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TIFF 2010 Reviews #2: Amazon Falls, WomenArt Revolution – A Secret History

Amazon Falls, Katrin Bowen, (Canada First)
April Telek stars as Jana, an aging actress living in L. A. with a much younger DJ boyfriend. At the beginning of the film, Jana is a buxom blonde with perfect hair and make-up. It’s the day before her fortieth birthday and Jana is a self-assured actress going to an audition with Lee, her protégée and best friend. Lee is a twenty-something who thinks of Jana as a seasoned actress who knows all about the acting world. Jana’s legitimacy as a screen actress is her starring role in a series of "Amazon" films that have a minor cult following, but which were done many, many years ago.

When a producer tells Jana that he might have a part for her as a “confident but desperate” woman it seems like a contradiction in terms, but as the story progresses the assured Jana becomes increasingly obsessed with attaining stardom, even as she faces rejection. Her amour of make up, hair extensions, and foundation garments are flimsy fortifications against the soul-destroying, semi-prostitution of her hostess job at a cocktail lounge and the youth-obsessed culture of L.A.( Even her DJ boyfriend has to be publicly “single” to retain his job). It’s time for Jana to move on, but against the advice of her agent, Jana refuses to acknowledge her changed status.

First-time feature director Katrin Bowen captures Jana’s gradual downfall in a measured revelation of scenes in which April Telek depicts Jana’s vulnerability and her mental and physical deterioration. The story about the pitfalls of acting and the dog eat dog world of La La Land is nothing new, and the L. A. exteriors don’t quite match the made-in-Canada interiors (and some exteriors) of the film, but I really connected with the strong performance by April Telek.

WomenArt Revolution – A Secret History, Lynn Hershman Leeson, (Real to Reel)
How much can you really know about a society if a segment of the population has no voice? If you can name five female artists then you are way ahead of most people. This exercise carried out at several major art galleries at the beginning of this documentary…and then the answers stop. As I watched, I calculated the number of women artists that I knew and was pleased that I could name more than five, but I wasn’t satisfied to know that I couldn’t name twenty. The documentary knows we are all in the same boat; we haven’t been educated about women artists because art by women was not considered serious, collectable art. Further, many major galleries only carried work by men—and white men, at that.

Women artists were creating works, but they couldn’t sell them for vast sums of money, and trying to convince a gallery to show their work was almost impossible. Even artist/director, Leeson had her art returned when a buyer found out the pieces were created by a woman.

Tied to the civil rights movement, women artists became activists and feminists, and formed collectives to mentor and share their work. With women telling their stories through art, many captured the inequalities of their roles as women (aka wives) and, if they were women of colour, they depicted issues of racial discrimination and demands for social justice.

When women shamed galleries across the U.S. into admitting female artists, their work often was censored. In the case of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, Congress heatedly debated the pornographic nature of her work--and this was the 1980's!

An interesting point of fact that I had never considered is the fact that the Minimalist Movement of the Sixties coincided with a time of great social turmoil in America but there was very little of this reality being depicted on the walls of major art galleries. Women were capturing the rapid social changes, but Minimalism was in so you had gallery walls plastered with lines and dots.

The film is a fascinating lesson in history, art, feminism, and culture. Director, Leeson spent over forty years talking to and documenting this socially imposed “secret” world of women artists. I especially loved the works of Ana Mendieta, and enjoyed the commentary by B. Ruby Rich . Leeson could not, of course, focus on all the artists she knew, but the ones she chose to include in this film are each very interesting and worthy of documentaries of their own. Thankfully, we have Leeson’s film to act as an introduction and the film's website also provides much needed information.

What will you see at TIFF 2010?


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