A much-needed profile of Anita Hill is one of the top-grossing films directed by women in March, with the highest monthly gross of a female-directed documentary so far this year. Anita has made $80,281 from seven theaters, with Samuel Goldwyn Films handling the platform release (theatrical only, no VOD). Frieda Lee Mock explores the incendiary 1991 Senate hearings, which went from the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the trial of Anita Hill, with the calm and reasoned approach of her subject. Anita truly lets Hill speak, and the law professor recalls this life-changing event with an illuminating directness and lack of rancor. A feature documentary Oscar-winner for Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision, Mock was the first Governor of the AMPAS Documentary Branch and currently serves as co-chair of the DGA Documentary Awards Committee.
Opening on the same day (March 21) as Anita is the portrait of another activist, feminist and author, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (from LeeLee Films and First Pond Entertainment). Korean-American director Grace Lee made a documentary in 2005 about other women with her name, and she found an amazing subject in the Chinese-American Boggs, now 98. The outspoken radical has not softened with age, and American Revolutionary explores her role in the civil-rights movement, as well as her views on Detroit, where she's lived for half a century while watching the slow decline of an industrial powerhouse and symbol of American capitalism. Filmmaker Maria Iliou goes back to the era of Boggs's childhood with her historical documentary From Both Sides of the Aegean: Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey - Greece 1922-24 (from non-profit Proteus). It's her third collaboration with historian Alexander Kitroeff, using archival images to illuminate modern Greece and the tumultuous history of the region. These limited releases have not reported grosses.
Rachel Boynton (Our Brand is Crisis) explores big money in Big Men, which looks at an American petroleum company's foray into oil-rich Ghana. Six years in the making, the documentary digs into the environmental and social impact of Western corporations extracting natural resources from Africa, as well as the Big Men who chase profits on both sides of the Atlantic. Briefly released last June, the Plan B production is getting a careful theatrical rollout via Abramorama, grossing $35,406 from three theaters. Mirra Bank looks at a different form of American influence in The Only Real Game, about the love of baseball in Manipur, the former kingdom turned Indian state that has its own rich sports history as the birthplace of polo. Bank wrote a guest post for Women and Hollywood about making The Only Real Game in the volatile region. Her self-released documentary has grossed $1,892 from one theater.
While Hollywood is shorthand for commercial, mainstream American filmmaking, Bollywood has become an umbrella term for populist Indian movies that feature musical interludes. They rarely get much attention from American critics, but Bollywood features (in a variety of genres) regularly play in major U.S. cities, including films from female directors like Nupur Asthana. Her second feature, Bewakoofiyaan, is a romantic comedy about an ambitious young couple whose free-spending ways upset her father, a traditional bureaucrat. Like many Bollywood releases, Yash Raj Films opened Bewakoofiyaan in the U.S. on the same day as in India (but did not report grosses).
Foreign-language films directed by women are making inroads at American cinemas this month. Released in 30 theaters by Cohen Media Group, Emmanuelle Bercot's On My Way has grossed $149,613, which puts it at #21 for all March films. The French actress, screenwriter and director often has multiple roles in her films: Bercot co-wrote the Polisse screenplay with director Maiwenn and both women starred in the 2011 crime drama, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes. She stays behind the camera (as co-writer and director) for On My Way, which sends Catherine Deneuve on an emotional road trip. Italian actress Valeria Golino (Rain Man, Respiro) also opts not to appear in her first feature as co-writer and director, Honey (Miele), about a woman who assists the terminally ill with their planned deaths. Emerging Pictures is distributing Honey as part of the Cinema Made in Italy initiative to bring new Italian films to American theaters. Oscar winner The Great Beauty (released by Janus Films and grossing $2.7 million) was first in the series, but no box-office information is available for Honey.
Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love was one of the more than 30 films from women directors that screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Her feature debut, an unvarnished look at a teenage girl's sexual awakening, is getting a platform release from Variance Films (without VOD) and has grossed $11,664 from the first theater on its national rollout. Jessica Goldberg's directorial debut Refuge is adapted from her play, which won the 1999 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for women dramatists. (She wrote Refuge while studying at Julliard.) The 2012 film stars Krysten Ritter as a woman focused on caring for two teenage siblings when she finds unexpected romance. Strand Releasing opened Refuge on March 28 in one theater and it grossed $1,274. Family relationships are even more strained in Jocelyn Engle and Arno Malarone's Awakened, which follows a woman investigating the circumstances surrounding her mother's death. The thriller with supernatural elements was released by Gravitas Ventures, which did not provide grosses.
Dutch writer and director Miriam Kruishoop moves out of her comfort zone with Greencard Warriors (formerly Crosstown), about the difficult choices facing undocumented immigrants in the United States. Her Los Angeles-set drama has one brother opting for the military while the other struggles with gang life. The German director Wiebke von Carolsfeld is comfortable working in English, adapting Aislinn Hunter's debut novel Stay about a Canadian woman (Taylor Schilling) living in rural Ireland with a disgraced academic (Aidan Quinn). Her pregnancy challenges their insular existence. Distributed by New World Cinemas and Kino Lorber, respectively, neither film has reported grosses.
Two self-distributed documentaries cover the sacred and the profane (without releasing box office figures). In Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence, Elena Mannes and Peter C. Jones profile the Trappist monk who adopted Eastern religious practices and helped originate Centering Prayer. The influential theologian has published more than 30 books, including Open Mind, Open Heart. For Exposed, Beth B dives into the cheeky world of modern burlesque, where humor and social commentary are as important as titillation. A provocative artist in her own right, Beth B was featured in Celine Danhier's documentary Blank City (2010), which revealed how the 1970s punk aesthetic influenced New York independent filmmakers (including Jim Jarmusch and Bette Gordon). Exposed marks her first theatrical release after a decade making television documentaries.
Rankings, grosses and theater numbers for March 2014 are courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
#21 | On My Way | $149,613 | 31 theaters
#25 | Anita | $80,281 | 7 theaters
#32 | Big Men | $35,406 | 3 theaters
#42 | It Felt Like Love | $11,664 | 1 theater
#50 | The Only Real Game | $1,892 | 1 theater
#51 | Refuge | $1,274 | 1 theater
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.