Mirror Dance (Dir: Frances McElroy and María Teresa Rodríguez, 2005)

Country of Origin: ,
Format: , ,
Running Time: 53 min

Subject Headings: Exilic/Diasporic cinema, Identity, Documentary

Mirror Dance follows the lives of identical twin sisters Ramona and Margarita de Saá, both former prima ballerinas for the National Ballet of Cuba. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the twins became separated, as Ramona dedicated herself to the cause by remaining in Cuba, while Margarita immigrated to the United States following a marriage to an American. Set against the backdrop of unstable and tense relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the film examines issues of divided and reterritorialized identity on both a personal and national level.

The de Saá’s story unfolds amidst (mainly) verité sequences, formal interviews, family photographs and old archival footage of not only the twins as ballerinas, but also the volatile 1950s and 60s Havana in which they grew up. Following Fidel Castro’s pledged commitment to the arts, the twins flourished. Margarita, however, began to grow disillusioned with the Revolution, finally making the painful decision to leave her life, and sister, for the United States. She now runs the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet in Narberth, PA. Ramona, a self-described “revolutionary woman,” saw Margarita’s departure as a betrayal, and refused to have contact with her for over 40 years. The film therefore investigates the intersections between the personal and the political, questioning at what cost comes the formation of a national identity.

While the film seeks to universalize the de Saá’s tale of personal pain and loss as a result of international hostilities, it is also a distinctly personal story. On February 28, 2004, Ramona and Margarita were reunited in Cuba, both expressing the desire to remain in contact. Yet, Margarita does assert that she “would not have gone back to Cuba” without the impetus of the documentary.

In June 2004, politics once again intervened when the U.S. government tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba. The twins’ identity in relation to each other, their home country Cuba, and (in the case of Margarita) their exilic home remains complicated.

Further Information:

Preview Clip on YouTube:

Film’s Site on PBS Independent Lens:

Filmmaker Bios:

Cuban Revolution Information:

Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet:

National Ballet of Cuba:

Bibliographic Sources:

Benamou, Catherine: “Cuban Cinema: On the Threshold of Gender.” In (pp. 67-98) Robin, Diana (ed. and introd.); Jaffe, Ira (ed. and introd.), Redirecting the Gaze: Gender, Theory, and Cinema in the Third World. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 1999. xi, 377 pp.. (Albany, NY: SUNY Series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video ). (1999)

D’Lugo, Marvin: “‘Transparent Women’: Gender and Nation in Cuban Cinema.” In (pp. II: 155-66) Martin, Michael T. (ed. and introd.), New Latin American Cinema, I: Theory, Practices and Transcontinental Articulations; II: Studies of National Cinemas. Detroit, MI: Wayne State UP, 1997. 322; 540 pp.. (Detroit, MI: Contemporary Film and Television). (1997)

Quirós, Oscar Enrique: “The Aesthetics of Cuban Cinema: The Emancipatory Role of the Arts in the Cuban Social Whole.” Dissertation Abstracts International, (54:9) 1994 Mar, 3244A. U of Kansas, 1993. DA9405783 . (1994)

López, Ana M.: “Cuban Cinema in Exile: The ‘Other’ Island.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, (38), 1993 June, 51-59. (1993)

Rachel Killackey 2012

The Education of Shelby Knox: Sex, Lies & Education (Dir: Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, 2005)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 76 min

November 24, 2008 by 76 minutes. Color. Released on June 21, 2005 on the Point of View series on PBS.Lubbock, Texas, USA. Incite Pictures.Subject headings: Christianity, activism, sex education, leadership, family relations, community, queer rights, sexuality Synopsis: Lipschutz and Rosenblatt’s documentary follows feisty fifteen-year-old Shelby Knox in her struggle for sex education in the public schools in Lubbock, Texas.  Even though her county’s high schools instruct abstinence as the only safe sex, Lubbock has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the nation.  Although Knox identifies as a devout Baptist who has taken the True Love Waits pledge to her parents and God promising to abstain from sexual relations until marriage, she takes on her parents, pastor, and peers in her unrelenting quest for a more comprehensive and informative sex education in public schools and eventually even goes on to support the gay-straight alliance.  This film demonstrates the cultural wars within a religion that advocates abstinence, and how one fiery, compassionate woman can influence social change.  Even when she takes a seat on the Lubbock Youth Commission and butts heads with her rival, town officials, and religious leaders, Knox remains consistent in her fervor.  This documentary shows the efforts of a young woman who fights for the rights of others. Further Information: Film’s official website, review, York Times review, Cinematography, Sundance Film FestivalJury Prize, Sonoma Valley Film Festival

Desire (Dir: Julie Gustafson, 2005)

Running Time: 85 min

Teenage Girls’ Documentary Project
Color, VHS/DVD

This intimate documentary follows the lives of five teenage girls from the New Orleans area during five years of their lives, beginning around the time they are finishing middle school or starting high school. While the director Julie Gustafson is making a film about the young women’s lives, the five women are also learning how to make videos as part of the Teenage Girls’ Documentary Project, and are shooting and editing their own short videos. Throughout the documentary the short films made by the young women, in the form mostly of interviews or video essays, are interwoven into the narrative. This technique allows Gustafson to construct the narrative around issues each of the girls’ are dealing with in their lives, but the viewer also gets to actually see how the girls themselves wish to visually represent their lives and the things they are struggling with on a daily basis.

The five teenage girls are from very different backgrounds, both socioeconmically and culturally. The title of the documentary is taken from the housing projects, Desire, where two of the young women featured, live. One of the other young girls is from the working-class suburb of Belle Chase, while the other two seem to be quite privileged and live in the city of New Orleans. Issues of being a young mother, sexual orientation, sexuality, eating disorders, family expectations, poverty, being a first generation immigrant and romantic relationships, are all featured in the documentary.

The documentary does not desire to do more than show and share these young women’s lives. Even though they all live in New Orleans, their struggles are all so different, yet are united by the common thread of seeking to feel happy and fulfilled in their lives as they get older. During the five years that viewers follow the participants, the girls face incredible changes as they transition from girls to women (with some of the having to “become” women a lot earlier than others, having to live on their own, take care of their children and be completely responsible for themselves, while other continue to live at home after they graduate from high school). Gustafson seems to want to share with viewers the deep affection she has for all five women, and the attachment she had after spending five years following and also teaching these young women.

References: Women Make Movies:

Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night (Dir: Sonali Gulati, 2005)


Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night
A film by Sonali Gulati
2005, United States/India, 27 minutes, Distributed by Women Make Movies

Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night, a documentary about outsourcing telemarketing jobs to Indian call centers, begins with a short animated sequence as the filmmaker introduces herself to us. Sonali Gulati, in calm voice-over, tells us that “this story began with a phone call,” and that in the ten years she has lived in the United States she has learned how to deal with telemarketers. One day, though, she receives a call from “Nancy Smith,” a voice with an Indian accent and the unique ability amongst telemarketers to pronounce Gulati’s name. Soon after, live footage has replaced animation and Gulati is on a plane to New Delhi, her former home, to find Nancy Smith and those like her – Indian people working for Americans and with Americanized names and accents. Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night is a concise but poignant film about the workers whose jobs are the most coveted amongst the urban middle class, but who earn a fraction of the wages of their American counterparts. It examines the way America has infiltrated all parts of the globe, driving workers to compete madly for U.S-provided jobs and to strive for assimilation into American culture. Gulati uses animation, archival footage and taped interviews to put her story together, taking the viewer along as she gradually discovers what story it is and ponders the question of her own identity as an Indian woman living in America. Nalini won the Director’s Choice Award at the Black Maria Film Festival, was the Official Selection at the Margaret Mead Film Festival, and won awards at various other international festivals.

Subject Headings: globalization, identity, documentary, India.

Helpful article: New Subjectivities: Documentary and Self-Representation in the Post-Verité Age by Michael Renov, from Feminism and Documentary, ed. by Diane Waldman and Janet Walker

by Sophie Hagen

Tropic of Capricorn (Dir: Kika Nicolela, 2005)

Running Time: 30 min


Tropic of Capricorn is a short documentary by Kika Nicolela that tells the tales of Brazilian transsexuals. The filmmaker rented out a hotel room. Over the course of an evening four transsexuals are brought in one-by-one. They lie upon the bed and tell their stories to the camera which is mounted on the ceiling, echoing the film’s title, “Tropic of Capricorn,” the southernmost point at which the sun can appear directly overhead.

The transsexual subjects that the camera is poised on are quite visually odd. However, challenging the viewer’s expectation, this visual oddity is not rooted in their transexuality. Instead, they “glow.” Through the use of video filters, each character radiates their own unique color. And so not only are we put in a strange position as a viewer but also the transsexual subjects are made equally strange. The setting equal of the strangeness of the viewer and the subject is telling. It is an early sign in the film of the politics of “setting equal” and “seeing as the same”.
They crawl into bed or cuddle. Some splay out while others straddle. All take their own unique position upon the bed and all tell their story. In regards to the topic at hand, the bed seems to be of great importance. It serves as a location of comfort, home and intimacy. Moreover, for the transsexuals interviewed that worked as prostitutes the bed is even more familiar. It is the workplace. The intimacy that the bed affords adds to the identification of the viewer to the interviewee. Moreover, the lack of camera movement which places the locus solely on the bed and the transsexual offers a similar intimacy.
From above, the glowing transsexual looks not so much different than sensational fictional alien autopsy: odd colors, strange anatomy. At first this may cause a resistance and designation of otherness for the viewer. However, the aforementioned intimacy that is established refuses this. “All I really wanted to do was work abroad and settle down…thats it,” says Jessica as she glows red. It is hard to imagine this not being a universal sentiment of all persons. It is not a transsexual speaking but a human being and perhaps they’re not that different after all. And so taboo has been confronted. A fearful situation is established. The audience is thrust into a dark room with a sexually “other” person and the bed is right there. Oh No! But soon enough, through the gripping conversations that the interviewees have, the focus is shifted from the visual and superficial to something deeper seated.
Since the films release in 2005 it has been honored, among other places, at the Sopot Independent Film Festival as “Best Documentary” and has been nominated as “Best Film” at both the International Experimental Film Festival Carbunari and Mostra do Filme Livre. Such films, especially addressing such taboo topics often find little distribution space and eventually see quite a small audience in places like festivals. However, the advent of Internet media films like this can be found much more easily by those seeking media addressing such topics. As of April 2007, The film is legally available in its entirely on multiple streaming Internet sites such as

I Had an Abortion (Dir: Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner, 2005)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 55 min

Original Medium: VHS/DVD
Language: English

Speak Out: I Had an Abortion eloquently tells the real stories of women who have had an abortion and want to share their stories with other women and bring an end to the shame associated with the procedure. The movie itself is a reclamation of women’s reproductive rights and freedoms as well as each individual woman’s assertion of her body and her pride in it. The documentary makes an obvious effort to appeal to all women by documenting the lives of very different women, including an elderly woman, a married suburban mother, and a single college student. The film does a great job of showing how and why women seek to have an abortion as well as why they later try and hide the fact that they did have an abortion. The film draws attention to this shame by having several of the women wear a shirt with print across the front, stating “I Had an Abortion.”

This film would be ideal in a Women’s Studies course that examines second and third wave feminism and the similarities and differences in the strategies and tactics each movement employs. Baumgardner, one of the directors of the film, is from an older generation of women that fought for women’s rights during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s. These women’s tactics can be seen as much more radical and cutting edge when viewed in contrast to the strategies and tactics of third wave feminism. This debate continues to play out today as many mainstream feminists object to Baumgardner’s in-your-face approach to the film but more specifically to her promotion of the “I Had an Abortion” t-shirts. This radical vs. mainstream, second vs. third wave feminism tension can be explored through the viewing of this movie.

This movie could also be instrumental in breaking down negative perceptions of both female sexuality and female reproductive freedom. Many of the stories told by the women include anecdotes of a complete lack of knowledge regarding sexuality. By widely promoting this film and showing it in a public context, the shameful secrets associated with female sexuality and, by extension, female reproductive freedom, can be deconstructed, dispelled, and disbanded.

Related links for more information:

The first link provides a background on the film and briefly shares the stories of several of the women. The last two links explore the tension created by Baumgardner’s t-shirts and illustrate the radical vs. moderate divide in the feminist and women’s movement.,martin,71811,6.html