Gillie Collins
Gillie Collins works as the Chief Film and Visual Arts Critic at The Stanford Daily. A New York City native, she enjoys snacking on pumpkin bread and reading. At Stanford, she studies International Relations and English Literature. Contact her by paper airplane or email at gcollins 'at' stanford.edu.

“Difret” spotlights feminist issues in Ethiopia

In the opening scene of “Difret,” Zereseney Mehari’s first feature film, human rights lawyer Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) reassures one of her clients: “Don’t worry,” she says. “There are laws in this country. No one is above the law.” But Meaza’s faith in Ethiopia’s justice system comes to a head when she hears about Hirut Assefa, a fourteen-year-old facing the death penalty for killing her rapist in self-defense.

Cantor exhibit explores Robert Frank’s early photography

In 1955, Robert Frank left New York City for the open road. Over the course of the next two years, he traveled across the U.S., taking photographs for his magnum opus, “The Americans.” Cantor Arts Center’s new exhibit, “Robert Frank in America,” is the first show to reunite photographs from “The Americans” with lesser-known works…

The Suicided Activist I: “Making Sense” of Aaron Swartz’s Death

In January 2013, Aaron Swartz — hacktivist, inventor and prodigy — hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment. He was 26. Since his death, the media has tended to interpret Swartz’s suicide as either a limited political critique or an ineffable personal problem. By some accounts, his death was a response to overzealous prosecution under the…

“To Be Takei”: Interview with Directors Jennifer Kroot and Bill Weber

In 2011, when Tennessee’s “don’t say gay” bill threatened to make the word “gay” illicit in schools, protesters held signs: “It’s okay to be Takei.” George Takei — first famous for playing Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek” — had just posted a YouTube video, encouraging students to say “Takei” instead of “gay.” Since his career as helmsman of the USS Enterprise, Mr. Takei has worked as an LGBT civil rights activist and accumulated a massive social media following (he has 6 million Facebook friends). He is also committed to raising awareness about his family’s experience in Japanese-American internment camps, producing a new musical on the subject, “Allegiance.”

‘The Kill Team’ provides slanted account of Maywand District murders

“I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to tell somebody what was going on,” said Specialist Adam Winfield, recalling his time with the Fifth Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry Division, stationed outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. The unit became known as “The Kill Team” when five of its members were accused of murdering three Afghan civilians in 2011. A new documentary by the same name explores the aftermath of the killings, focusing on the story of Winfield and his family. In the end, this perspective is more limiting than illuminating. At every step of the way, the film depends on emotional manipulation, rather than dispassionate, evidence-based argument. Following the Maywand District murders, government officials portrayed the atrocities as the product of a few bad apples rather than systemic issues within the armed forces. It is laudable that director Dan Krauss sought to interrogate, or at least contextualize, this framing of the crimes. In all likelihood, there is a documentary to be made about the institutional conditions and leadership vacuum that made the crimes possible. But “The Kill Team” is not that movie.

Film review: “Life Itself” captures Robert Ebert’s life and death

When film critic Roger Ebert first spoke to director Steve James (“The Interrupters” and “Hoop Dreams”) about making a “bio-documentary,” he complained, in passing, about a sore hip. Days later, he was admitted to the hospital — his cancer was back. Unfortunately, Ebert would die five months later, before he had a chance to see James’ film. Fortunately, “Life Itself” is remarkable and a beautiful tribute to a life lived deeply.

New performance piece “Patterns” re-examines love and memory

Written and realized by Amy Munz, “Patterns” is a one-woman performance piece that explores the many voices, personas and histories we contain within our “selves.” On an empty stage, surrounded on three sides by video projections, Munz portrays Arnot, a young woman trying to find the logic in her own narrative, the how of her recent love affair. In other words, we enter the chaotic, sacred and imaginary landscape that is Arnot’s past tense. Munz plays five different characters, including Adela, a fervent teenager, reveling in her first kiss. A few seconds later, she is Abigail, chasing after her dog, intoxicated by the natural world. Windswept meadows, poppy seeds and cattails flit across the theater’s walls. Somewhere in the fluid boundaries between these personas, Arnot’s psychology and personality accumulate, however obliquely.

Into the woods: Redwood Grove Summer Concerts couple poetry and bluegrass

An hour’s drive and world away from Stanford’s campus, UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden is home to the weekly Redwood Grove Summer Concerts. Last Wednesday, local poets and musicians gathered at the garden's amphitheater for the festival's "Bards and Bluegrass" performance. I arrived at the concert a couple minutes late. The trail into the woods was soft with leaves and needles. I imagined, for an instant, getting lost in the deep, cool shadow of the redwoods—but then, at a fork in the road, a mandolin sounded. I followed. Jeff Ward has been playing the mandolin for the Whiskey Brothers for over fifteen years. The Brothers take pride in playing a diverse range of music, from traditional bluegrass to Romanian folk, to Western Swing, to Tex-Mex. Their songs will make you tap your foot or bob your head, but what’s most palpable—most moving— is the delight these men take in their own voices. Their grins and dimples and happily superfluous jokes are contagious. The group’s aesthetic is, go figure, alcohol-centric, so Jeff introduced the evening’s “Bards and Bluegrass” program in appropriate terms: “It’s like bourbon and pickle brine,” he said, “each one makes you want more of the other.” This analogy proved pitch-perfect. The Whiskey Brothers gave up the stage to an splendid-if-unlikely complement, a group of Bay Area-based poets.

The art of losing

Halfway out the door, I remember what I’ve forgotten: lunch. I circle back to the kitchen to fix myself a peanut butter sandwich. Tucked into a Ziploc bag in the front pocket of my backpack, my sandwich helps me feel a bit more prepared. There is comfort in looking like the morning person I’m not.…

“Obvious Child” makes romantic comedy out of controversial subject matter

Much of “Obvious Child” is well-trodden ground for a romantic comedy: it is, in short, the story of a twenty-something woman looking for love, mostly in vain. Donna (Jenny Slate) is an aspiring comedian, whose boyfriend dumps her for airing their dirty laundry (namely, her underwear) on stage. She loses her day job at the bookstore Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books and, after a drunken one-night stand, finds herself pregnant. What makes “Obvious Child” memorable, however, is its unapologetic portrayal of Donna’s abortion, which becomes the backbone for the movie’s plot and her budding romance with a Max (Jake Lacy), an earnest business school student. Both hailed and derided as an “abortion comedy,” “Obvious Child” is disappointing because it is only an “abortion comedy.” Whatever chutzpah writer and director Gillian Robespierre summoned to take on political controversy did not translate into stylistic bravery. Instead, the film seems to cling to a progressive political argument because its story is otherwise unremarkable.

Sebastian Junger returns to the Korengal Valley in new documentary

Between May 2007 and July 2008, acclaimed journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington lived with Battle Company platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, widely considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Their courage bore fruit — “Restrepo,”a visceral and haunting portrayal of the hazards of counterinsurgency, changed the way Americans envisioned the war in Afghanistan. Tragically, shortly after the film was nominated for an Academy Award, Hetherington was killed during Libya’s civil war. Today, Junger’s new documentary “Korengal” revisits the valley, delving deeper into the emotional reality of modern war.

A look at the Oscar-nominated documentaries of 2014

Though they employ diverse stories and forms to convey their message, this year’s Oscar-nominated documentary features all explore the role of art in contemporary society. Both “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Cutie and the Boxer” expose the working realities of the contemporary art world, giving voice to relatively unheard artists. Meanwhile, “The Act of Killing,” “The Square” and “Dirty Wars” challenge audiences to consider the ethics and efficacy of art as a means of political expression. While these films are not of universal quality, they are, collectively, a reminder that art matters and that films have an uncanny capacity to shape the world they depict.

“Gloria”: A Reflection on Middle-Aged Love

In the opening scene of “Gloria,” by Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio, the film’s eponymous star is alone at a nightclub. Gloria (Paulina García) makes eye contact with a few romantic prospects— middle-aged men from Santiago, Chile— but, mostly, she navigates independently, hovering on the dance floor’s peripheries. Everything about Gloria is familiar— her guts and vulnerability, her passions and instincts for self-preservation. She is a refreshing reminder that young people do not have a monopoly on the aches and ecstasies of falling in love.

Film Review: “At Berkeley”

According to columnist Gillie Collins, renowned documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has done it again -- and, this time, his focus is closer to home. Wiseman’s 38th documentary, “At Berkeley,” exposes the entrails of Stanford’s nearby rival, University of California at Berkeley.

Film review: ‘The Square’

“The Square,” a remarkable new documentary by director Jehane Noujaim, is an essential complement to Egypt’s recent history, telling the story of political change through the eyes of grassroots activists.
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