If you caught HBO’s excellent documentary The Janes earlier this year, you’ll probably guess what Call Jane (opening on Friday, Oct. 28, at Berkeley’s likely to close in the near future but still here for the time being Regal UA 7) is all about. If you missed The Janes, though, don’t worry: Call Jane will get you up to speed quickly.
In production long before the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the folks who made Call Jane surely knew that a woman’s right to have an abortion was at serious risk. The result is a drama which understandably stumbles at the end (Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi’s screenplay tries with limited success to add a cautionary note to its generally happy ending) but is otherwise first-rate.
Directed by Phyllis Nagy, the timely Call Jane stars Elizabeth Banks as Joy, a 1968 housewife whose late-in-life pregnancy is interrupted when she’s stricken with a potentially fatal case of congestive heart failure. When a committee of middle-aged, cigarette-puffing male doctors decide against letting her terminate her pregnancy, the desperate Joy “calls Jane” at a number seen on a mimeographed sign advertising help for women in trouble.
After being driven blindfolded to the underground abortion practice run by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), Joy is operated on by unctuous Dr. Dean (Cory Michael Smith, excellent in a mid-’60s Beatle mop top) and soon begins volunteering to assist the Janes with their righteous work. Her gig slowly turns into an almost full-time (and unpaid) job, setting off alarm bells for husband Will (Chris Messina) and daughter Charlotte (Grace Edwards), who begin to wonder if Mom really is attending those community college art classes she claims to be taking.
Schore and Sethi’s assured and sensitive screenplay is brought to vibrant life by Banks, who delivers a thoroughly believable performance as a well-heeled woman who finds herself in an awkward and unexpected situation. Call Jane feels like the kind of film that will appeal to liberal Academy voters, and I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t garner a handful of well-deserved nominations at next year’s ceremony.
Embarrassingly, I’ve never previously covered the annual Berkeley Video and Film Festival. Now in its 31st season (!), the festival raises its profile this year with a first-rate documentary and some intriguing titles that I haven’t been able to screen, such as the recently produced East Oakland Counter Narratives and a 1970 short entitled Abortion and Women’s Rights.
Many of us first learned of the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans when we read Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir Farewell to Manzanar in middle school. Antonia Grace Glenn’s Before They Take Us Away (screening at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the East Bay Media Center on Sunday, Oct. 30) offers a slightly different perspective on the topic, focusing on those Issei and Nissei granted permission to migrate away from the West Coast.
The film features interviews with many survivors of this semi-voluntary deportation, which sent families as far afield as Alabama. One of the film’s most interesting revelations is the relatively warm welcome they received in Colorado, where that state’s conservative Republican governor, Ralph Carr, welcomed them with open arms — a selfless gesture that ended his political career. Berkeley professors Evelyn Nakano Glenn and Michael Omi provide context for this previously untold story of displacement and blunt force racism.