Documentary & Biopic

Women-Directed Films at the Asian American Showcase

Finding Kukan

The lineup included The Tiger Hunter, (directed by Lena Khan)… Light (directed by Lenora Lee and Tatsu Aoki), and Finding Kukan (directed by Robin Lung). … Depictions of stories that are absent from an experience that is generally thought to be collective is definitely the point of film festivals like the Asian American Showcase. The film offerings this year illuminated the immigrant experience as an American one. At the same time, the breadth of the experiences represented, while hardly a cohesive or even complete picture, offered nuanced views of stories never heard in textbook discussions…

‘Pencils Down!’ Chronicles the 2007 WGA Strike and Raises Questions about Corporations in America

Pencils Down

‘Pencils Down!’ chronicles the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike that largely brought television production to a standstill, through a combination of footage shot at the time, and reflective interviews shot in 2014-15. … In exploring the WGA strike, and the economics of how TV writers are compensated for their work, ‘Pencils Down!’ circles back to the same core issues of fairness and greed.

‘Kumu Hina’: Documentary on a Native Hawaiian Māhū (Transgender) Woman and Teaching the True Meaning of Aloha

Kumu Hina

‘Kumu Hina’ is a portrait of one activist working to preserve Native rights, culture, and dignity in a time when Native Sovereignty is being made more visible by events like the efforts of Water Protectors to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu draws a direct and explicit link between honoring her māhū identity and helping her people preserve their culture. Like the māhū of generations past, Wong-Kalu has taken on the responsibility of sharing sacred knowledge with the next generation. She wants to share with her students the true meaning of aloha which, to her, means giving them unconditional acceptance and respect.

The Women Men Rescue (or Choose Not To): ‘The Witness’ and ‘Disorder’

The Witness and Disorder

Saving a beautiful woman from danger is such a pervasive male fantasy that right now, no matter where you are you could probably see an example of this trope by randomly flipping through channels or wandering into a multiplex. But what if the man was never able to save the woman? Or what if he has problems of his own that keep him from being a stereotypical hero?

‘Glitter Tribe’ Reminds Us That Burlesque Is Far More Than Just a Peep Show

Glitter Tribe

‘Glitter Tribe’ (directed by Jon Manning) lays out the argument that neo-burlesque should be considered a bona fide art form within itself and the ensuing 75 minutes certainly make a compelling case. The beating heart of the documentary is evident in the profiles of several Portland-based dancers, who each derive a different meaning and perspective from their performances.

‘Mission Blue’: “No Ocean, No Us”

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Audiences have to look to documentaries like ‘Particle Fever,’ about the discovery of the Higgs boson, to see women scientists in prominent roles on film. The Netflix documentary ‘Mission Blue’ focuses on one woman scientist, Sylvia Earle, a former chief at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and pioneering oceanographer and marine biologist who is on a quest to save the world’s oceans from dying.

‘Hooligan Sparrow’ Touches on Topics of Fame and Notoriety in Activism

Hooligan Sparrow

The documentary, from director Nanfu Wang, follows Chinese activist Ye Haiyan (aka Hooligan Sparrow) as she protests the lack of prosecution in a child sexual abuse case and suffers retaliatory harassment, surveillance, and imprisonment. … ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ is, both intentionally and unintentionally, about the legends that activists build for themselves.

‘Ovarian Psycos’ Highlights the Reasons We Still Need to Take Back the Night

Ovarian Psycos

The Ovarian Psycos is a cycling club for women of color in East Lost Angeles that’s a lot like Take Back the Night. Its purpose is to build a sense of community between local women, but also to draw attention to the fact that women aren’t safe unless they travel in packs. … [Directed by Kate Trumbull-LaValle and Johanna Sokolowski] the film captures something true and beautiful about the power of grassroots organizing, and the idea that regular people can band together and try to create change.

‘Inside the Chinese Closet’ Highlights the Need for Social Acceptance of LGBTQ People in China and Globally

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Often, when we talk about LGBTQ rights, we focus on legal battles – criminalization, marriage equality, adoption, and civil rights – but Sophia Luvara’s new documentary reminds us that social acceptance and cultural attitudes are just as important. ‘Inside the Chinese Closet’ follows Andy and Cherry, a gay man and a lesbian woman who struggle to reconcile their desire to live truthfully with their families’ expectations of them.

‘Starless Dreams’ Offers an Intimate Look at Iran Through Its Juvenile Detention Centers

Starless Dreams

In ‘Starless Dreams,’ we learn about the lives of teenage girls inside Iran’s juvenile detention centers, but we also learn how director Mehrdad Oskouei attempts to change hearts and minds in his own country. It’s an attempt that’s packaged for his fellow citizens rather than foreigners and, watching the film as an outsider is a complicated, multilayered experience.

‘Making a Murderer,’ ‘Fantastic Lies,’ and the Uneasy Exculpation Narratives by Women Directors

Making a Murderer

What is most remarkable and perhaps most subversively compelling about both ‘Making a Murderer’ and ‘Fantastic Lies,’ and about the intentions and directorial choices of their respective creators, is that neither documentary endeavor chronicles the sagas of particularly defensible — or even, to some, at all likable — men.

A Joyful ‘Mavis!’ Plus Q & A with Director Jessica Edwards

Mavis Staples documentary

Director Jessica Edwards includes plenty of the Staples’ less familiar music (which still sounds fresh and striking: I predict most people who see this documentary will quickly add a Staples Singer channel to their Spotify and Pandora selections) as well as photos and TV clips from their appearances stretching back to the 1950s. Although Pops had a smooth, clear voice, Mavis usually had the lead vocal even at the beginning. Like Amy Winehouse her style and virtuosity were already an adult’s when she was still a young teen.