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DVD WATCH | spring 2007

Four fascinating films by women, now available for home viewing:

The Shape of Water
By Kum-Kum Bhavnani

I Was A Teenage Feminist: A Documentary About Redefining the F-word
By Therese Schechter

The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
By Rory Kennedy

The Grace Lee Project
Grace Lee


The Shape of Water


The Shape of WaterTopics such as environmental destruction, warfare, poverty and culturally sanctioned violence against women do not usually inspire hope, but author and academic Kum-Kum Bhavnani’s exploration of women activists confronting these issues does exactly that. In her first film, narrated by Susan Sarandon, Bhavnani follows women in Senegal, Brazil, India and Israel as they work to overcome long-standing and emerging injustices. Highlighting the sisterhood of common struggle, Bhavnani takes viewers inside the conflicts they face: Senegalese anti-female-genital- mutilation activists argue whether to make health or sexuality central to their campaign; Jewish and Arab Israelis fight together for peace as they clash over racism and social issues. Bhavnani avoids portraying women in the developing world as exotic victims; her low-key style renders her subjects brilliantly real. Available from www.theshapeofwatermovie.com.
- JENNY HAHN

 


I Was A Teenage Feminist: A Documentary About Redefining the F-word

I Was A Teenage Feminist: A Documentary About Redefining the F-wordThe ’50s horror movie-style title of Therese Shechter’s documentary isn’t accidental: The 40-year-old feminist saw younger women all but shriek in fear and run to escape the so-called f-word. Attempting to debunk the stigma, she decided to explore the term’s meaning beyond stereo-types or dictionary definition. Her interviews with young Canadian and American women and pioneers of the women’s movement, like Ms. co-founders Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gloria Steinem, and her participation in the 2004 March for Women’s Lives motivate her to reconnect with her feminism. Available from www.trixiefilms.com
—DANIELLE KRATEN

 


The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

The Ghosts of Abu GhraibMalevolent authority. In this chilling documentary, that’s a good description of the roles of perpetrator-in-chief Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon higher-ups in the abuse of detainees at Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Was this simply “Animal House on the night shift,” as one Rumsfeld-appointed investigator dubbed it? Filmmaker Rory Kennedy, whose previous films dealt with such important topics as AIDS, poverty and domestic abuse, shows otherwise. Untrained U.S. military police— including several women soldiers—were encouraged to “soften” prisoners for interrogation, then lost their moral compass in the torture-condoning atmosphere. Prison commander Brigadier Gen. Janis Karpinski, unaware of the abuse, took the fall, while head torturer Major Gen. Geoffrey Miller retired with honors. See it and weep. Widely available June 5; details at www.hbo.com.
—MICHELE KORT

 


The Grace Lee Project
Grace Lee

The Grace Lee Project To filmmaker Grace Lee, growing up in Missouri as the “only Asian girl for miles,” her name was a symbol of her individuality; as an adult, she learned how common it was among Chinese and Korean Americans. This video chronicles her effort to find a sisterhood of Grace Lees who defy the stereotype of the quiet Asian girl. There’s the Chinese American former black-power activist, still fighting for civil rights at 88; the teenager who balances violin lessons with making gory art; the single mother who rescues a family fleeing domestic violence. A search for strangers becomes Lee’s search for self in this light-hearted, poignant documentary about standing out and fitting in. Available from www.wmm.com/graceleeproject.
—BAILEY PORTER