Jennifer Fox’s new six-part, made-for-television documentary, "Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman," is bold and challenging in both content and style.

In a New York Times review, John Anderson futilely attempts to summarize it: "’Flying,’ made over five years, is part personal memoir, feminist manifesto and diagnosis of the state of Global Woman. It is also an eclectic mix of film languages, including vérité, self-shooting, diaries, narration and what Ms. Fox calls ‘passing the camera,’ in which her subjects shoot one another as well as her."

But if this mixture is daunting to an audience, it’s only because her subject matter is as well. In "Flying," Fox attempts to explore the full complexity of what it means to be a woman in the world. While crossing many cultures, she attempts to show the similarities in all women’s experiences without denying the almost unfathomable differences. And by returning continually to the complications of her own life, she also attempts to assert how her struggles connect her to other women while at the same time making her life experience utterly unique.

Holding together those contradictions appears to be almost an impossible task, but it’s one that Fox has embraced before — in Beirut: The Last Home Movie, her first film (which won Best Documentary, 1998 Sundance Film Festival, among other awards), and "An American Love Story," a 10-part ground-breaking PBS television series (which won the Gracie Award for Best Television series in 1999).

Anderson believes that Fox, in fact, is "intent on reflecting something altogether outside movies. Or even nonfiction."

Fox might just say she is reflecting something deeply female — which traditional cinematic forms just don’t do:

Honestly, I can’t explore what I want to explore in 90 minutes. And the older I get, the more the feature form seems almost male — very conclusive, very ‘here it is,’ all summed up. The serial is more like life, with multiple stories, multiple conclusions. It’s a fabric, or a layer cake.

Writing recently for the Huffington Post, Fox explains her unique approach to life, to women’s issues, and to feminism.

She confesses that she "arrived at feminism backwards." She was always a fierce rebel against a familial and social system that wanted to limit her opportunities — but she didn’t want to believe that the system was trying to stop her because of her gender:

As far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter what happened to me along the way. Gender was not going to come in and ruin my life. When a teacher sexually abused me at 13, I was sure that it was personal, not political. When at 15, I was dragged from the street to a vacant lot and nearly raped — but for a sudden car passing that made the rapist flee — I never stopped to think it had anything to do with being a girl. And when at 17, I was beaten up on the street by a man I refused to sleep with, with people walking by who never stopped to help, I still thought it had nothing to do with gender. Somehow it was all an accident — it could have happened to anyone male or female. It was just part of my individual story.

I was so afraid of being stopped that I couldn’t admit that anything had to do with the fact of being a girl.

Later in life, especially as she began traveling, she realized that her struggle was not hers alone:

It seemed that no matter where I went, women were sharing the same words across a spectrum: about love, sex, control, abuse, and deceit, all the way to trafficking, prostitution and FGM (female genital mutilation). Suddenly I realized that my experiences were not personal
at all, but part of range of female life that existed everywhere and was timeless.

this context, Fox’s latest documentary can be seen as her attempt to reconnect with her gender identity — in all its power and all its complexity.


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  • Bachel July 16, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Super movie. It’s a much needed investigation of gender roles in the modern world as well as a much wider look at the modern world itself. Definitely tackles some big issues and leaves you thinking. Go see it!