Film & Television

Women Behind the Camera: Five New Documentaries

Love, Cecil, directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, takes on another iconic figure, photographer, writer, painter, and Oscar-winning set and costume designer Cecil Beaton. His career included everything from haunting images of war to My Fair Lady and Vogue covers to an appointment as official photographer for the British royal family.

Vreeland, whose earlier work includes Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, an affectionate film about her grandmother-in-law, is fascinated by Beaton, and is publishing a book about him as a companion to her film: “In his lifetime, he published 38 books. He took 7,000 photographs just of World War II, showing the spirit of the people in it. In our time, when we are all doing things so fast and going from one thing to the next, nobody can create what he’s done. He was really a recorder of the 20th century in many different ways. He had drive, he had ambition, and he had ego — all combined. He sacrificed everything at the altar of creativity.”

 

Generation Wealth, directed by Lauren Greenfield, is a wake-up call of sorts, building on her critically acclaimed 2012 film The Queen of Versailles. Her penetrating look at wealth culture in both movies serves as a “cautionary tale” about today’s rampant consumerism and an upper class that is rich beyond reason.

“I definitely see similarities in both the fall of Rome and also the kind of Gatsby-esque gilded age, the feeling of dancing on the deck of the Titanic represented by the gold shoes under the title. I see this moment as a new Gilded Age, and it does have parallels in other times of decadence. Chris Hedges says in the beginning of the film that when societies have their greatest moments of wealth, this is generally the moment right before their death. I think the stakes are higher for us now … we used to compare ourselves to people that we knew, and would aspire to having what our neighbor had, and now we compare ourselves to the people we see on TV. ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ has become ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians.’ ”

 

Far From the Tree, directed by Rachel Dretzin, is based on the bestselling book by Andrew Solomon. The film is a patchwork quilt of stories from families whose children have special needs or unexpected challenges. The underlying message is one of compassion for otherness and love grounded in acceptance and understanding.

Dretzin, an accomplished producer and director, has this advice for women filmmakers: “Don’t try to ape anyone else. Embrace what makes you unique. Don’t be afraid of being ‘soft,’ and God knows don’t be afraid of bringing emotion into your filmmaking. No film is objective, and the more you can infuse your work with your particular perspective on the world, the stronger it will be.” She’s optimistic about the future. “There’s clearly going to be a tipping point, and we’re not there yet, but I have a lot of faith that we will be. Change takes longer than it should. The revelations about sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood are part of a growing movement of women finding their voices and speaking up. The outcome will be more women directors, more women cinematographers, more women editors, more women everything.”

More women everything? All we can say is, from Rachel’s lips to Hollywood’s ears.

 

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  • Andrea August 7, 2018 at 8:39 am

    Thank you Alex for reviews of these very different and interesting docs. Always love your selections!

    Reply