifies women characters, a phenomenon that is further linked to employment discrimination and sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond. (Of course, media studies and gender studies programs have been actively attempting to challenge these long-held patriarchal structures for decades.)
What’s particularly wonderful about Leonor Will Never Die is its seamless, unpretentious blend of fantasy and reality—not to mention the charismatic Leonor herself, a fabulous character so far outside of what we usually envision when we think of action stars. It will make you think, in the best possible ways, about the intersection of art and life, the process of writing and editing, and the innovative promise of film.
The documentary TikTok, Boom. by Shalini Kantayya persuasively argues that TikTok’s curation results in viewers finding themselves in narrower and narrower silos, where they only see videos that confirm their biases and undergird their beliefs, with little regard for fact, accuracy or diverse perspectives. On the other hand, the app has a potential democratizing effect.
Ultimately, Tiktok, Boom. functions as an edifying look at the experiences of digital natives, Generation Z and beyond, and how these young people try to make meaning in the world.
Mariama Diallo’s debut feature film Master, which she wrote and directed, deftly navigates several registers in terms of genre—slipping from supernatural horror to intellectual drama to psychological thriller and back again.
The film doesn’t pull any punches. Its biting critique of the abysmal state of American race politics, particularly in the hallowed halls of the ivory tower, is vicious and direct. And while I won’t give away the end, I will say that it’s largely satisfying and entirely unexpected—perhaps offering a new and effective rejoinder when the horrors of the past inevitably bleed into the present.