The label “date movie” hasn’t traditionally been applied much to documentaries but filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen have twice now made non-fiction films of trailblazing female icons that also happen to be portraits of loving, supportive marriages.
In RBG, the 2018 Oscar-nominated bio-documentary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the filmmakers lingered over the encouraging role of her longtime husband, the lawyer Martin D. Ginsburg. Their latest, Julia, which premiered Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival, is likewise about a pioneering 20th century woman, the adventurous TV chef Julia Child, whose ascent was tenderly and enthusiastically advocated for by her husband, Paul Child. He even wrote a sonnet for her.
“For never were there foods, nor were there wines / Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight / O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure! You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.”
“Feminist love stories are our genre,’’ Cohen says in an interview alongside West. “RBG was a great date movie. Julia is a slightly more expensive date movie because it really needs to be the movie and then a good dinner.’’
Julia, which will be released on the US on Nov. 5, is an affectionate and flavorful tribute to a beloved culinary figure. The film surveys a life that found fame relatively late. Child was nearly 50 by the time her debut cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking was released in 1961. Her career on TV, beginning with an omelet on Boston’s WGBH, came the year after. There and beyond, Child was a charismatic, 188cm-tall exception to a male-dominated cooking world and a carefree antidote to the force-fed image of the TV-dinner cooking ‘50s housewife.
Her husband, a former diplomat, contentedly took a background role. In The French Chef Cookbook, Julia Child wrote: “Paul Child, the man who is always there: porter, dishwasher, official photographer, mushroom dicer and onion chopper, editor, fish illustrator, manager, taster, idea man, resident poet, and husband.’’
Julia is only set partly among the pots and pans (and heaps of butter) that made Child famous. (The filmmakers even built a replica of her kitchen to make and photograph some of her best-known dishes.) But the heart of Julia may lie outside the kitchen in capturing her larger life and passions. Over time, she spoke more openly about her political beliefs. She became a champion for Planned Parenthood.
Child wrote a letter in 1982 that was sent to Planned Parenthood donors. It read: “Few politicians will take the risk of publicly supporting either contraception or abortion — and who is ‘for abortion’ anyway? We are concerned with freedom of choice.’’
“What Julia did at the time was pretty risky. This was not a time when celebrities or celebrity chefs were going out of their way to take positions that were controversial,’’ West says. “Julia was very confident in her beliefs and determined to bring her celebrity to something she truly believed in.”
For West and Cohen, Julia is only part of their output following RBG, a blockbuster documentary that collected more than US$14 million in ticket sales. Their My Name Is Pauli Murray, profiles a pivotal but sometimes overlooked activist and writer who helped lay the legal framework for both the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Ginsburg credited Murray, who was Black and gender neutral, with inspiring her argument in the 1971 Supreme Court case Reed v. Reed, in which the court recognized women as victims of sex discrimination for the first time.
“There is just a huge landscape of women out there whose stories haven’t been adequately told,’’ says West. “It’s frankly an opportunity for us to tell these stories.’’
West and Cohen had worked in documentary film in various capacities before RBG dramatically raised their profiles. Often, they’ve enjoyed themselves along the way. At the National Board of Review Awards in 2019, they performed planks on stage as tribute to the Supreme Court justice’s workout routines.
“We’re hugely fortunate that RBG got the attention that it did because it sort of opened up some doors,” says Cohen. “It’s a sad and discouraging fact that some of these historical stories of women aren’t as well known or as understood as they should be. But our perspective as documentary filmmakers is that it’s kind of like a gold mine.’’
It’s an ongoing project. Cohen and West are currently editing another documentary about an extraordinary American woman they expect to release next year.
They won’t say who their subject is this time, except to say that she’s alive. And, yes, Cohen promises, this film, too, features what she calls a great feminist love story.
The pandemic seems to be far from over, but the Post Pandemic Renaissance Theater (PPRT) is getting a head start by putting on its first event last Friday: the first round of the Taiwan Monologue Slam. Ten contestants delivered passionate and nuanced pieces on stage, and the audience voted with their phones for two winners who will advance to the local finals in November. There will be four finals in the next year, and each winner is automatically entered into the World Monologue Games regional finals, bypassing the preliminaries. The goal is to eventually get a Taiwan team to next summer’s games,
In an industrial unit on the outskirts of Taipei chefs are plating meals that will never be served in a restaurant: welcome to the world of “ghost kitchens.” Even before the pandemic sent an earthquake through the global restaurant trade, the “Amazonification” of commercial kitchens was well underway, but coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions have fueled explosive growth in Asia. The recent boom in food delivery apps meant customers were already used to having restaurant quality meals quickly delivered to their homes. To meet that demand a growing number of restaurants set up delivery only kitchens — also known as “cloud kitchens”
Afghan youth rights activist Wazhma Sayle says she was shocked to see a photograph online, apparently of women dressed in black all-enveloping niqabs and gowns, staging a demonstration in support of the country’s new Taliban rulers at Kabul University. The 36-year-old, who is based in Sweden, later posted a photograph of herself on Twitter dressed in a bright green and silver dress captioned: “This is Afghan culture & how we dress! Anything less then this does not represent Afghan women!” “It’s a fight for our identity,” Sayle said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to be identified the way Taliban showed
As we packed up our riverbed camp on a sunny Sunday morning, we looked upstream to the unknown terrain ahead, wondering what surprises lay there. Would we come out on the other side? Or would we be forced to turn around and return to the start, heads hanging low? We had come to the end of the road and were now about to blaze our own trail through over 40km of wilderness to the foot of Jade Mountain. The day before we had gotten a ride up Provincial Highway 29, which follows the Nanzihsian River (楠梓仙溪) through rural Kaohsiung all the