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Closure follows Angela Tucker’s search for her birth parents. A transracial adoptee, Angela is a black woman born in the American South who was adopted in infancy and raised by white parents in Bellingham, Washington. Compiled from home recordings captured by Angela’s husband Bryan Tucker [also labeled as the film’s director and producer], the documentary explores the dynamics of transracialism throughout Angela’s journey to find and reconnect with her birth parents. The film primarily features Angela and Bryan through their production of the documentary and their quest to locate Angela’s birth parents. Also featured are Angela’s adopted parents who have one biological child in addition to seven adopted children including Angela.

Beginning with an initial framing that emphasizes Angela’s growing curiosity of her biological background, we learn that Angela is a college graduate in her mid 20s living near where she was raised in Washington. Her search begins with a single piece of information: the first name of her father. After exhaustive Internet searching, Angela is able to identify who she believes to be her father: a street performer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This discovery prompts Angela, Bryan and her birth family to travel to the South to meet the man in person. This leads to a formal blood test, a series of introductions and reunions with extended family and a complicated citywide search for her birth mother, which all ultimately end successfully.

As the documentary, skillfully crafted from a wealth of Bryan’s personal camcorder files, only superficially attempts to address issues of transracialism, the story fundamentally becomes a meditation on notions of family as supposed to racial identity. While Angela’s adopted family does very little by way of acknowledging discrimination or racism in their raising of a black child, Angela does share anecdotes of feeling as if she didn’t fit in when she was the only black girl in elementary school, and of her childhood desire for someone to comment on her similarity in appearance to her parents. Despite this, the film is generally not interested in questioning whether Angela’s upbringing was problematic or whether her entire white family descending upon her black working class relatives in Tennessee is controversial. The film’s primary concern is offering context to instances of adoption while expanding our perception of what a family is.

This is Not Living, Palestine, 2001

Filmmaker: Alia Arasoughly, 2001

Country of Origin: Palestine

Format: Color, VHS

Running Time: 42 Min

Filmmaker Alia Arasougly weaves together the stories of eight Palestinian women into an intensely stirring and humanizing narrative, exploring what it means to live under Israeli Occupation. Through those eight voices, we learn about the daily struggle that is life under occupation: checkpoints have increased travel time by almost 500 percent and have provided a daily source of humiliation and indignity; the economy is tanking; shops have no business; every day, another person is martyred. Sitting with these women in their kitchens, in their living rooms, in their places of work, we begin to get a view of just how pervasive the occupation is. “Children won’t come to class anymore, because they are scared,” one drama teacher explained. “I don’t blame them.”

The documentary also explores an often untold angle of Palestinian suffering: what does it mean to be, specifically, a woman living under the occupation? These eight women don’t self identify as activists–they are professionals, mothers, and wives. However, just going through daily life has become an act of defiance. Picking olives in the groves that the Hmesh family has nurtured for hundreds of years, for example, now involves violent clashes with the settlers who have expropriated that land. The formal resistance movement, however, seems rather reluctant to include women: “I feel like I don’t have a role for myself,” Dima says. She volunteers with the Muntada organization, working with traumatized children, but feels that her work there is not enough.

Motherhood under the occupation is also, of course, almost unbearable. “I feel like I cannot protect my children,” Nida said. “Every mother deserves to protect her children. Every child deserves to feel safe in the home. My children don’t feel safe in the home.” Nida often tells her children that the shooting outside their home is a wedding celebration, but that doesn’t always quell their fears. She takes us around her house, showing how there is no place where a bullet cannot hit you through one of the windows.

In an almost unwatchable scene, another woman tells the story of her teenage son’s martyrdom.

This Is Not Living does not offer a comprehensive or completely inclusive of womanhood and motherhood under occupation. (It does not, for example, include trans or queer women.) Nonetheless, the film tells eight stories that would likely be recognizable to most Palestinian families: similar experiences are shared across the West Bank and Gaza.

Additional Reading:
Natasha Markov-Riss, January 21st 2016

The Sermons of Sister Jane: Believing the Unbelievable (2007)

Filmmakers: Allie Light, Irving Saraf, and Carol Monpere
Year: 2007
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 53 min
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Sister Jane receiving the Eucharist

Sister Jane receiving the Eucharist
© Women Make Movies 2007

The Sermons of Sister Jane: Believing the Unbelievable presents the story of one nun’s struggle against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Her activism begins with her attempts to stop sexual abuse and corruption within her local diocese. The film chronicles her quest in battling the abuses rampant in her church, as she first contacts the bishop, who ignores the evidence she presents, and later a representative of the Vatican, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). When her attempts to deal with Church officials fail, she contacts the press, stirring controversy. Her struggle with the Church hierarchy is not limited to the lack of recognition of the sexual abuse occurring in her parish, but it also includes disagreement with the Church’s teachings on issues such as birth control, homosexuality, the ordination of women, and even the Virgin Birth.

Through its presentation of the story of a single woman, The Sermons of Sister Jane demonstrates the conflicts of faith the wider Catholic Church is experiencing. The documentary juxtaposes images of lay Catholics practicing their faith with interviews with Sister Jane, connecting her discontent with the Catholic leadership and the unmet needs of the people of the Church. With a membership that is more supportive of same-sex marriage than the general population and whose women overwhelmingly utilize contraception, the Church suffers from a large disconnect between the beliefs and practices of the laity of the Church and the official teachings of the Church. Sister Jane is part of a larger movement of Catholics hoping to move away from condemning sexuality and to shift focus to helping the most marginalized populations in society. The Sermons of Sister Jane shows her courage to speak against the Church hierarchy and support social justice through her work with the community dining room at Plowshares, presenting a narrative of Catholic faith that is a much-needed break from the usual coverage of conservative Catholic leaders spouting words of condemnation.

Sister Jane states that “Jesus walked among the poor, the outcasts, the lepers, not the high priests,” spurring her audience to reject the Church hierarchy and instead pay attention to those in need. The format of structuring the documentary around interviews with Sister Jane gives her authority and shifts from the patriarchal Church’s exclusion of women to an alternative model in which women are leading and given a voice. The Sermons of Sister Jane is a powerful documentary exploring the potential for progressive activism in faith communities, women in the Catholic Church, feminist theology, and gender studies in religion.

Ashley Vogel 2013.

Further Reading:

[1] Feminism and Theology, Ed. Janet Soskice & Diana Lipton, 2003

[2] “Pope Francis and the American Sisters,” Mary E. Hunt, Religion Dispatches

[3] “What Should The Vatican Say to the (Last Generation of) Nuns?” Peter Manseau, Religion Dispatches

[4] Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement, Mary J. Henold, 2008

Lucia Small

Lucia Small has been an independent filmmaker for over 15 years. Her experience includes work as a producer, assistant director, camera operator, and editor.

Cavallo Behind Bars (Cavallo Entre Rejas) (Erenberg, Imperiale, and Roque, 2006)

Cavallo Behind Bars was created by Shula Erenberg, Laura Imperiale, and Maria Ines Roque, in order to speak out against impunity for crimes against humanity. It focuses on the violent repression of opposition to a military dictatorship in Argentina, in which 30,000 people were “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983. About 5,000 passed through the Escuela Mecanic de la Armada (ESMA), where they were tortured and most were killed. Through testimonies from government officials, lawyers, and journalists, the film tells the story of how one of the heads of the operation at the ESMA, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, was identified and brought to trial.

Cavallo was living in Mexico and had established a powerful automobile registration business that was revealed to be corrupt. Reporters for a newspaper, La Reforma, identified an early photograph of Cavallo and traced it to the man responsible for the torture and deaths of thousands of people at the ESMA. Cavallo denied all of the allegations and claimed that it was a case of mistaken identity.

Cavallo could not be tried in Argentina, because the government had passed the Obediencia Debida and Punto Final laws, which exonerated all people associated with the repression. However, because Cavallo was living in Mexico and had ties to Spain, people in Argentina organized and protested to have him tried in Mexico for crimes against humanity. Finally, Cavallo was tried, and he was sentenced to 17,000 years in prison. Yet thousands of people who were associated with the disappearances remain free and unpunished, and victims of the kidnappings must live with the possibility of running into them on the streets of Buenos Aires every day. The film’s aim is to aid in the fight to bring those associated with the repression to justice.

The film serves as powerful documentation of the horrors that people experienced during the repression. It features accounts from people who survived being “disappeared,” who describe the experience of being handcuffed, beaten, and shepherded from site to site with hoods over their heads. In addition to providing background for the historical events related to the identification and capture of Ricardo Cavallo, it also serves as evidence of the horrific atrocities that occurred so that they will not be forgotten or repeated.

Treyf (Alisa Lebow, Cynthia Mandasky, 1998)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 55 min

“Treyf” examines the relationship Alisa Lebow and Cynthia Madansky have with each other, Judaism, their heritage, and Israel. Lebow and Madansky met during a Passover seder in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout the documentary they explore their connection to Queerness and Judaism through footage of the Lower East Side in Manhattan, Jerusalem, synagogues, and their home.

A major theme of the film is the concept of “treyf”. It is a Yiddish term that means either food that is not kosher or person who is an abomination. While Alisa refuses to eat treyf food, Cynthia takes a pleasure in defying tradition and the way she was brought up. They are both secular Jews, so the choice is more about culture and personality than religion.
The women disagree with each other about almost every aspect of the documentary. While Alisa lived in Israel and still has fondness for it, Cynthia seems completely done with it. Cynthia has an obsession with the ultra-orthodoxy, which Alisa thinks of as an exotification. They grew up with a shared culture, but through their sexuality grew apart from it in different ways.
Despite the arguments, they make it clear that they come from the same place and are still tightly bound to the Jewish community and the lesbian community. By showing both of their perspectives, and by interviewing dozens of other queer Jewish women, Treyf manages to capture the way both communities affect who they are as people and the way they see themselves in the world. Even though there are different forms of Judaism, and different expressions of queerness, there is also a shared understanding, although it is by no means uncomplicated.

For further reading,  see Alisa Lebow’s thoughts on the creation of the documentary in her book,  First Person Jewish (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

Lisa Yelsey Class of 2013

April 2011

Salata Baladi

Country of Origin: , , ,
Running Time: 105 min

Nadia Kamel’s Salata Baladi is a documentary with a simple premise: recorded family history.  However, while the premise itself may be simple, Kamel’s film successfully touches on complex social and political tensions that have and continue to affect Egyptian society.  Responding to an increase in negative rhetoric directed at perceived “others” in her native Egypt, Kamel set out to document her own diverse family history by recording the memories of her mother, Mary Rosenthal.  Through these memories, we are transported to a time when diverse populations lived side by side in the neighborhoods of Cairo.  Immigrants from Syria, Turkey, Italy and Greece shared space with local Christians, Jews and Muslims.  Full of nostalgia, the film celebrates how this diverse environment allowed for the creation of families like Kamal’s which cross ethnic and religious divides.

However, the film moves beyond simply recoding a specific family history as Kamal’s family story inevitably becomes entangled with the wider politics of Egypt.  Through exploring her mother’s personal history, Nadia Kamel is able to document the change that occurred in the mid twentieth century as nationalism took hold of Egypt and foreign populations became excluded from a rapidly changing Egyptian society.  This witnessing of the effects of wider politics on the lives of everyday Egyptians finds emphasis during her mother’s trips to visit family abroad in Italy and Israel.  During her mother’s trips, Kamal had the opportunity to interview these relatives and hear their reasons for leaving Egypt as well as their lingering connections to the country.  The film especially touches specific history of Jews in Egypt and their relationship with Israel.  While Kamel’s mother chose to stay in Egypt and expressed a sense of disapproval towards the emigration of Jews from Egypt to Israel, many of her relatives chose to move during the 1940s and 50s.  Through her trip to Israel, we are able to hear from those who chose to immigrate.  Through their accounts of life in Egypt and vestiges of Egyptian culture, we are able to see their unique individual ties to both countries.  As a whole, the film serves to highlight the complexity of identity and belonging within the established framework of family.

Suggested Bibliographic Materials:


The Lost World of the Egyptian Jews: First-person Accounts from Egypt’s Jewish Community in the Twentieth Century by Liliane Dammond


Dammond, Liliane S. The Lost World of the Egyptian Jews First-person Accounts from Egypt’s Jewish Community in the Twentieth Century. New York, NY [u.a.: IUniverse, 2007. Print.

Sarah Dwider 4/19/11

El General (Natalia Almada, 2009)

Country of Origin: , ,
Running Time: 83 min

“If we can see the present clearly enough, we shall ask the right questions of the past.” Attributed to John Berger, this quotation appears a few minutes into Natalia Almada’s El General, and aptly describes the film’s path.

The titular figure is Almada’s late great-grandfather, her bisabuelo, General Plutarco Elías Calles. Calles was a central figure in the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s who became president of Mexico; his violent opposition to the Catholic Church was just one issue that continues to make him a contentious presence in Mexican history. He was exiled by a successor, but his final resting place is a monument to the revolution in Mexico City.

At moments, the film seems as though it might be an act of reconciliation. Almada incorporates audio recordings that chronicle the beginnings of her grandmother’s attempt to write the general’s biography. These recordings constitute a window into el general, the father. But how can this close familial view exist peacefully alongside the image of el general, the dictator—as some have called him? Ultimately, these conflicting stories are said to be just that—stories. They do not need to be reconciled. As Berger’s words imply, Almada turns primarily to the reality of the present in Mexico City, looking there for remnants of a tumultuous historical past. And therefore, despite the power of Almada’s grandmother’s tapes and of Almada’s use of archive from public histories, private histories, and narrative cinema, El General’s most meaningful images are those of present-day Mexican laborers. Almada intimately interacts with them through interview, and follows them in long takes as they cart commodities through the city. Almada gives them voice and they have various things to say about Mexican history, but their very existence also becomes something of a testament to the general’s legacy.


Brief interview with the filmmaker

Dissertation on the distribution of Mexican documentaries.



Michelle Citron’s “Fleeing from Documentary: Autobiographical Film/Video and the “Ethics of Responsibility””

Ella Shohat’s “Post-Third-Worldist culture”

Thriller (Sally Potter, 1979)



“Thriller,” is a playful feminist murder mystery that has become a classic in feminist film theory.  It is based on giving the heroine of “La Boheme,” Mimi, a subjective voice and position from which to investigate her death.   The main subject of  “Thriller” is not a person, but an idea: the critique of the traditional sacrifice of woman through an adventure in the gender and class politics of two other texts, “La Boheme” (Puccini, 1896) and “Psycho” (Hitchcock,1960).  This new Mimi is presented in a rich visual and aural playground that incorporates still images, dance and opera.  The film is less a text in itself than a synthesis of a series of art forms and a confrontation of two other texts.  Throughout “Thriller” Potter uses the materiality of film as a tool to deconstruct and re-work the relationship between theory and image.

Production Information:

The film was produced, scripted, directed and edited by Potter herself.  The cast includes Colette Laffont, Rose English, Tony Gacon and Vincent Meehan.  Its soundtrack includes excerpts from Bernard Hermmann’s “Psycho” soundtrack.




Biographical Information:

Charlotte Sally Potter was born in London on 19 September 1949 into an artistic background.  She determined to be a film director long before she left school at the age of sixteen.  She studied at St Martin’s School of Art and at the London School of Contemporary Dance. Potter apprenticed as a filmmaker at the London Filmmakers’ Co-op, which she joined in the late 1960s.

Between 1969 and 1971 she made several short experimental films exploring cinematic time and space. Most of these early films are multi-screen pieces: Black and White (1969) is an eight-minute, two-screen piece; and Play (1971), at fifteen minutes, uses a double-screen format to ‘play’ with cinematic space in a film about children playing on a street. Daily (1971) and Combines (1972) are experiments in expanded cinema, combining live performances of music and dance with multiscreen film projections.

During the 1970s, Potter toured as a dancer, choreographer, musician and performance artist: with Alston’s Strider dance company, with the Limited Dance Company, co-founded with Jacky Lansley, with performance artist Rose English, and with fellow musicians in the Feminist Improvisation Group (FIG).

After making “Thriller” in 1979 she went on to direct her first 35mm feature film “Golddiggers.”  Other films she has directed include, “Orlando” (1992), “The Tango Lesson” (1997) and “The Man who Cried” (2000).


-Ciecko, Anne, ‘Sally Potter: the making of a British woman filmmaker’, in Yvonne -Tasker (ed.), Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 272-280

-Florence, Penny, ‘A Conversation with Sally Potter’, Screen, v. 34, n. 3, 1993, pp. 275-284
-MacDonald, Scott, A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 397-427

-Jane Weinstock: “She Who Laughs First Laughs Last (Thriller by Sally Potter).” In: Camera Obscura Nr.5 (1980), S.100-109

-Elena del Rio: “Rethinking Feminist Film Theory: Counter-Narcissistic Performance in Sally Potter’s Thriller.” In: Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21:1 (2004), S.11-24

Stella Kyriakopoulos, 2004

The Righteous Babes (Dir: Pratibha Parma, 1998)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 50 min

Color Video
Distributed by Women Make Movies

Skin and Sinead O'Connor in Pratibha Parmar's 'The Righteous Babes'

The Righteous Babes is a documentary by director Pratibha Parmar, which explores feminism in music, particularly in the 1990s. The name was taken from folksinger Ani DiFranco’s record label, ‘Righteous Babe Records’, which focuses on releasing albums for non-mainstream musicians. The documentary consists of musical footage with interviews of leading female vocal artists – Sinead O’Connor, Skin (Skunk Anansie), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Tori Amos, and Ani DiFranco – their fans, and feminists Andrea Dworkin, Camille Paglia, and Gloria Steinem.
Parmar portrays women in rock as a new type of feminist, showing the growth of this new form, from women such as Madonna using their sexuality to close the gap between feminism and music, to others like Chrissie Hynde, managing a band of men, to those addressing domestic abuse, like Tori Amos. The documentary also explores the exploitation of female artists by record labels, looking at examples from O’Conner and Madonna.
Parmar and those interviewed also criticize the more commercialized, or what O’Conner terms “bumper sticker”, version of feminism, with the Spice Girls, and also outside of music, Bridget Jones and Ally McBeal. “Feminism is a good word with a bad press. It is time for it to be used again with pride,” the voiceover says, addressing and educating young viewers learning about feminism mostly through mainstream media. While questioning these ditsier girl models and more generally new feminist role models, Parmar also asks, what exactly is feminism?
Parma is an Indian British filmmaker known for her documentaries on South Asian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual people (LGBT), and her debut feature film Nina’s Heavenly Delights. She has also made music videos for Tori Amos, featured in this documentary, as well as for other musicians, Morcheeba, Ghostlands and Midge Ure.

Women Make Movies entry for Righteous Babes:
A site focusing on female musicians, particularly in Rock:
Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe Records site:
Wikipedia entry on third-wave feminism: