SPOTLIGHT July 2022: Geena Davis, Actor and Activist for Diversity in Cinema

Geena Davis seeks challenges in the roles she plays—and challenges others to view women’s roles differently. She’s used her fame to draw attention to disparities in representation, especially in family entertainment, and she’s passionate about recognizing unconscious biases and breaking boundaries around gender, race, body image, and abilities. By measuring evidence of what we see on screen, her institute provides evidence of how well media represents us and the inspiration to do better.

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DREAMING WALLS – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

New York City’s Chelsea Hotel has been called a bohemian utopia, but for longtime resident Rose Cory, it’s like a grand old tree with deep roots and life, even after being chopped down. Cory, who has lived at the hotel since 1978, provides resonant thoughts about the iconic building’s crossroads in the documentary Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel. Partly an elegy to the hotel’s edgy heyday and a tribute to those still living there, the film gives viewers a glimpse inside this landmark where artists and intellectuals lived — and more than a few died.

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HALFTIME (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Valerie Kafrin

The Netflix documentary Halftime peeks into the whirlwind life of global superstar Jennifer Lopez—but don’t expect to get too close. “One of the things that I’m proud of is that I’m able to hold it together in front of everybody without anybody knowing how I feel,” she tells the filmmakers. Earlier, she says that she doesn’t even let on when she’s sick. Lopez is an undeniably charismatic performer, yet in exploring her drive, Halftime shows us only half the picture. “My whole life, I’ve been battling and battling to be heard, to be seen,” she says. If only we’d seen more of that.

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BODY PARTS (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Early in the documentary Body Parts, Rosanna Arquette remembers auditioning in a bikini for a part in the 1991 comedy S.O.B. One day while shooting, director Blake Edwards told her to take her top off. Then nineteen, Arquette hedged, not realizing the role called for nudity. Afraid she’d lose her job, she relented. Such affecting interviews are but one facet of Body Parts, a film that discusses how some creatives are pushing back against exploiting the female body, especially in nude scenes and sex scenes.

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THE HUMAN TRIAL – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

When the COVID-19 vaccine became available within a year, some medical experts called it a modern miracle. Although it deals with diabetes, the documentary The Human Trial brings home why such a feat is rare indeed. The film follows five years involving the biotech company ViaCyte of San Diego, California, and two diabetes patients in Minnesota who volunteered for a clinical trial of the potential treatment it developed. Making her feature directing debut, Lisa Hepner illustrates the severity of this disease with hand-drawn diagrams on white paper and a sobering voiceover from someone who knows this subject well from personal experience.

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JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Director Colin Trevorrow keeps the globe-hopping action moving at a brisk pace, likely so viewers don’t ask many questions. The action sequences are effective, easy to track and edited with a blend of wide and closer shots, some with teeth snapping right at the screen. Yet the story lacks teeth: There’s no cohesion, or satisfying setups and payoffs. It’s enough to drive some dino fans buggy.

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THE LOST GIRLS – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Peter Pan’s story seems more like a curse than a wondrous adventure for the women in the Darling family in The Lost Girls, a multigenerational drama that ultimately fails to take flight. Writer/director/co-star Livia De Paolis adapted the story from Laurie Fox’s eponymous novel which has an intriguing premise. Wendy from J. M. Barrie’s story, now Great Nana, relishes in telling her daughter and granddaughter about her adventures to Neverland—and still trying to fly. Her household locks the windows so she doesn’t hurt herself.

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COCOON – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

As a Berlin teenager discovering her sexuality one summer, Lena Urzendowsky gives a rich and heartfelt performance in the coming-of-age drama Cocoon. Nora is a fourteen-year-old who sometimes narrates videos like diary entries into her smartphone. Early in Cocoon, she appears guileless until she feels the first sparks of attraction. Then we realize how guarded she is, watching her subtly transform. She tests her feelings, tentatively bolder, until she stands taller and glows with confidence, finally free.

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BEING BEBE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

BeBe Zahara Benet, the first winner of the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, is a boisterous drag performer who doesn’t always like the word drag. “I like ‘the whole female illusion,’” says BeBe in the documentary Being BeBe, an intimate portrait that introduces viewers both to her and her offstage alter ego, Nea Marshall Kudi.

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INDEBTED TO ALL WOMEN – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Because she lost consciousness, Teodora Vásquez doesn’t remember the details of her baby’s birth. She remembers bleeding and calling for paramedics. Being taken to a police station and handcuffed. Waking in a hospital to learn she’d been charged with killing her baby—and later sentenced to thirty years in prison. Hers is just one of the stories highlighted in the documentary En deuda con todas (Indebted to All Women), which explores the draconian law against abortion in El Salvador.

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