Notes From The Program Director | Week of October 6th, 2023
Notes From The Program Director
Week of October 6th, 2023
Doctober is upon us! We’ve had a joyous opening night with Joan Baez, and it’s wonderful to be looking forward to so many fabulous documentaries during the rest of the month. Before we get to some of our opening week Doctober docs though, a couple of non-Doctober highlights:
Given the warm reception forStop Making Sense, we were able to wedge in two more encore shows of the film: Friday at 2:00 pm and Sunday at 8:55 pm. I am very much hoping to find space for a few more shows later in the month, but as always, the cinema schedule is a moving target, so there are no guarantees, unfortunately.
And opening this Friday for its theatrical run is a narrative film for those who are keen to throw a non-documentary in the week’s mix: The Royal Hotel. Writer-director Kitty Green's debut film,The Assistant, starring Julia Garner playing an assistant to a Harvey Weinstein-like figure, was one of my very favorite films of 2019 -- and I know many of you saw it here at the Pickford -- and so when I heard Green had a new film coming out, it quickly became one of my most-anticipated films of the year.
And Green, teaming up again with the brilliant Garner, does not disappoint.
Thematically, Green's two films,The AssistantandThe Royal Hotel,are quite similar, featuring women who find themselves in heightened situations where predatory men have all the power and where the systemic structures of those spaces provide no safety. But the settings, narratives, and tones are radically different:The Assistantis pitched at a very low key, all the threat is off-screen, and the main character must make ethical (rather than purely personal) decisions about how to act. But here, in Green’s new film, two young women are thrown directly into the fire, as it were, and every decision, whether it's to smile or not smile, to get in the car or not get in, to trust this man or that one, is fraught with tension and with the threat (real or perceived) of violence.
The story follows two American women who, finding themselves out of cash, decide to take a temporary job in a remote pub in the middle of the Australian Outback, a mining town where the men are plentiful and women are few. "Fresh meat," reads a scrawl on a board outside the pub shortly after the two women arrive.
While the film has every mark of a thriller, perhaps even verging on horror in tone, and could have very easily gone for cheap thrills, it, instead, subverts the genre and the expectations, brilliantly playing into and with those expectations. Much like the set-up of a horror film, for example, where one character is "smart" and perceives and avoids the danger and one is "dumb" and dies early on, this film seems to be doing the same thing. But it's much more complicated than that, and the film is not just a horror film, for it is based on the real-life experiences of two Finnish young women who were really stuck in the Outback (and whose harrowing story was depicted in the documentaryHotel Coolgardie). It’s a film very much based in reality, rather than in a movie-reality.
Here, the two women do have very different reactions to the situation they find themselves in -- one of them thinks the sexism is no big deal, one of them is terrified and wants to leave -- but the film invites us to examine the deeply muddled differences between an actual threat and a perceived threat. Is every man a real threat, or is no man actually a threat and it's paranoia to think so?
Amy Nicholson in her review forVarietynails the position the film quite brilliantly puts us in as audience members: "Over and over, we in the audience find ourselves wanting to shout advice at the [women on] screen like we would in a regular horror movie: ‘laugh at that joke, don’t laugh at that one, and for god’s sake, stop doing shots.’ When we pause to examine our own reactions, we get walloped by Green’s heaviest point. Why are we micromanaging the victims but never yelling, “Leave them alone!” at the men?"
Ultimately, while the film does play like an effective thriller, it, more interestingly, might reveal the audience's own perceptions and judgments about the world we live in -- how we believe "good" women "should" or "should not" behave and who we believe is to blame when bad things happen.
But as toDoctober! It is frankly impossible for me to choose my favorite documentaries to recommend to you for our opening week -- I love ‘em all -- so I’d simply urge you to read the film descriptions in ourcalendarand, perhaps even more importantly, watch some trailers, and consider which films seem most intriguing to you.
These are the docs playing with us this week, and I’ve made a special note on the dates where we have special guests and panels:
Joan Baez: I Am A Noise-- Oct. 6 (sold out), Oct. 12 (sold out) -- I’ll see if I can find some room for an encore showing or two. Stay tuned, folks!
A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: “Omoiyari”-- Oct. 7, with aspecial video introduction, especially made for Doctober, from the musician-director, Kishi Bashi. Film presented by Northwest Nikkei Museum, Japanese Cultural and Community Center of WA
Before the Sun(Aitamaako'tamisskapi Natosi)-- Oct. 7, with a live, virtualQ&Awith the film’s star, Logan Red Crow; director Banchi Hanuse, exec. producers Carey Newman and Izzy Pullen, producer Mike Wavrecan. Hosted by Treaty Day Film Festival and Children of the Setting Sun Productions. Oct. 11, encore screening (no Q&A)
Allihopa: The Dalkurd Story(Advance Special Screening) -- Oct. 7, with an in-personQ&Awith editor José Moreno Brooks and cinematographer Andrew Lee. Film presented by Whatcom Sports and Recreation
Common Ground-- Oct. 7 (sold out), withpost-film discussionhosted by Whatcom Million Trees Project and Kulshan Carbon Trust. Encore screening, Oct. 10 (tickets left!). Film presented by Whatcom Million Trees Project, Kulshan Carbon Trust, Sustainable Connections, and Whatcom Peace and Justice Center.
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project-- Oct. 9, presented by Village Books and Whatcom Peace and Justice Center. In partnership with Village Books, acollection of Nikki Giovanni’s poetrymay be purchased at the Pickford or through our website for a discounted price of $12.
Maestra--Oct. 9, withintroductionfrom andpost-film panel discussionhosted by Bellingham Symphony Orchestra
The Only Doctor-- Oct. 10, with live virtualQ&Awith director Matthew Hashiguchi and the only doctor herself, Dr. Karen Kinsell. Film presented by Unity Care
Hummingbirds-- Oct. 10, withintroductionfrom CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival (CIWFF). Film presented by CIWFF
Brother Horse-- Oct. 11, presented by Animals as Natural Therapy and the Whatcom Humane Society
Beyond Utopia-- Oct. 11, presented by Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival