For Amy Sohn, it all started with "female trouble," her tell-all column in the New York Press about her travails in the big city. When a film director approached Sohn on behalf of the women's television network Oxygen, she signed on to write and act in a series of eight animated films, resulting in Avenue Amy, part of an animated variety show called X Chromosome. Two Avenue Amy episodes, "Sister Effect" and "Outfriended," were screened in November as part of a program of shorts at the Boston Jewish Film Festival. Although animated, these stories resemble, in tone and smartness, those of Sex and the City, the popular HBO comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker as - what else? - a sex columnist. The parallel is striking. Just as Sex and the City was inspired by Candace Bushnell's columns in the New York Observer, Avenue Amy is based on Sohn's true confessions as a young single woman. (Sohn, now twenty-eight, also has a column in New York magazine and in 1999 published the racy novel Run Catch Kiss.)
Any writer of autobiography, especially of the kind that Sohn writes for both print and screen, combines a willingness to expose sexual or social vulnerabilities and to get some laughs while doing it. Sohn doesn't let herself off easily. In "Outfriended," her character grows jealous, petty, and conniving when two male buddies she's introduced to each other become such pals that they stop spending time with her. In "The Sister Effect," she lampoons her eagerness to please her father by finding a marriageable Jewish guy. Her attempt to win Dad's approval backfires when her fantasy of nuptial bliss fizzles on the first date. These shorts remind us that when a voice is distinctive enough, even familiar sitcom themes can feel fresh.
Also lending originality to Sohn's tales is the animation provided by her director and collaborator, Joan Raspo, who staged each episode with live actors, then used a new computer process called rotoscoping to paint over the filmed images. The visual effect is at once curiously real and unreal, giving Sohn's bad girl an edge over her TV contemporaries. The approach gives new meaning to the idea of fantasy, sexual or otherwise.
TANAZ ESHAGHIAN'S Najeeb - A Persian Girl in America is a good-humored, culturally self-deprecating documentary about the filmmaker's efforts to defy the age-old dictum that she marry by age twenty-five - or else, as one relative put it, "You'll become ugly." Interviews with family and friends, which Eshagian '96 captured with a hand-held camera during dinner in her parents' kitchen and at big social gatherings, show just how relentless loved ones can be on the subject of matrimony. At a cousin's wedding dozens of relatives smile innocently for the camera while issuing not-so-veiled directives that Eshaghian be next at the altar. The bemused Eshaghian made her twenty-six-minute video as she was settling into the big two-five and still able to fend off the latest mother-arranged suitor. Caught in a classic generational struggle, Eshaghian leaves the outcome undetermined. Who will win? The Persian girl her parents believe was liberalized when they sent her off to Brown? Or the Persian girl for whom ancestry and clan remain a powerful attraction? We'll have to wait for the sequel to find out.
Vicki Sanders edits the Boston College Law School Magazine.