STRONG ISLAND EDITION
CONTRIBUTORS REBECCA MARTIN, founder Rebecca Martin is the founder of Cinema Femme magazine. Rebecca’s passion has always been film. She founded the Meetup group Chicago Film Lover Exchange in 2011, which has grown to over 6,000 members. Along with film, Rebecca is passionate about empowering and encouraging other women to follow their dreams and passions.
ALISON MARCOTTE, editor Alison Marcotte is a writer and editor in Chicago area. She’s always been passionate about storytelling, no matter the medium. With a background in journalism and a passion for film, small businesses, and empowering other women, she’s excited to be part of the Cinema Femme team and movement.
JENNIFER JENKINS, graphic designer Jennifer Jenkins is an awardwinning designer who began her experience working at newspapers, but her love for graphic design was sparked back in high school. Starting with ad design and pre-press, she worked her way up to small magazines and eventually onto larger publications. From bright, splashy designs to clean, modern vibes, Jennifer brings a creative and fun spin to the design world.
LAURINE CORNUEJOLS, illustrator Laurine Cornuejols is a French illustrator who uses a combination of traditional and digital media to communicate ideas and emotions in her work. With her illustrations, she creates a poetic and colorful world. When she is not working from her studio in London, she travels the world with her sketchbook and her watercolors.
TAVI VERALDI, illustrator Tavi Veraldi is a Chicago-based illustrator. She describes her illustration style as bold, playful, and busy. The inspiration behind most of her work is the genre queer, classic Hollywood, and B movies she can get her hands on.
AMY RENEE WASNEY, writer Amy Renee Wasney is a passionate writer and feminist living in the south suburbs of Chicago and an annual participant in National Novel Writing Month. Her favorite films include “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), “The Princess Bride” (1987), and “Big Fish” (2003), and her personal heroes are Fred Rogers and Hermione Granger. She tries to live up to their example each and every day.
ATAVIA REED, writer Atavia Reed is a Chicago-based writer and editor. Currently, she studies Sketch Writing at The Second City and provides original, digital content for several nonprofits. She plans to create that one television show you love.
JAYLAN SALAH, writer Jaylan Salah is an Egyptian poet, translator, two-time national literary award winner, animal lover, feminist, film critic, and philanthropist. Jaylan’s book “Thus Spoke La Loba” is a short story collection that explores sexuality, gender, and issues of identity. Her first poetry book “Workstation Blues” will be published with PoetsIN, a publishing house with a purpose to destigmatize mental illness and support international artists.
MARJORIE H. MORGAN, writer Marjorie H. Morgan is a writer, playwright, and journalist with special interest in cultural and social politics. Marjorie writes both critically and creatively for a number of national and international publications, such as The Guardian and Reader’s Digest, and she was recently shortlisted for the 15th Windsor Fringe International Kenneth Branagh Drama Award in 2018.
PAMELA POWELL, film critic Pamela Powell, a member of the CFCA, BFCA, Rotten Tomatoes, and the WFCC, currently writes for both print and online publications, and cohosts a segment on WCIATV and WLRW radio. She attends film festivals around the world, including Sundance, SXSW, and Toronto, seeking new blockbusters and hidden independent gems. Pamela participates in panel discussions and local social impact film series and focuses on female filmmakers.
DANIELLE SOLZMAN, film critic Danielle Solzman is a Chicagobased film critic who is also working on writing a trans-led indie comedy screenplay when her film schedule allows her to do so. When she isn’t watching movies or her favorite television programming, she’s watching her beloved Kentucky Wildcats and St. Louis Cardinals. Or trying to take over the world. Yeah, that’s it. Taking over the world!
ANDREA ALBERTI, filmmaker Andrea is pretty okay at a lot of things, especially things videorelated. Things that let her be creative and experimental with said video? Even better. Nine years of experience working on all levels and stages of production has forced her to become a jackof-all-trades. A master of none? You bet. Andrea cofounded creative agency Amelia Street Studio with her two sisters. She’s working on her first documentary, “Head to Head.”
MERYL GOLDSMITH, filmmaker Meryl Goldsmith is a producer and an executive producer of CNN/ Magnolia Pictures documentary “Love, Gilda” (2018). Meryl produced and directed the documentary “The Syndrome” (2014). She is a co-executive producer of drama “A Woman, a Part” (2016) and mystery “Don’t Leave Home” (2018).
KATY OSBORN, filmmaker Katy has a passion for human behavior and creativity, which feeds into her work as a brand strategist and copywriter. She started in advertising before launching a creative agency, Amelia Street Studio. In 2015, Katy and her sisters started filming a documentary, “Head to Head,” tracing the path of hair from women in India sacrificing their hair for the gods to young women experiencing hair loss sacrificing a lot to get it.
PENNY LANE, filmmaker Penny Lane is an award-winning nonfiction filmmaker who was named one of Filmmaker magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and a Chicken & Egg Breakthrough Award winner. She is currently an Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Colgate University, where she lives in a very old house and shows movies in her barn. And yes, Penny Lane is her real name.
NASSIM ABDI, educator and scholar-activist Nassim Abdi, PhD, is the CEO and cofounder of Docademia, a social initiative that uses independent documentaries to bring social justice discussions to life in classrooms.
INTRODUCTION CINEMA FEMME DOCUMENTARY ISSUE — EDITOR’S LETTER I’ve always loved how documentaries can connect with viewers by taking them through worlds that are not their own. And some documentaries, like Yance Ford’s “Strong Island” (2017), our Issue 3 film focus, demand your attention and you can’t look away. In our third issue, “Strong Island” edition, we feature four personal essays that beautifully examine the tragedy and injustice of the murder of William Ford Jr., director Yance Ford’s brother. Laurine Cornuéjols illustrated our Issue 3 cover with a powerful, electrifying illustration of two shadows in darkness hugging one another. This illustration channels the power of the film. And Cinema Femme’s new illustrator Tavi Veraldi contributed an illustration to accompany Jaylan Salah’s poem about “Strong Island,” perfectly reflecting the mood and tone of the piece. We’re so lucky and fortunate to have so many talented contributors. Danielle Solzman is Issue 3’s featured film critic. Danielle is giving a voice to the transgender community in film criticism and making a huge impact with her words. It’s incredible how many films she reviews—Danielle covers most of the major film festivals (Sundance this year!) and Chicago premieres and screenings. You can find her work at solzyatthemovies.com. Film critic Pamela Powell (FF2 Media, The Daily Journal, “Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam”) interviewed filmmaker Penny Lane about her film “Hail Satan?” (2019), which premiered at Sundance this year. Penny also directed the award-winning film “Nuts!” (2016), which also premiered at Sundance in 2016. We’re so happy to have Pamela as part of our team. Thank you, Pamela, for introducing us to such amazing films by female filmmakers! I had the pleasure of interviewing some amazing women in documentary filmmaking, one being Meryl Goldsmith, director of “The Syndrome” (2014) and producer of “Love, Gilda” (2018). Meryl taught me so much about the mechanics of documentary filmmaking through sharing her unique style and individuality that has set her apart as a documentary filmmaker and producer. A new addition to our digital magazine is embedded video. You can watch our interviews with the passionate educator and social activist Nassim Abdi, PhD, cofounder of Docademia, and “Head to Head” documentary filmmakers Katy Osborn and Andrea Alberti. —Rebecca Martin Founder and Editor in Chief Cinema Femme magazine 4
CONTENTS Personal Essays
The Contours of Fear: A Documentary Elegy
by Marjorie H. Morgan
I Can’t Understand
by Amy Renee Wasney
Strong Island: Documentary Filmmaking as a Coming-of-Age Tale
by Jaylan Salah
A Poem for the Mother
by Jaylan Salah
The Burden of Heartbreak
by Atavia Reed
A Conversation between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Film Critic Danielle Solzman
“Hail Satan?”: Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Penny Lane
A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Filmmaker Meryl Goldsmith
A Conversation with Docademia Cofounder Nassim Abdi
A Conversation with “Head to Head” Documentary Filmmakers Andrea Alberti and Katy Osborn
60 films! 28 nations!
March 8 — April 4, 2019 ALEKSI/Croatia
#CEUFF A third of this year’s films are directed by women! Discounted admission! Pay $7 and use the code CEUFFPARTNER when purchasing tickets! siskelfilmcenter.org/ceuff Cinema Femme Magazine is a proud partner of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s 22nd Annual Chicago European Union Film Festival! CINEMA FEMME
O T U N R O S C OF E TH
FEAR A Documentary Elegy BY MARJORIE H. MORGAN
he sound of repetitive, relentless punching against a fixed piece of board starts this documentary, and a world upside down and back to front ends it. Every frame of the 107 minutes in between reinforces the idea that the director, Yance Ford, is sharing his personal elegy of grief with the camera. This is a story for everybody, but specifically for you, the person listening and watching right now. This is the message that is transmitted. “Strong Island” (2017) is a documentary that does not pull any punches. It is a stark, literally in-your-face look at the justice system from the point of view of a Black man in twenty-firstcentury America. This is not an unfamiliar story. It is, however, a highly personal journey that amplifies other similar stories. Yance Ford, as the director and an active subject in the documentary, is endeavouring to reclaim his family’s history and to rewrite the stolen identity of his murdered brother, 24-year-old William Ford Jr. Twenty-two years after his brother’s death, Yance Ford faces the camera and starts a quest to find answers: “I’m not surprised that the case didn’t go to trial. I just want to know, exactly, all the reasons why.” The gravity of the decades-long exodus from private shock to this public statement of grief is shown in the first full frame of Yance Ford speaking directly to camera. Ford warns that the film will be uncomfortable to watch; it is, if one does not want to face the truth. Fade to black. The transitions between the majority of shots are black screens. Just blackness. No sound. No words. Silence and darkness—a parallel of the family journey. Central to the questions Ford asks is a pair of contrasting cases of shootings: William Ford’s and David Breen’s. Viewers subtly become aware of the differences between the circumstances of teacher William Ford’s shooting and subsequent death, and that of lawyer David Breen, 25 years old at the time, a former assistant district attorney (ADA) who had the Brooklyn Bridge shut down to transport him to a hospital after he was shot at a cashpoint mugging. Breen’s attacker, 18-year-old Kenneth 6
Martinez, was charged with attempted murder, first-degree assault, robbery, and criminal possession of a weapon. William Ford was one of the two men who assisted Breen when he was assaulted—by apprehending the fleeing assailant who was armed with the gun—and was subsequently a witness for Breen’s case. Ford was later described by Ed Boyar (former Brooklyn ADA) as performing a “fearless ... heroic act”: the evening Ford was killed was at the end of a week of appearances in court as a defence witness for the shooting incident relating to David Breen. The legal system he was participating in, the legal system he obtained employment with as a correction officer, was the same system that turned its back on him later that day. David Breen and William Ford both got shot, yet David Breen’s story had a different outcome. Breen was rushed to a hospital with major road closures and his attacker was brought to court. William Ford was left to die alone on the ground and his attacker walked free, sanctioned by the courts. Barbara Dunmore Ford raised her three children with the principal aim to love one another, and to see character, not colour. The sad truth of this film is the understanding that despite his family’s standards, William Ford was judged primarily on his colour, not on his character. The character was unseen. The grand jury deemed William Ford’s murder as a “justifiable shooting.” The police evidence in the investigation focused on the deceased victim’s height, weight, and exercise routine, not on the facts around the vehicle in question or the behaviour of the murderer, 19-year-old Mark Reilly. Reilly had an extensive criminal record; it is a matter of record that he used a rifle to shoot William Ford once in his chest. It is a matter of record that the murderer is white. It is a matter of record that the victim is Black. It is a matter of record that the defence system contended that the killing on April 7, 1992, was based on fear. Fear of blackness dictated that justice went absent in the grand jury hearing, which decided that the murder was a case of self-defence because reasonable fear existed. This decision was reached because the victim was deemed the prime suspect in his own murder.
“How do you measure the distance of reasonable fear?” Yance Ford asks. Additionally, he wants to know, “What are the contours of fear? Whose fear is reasonable?” “Hidden Figures” (2016) noted, “Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line.” Yance Ford’s experience shows that it is even difficult to get equal standing, so there is no hope of getting ahead in his personal experience. The documentary invites the viewer to see William Ford not as the newspapers, the grand jury, the murderer Mark Reilly, and the police saw him, but as his family, specifically Yance Ford, saw him. Yance has multiple reasons to be passionate about directing the gaze of the viewer to the personality and character of his brother, because he himself has specific identity questions, being a transgender man. He has also stepped into the role as the only surviving male member of the Ford family following his brother’s murder, and his father’s rapid decline and death from illness after that unresolved tragic event. The filmmaker narrates the film with a steady voice and invites the viewer to see his brother as his family knew him, flaws as well. His whole humanity is displayed. The people interviewed are generally sat centre frame in upright chairs, facing the camera. This is a direct interaction between each speaker and the viewer. Yance Ford is the sole person whose face takes up the whole screen, looking directly into the camera. We only see Yance’s hands as he shares family photos and disseminates the family history and personal portraits as he saw and knew them. “Strong Island” is a powerful indictment on a legal and social system that continues to fail the Black American community. Yance Ford is harnessing the power of the gaze in this documentary to make his own memory, his personal journey, and his family’s grief readily accessible to everyone. Yance Ford, as a filmmaker, highlights William Ford’s death and thereby removes the anonymity of this case from the never-ending list of publicly ignored Black men’s unjust deaths. To Yance and his sister Lauren, William Ford was a hero, so Yance Ford recreates the legally tarnished name of William Ford in the image of him that they held as a family. The content of this film is the reason why #BlackLivesMatter continues to be relevant as we slink through the first quarter of the twenty-first century. The reality behind “Strong Island” is not a new story; it is an old story that is always fresh and relevant. That fact is this film shines a light on an individual experience, on humanity at the most raw and vulnerable moments, when sudden and unexpected death crashes into a family, and it is all completed with a mostly calm and always tender attention to the facts as viewed by the surviving family members. In this portrayed behaviour, Yance Ford mimics his mother, his father, his sister, his community, his “race,” all who have been conditioned by repeated traumatic situations to retain a mainly calm demeanour in the centre of an anger storm. This film clearly demonstrates that any “Angry Black Person” is stripped of their right to be angry, or their right to be viewed as a person:
“Angry Black Person” becomes “Angry Black Person.” Black is seen and judged according to the centuries of institutional racism and structural discrimination, and not as Barbara Dunmore Ford had taught, on character. Viewers may comment that this is a biased, one-sided documentary. I am sure the director would concur: this film was created to balance the view of William Ford as seen by the community and legal structures of Long Island. As standard justice seemed unobtainable, Yance Ford has taken his case notes in documentary form, to the public. This film is worthy of its Oscar nomination, and it must be a bittersweet moment for any filmmaker. It is a film that should never need to be made, yet the direct personal appeal of the Ford family to see their son and brother as a human being who had been unjustifiably murdered, is overwhelming in its dignity and sadness. It is a pessimistic view of life in America, and for Yance Ford and millions of people who look like him, it is a daily reality: living with the fear of being treated as a second-class citizen in school, housing, employment, and the law. This documentary is a dissection of the reality of fear viewed from different spectrums of America. It is an investigation of how the justice system systematically protects white people from just punishment and unjustly castigates Black people as criminals, merely by virtue of their black bodies, even when the Black person is the victim. This is a stark portrayal of the impotency of Blackness when confronted by whiteness and civil justice, the impact of social segregation that nonchalantly draws lines around lives with the same ease it constructs chalk outlines around the fallen Black bodies. This documentary is the world through Yance Ford’s eyes. It shows how white people imbue black bodies with monstrous characteristics that justify all their actions toward them, including murder. The American legal system seems not to question what reasonable fear is when a white man kills a Black man—it accepts all manifestations and actions against Black people as reasonable. Why? Yance Ford asks many questions in an attempt to understand what happened to destroy his family, and why the expected murder trial never materialised. Why? He repeats. This is the one question Ford leaves with the audience. Why is this OK? Why does this keep happening? Why don’t you believe what you see? Why do you deny our humanity? Why? These questions remain unanswered because the Ford family is still waiting for justice, and the American legal system responds: no comment. Case closed. ■
I Can’t Understand BY AMY RENEE WASNEY
here are plenty of things in the world I don’t understand. I was never all that interested in physics, or calculus, or automobiles. There are various topics that I just am not that interested in, or I never took any classes in, or I had a bad teacher or a bad textbook and I just never really figured it out. If the interest struck me, I’m sure I could find a class or information on the internet and be able to learn that topic and then would understand. In fact, there’s no real reason I couldn’t become an expert on any one of a number of topics if I devoted enough time and effort to it. Then there are things I cannot understand and never will. There are topics that I will spend my entire life trying to learn and understand and no matter how much time I dedicate to the subject, I’ll always be learning and listening to others who know better than I do.
I will never understand how it feels to be a black person in a systemically racist society. ...to be pulled over by the police and not know for sure if I’ll survive the experience. ...to send my black son out into the world, terrified that he may not make it home each and every day. ...to stand up for what’s right or to stand up for my family and be dismissed as just another angry black woman. ...to know that every single thing I do is seen as a representation of my entire race. ...to stand before a grand jury and know that they don’t care that my son has been murdered just because he doesn’t look like them. I can watch the dashcam videos, listen to personal testimonies, read the stories from history, look at the statistics of how many people of color are killed while their killer walks free—but that doesn’t mean I understand. I can watch “Strong Island” (2017), look into the eyes of William Ford Jr.’s family members, listen to their stories, and hear the emotion in their voice—and I won’t understand. I will never know how it feels to be LGBTQ+ in a society that is filled with so much hatred, bigotry, and misunderstanding.
we take anything away from it. And he’s right; it’s not his responsibility, it’s ours. It is our responsibility to watch this movie, to listen to every word, to see what the Ford family went through. It is the responsibility of everyone who cannot understand to sit down, be quiet, and listen to what someone who knows is telling us. Both willingly and unwillingly, Yance and so many others have done so much emotional labor to tell us their stories and relive their trauma, all to reveal to us the racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, and overall hatred that still exists and causes unfathomable pain, and it’s our job and responsibility to pay attention. It’s not the easy thing to do. The easy thing to do? Shrug our shoulders and declare that since we don’t see it and it’s not happening to us, then it must not be there. The easy thing to do? Turn off “Strong Island” after Yance Ford says we can walk away. It’s much harder to open our eyes. It’s hard to hear the stories of hatred and violence and injustice and see the world clearly for what it really is, to not cloak ourselves in our lifetime of privilege, refusing to accept and acknowledge what’s happening.
...how it feels to know that my sex doesn’t match my gender. ...how it feels holding a phone call with my late brother so dearly because that conversation felt like the first time he saw me for who I truly am. ...how it feels not knowing if it’s OK to hold my loved one’s hand because I don’t know who’s watching. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset that I don’t understand these things. I am lucky to have the privileges that I do in life. I grew up as a white, cis person in a middle-class family. There are so many struggles I was fortunate enough to not have to understand and difficulties I was lucky enough that I could turn a blind eye to for far too long. What I am upset about is that other people do understand these things. There are people who understand these feelings and experiences so deeply that it’s a part of who they are. I do not envy them. But I do need to listen to them. “If you’re uncomfortable with me asking these questions, you should probably get up and go.” These are the last words before the opening title appears on the screen. In that one sentence, Yance Ford makes it clear he’s not making this film for us—he’s making it for himself, for his family, for William. In saying that, Yance tells us that he’s not responsible for whether or not we watch the film, whether we listen to what’s being said, whether
It’s hard to call other people out on their role in the systemic oppression. It’s hard to call ourselves out on our own role in the systemic oppression. Comparatively, though, we have the easy job. Compared to the people who truly understand what it’s like to be oppressed, to be hated for who they are, to be quieted and dismissed, to be murdered and have their killer walk free, our job feels like the easiest thing in the world. And sure, we’ll still make mistakes. Unlearning a lifetime of being an oppressor, unlearning everything we think we know about the world, it’s a process. But that doesn’t mean that we can excuse it, say it’s just the way things have always been, “nobody’s perfect.” That just means that we need to keep listening. We need to listen to everybody who is willing to talk. We need to listen to everyone who has a story of how systemic oppression has hurt them, from the heartbreaking tragedies like that in “Strong Island” to the seemingly mundane, everyday occurrences that plague our society. It’s impossible for us to understand, so it’s vital that we continue to listen and learn. We can’t get up and walk away. We can’t close our eyes. We need to listen. ■ CINEMA FEMME DIGITAL MAGAZINE
Ford uses photographs as his tools of communication with the viewer, tracking changes in their appearances as well as their survival. Through Ford’s mother Barbara Dunmore Ford’s testimonials, we are brought into their world and see how William’s murder shaped the way they understood the rules of living under the forces that govern their existence. Barbara’s pride oozes with every word as she bursts into tears while recalling the terrifying events that lead to her son’s murder. Viewers are left uneasy with every scene in which she appears. Ford keeps the camera rolling in testimonial scenes to involve the viewer in the feeling of helplessness that he and his family went through. Barbara Dunmore Ford was a pioneer. She was a principal at Thomas Jefferson High School and later opened a school for women and girls on Rikers Island. Her testimonial is deeply moving as is her emotional connection to a past she knew could never be retraced. In interviews, Ford chose to close up on the hands, showing how a life of struggling to retain black identity amid the ghost of poverty resulted in coarse skin and engraved fingers. Ford used medium shots rather than close-ups on interviewees’ faces, to try to make an emotional story less emotional and more of a reportage. However, when Ford’s mother talks about her son, you can’t help but cry. Ford only allows himself to be filmed close up.
Strong Island Documentary Filmmaking as a Coming-of-Age Tale BY JAYLAN SALAH
t’s always the women, the queer, and the blacks. They are the ones who tell stories. They are the ones who dig deep into their families’ histories. They are the ones who try to uncover the truth and make amends with the past so they can live a different future. It’s always people like us—those who stray from the predominant skin color, gender, and sexual orientation—who are intrigued by the injustice around them. They try to make the world a better place because they have not been born within a sheltered confinement. They are empaths because they know what would happen in a similar situation. “Strong Island” (2017) is a powerful and emotional tale. Director Yance Ford, a transgender, African American man, tries to comprehend the injustice of how authorities handled his brother William Ford Jr.’s murder in 1992. William’s killer was a white truck mechanic who was, unsurprisingly, never charged. 10
Ford’s struggle with being a queer, black, transgender American is heavily reflected in the family footage he bravely shares with the viewers. It’s a collection of pre-transition and post-transition footage that is not meant to confuse but to throw us into the mayhem of having to struggle with both sexual and racial identity in a country where your own existence is challenged. For non-white artists, understanding that the world does not hand you the right to express, become, and evolve both as a person and an artist, that you have to earn it, is a sharp slap in the face. How Ford discusses coming to terms with his sexual, gender, and racial identity are all testaments to what being a non-white artist truly means. In the film, Ford evolves as a queer black man while learning that to bring justice to his brother’s name, he has to earn it. Justice was not a basic right for William Ford Jr. but more of a twelve-labors spiral that one had to climb, where each step represented another conquest to retain a basic need. Technical wise, Ford kept the film simple, with no excessive camera movement or angles. There are no insertions of newspaper clippings or interviews with bystanders. “Strong Island” reads like a eulogy but with an unresolved ending. “Strong Island” is more than a formulaic true-crime drama discussing race and how it’s a block within the social injustice system. It deals with elephants that we pretend we cannot see yet block our way with each step in every room. ■
A Poem for the Mother BY JAYLAN SALAH Who lost her son…
Wander the face of the Earth
In a car crash
Whereas a mother’s pride and joy
In a dog fight
Leaves the Earth
Amid the dust mines of recessed memories
Abandons her at an intersection
A poem for the agony
Running from the law
For the fear
Running into the law
For the future
Of blazing guns filled to the rim with chocolate shots
Remembering to call her before you go to sleep
His name was William
When the gunshots start pouring
When the enemies roll their
Come to me hither,
Said the holy Mother of Nature,
Fingered and plastered
Your poor, your tired, your ancestors, your soiled hands
In blood and honor
And I’ll let them breathe free.
The Burden of Heartbreak BY ATAVIA REED
hen the lights in “Strong Island” (2017) begin to dim and the credits start to roll, the viewer is left with an echo of a scream ringing intensely in their ears. Director and filmmaker Yance Ford has just spoken with the District Attorney in charge of his brother’s case and learns a story left untold is one of the reasons a jury of twenty-three white individuals did not return a true bill for the death of his brother. It is one of the film’s most shocking moments. Ford, composed, stone-faced, and viewed in a close shot for the majority of the documentary, has finally broken down. His scream is the epitome of pain and grief coiled into a tight ball. It is the burden of heartbreak finally unraveling in one short shot.
harder for her child. When she recounts walking into the room and seeing twenty-three white faces barely glance up to notice her arrival, she notes that they must have thought of her as another black woman that “should have raised her child better.” She knows that the murder of her son is an injustice, but she holds herself accountable for not fighting harder in a system working to fight against her.
William Ford Jr. lived a normal life. He had parents who loved him, siblings who idolized him, and friends willing to go the extra mile. He was joyful, exuberant even, in photos shared by his family and friends. When his best friend Kevin Myers reflected on William’s personality outside of his home, he couldn’t help but smile. William was the man.
William’s father, William Ford Sr., is captured by his wife and children as a hard worker. He leaves early in the morning to provide for his family, and he arrives home well after dark. His marriage suffers because of his time away from home, but there is always food on the table and a roof over his family’s head. When William Ford Jr. is shot in the street, his father is working, providing. He doesn’t hear the news until he arrives home.
We learn through journal entries read by Yance, however, that William was more than his family and friends perceived. On one end, he was a poet flowing effortlessly through lines of love and desire, and, on the other, he was dangerously tough on himself. He held himself accountable for the path that his life would take. When becoming a corrections officer required weight loss, he starved himself to the point of exhaustion. He was a complex man blended with hidden and known truths. He could have been any man seen riding the subway or talking to a friend in the street. To many, he was. But being an African American man raised in a lower-middle-class suburb of Long Island came with a price. William paid the ultimate sum. Willam’s death and the decision to not persecute the man responsible for his murder were more than nails hammering in the burden of being a black family in America. It was a chainsaw that ripped the very essence of the family apart. Barbara Dunmore Ford, William’s mother, captures the essence of strength. When she speaks, her back is straight and her eyes are focused intensely on the camera. She is not afraid to speak of a system that failed her child and her family. Yet, when she mentions her son, her eyes dim. Her speech slows. It is as if reliving his life through her memories is a painful path difficult to walk. Her love for her children, for her son, practically jumps off the screen. But when she speaks more and more of William, she murmurs through tears that maybe she should have fought 12
When we learn that Barbara has passed, it’s shocking. Her strength appeared undeniable, her will to stand for her child seemed endless. Her death leaves a chilling afterthought: maybe the burden of heartbreak can lead to more than pain.
The aftermath of his son’s death leads to a saddening end. He shuts his wife Barbara out. She has to bring his silence to his attention before he finally lets the tears fall. Before Yance’s graduation from college, he suffers from a stroke that leaves the left side of his body paralyzed. Shortly after, Yance arrives home one day to find his father’s wheelchair folded in the corner and placed to the side. While sitting in his favorite spot on the porch, he slipped away. It is as if his son’s departure broke him steadily down. The Hercules figure and the eye of Barbara’s affection is gone in an instant. The burden of losing a child is unimaginable, and, from Yance’s lens, heartstopping. Perhaps Yance’s burden is the most heartbreaking because it is, as any sibling knows, the most relatable. William gives Yance a call and tells him a wild story. Someone disrespected their mother at the local car shop. So he showed them who was boss. He picked up a car door and slammed it on the ground. He picked up a vacuum cleaner and waved it overhead like someone looking for business. Yance egged him on, encouraged him. He was defending their family, he was a superhero. When Yance learns this story is what leads to his brother’s unjust case, he is left stunned. The burden of the secret weighed him down for years, but the heartbreak of knowing it led to the freedom of his brother’s murderer is earth-shattering. In the end, “Strong Island” is the story of a strong family, living in America, trying to beat the system. The burden of heartbreak eventually led to the demise of the family, but their story and pain ring as loud as Yance’s scream when the credits roll. ■
A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Film Critic Danielle Solzman CHICAGO REBECCA MARTIN: When you started writing about film, you were in Chicago? DANIELLE SOLZMAN: I moved to Chicago in 2008, initially for the improv scene. In hindsight, I should have probably started writing about films then, but I didn’t. I remember that sometime in 2009, somebody told me about Gofobo, and I would go and look up the codes, or in the RedEye or The Onion, or email so and so to get free passes to a screening. I moved here when the economy was crashing so finding a job did not happen. MARTIN: Yeah, that’s difficult. SOLZMAN: Yeah, I never would have guessed that. Without winning the passes that I did, I would not have seen nearly as many movies as I saw that year. MARTIN: That’s awesome you were so driven. So you were just seeing films at that time? SOLZMAN: Yes, I didn’t start seriously writing about films until 2013. In 2014, it was my goal to have enough in my portfolio to land on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve been on Rotten Tomatoes since November 9, 2017.
SOLZMAN: Looking at it from a diverse standpoint, I think Hollywood has started to finally get the message that we need to stop casting cisgender actors in transgender roles. This summer, you had the whole Scarlett Johansson fiasco with the film “Rub & Tug.” She backed out of it after the backlash. A few months earlier was when “Girl” (2018) premiered at Cannes. That film was getting so much awards love, but the trans community is so upset about this because the only people who have been writing about the film are cisgender film critics. Granted, this was until more trans critics started having the opportunity to see the film in December. The experiences from cisgender and transgender film critics couldn’t be more different. I wrote an article on the film in early December after having heard the film described as trans trauma porn. As of the end of 2018, I’ve yet to see the film. MARTIN: Wow, OK. SOLZMAN: Thankfully, the film didn’t advance to the Foreign Language shortlist. Otherwise—make no mistake—it would have been seen as a huge step back after “A Fantastic Woman” (2017) won last year. MARTIN: I haven’t seen “A Fantastic Woman” yet. What were your thoughts on it? SOLZMAN: It was really good. It was really great for me to
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL AND JUDD APATOW SOLZMAN: One theater is in Battery Park, that was a bit of a schlep to get to, but pretty much every press screening is at the Cinépolis Chelsea on 8th and 23rd. They had a few things at their Spring Studios headquarters, including “Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary” (2018), which was followed by the Paul Feig Q and A. MARTIN: That must have been awesome! SOLZMAN: I was tweeting during the Q and A a little bit, and Judd Appatow was retweeting me that night. MARTIN: Oh my god, that is really neat! SOLZMAN: I met Judd originally at SXSW. I’m friends with Kay Cannon, so I was at the world premiere of “Blockers” (2018) sitting right in front of Kay. Judd and Leslie are two rows behind me. MARTIN: Wow. SOLZMAN: I walked in to the theater, I see Judd standing at the end of the red carpet, so I walk up, introduce myself. MARTIN: That’s great! Do you feel it’s easy for you to connect with directors and actors in interviews? Is that pretty natural for you? SOLZMAN: Yeah, it is, although there are still times that I get starstruck. I did not get starstruck around Judd although I got starstruck around Chris Elliott, and I’m friends with both of his daughters! I grew up watching “Groundhog Day” (1993) all the time.
DIVERSE REPRESENTATION MARTIN: I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on diverse representation in films. In the past few years, have you seen any changes?
see a film that was getting awards contention and with a trans woman in a leading role. MARTIN: Yeah, that was a first, right? SOLZMAN: Yeah. The same year we had Yance Ford get an Oscar nomination for “Strong Island” (2017). While the film ultimately did not win, it was major progress in my book. MARTIN: So you’re seeing some changes, just not necessarily a lot of change? SOLZMAN: Yeah, this past season, GLAAD did their report, and there’s been an increase of trans actors in series, but a lot of that is because of “Pose” (2018). So it would be nice to see more trans actors taking on roles. But I’d like to see, not so much because of the story, but casting directors being like, “Hey, you don’t necessarily need to write this character as cis; it can be a trans person.” “The Sisters Brothers” (2018) and “Colette” (2018) both had trans actors playing cisgender characters. Follow Danielle Solzman on Twitter at DanielleSATM and visit her website Solzy at the Movies at solzyatthemovies.com.
“Hail Satan?”: Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Penny Lane BY PAMELA POWELL
“Hail Satan?” (2019) is not only an eye-catching title, the content is eye-opening! The upbeat, energetic, and talented documentary filmmaker Penny Lane gave Sundance audiences food for thought in this hilarious new film that reveals the truth about The Satanic Temple and our own country’s issues with separation of Church and State. I had the opportunity to not only see this creative and provocative new film, but to sit down with Lane to find out her motivation in telling this story as well as what it’s like to be a female in the film industry. Her keen insight into documentary filmmaking and her newest subject connected me to her rebellious and intellectually humorous style. PAMELA POWELL: I loved “Nuts!” (2016), which was bizarre and very educational, so I had to see “Hail Satan?” (2019). Why this particular topic? PENNY LANE: ...my artistic personality has to do with belief. Like why do we believe the things we believe ... and convincing people of things. I feel like it was only a matter of time before like a religious topic suggested itself to me as an interesting one. POWELL: You must have done a lot of research prior to approaching Lucien Greaves (the founder of The Satanic Temple). LANE: Tons. I think one of the reasons he was willing to work with me is that he had a sense that I had actually done some homework ... Why would a religion with those seven tenets which are such perfect enlightenment values ... why is that tied to Satan? What I saw upon doing the research was a coherent worldview that made sense to me. POWELL: Tell me about first speaking with Greaves. LANE: I said that I felt that they deserved a more serious consideration than they were being given ... I had no interest in trying to make them look normal. And I think that he loved that because they don’t want to be normal. POWELL: You have a wonderful comedic element to all of your films and somehow you stitch this serious story together with humor. It’s, to me, your artistic signature. LANE: ...in art school, they tried to indoctrinate me into this idea that ... a smart film had to be really serious. And a fun film was stupid. ... I was like, that’s just not true! You can be smart and fun. [It’s] so much more work, but it’s possible. ... My goal was to prove that you could be a serious, intelligent artist and not always take yourself seriously all the time. I want people to have fun. POWELL: You sound like a bit of a rebel as well. What created that in you? LANE: I have no idea! POWELL: Were you always like that? LANE: Yes! I remember in ... third grade, having very unpopular opinions and expressing them and dealing with feeling 14
like an outcast for [not liking] New Kids On The Block, which was the heresy of third grade. ... I don’t know, but that’s always been a part of my character. POWELL: And now, pushing the boundaries in filmmaking is also a part of who you are. What would you tell young women getting into this profession? LANE: You cannot expect anyone to believe in you. You have to believe in yourself long before anyone else does. That’s very hard work. ... So if you want to make films that are genuinely new, you will get pushback. That’s not a sign that you’re doing something wrong, that a very good sign. POWELL: Do you feel like things have changed for women in filmmaking over the last couple of years? LANE: I do think there’s been a big change in the environment ... especially in positions of power and authority, the gatekeepers of the world, the financiers, the production companies that have actual resources. [They] are very keen to diversify, especially their director rosters. I’ve never experienced anything that felt like discrimination, but I’ve also noticed a very marked push in the other direction. POWELL: Did you experience roadblocks with “Hail Satan?” LANE: Imagine walking into your pitch meeting and explaining what your movie is about. “Well, it’s about the Satanists.” “Oh! Satanists are evil.” “Well, they’re not evil.” ... There was a lot of education in the beginning and a lot of skepticism about what it was that I was trying to do, but that’s normal, by the way. When you’re trying to do something new, it’s always going to be met with skepticism. It doesn’t matter. ... Everything that I do is like starting from scratch, trying to convince people that my weird idea is a good one. This weird and brilliant film is set to be released by Magnolia Pictures on ... are you ready? Easter weekend this year.
A Conversation Between Cinema Femme Founder Rebecca Martin and Filmmaker Meryl Goldsmith MUSIC AND FILM INTERSECT MERYL GOLDSMITH: When I originally started, I thought I wanted to do music for films because I wanted to find something at the intersection of film and music, which was music supervising. Being a music supervisor means that you are in charge of the music. You are responsible for getting the right music, handling the licensing and legal aspects. I realized I wanted to make the entire films and not just be on the music side. So I started producing and directing, documenting this record label in Ann Arbor. REBECCA MARTIN: What’s the name of the label? GOLDSMITH: It’s called Ghostly. Sam Valenti IV started it in his dorm room at Michigan. And I was like, “Oh my god, you’re doing all this awesome music, so why don’t we film this?” So I worked with them for a couple years.
WOMEN COMING TOGETHER MARTIN: How did you connect with these women that were inspired by the project? How did that all come together? GOLDSMITH: I can’t remember who it was that recommended them. We have a bunch of great producers and executive producers. MARTIN: I was just going to say it’s pretty exciting when women can come together and collaborate on something; that’s how I feel about Cinema Femme. GOLDSMITH: Yeah! MARTIN: I liked the addition of having cast from SNL and bringing on female comedians to read her letters. I thought that was really moving. GOLDSMITH: I agree. I’m so impressed with everything that Lisa did with the film. I was happy to support her.
COUSINS AND “THE SYNDROME” (2014) GOLDSMITH: Then I decided to partner up with my cousin, Susan Goldsmith. We’re first cousins, but she’s twenty-two years older than me; she’s an investigative reporter. She was at New Times LA and The Oregonian. She’s a story master. MARTIN: That’s awesome! GOLDSMITH: Yeah! The first one we decided to do exposed a horrible issue, parents and caretakers going to prison over the junk science of “Baby Shaken Syndrome.” MARTIN: Yeah I was actually watching that last night, very interesting. It was great. GOLDSMITH: Thank you! She had done real child abuse reporting for years, and then found this story.
ROAD TO “LOVE, GILDA” GOLDSMITH: Sometime during that process, Michael Radner, he’s my godfather, he told me that Lisa D’Apolito was making “Love, Gilda” (2018). Once I finally had a chance to meet Lisa, I was really relieved, because Gilda’s story was a lot more personal. It was my role to make sure that number one, Gilda’s portrayed in a positive light, and thinking of things as a friend. So I met her and saw the assembly cut and thought, she knows what she’s doing, and she cared about how Gilda was portrayed. She would ask herself with every decision how Gilda would have felt about it. And Lisa has a background in advertising and production, so she did know film, and made everything look and sound great. MARTIN: That’s important. GOLDSMITH: So that’s when I came on, and I was just giving a little guidance during the process, because I had just produced, directed, and released my feature documentary “The Syndrome” (2014), as well as a little funding help. When Lisa finally sat across from CNN for a pitch session, they loved it so she got the funding she needed for an excellent composer, and editor, as well as graphics—all of those roles female crew as well.
CHANGE MARTIN: For women in film today, what are you seeing in terms of change? Are you seeing change? GOLDSMITH: I’m definitely seeing change. It’s still #OscarsSoMale #OscarsSoWhite, but I think even within the last few weeks, with the 4% Challenge with the #TimesUp campaign, has been huge. There are 76 women now going to get directing jobs in a year and a half because of this. And the 50/50 challenge. I think people are more aware. It’s amazing, think about someone, like Colin Trevorrow who goes from doing this small indie sci-fi film, going on to directing “Jurassic World” (2015). And I thought that would never happen to a woman. And it just did with Chloé Zhao, who made “The Rider” (2017). She has been tapped for “The Eternals.” MARTIN: That’s great! I’m sad her film didn’t get nominated for the Oscars or that she as a director wasn’t nominated. GOLDSMITH: Or Debra Granik for “Leave No Trace” (2018). And there are films that I still need to see, or ones that I’ve seen made by female filmmakers that were not celebrated enough. But I think we’re going to keep seeing change. I was never one who thought about this stuff. I focused on making the best work I could, but I’ve changed, and I want to be in more of an active role or voice in helping other female filmmakers. I am trying even harder to be 50/50 with my sets as well as diverse. So I’m using these directories like Glass Elevator, and I hope they all continue to grow so we can keep finding each other. Meryl Goldsmith is a producer and director based in Los Angeles. See her work at MerylGoldsmith.com and ResetFilms.com. CINEMA FEMME
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