I’ve been remiss posting on the blog. Partly because I’ve been busy and uninspired, but also because I’ve also been writing for my university’s student newspaper, The Peak. The Vancouver International Film Festival celebrated their 31st annual event from September 27-October 12, 2012. I saw two film screenings (although I wish I could have seen many more) and reviewed both for the paper. Here they are (including links to the paper’s website).

No Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII
Published October 15, 2012 in The Peak, SFU’s Student Newspaper

No Job for a Woman (Vancouver International Film Festival 2012)

Women in the media sphere are commonplace nowadays, but you still hear about the struggles these smart, intelligent, and politically savvy women face to break into the industry. That’s why No Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII, screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival, is important. Change only occurs when people (men and women) stand up for what they believe in.

During the Second World War, women were encouraged to support the war effort by taking factory and industry positions, jobs as nurses, and even roles traditionally filled by men. One of these roles was reporting, particularly war correspondence. Some larger publishers had female staff in secretarial positions, and sometimes in charge of the women’s pages, covering society news, and “the four Fs” of food, fashion, furniture, and family. There were scant few women allowed accreditation to report in the field.

No Job for a Woman introduces many of the voices of the era, including well-known photographer Margaret Bourke-White. But it also profiles the lives of three lesser-known female reporters — Ruth Cowan, Dickey Chapelle, and Martha Gellhorn. These women went against the current rules, opinions and regulations to do what they believed in. Director Michele Midori Fillion credits this to their strong work ethic, a high level of professionalism and dedication, yet each woman tackled the struggle and barriers differently.

Ruth Cowan got her start in reporting by using her middle name (Baldwin) but when her true gender was discovered, she was fired on the spot. At her next position, she was relegated to the women’s pages. Cowan kept fighting to report serious news stories, and eventually was the first woman to receive U.S. accreditation to cover the Second World War. However, she was again assigned the “women’s angle” — the changing roles, the nurses, and the newly formed Women’s Army Auxilary Corps, which she took whole heartedly. Cowan spent her career continually covering the women who were making a difference in the male-centric world.

But some female reporters didn’t want to be relegated to just covering female subjects. Dickey Chapelle was an aviation enthusiast and photographer. She was assigned to photograph the nurses and the use of blood transfusions on a hospital ship. She wrangled her way into going ashore, and spent the rest of her career fighting for the right to go where the male reporters were allowed.

Martha Gellhorn’s motivation was one that we often see reflected in stories today — the human angle. Since the rise of fascism in Spain, Gellhorn (also Ernest Hemingway’s wife) focused on covering what war did to the people who lived through it, the families, the children, the people, and citizens of all countries involved.

No Job for a Woman mixed archival footage, photographs, and stories with contemporary scholars, and brought the whole story to life in reenactments with actresses portraying Cowan, Chapelle, and Gellhorn.

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Graham Chapman
Published October 15, 2012 in The Peak, SFU’s Student Newspaper

A Liar's Autobiography (Vancouver International Film Festival 2012)Not a documentary, not a traditional Monty Python film, and not completely true. A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Graham Chapman is actually a uniquely told adaptation of Chapman’s book A Liar’s Autobiography: Volume IV (although it was the only volume) published in 1980. The book itself was a highly fictionalized take on Chapman’s life and co-authored with four others, including his life partner David Sherlock and Douglas Adams.

Animated by 14 different studios in 17 different styles results in each segment having a very different feel and keeps the viewer engaged. However, the addition of 3D effects felt pointless and unnecessary. Four of the five remaining Pythons contributed to the film — John Cleese, Terry Gillam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin — all added commentary to the film, which is narrated by “the dead one” (Chapman), despite being deceased for 23 years.

Before Chapman passed away in 1989 from cancer, he recorded sections of his autobiography before audio books really took off. It was from these recordings that the filmmakers Bill Jones, Ben Timlett, and Jeff Simpson were able to piece together the film.

Graham Chapman was born in 1941 in Leicester, England, where he grew up with his parents. As a young man, Chapman studied medicine, and later attended Cambridge where he developed his obsession for smoking a pipe, and met John Cleese. Members of the comedy theatre troupe Cambridge Footlights with Eric Idle, the boys got their start as scriptwriters, notably on The Frost Report where they met Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

The animated segments ranged from 4–15 minutes long, animating such events as the Pythons deciding on the name of the show, Chapman’s coming out, his struggle with alcoholism, and his rampant sexual escapades. Terry Jones, Python and father of one of the filmmakers, was recently asked how much truth there was to the stories, to which he replied, “Nothing. It’s all a downright, absolute, blackguardly lie,” in true Python humour. I would guesstimate about 70 per cent truth, with some fictionalized additions and convenient humour.

Do not expect traditional Monty Python fare with this one — some of the segments are quite serious, with just a touch of dark humour. The most powerful parts were the archival footage included with the animation, such as Chapman talking about being gay on television, and Cleese’s well-known eulogy.