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.
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.”
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.”
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,” says West. “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 $14 million in ticket sales. Their “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” which opens in theaters Sept. 17 and debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Oct. 1, 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.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP