Saturday, May 5, 2018

“It’s about the Barriers to Justice that Exist when you are Poor and Up Against a Foreign Superpower”: PJ Raval on Call Her Ganda

Fresh off its Tribeca world premiere, and currently wrapping up at Hot Docs (till Sunday, May 6th), Call Her Ganda, an alumnus of Spotlight on Documentaries at IFP Week, is the latest feature from 25 New Faces of Independent Film alum PJ Raval. The thought-provoking doc follows the heartbreaking and utterly thorny story of Jennifer Laude, much beloved by a doting mother (who called her by her nickname “Ganda,” which means “Beauty”), sisters, and her German fiancĂ©. After a night out with girlfriends back in 2014, the 26-year-old ended up being murdered by US marine Scott Pemberton, who left her naked body in a hotel room bathroom, her head in the toilet. That Jennifer had the bad luck of being a member of an oft-ostracized community — in this case trans sex workers — in a country (the Philippines) that allows for the US military to be exempt from its local laws, is what makes her tragic death also so very complicated.

What makes Call Her Ganda so powerful is that Raval smartly widens the lens to tell Jennifer’s tale through the afterlife of her death, an event that brought together three real-life wonder women — a grieving mother who refuses to let her daughter be shamed, a tenacious, trans American journalist with roots in the Philippines, and a cisgender female lawyer determined to put a check on US imperialism.

Filmmaker caught up with Raval during Hot Docs to discuss what happens when human rights activism collides with American impunity in a country now run by a brutal, anti-Western, strongman.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"We Have Only Scratched the Surface of What is Possible in Erotic VR Media”: Jennifer Lyon Bell on Her Fantasy Film Workshop and Creating Erotic VR

The last time I interviewed veteran filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell for this site topics ranged from “fair trade” porn to the inaugural Holy Fuck Film Festival in Amsterdam (where the expat feminist pornographer has long resided). And now Bell, recipient of both the Feminist Porn Awards 2014 Movie of the Year (for Silver Shoes, which premiered at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts) and a psych degree from Harvard, continues to expand her mission of providing sex education for those behind the lens, while also exploring the new media horizon through her own artistic work.

I caught up with Bell to hear more about two sex-related endeavors in particular – “Fantasy Film Workshop: Design Your Own Erotic Film,” a full-day workshop that just completed at this year’s Raindance, and Second Date, an unscripted, Virtual Reality 360° “portrait of two young people fumbling towards ecstasy” that is screening this week at the VR program at CPH:DOX.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ask the Sexpert: Can a gynecologist's advice column change Indian culture?

Ask the Sexpert is a fascinating portrait of Mahinder Watsa, a 91-year-old former gynecologist who writes the “Ask the Sexpert” column for the Mumbai Mirror. From the start, we learn that India’s Dr. Ruth is a beloved figure in his conservative country, but abstinence activist Pratibha Naithani is taking him to court to “preserve the nation’s morality.” She believes his column is akin to pornography and “debases” Indian society. Many conservatives believe a moral line has been crossed when children can read a column that discusses everything from masturbation to golden showers.

To read the rest of my review visit Bitch magazine.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tone and Form: Elvira Lind on 'Bobbi Jene'

I first met the Danish director Elvira Lind at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (where I help program the features). This was back in 2014, the year before she won the CPH:DOX New Talent Award, before she launched her queer docuseries, Viceland's Twiz and Tuck. Lind was at the spa town to present Songs for Alexis, her extraordinarily nuanced portrait of Ryan Cassata, a teenage musician transitioning into adulthood (and into another gender. Ryan also happens to be trans—and in love with the titular Alexis, his cisgender girlfriend). When Ryan treated the audience to a post-screening concert, the cheers from his proud mom were rivaled only by those of the doc's director—who was simultaneously cheering and shooting, of course. In other words, Elvira Lind is a documentarian who invests as much in her flesh-and-blood subjects as in the films themselves—a trait that often separates the good storytellers from the great.

To read the rest visit Documentary magazine.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

“Women Are Often Seen as a Risk while Men are an Investment”: Ingrid Veninger on Porcupine Lake and her pUNK Films Femmes Labs

Porcupine Lake is the sixth feature from pUNK Films founder Ingrid Veninger. It’s also the first from the pUNK Films Femmes Labs, which started as a DIY idea of gathering six Canadian female filmmakers to work on their six screenplays for six months to reality — courtesy of Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, who happened to hear Veninger’s pitch for funding at the Whistler Film Festival and immediately sign on as sponsor.

The film itself feels like a throwback to the early heady (not to mention pre-tech, as there’s not a smartphone-glued character in sight!) days of low-key/low-budget independent film. It’s a cinematic coming-of-age tale that follows two preteens, Bea from Toronto and Kate from the summer cottage town in rural Ontario where the film is set, as they navigate everything from sex and sexuality and troubled parents who often act like children to older siblings with troubles of their own. In other words, it’s a small story that captures life’s momentous changes and adult consequences. Filmmaker was fortunate enough to catch up with the Slovakian-Canadian actor/producer/writer/director prior to the flick’s TIFF premiere.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Josie Swantek Heitz’s and Dave Adams’s The Wrong Light, theatrically released in NYC through Cinema Guild on July 14, is disturbing on several levels. First, there’s the story itself. The filmmakers set out to create a portrait of the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA), a nonprofit boarding school of sorts founded in 2005 by Mickey Choothesa. Choothesa is a self-proclaimed war photographer (with no background in child services) whose mission in life seems to be to save Northern Thailand’s girls from being sold into the country’s sex trade. Through the eyes of two “rescued” adolescents, whose parents had allegedly sold them to traffickers, the filmmaking team hoped to celebrate a tale of resilience, courage, and redemption. If all this sounds too good to be true, you’re probably not part of the rich, white philanthropy establishment.

To read my review visit The Rumpus.