The April releases directed by women were dominated by non-fiction, with eleven documentaries to six features and one anthology film. The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, from married filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Daniel Geller, was the most successful doc and highest-grossing film of the month. The San Francisco-based Goldfine and Geller, who previously made Ballets Russes (2005) and Something Ventured (2011), discovered an intriguing unsolved mystery during a trip to the Galapagos Islands, involving several groups of Utopians who left Germany and Austria just before World War II. Within two years, four of the original settlers on Floreana Island were missing or dead. This Zeitgeist Films release grossed $122,795 from 14 theaters, with a larger rollout in May and June.
Jennifer Baichwal's 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes introduced Edward Burtynsky's hauntingly beautiful large-scale industrial photographs to a wider audience. The two Canadians collaborated again on Watermark, which focuses on his photographs documenting how different populations use their water resources. Entertainment One released the Baichwal/Burtynsky collaboration (both have a director credit) in 16 U.S. theaters, where it's made $71,349. Watermark takes a macro view of global interactions, while Manakamana is decidedly micro. Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez met at Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL director Lucien Castaing-Taylor made the eerie Leviathan with Verena Paravel), and their collaboration blends anthropology with experimental filmmaking. Manakamana documents a series of cable-car journeys to the mountaintop temple of the Hindu goddess Bhagwati in Nepal. The Cinema Guild release has grossed $9,176 from one theater.
Hilla Medalia has explored the fraught relationship between Jews and Palestinians in her native Israel before, in To Die in Jerusalem (2007), about two teens killed in a suicide bombing. Dancing in Jaffa is a more hopeful portrait, following ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine as he returns to his hometown to teach 150 Jewish and Palestinian 11-year-olds how to move gracefully together. The IFC Films release opened in 13 theaters, grossing $66,701. Hilla Medalia will be at the Cannes Film Festival later this month with a special presentation of The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, about the larger-than-life producers Menahem Golan and Yorman Globus, Israeli cousins who redefined American genre films in the 1980s. Photographer-turned-filmmaker Diedre Schoo looks at a different form of dance in her debut documentary, Flex is Kings, directed with Michael Beach Nichols. The Brooklyn street dancing known as flex involves extreme positions that would make the most advanced yoga devotee pause, and encounters between performers are seen as battles where movement is the weapon of choice. The Brooklyn-based Baxter Brothers Film Releasing is handling the distribution, but has not posted earnings.
Two of this month's documentaries are available through Tugg, the online service that allows anyone to arrange a local screening of a film from their extensive library. Kathryn Bertine, who makes her filmmaking debut with Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women's Professional Cycling, knows her subject well. A professional racer and author (As Good as Gold), she was also one of the female athletes who petitioned the Amaury Sport Organization to once again include women's cycling in the Tour de France. (A women's race once ran alongside the men's competition, but that ended in 1989). This year, the women's 90-kilometer La Course will take place on July 27, ending on the Champs Elysee just prior to the last leg of the men's 3,200-kilometer race. Half the Road, distributed by First Run Features, began its theatrical run in New York, where it grossed $2,923 from two theaters. Sylvia Caminer worked primarily in television (where she won a directing Emmy) before making the feature documentaries An Affair of the Heart (about Rick Springfield) and Tanzania: A Journey Within (aka Kwanini). Caminer captures the life-altering trip of an American who accompanies her friend from the University of Miami back to his native Tanzania. Heretic Films released Tanzania: A Journey Within on April 25 to coincide with World Malaria Day, but no grosses for its theatrical run are available.
Documentary portraits of Jayson Blair and Cesar Chavez appeared in theaters prior to their television premieres. (Neither reported grosses.) Journalist Samantha Grant produced news content for CNN, NPR and Frontline before directing her first feature documentary, A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at The New York Times, about the scandal that shook the foundation of the venerable newspaper. A Fragile Trust premieres on the PBS series Independent Lens on May 5. The cable networks Pivot and Univision News acquired Cesar's Last Fast just prior to its world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and they will broadcast it in English and Spanish later this year. A companion piece to Diego Luna's biopic Cesar Chavez (released in March by Pantelion Films and Participant Media, Pivot's parent company), this documentary about his 1988 Fast for Life is credited to directors Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee. Perez used extensive footage shot by Paralee, who made the video The Wrath of Grapes for the United Farm Workers and was Chavez's press secretary and spokesperson during the fast. She died in 2006 of breast cancer at the age of 60.
The Slamdance Film Festival provided the launch for two debut documentaries: Bible Quiz and Vanishing Pearls. (No grosses were reported.) Nicole Teeny's Bible Quiz looks at the annual evangelical Christian competition through a determined 17-year-old who's got more than memorizing quotations on her mind. Slamdance Studios is releasing the 2013 Grand Jury Award winner theatrically, with Virgil Films handling future VOD distribution. Nailah Jefferson's Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache premiered at Slamdance 2014, when the upstart festival was celebrating its 20th anniversary. Jefferson explores a small African-American Louisiana delta community still reeling from the devastating 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Vanishing Pearls arrives in theaters via Array Releasing, the distribution arm of the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
The features released this month include three American indies, three French-language films and a period piece from Argentina. IFC Films acquired Hateship Loveship, based on the Alice Munro story, at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Director Liza Johnson (Return) guides Kristen Wiig through her first dramatic role as a shy caregiver who's manipulated by the tech-savvy granddaughter of her employer. Playing in 13 theaters, Hateship Loveship has grossed $27,843. Ellie Kanner specializes in offbeat love stories (Crazylove, Wake), and her latest, Authors Anonymous, is a comedy about support groups and the corrosive effects of professional jealousy. It is also Dennis Farina's final film. Screen Media Films has not reported theatrical grosses, and Authors Anonymous is currently available on VOD, including iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.
Gabrielle, the second feature from Louise Archambault, won the Audience Award at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival and was submitted by Canada as their Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film. The lead role is played by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard who, like her character, has Williams syndrome and sings in a Montreal choir. She won a Canadian Screen Award for her performance. Entertainment One opened Gabrielle in one theater for a $4,900 gross. Lucia Puenzo adapted her novel Wakolda into The German Doctor, a sinister drama about an Argentinian family in 1960 who realize their houseguest is Dr. Josef Mengele, Auschwitz's notorious Angel of Death. Puenzo (XXY, The Fish Child) uses the intimate tale to comment on her country's role as a haven for high-ranking Nazis. The Samuel Goldwyn Films release, which screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, has grossed $50,014 from five theaters.
While the 13th Tribeca Film Festival was taking place in New York, Tribeca Films released two films from women directors in theaters. Beneath the Harvest Sky and Bright Days Ahead are also available as VOD from various cable providers as well as iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Vudu. The married directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly return to Maine for their first feature, Beneath the Harvest Sky, about a group of teens chafing at the confines of small-town life. Their first film was the documentary The Way We Get By (2009), which follows Maine senior citizens (including Gaudet's mother Joan) who greet every soldier who arrives at the Bangor International Airport on their way to, or returning from, overseas war zones. Beneath the Harvest Sky has grossed $21,128 from eight theaters in Maine and is expanding around the country in May. Bright Days Ahead is writer/director Marion Vernoux's adaptation of Fanny Chesnel's novel Une Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Blancs (A Girl with White Hair). Fanny Ardant stars as a recent retiree who loves her husband and yet pursues an affair with a younger man. The common male storyline (a second youth in middle age, a passionate love affair) is being rewritten for women, including Sebastian Lelio's Chilean film Gloria, starring the wonderful Paulina Garcia. (Nancy Meyers also explores this territory with Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated.) Bright Days Ahead grossed $8,143 from four theaters.
The Players (Les Infidèles) couldn't be further from Bright Days Ahead in its depiction of French women dealing with marriage and infidelity. The anthology has eight directors and they are nearly unanimous in portraying married women as pestering scolds, young women as reckless sexpots, and French men as unrepentant horndogs. Relief from the incessant sex jokes and barely submerged misogyny comes from Emmanuelle Bercot's La Question, which addresses the hypocrisy of French mistress culture during a marital confrontation that puts a couple's vision of their happy union at stake. The Weinstein Company film, which made a paltry $10,854 from 50 theaters after being released without reviews or promotion, is already available on Netflix Instant. Bercot presents the only fully formed, articulate wife in The Players, making a powerful case for the importance of women directors to provide a nuanced female perspective.
Rankings, grosses and theater numbers for April 2014 are courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
#29 | The Galapagos Affair | $122,795 | 14 theaters
#33 | Watermark | $71,349 | 16 theaters
#34 | Dancing in Jaffa | $66,701 | 13 theaters
#35 | The German Doctor | $50,014 | 5 theaters
#38 | Hateship Loveship | $27,843 | 13 theaters
#40 | Beneath the Harvest Sky | $21,128 | 8 theaters
#45 | The Players | $10,854 | 50 theaters
#48 | Manakamana | $9,176 | 1 theater
#49 | Bright Days Ahead | $8,143 | 4 theaters
#56 | Flex is Kings | $5,418 | 1 theater
#57 | Gabrielle | $4,900 | 1 theater
#59 | Half the Road | $2,923 | 2 theaters
Serena Donadoni is a freelance film critic in Detroit. She runs thecinemagirl.com (with movie reviews, interviews and more) as well as The Cinema Girl blog, which tracks movie releases and has a page devoted to women directors. Follow her @TheCinemaGirl.