By Eric J.

**Please note some films mentioned in this post are not appropriate for all ages.**

EVPL is proud to have Kanopy – a free, digital streaming service for libraries. Watch great movies with the click of a button but without the monthly fee of most streaming services. The app – available to download on evpl.org – works on phones, desktops, Roku, and Amazon Firestick. As an EVPL user, you will have access to 20 films per month. This feature looks at some of what Kanopy has to offer, highlighting a particular filmmaker, actor, studio, genre, or theme.

This time, the spotlight is on female filmmakers featured on Kanopy in celebration of Women’s History Month. The content in these films is wide and varied, from slice-of-life drama and comedy to vicious vampires and murderous hitch-hikers, from total fiction to real-life inspired to documentary footage, from China to Iran to Sacramento, California. All character pieces to an extent, these movies focus on what pushes the human condition, whether it is parent-child relationships, sexuality, or life-and-death situations. Some of these titles have been featured on Kanopy Spotlight before, most have not, but all of these films feature personal and powerful stories from the women directing them.

The Farewell (2019)

Director: Lulu Wang

Runtime: 100 mins.

Rating: PG

Based on a “true lie” as the opening card says, The Farewell, or Don’t Tell Her as it was re-titled in China, tells the story of Chinese born but American raised Billi (Awkwafina), who learns from her father (Tzi Ma) that his mother, Billi’s grandmother (Zhao Shu-zhen) is dying… but no one in the family is going to tell her. This doesn’t make sense or seem morally right from Billi’s American perspective, but her family insists this is normal in Chinese tradition. Under the guise of a wedding, the whole family gathers in China to say goodbye to her one last time without saying the words– something that is hard for everyone but especially for Billi, who doesn’t want to lie to her “Nai Nai” in the first place…

The Farewell is based on an actual incident in the life of director Lulu Wang (partner of Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins), who first told the story on an episode of the public radio show This American Life. A bilingual film that often switches from English to Mandarin with English subtitles, the “meta” aspect of the movie got even stranger when the real life grandmother (who still had not been told her terminal diagnosis) learned her granddaughter was making a movie in her hometown of Changchun and frequently visited the set, all while Wang and the crew kept secret what the film was about. Only when the film was finished and released in China did her Nai Nai tell her sister, “Little Nai Nai” (who plays herself in the movie) that she understood she was the “her” of the title Don’t Tell Her. Speaking to audiences both domestic and abroad, Awkwafina won Best Actress – Musical or Comedy at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards while the film won Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Zhao) at the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

Director: Desiree Akhavan

Features: Chloe Grace MoretzQuinn ShephardSasha LaneSteven Hauck

Runtime: 92 mins. 

Rating: Not Rated (Contains Drug Use and Sexual Content)

A period piece set in 1993, The Miseducation of Cameron Post follows Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young adult whose normal life is yanked out from under her when her boyfriend discovers Cameron kissing her best friend. Cameron’s aunt and guardian send her to a religious “reeducation” camp, where the owners try to “pray the gay away” from the teenagers sent there. On one side are the students like Erin and Helen, who genuinely want to change themselves, or at least want to want to. On the other side are Jane and Adam, proud of who they are and contemptuous of the place they’re sent to. Cameron finds herself torn between these two sides, more naturally drawn to Adam and Jane’s rebellious ways, but also wanting to become like Helen or Erin and find a place where she feels like she belongs, even if it’s here. However, when the actions of the camp and the people who run it become so egregious that Cameron cannot ignore it anymore, she has to make her choice…

Based on the book of the same name by Emily M. Danforth, the story was inspired by a 2005 incident where teenager Zach Stark was sent to a gay reeducation camp, bringing forth daily protests and cries for Zach to be released. Director Desiree Akhavan, herself bisexual, narrows the novel’s wider focus into a very self-contained story about the reeducation facility itself and the events that happen there. Our sympathies are with Cameron and the rebellious kids, but the other kids and even those who run the facility itself are not made to be two-dimensional villains. We understand the struggle that Erin, Helen, and even “Reverend Rick” himself face within themselves between their natural wants and desires and what they have been told God wants for them. But while we may empathize with them on an individual level, the film is also very clear on the harm and trauma these facilities cause.

Lady Bird (2017)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Features: Beanie FeldsteinLaurie MetcalfLucas HedgesSaoirse RonanTimothée Chalamet

Runtime: 94 mins.

Rating: R

Part comedy, part drama, Lady Bird examines the hostile, passionate, argumentative, explosive, but ultimately loving relationship that can exist between a mother and daughter. Seventeen-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is close to graduating high school and wants to move as far away from Sacramento as possible while still being landlocked, something her mother (Laurie Metcalf) has no idea how she will afford. Her mom’s constant worries about their finances are contrasted with Lady Bird’s envy of the big, beautiful houses that her Catholic school classmates can easily afford. Finding herself with choices from every direction: between her childhood best friend and the popular rich girl, between the boy in her play (Lucas Hedges) and the boy in a band (Timothée Chalamet), and between the Sacramento life her mom represents and her East Coast dreams, Lady Bird must decide what she really wants…

This film is a love letter to the city of Sacramento, writer and director Greta Gerwig’s real hometown. Although she said the events in the movie never happened directly, the nostalgia for the city and the time period it is set in (the post-9/11 early 2000s) can be felt in every frame of film. Lady Bird has very different relationships with her family, friends, school, and boyfriends, but beneath all of them is an outward hatred of the world in which she grew up, a desire to break free and become her true self elsewhere, and a realization that it is her home after all. Lady Bird, which won Best Film – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Musical or Comedy (Ronan) at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, is lighthearted and low on conflict except the difficult, heartfelt relationship of mother and daughter, presenting both a beautiful coming of age story and a slice of a particular place and time.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Features: Sheila Vand

Runtime: 101 mins.

Rating: Not Rated (Contains Violence, Drug Use, and Sexual Content)

Someone wanders through the aptly named “Bad City” after dark. Dressed in a chador, she rides the abandoned, Iranian streets on her skateboard and stalks men, often men who treat women terribly, waiting for them to cross her path. When they do, things turn out terribly… for them, when they learn the unnamed woman is a vampire. In the same town, young Arash works menial jobs and sells drugs in order to support his heroin-addicted father. Rejected by his crush, he finds himself wandering those same streets one night as the woman. Rather than kill him, the vampire acts shy and attracted to Arash and they become a couple shortly after. Normally deathly silent, she tells Arash she has done “bad things,” but compared to how he is treated everywhere else in life, she seems to be the one good thing going for him in life and he ignores it. But when so few live in Bad City, it becomes inevitable that their lives will become more intertwined. How long can he ignore it for…?

Described as “the first Iranian vampire Western,” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night subverts the expectations you would have from a title like that, portraying the woman as predator rather than prey. Somewhere between a horror film and a drama, the black and white film’s director, Ana Lily Amirpour has said that vampires can metaphorically represent any number of issues: romance, murder, drug addiction, and that they are crucially all of these things in one. Here, being a vampire represents both the woman’s power, as she can walk alone in a dark alley in the middle of the night and not be frightened if a strange man appears, and it is her social anxiety, as it is the one thing keeping her from truly opening up and connecting with Arash. Although slow and very character-based, the film does a fantastic job pulling you into the dark atmosphere of empty streets with potential danger lurking around every corner.

Double Dare (2005)

Director: Amanda Micheli

Features: Jeannie EpperLucy LawlessLynda CarterQuentin TarantinoSteven SpielbergZoë Bell

Runtime: 82 mins.

Rating: Not Rated (Contains Language)

Filmed over the course of six years, from 1997 to 2003, Double Dare is a documentary that focuses on the lives of two stunt performers, Jeannie Epper and Zoë Bell. Jeannie Epper comes from a long line of stuntmen and coordinators, from her father who did horse stunts for westerns to her brother, Gary, who worked as a stunt coordinator, to her daughter Eurlyne, who followed her mom’s footsteps but injured herself doing a stunt. Jeannie’s most famous role was as Lynda Carter’s stunt double on the 1970s TV series, Wonder Woman, and decades later, found herself frustrated getting less work as she was getting older. Zoë Bell is a New Zealand native and was the stunt double for another famous TV warrior woman, Xena: Warrior Princess. At the time of the documentary, the show has just recently come to an end and Bell finds herself under Epper’s mentorship in the hopes of making it in Hollywood…

Director Amanda Micheli shows a fascinating glimpse into an essential part of moviemaking, but is not often discussed or focused on as much as acting or directing. The industry struggles to find respectability at all, but it’s even harder for Epper and Bell as stuntwomen as opposed to just stuntmen. Epper in particular points out that with her decades-long experience and expertise, she would have been a stunt coordinator, her dream job, if she had been a man. Sadly, Epper never became a stunt coordinator in the years since, according to her IMDb page. On a happier note, the documentary ends with Bell auditioning for and getting the role of Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill. Following its completion, Bell became not only a major stunt performer in Hollywood, but an actress in several of Quentin Tarantino’s subsequent films, including most recently, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Showing their most famous roles and interviewing figures like Steven Spielberg who praises Epper, this documentary shows how much hard work and sacrifice take place for movies’ most spectacular stunts.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Director: Ida Lupino

Features: Edmond O’BrienFrank Lovejoy

Runtime: 71 mins.

Rating: Not Rated (Contains Suspenseful Situations)

Loosely based on the real life story of murderous hitch-hiker Billy Cook, two old buddies, Gilbert (Edmund O’Brien) and Roy (Frank Lovejoy), go on a weekend fishing trip, passing up where they told their wives they were headed and going towards Mexico instead. Along the way, they pick up a hitch-hiker, Emmett Myers (William Talman), completely unaware that he has spent the last few weeks murdering everyone who picked him up off the road. Myers always has a gun on them, but the two men look for any opportunity where he might drop his guard down. With their family thinking they’re somewhere else and the police still looking for the last car Myers dropped off, it is down to the two men to figure out a way to stop the hitch-hiker and save their lives…

The Hitch-Hiker is the only major film noir, a term for a dark and atmospheric crime story, directed by a woman. Originally an actress who worked with such film stars as Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft, and Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, Ida Lupino showed an interest in directing and became one of the first women to direct a movie for Hollywood. She made several small B-movies, some under her own name and some ghost-directing for someone else, before directing The Hitch-Hiker and co-writing it with her then husband, Collier Young. Critics at the time thought it was mediocre and bland, but its reputation has grown in proportion to the years. Moody, claustrophobic and tense, the story takes place in almost real time as the audience wonders with every bump or minor convenience, whether this will be the thing that sets Myers off. This stands up as an excellent thriller that makes you imagine what you would do in their shoes.

Kanopy has also highlighted 16 films to check out during Women’s History Month. Be sure to check out these excellent films soon!

More Kanopy Spotlights

Eric J.

Eric J.

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