I met film critic Pamela Powell through Twitter. She had taken a video of actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Q&A after the screening of her film “Fast Color” (directed by Julia Hart) at the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Her praise for Gugu drew me to her as a critic. I retweeted her post, and the rest is history. Months later, I’m so happy to get the opportunity to interview her and share her story. See highlights of our conversation below.
BEING A FEMALE FILM CRITIC
MARTIN: I’m curious what your thoughts are in terms of being a female critic.
POWELL: It’s been an experience! I’m frequently a minority when it comes to representing my gender in a screening room. Sometimes I’m the only female. Sometimes there’s one or two others out of the group. It’s a really difficult question and I’ve had several very positive experiences. I love the fact that Chuck Koplinski is my film critic partner. He asked me to be a part of his show (“Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam”). He didn’t have to do that, but he knew that a woman’s voice is just as important to have as a male’s voice. He’s the one who approached me to do the show on WCIA. And I give him a lot of credit for recognizing the fact that a woman’s voice and opinion is needed in film criticism. He didn’t have to do that. He graciously has opened the doors for me. I wouldn’t have had half the opportunities that I have now if it wasn’t for his generosity.
“WHAT THEY HAD”
MARTIN: It seems that you are drawn to independent films, in terms of films you’ve seen recently. Of the films you’ve seen over the years, which ones deeply connected with you?
POWELL: I just got back from the Toronto International Film Festival. There’s a movie that I believe premiered at Sundance Film Festival this year called “What They Had,” directed by Elizabeth Chomko. I missed it at Sundance and I finally got a chance to see it at Toronto.
If you want to know my story with my mother, my father, and my brother, I think Elizabeth Chomko must have had some psychic devices, because it’s my story, and my life. It shows how I dealt with my mother going through Alzheimer’s disease, and my father and brother dealing with her condition, and me traveling back and forth from Chicago to New York. It was probably, and I’m going to get choked up thinking about this, one of the most emotional and personal films I’ve ever seen that I’ve been able to connect with.
That’s just an example of one film that really hit home with me, and I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there that this story is going to hit home with as well.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
POWELL: I’d like to add that there is a new site that’s going to be launched in the next few weeks called CherryPicks. Do you know anything about it?
MARTIN: No, but that’s a great name.
POWELL: It is. It is an answer to Rotten Tomatoes. It is a site for female critics.
MARTIN: Oh my god, how did I not know about this. That’s great!
POWELL: They realize that women’s stories are out there and some of the films that capture these stories are not being rated very highly because they are rated primarily by men.
For example, “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which I absolutely loved. Female director (Niki Caro), based on a book written by a woman (Diane Ackerman), and that film got totally panned. You look at the women that critiqued it and it got high marks, but there’s not enough of us to put the foot on the scale to make a difference. Thankfully Rotten Tomatoes is recognizing this and is trying to make some changes. I’m happy that they have accepted me as a Rotten Tomatoes critic. And it’s the only time I like to have the scale go up! CherryPicks is going to be a site that’s for female criticism.
Hopefully in the future we’ll see movies like “The Zookeeper’s Wife” show a bowl full of cherries by CherryPicks. I’m really excited to be having this site come out for women. Go online to learn more (thecherrypicks.com).
MARTIN: Thank you Pamela for taking the time to do this interview. I’m so happy to be able to voice your words on our pages.
POWELL: Thank you, it’s a real honor.