Female Filmmaker of the Month

I’m starting a new feature around here, and as you can probably guess from the title of the post, it’s to do with highlighting work being made by women. Each month I’ll pick one woman to focus on and do at least weekly posts about her body of work. Though I’m starting with a woman best known for directing feature films, I’m hoping to include women who are contributing to the art and industry in any number of ways, in either film or TV, from writing to directing to producing to acting to cinematography or editing or design or whatever. Since half the point of this new goal is to further educate myself, instead of picking one of my favorite female filmmakers to start, I picked one whose work I was completely unfamiliar with, though I had heard many impressive things about her.

Deepa Mehta is an Indian-Canadian writer, director and producer, raised and educated in India but now based out of Toronto (the equivalent of Los Angeles for the Canadian filmmaking industry). She grew up with a great deal of exposure to movies because her father was a film distributor and theater owner, and she began her own career working on documentaries and children’s films. Her early career also includes directing work in both Canadian and U.S. television productions (such as Young Indiana Jones, sweeeeet). She started making a name for herself as a serious and talented feature film director with 1991’s Sam & Me, which got a special mention in the Caméra d’Or at Cannes, the category for the best first feature film. Though it didn’t actually win the prize, special mentions are only given in some years, when the panel really wishes they didn’t have to choose, so this was a significant honor. (Side note: Sam & Me, which I haven’t been able to get a copy of, must be a really fantastic movie to have been mentioned, since the winner that year was the exceptional Belgian film Toto the Hero, one of my favorites of all time.)

Mehta’s follow-up to Sam & Me was 1994’s Camilla, written by Paul Quarrington and Ali Jennings and starring Bridget Fonda and the late, great Jessica Tandy. It is an enjoyable, flowing, exuberant little movie, albeit one filled with a few too many coincidences and clichés. Jessica Tandy holds the movie together with her performance, which Mehta captures well. She shows us the beauty in age, never stepping back to shield the viewer from possible “awkward moments” (such as a tender bedroom scene between Tandy and her real-life husband, Hume Cronyn). Tandy is Camilla, a lonely former concert violinist living in a stately mansion on a breezy island in Georgia with only her combative son for any sort of company. Fonda is Freda, an aspiring songwriter whose husband rents the guest house on Camilla’s property for their vacation. Of course, it’s not long before the two women bond over their love of making music and start having all sorts of confidence-building, life-affirming adventures. I think Mehta manages to both embrace and temper the romanticism of the script in different scenes in such a way that even if the overall product is a bit uneven, charm shines through to quite a pleasing degree. The film is certainly evidence of a capable director—one we know from our future vantage point will only continue to grow.

Coming up: Reviews of the films in Mehta’s famous Elements trilogy (the controversial Fire, acclaimed Earth, and Oscar-nominated Water), and discussing how Mehta has commented on the relationship between Hollywood and Bollywood.


4 Responses to “Female Filmmaker of the Month”

  1. 1 Carly May 2, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    yeah deepa mehta! i really loved Water, not only because it was really heart-wrenchingly romantic in a way that should have been over the top but somehow was just incredibly effective, but because it got made in spite of ridiculously hostile derailing attempts, on account of the film’s content. no kidding, the set was literally set on fire. because the film implies that widows in India get a raw deal.

    and isn’t vancouver where all the movies get made? or is that just the cheapskate filmmaker’s paradise?

  2. 2 Brandi May 2, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Yes, the backstory behind Water is remarkable. But I’ll get to that. :)

    And yeah, a lot of movies are made in Vancouver, though a ton of them are U.S. productions. There is also a lot going on in Montreal. But Toronto is LA in that if you ever want to write for Canadian television along with your movie career, that’s absolutely where you need to be.

  3. 3 Carly May 5, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    so would you live in Toronto? because i’m going Canadian, you know. it’s the new relocation plan. universal health care and all that. although Toronto’s winter climate is probably more punishing than the steady rain of peroxide in LA.

  4. 4 Emily May 9, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Have you gotten to watch Hollywood Bollywood (or whatever it’s called) yet? I’d like to see that again in the frame of a commentary more than a goofy love story and see what happens.

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Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

I love Twitter.



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