Give Me an A: Renegade Film Festival 2023 Review

Year: 2023

Runtime: 101 minutes

Written by: Natasha Halevi (Created by, “Wraparound – The Cheerleaders,” “Abigail,” “Vascectopia”), Megan Swertlow (“The Voiceless”), Bonnie Discepolo (“DTF”), Trevor Munson (“DTF”), Danin Jacquay (“Good Girl”), Matthew Vorce (“Good Girl”), Annie Bond (“Our Precious Babies”), Sarah Kopkin (“The Walk”), Lexx Fusco (“mediEVIL”), Rowan Fitzgibbon (“mediEVIL”), Madison Hatfield (“Sweetie”), Megan Rosati (“Plan C”), Savannah Rose Scaffe (“Hold Please”), Avital Ash (“God’s Plan”), Mary C. Russell (“Crone”), Laura Covelli (“Crucible Island”), Danielle Aufiero (“Crucible Island”), Loren Escandon (“The Last Store”) and Lexx Fusco (“Traditional”)

Directed by: Hannah Alline (“Hold Please”), Avital Ash (“God’s Plan”), Bonnie Discepolo (“DTF”), Loren Escandon (“The Last Store”), Valarie Finkel (“Crucible Island”), Natasha Halevi (“Abigail,” “The Cheerleaders Wraparound”), Caitlin Josephine Hargraves (“Sweetie”), Danin Jacquay (“Good Girl”), Sarah Kopkin (“The Walk”), Francesca Maldonado (“Traditional”), Kelly Nygaard (“Vasectopia”), Megan Rosati (“Plan C”), Mary C. Russell (“Crone”), Monica Suriyage (“mediEVIL”) and Megan Swertlow (“The Voiceless”)

Actors: Alyssa Milano, Virginia Madsen, Gina Torres, Milana Vayntrub, Jennifer Holland, Sean Gunn, Molly C. Quinn, Jason George, Jackie Tohn and many, many others.

By Brian Skutle

As a 45-year-old cis white male, I am not the ideal person to write about this film, much less on a website about voices that are underrepresented- the main reason I’m doing so is because I had the opportunity to watch it at the Renegade Film Festival the first weekend of March in 2023. Having said that, I am representative of one of the demographics that probably needs to watch this film the most, as it is a work of cathartic anger, pain, heart and laughs from women who see their ability to control their own bodies, and make their own choices, constantly attacked by my demographic. Regardless of where it lands on my end-of-year list, it will likely be the most important film I see this year.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade on June 24, 2022, the reactions of many were deafening, and heartbreaking. The idea for this film was conceived the very week after that decision, and filmed so quickly it screened at Fantastic Fest three months later. “Give Me an A” (2023) looks at the importance of what bodily autonomy means for women from a multitude of angles. Not all of the segments in this anthology worked equally for me, but the cumulative impact is remarkable. It was, far and away, the best feature of the festival, and indeed, it was rewarded with Best Writing and Best Feature Film at the end of the festival.

Several of the filmmakers for “Give Me an A” during their post-film Q&A at the 2023 Renegade Film Festival.

The film begins, and ends, with moments involving cheerleaders. As the creator of this anthology, Natasha Halevi, said during the Q&A after its screening, cheerleading is the one American sport created for women, even though its initial intention was to support the men on the field or court. Over the years, it has become a sport separated from its origins- though many teams at all levels still have squads- and has seen a recontextualization of itself as women’s role in societies have evolved. We begin in a locker room as the cheerleaders are getting changed; normally, such a scene is intended to be sexy, but we only see their legs, and their conversations- and Halevi’s directorial choice- is used to illustrate them as normal people, with more on their minds than just boys. Afterwards, they perform on a set the sort of cheer we all are familiar with, but their chants are about the issue at hand- they want bodily autonomy. We see them throughout the film as they hold up cards with the titles of the segments, and who the writers and directors are. As the film goes on, their arms seem more and more tired, representative of the frustration women feel about having to explain this to people time and time again. When we see the cheerleaders come back at the end, they are ready for vengeance against the patriarchy that continues to force them into impossible situations. I do not blame them in the least.

One of the cheerleaders at the end of “Give Me an A.”

Right out of the gate, “The Voiceless” begins the segments proper on a truly harrowing note, as a woman- upon finding out that Roe v. Wade has been overturned- finds her voice taken from her. She does something horrific to try and get her voice back, but it is no use, and when she runs out of the house, we see that she is not alone- women all along the block are feeling that same terrifying feeling about what has just happened. This is one of the standout segments of the film in how simply, and powerfully, it represents the fears and frustrations of women, with another one being near the end of the film in “The Last Store,” where a doctor (Gina Torres) is doing abortions out of a makeshift surgical area in a convenience store. She has a surveillance camera out so she can keep an eye on people coming up to the store- which she keeps locked; every few minutes, she comes up, and unlocks the door. When a police officer comes up, tensions run high. These segments highlight more realistic situations women are finding themselves posed with on a regular basis, and they are two of the finest short films you will see this year.

In “Our Precious Babies” a couple go to an office where the woman- who had her reproductive organs removed because of cancer years ago- had some eggs frozen, on the chance they would want kids in the future. When they want to discuss it with the woman in charge of the clinic, she is an ultraconservative Christian who views every egg preserved as a life saved; the conclusion is extreme in its dark humor, but not out of touch with how extreme the faithful can get with the idea of life starting at conception. In “Good Girl,” we get an anxiety-inducing story about girls in a school whom are being groomed for being impregnated- the costumes are that of a Catholic schoolgirl, a powerful evocation of how most religious leaders only see girls (and women) as instruments of childbirth. In “The Walk,” two women are going to an abortion clinic to get one of them a procedure. They find themselves surrounded by protesters whom are not afraid to get physical in trying to force their views on women. I will never, for the life of me, understand the mentality that says “I’m right” when it comes to what others should do with their bodies, and lives, whether it’s an abortion, embracing your identity, much less one that feels like they have to resort to violence to make that statement, especially in the name of religious views that you claim to abide by. Then again, this is all about control, not logic.

Not every segment is that grounded in the real world. One of the great benefits of genre is how it allows artists to reflect on the real world through worlds that do not exist, but feel honest. In “DTF,” a hookup between a man and a woman will not proceed unless certain conditions are met by the man in a wickedly funny condemnation of men not taking responsibility for pregnancies. “Crucible Island” uses reality TV conventions like “The Bachelor” (2002-current) as a commentary on male responsibility in pregnancy by putting five “contestants” in a competition to see which one was responsible for the pregnancy of a woman that had dire consequences for her; it was a bit drawn out, but the men involved are archetypes we’re familiar with, and as a man, let me just say that women deserve better from all of us, and these idiots in particular. Maybe if more men decided to live in “Vascectopia”- a place where men can make their own bodily choices to prevent pregnancy (and sold quite wonderfully in director Kelly Nygaard‘s advertisement)- this film wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.

“Plan C” is filmed like an infomercial about a family planning device, with the actress in the infomercial (Molly C. Quinn) selling it one way, while the implementation we see afterwards is much harsher. “Abigail” gives us letters between Abigail Adams (Alyssa Milano) and John Adams (Sean Gunn) from prior to the Declaration of Independence where Abigail is hoping- when the fight for independence is done- women will be given consideration as the new country forms, and John Adams and the Founding Fathers brush off such thoughts. In “Sweetie,” a phone is setup in a single father’s phone so that his daughter has a woman on the other line who can comfort her; the film’s conceit seems harsh towards fathers, but honest in how, sometimes, men are just unable to empathize as much as we’d like to when it comes to being a father, a brother or a husband to women- this father is just unsure how to do that.

There’s heavily symbolism in other shorts that made them less accessible for me, like “mediEVAL,” which seemed (to me) to use beekeeping as a metaphor for how women are treated as vessels for making babies, and “Crone,” where we see a woman driving over the years, and then, catcalled by another driver. (I’ll admit, I didn’t get that one at all.) “Traditional” shows a woman struggling with an IVF pregnancy, as others are trying to convince her that traditional childbirth is the way to go, and IVF is portrayed as Big Brother, controlling the woman, a horrific inverse of what we consider this to be. In “Hold Please,” we see women get together in an empty warehouse for a brief reprieve before they each have to get back to work- it immediately didn’t connect, but the imagery of how women are expected to work harder than men (and have to rely on each other for support) for less respect is profound. In “God’s Plan,” a woman gets stopped by a cop for using the carpool lane; when the driver says she’s pregnant, things escalate to a comedically absurd degree where “movie justice” plays a big role in a satisfying way.

“Give Me an A” was a tremendous undertaking by everyone involved, not only in channeling their justifiably strong emotions to the overturning of Roe v. Wade into art, but in how to make this film feel cohesive. To accomplish that, the filmmakers collaborated intensely in terms of the logistics of cameras, structure, tones and editing in order to get the film made and completed in time for that first screening at Fantastic Fest. You would not notice the seams watching the film- every segments looks, and feels, consistent in terms of approach to the filmmaking, and considering there were 15 separate crews working between Los Angeles and Atlanta on this, it is a staggering achievement in collaboration and film craft alone. To view it in terms of what grade the film deserves in normal critical terms is irrelevant- “Give Me an A” matters whether all of the segments work for you or not. It’s not meant for entertainment, but for engagement in a conversation women need for us to take part in, whether we’re comfortable with it or not. Hopefully, people in my demographic will watch this, and be ready to engage with that discussion fully.

Brian with Producer Jessica Taylor Galmor, Director Erica Mary Wright, Writer/Director Sarah Kopkin and Creator/Writer/Director Natasha Halevi and Their Lizzies for Writing and Feature Film at the 2023 Renegade Film Festival.

Brian had the pleasure to interview producer Jessica Taylor Galmor and Creator Natasha Halevi at the Renegade Film Festival. You can listen to that discussion over at the Sonic Cinema Podcast in their roundup of the festival.


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