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Transitional Moments: Sally Potter's Ginger & Rosa at the New York Film Festival

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When the Museum of Modern Art showed British film director and screenwriter Sally Potter's films in the summer of 2010, I had just been laid off from my job. I went to see Rage (2009), at the time her most recent film, and while I was not quite filled with the titular rage, I was in an unstable and confusing place. I did not know Sally Potter's name nor any of her films, but the cast boasted a slew of great actors and I was suddenly in possession of free time.

I returned for every film in the series, falling in love with each one. Potter spoke after a few of them, recalling the eight insecure years after her poorly received first feature, The Gold Diggers, that it took to find financing for her next film, the award-winning Orlando (1992). She persisted, and learning about that persistence was exactly what I needed as I faced my own unknown.

When the series ended, the Sally Potter chapter of my life came to a close. I started a new job and my excitement subsided, at least until her new film, Ginger & Rosa, played at The New York Film Festival last Monday night.

Ginger & Rosa follows two best friends since birth during the looming threat of nuclear war in 1962 England. Their friendship fractures, however, when Ginger, a budding poet, discovers activism and Rosa begins a relationship with Ginger's father. There has already been Oscar buzz surrounding Elle Fanning's performance as Ginger, and rightly so. Her transition from a carefree, giggly girl to an awakened young woman is flawless.


Potter's usual breathtaking images and musicality permeate the film, but it is also one of her most compelling traditional narratives. Potter's work originated in experimentation, ideas and visuals often carrying the story, and one of the questions at the Q&A following the screening addressed this narrative transition. Potter said that working with a narrative was its own form of experimentation.

Her experimental style remains in less detectable ways. At the Q&A she also mentioned that the film was shot in CinemaScope, which, she discovered through informal peripheral vision tests, is the ratio at which most people see the world.

In a New York Film Festival live-streamed Q&A with Potter the next evening, Potter referred to 1962, the year the film is set, as, "a transitional moment where people didn't know what was coming next." That kind of transitional moment is exactly where I first encountered Potter's films two years ago. As she also discussed in this second Q&A, many of her films examine the idea of fluctuating identity. "Identity is there to be thrown away," she said.

That Potter's work deals with changing identity makes it perfect viewing during those transitional periods in one's life. My unstable period of unemployment two years ago may be behind me, but transitional moments constantly plague human beings. It's comforting to know that Potter's films are here to make those transitions with me.