When your Venn diagram of interests intersects at the nexus of Women and Film, you end up dealing with a lot of disappointment. Case-in-point: this week’s New York Times story highlighting the discrepancy between the lip service being paid to the urgent need for representation behind the camera, and the actual numbers of working women directors listed on major studios’ upcoming slates. The conspicuous absence of women nominated in directing categories at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, despite so many strong contenders, was an especially crushing blow.
That’s why it’s so important to celebrate institutions actually making a concerted effort to reach gender parity. This year, the Tribeca Film Festival’s competition sections consist of 50% women-directed or co-directed films, up from 44% in 2018. And that’s not all: 29% of feature films are directed by people of colour, and 13% by directors identifying as LGBTQIA.
The festival will run in New York City April 24-May 5, with many of the films slated for theatrical release shortly thereafter. From a Buffalo debt-collecting scam caper led by Zoey Deutch, to Erin Lee Carr’s latest HBO documentary deep dive into the USA Gymnastics Team abuse scandal, here are the movies you should definitely keep an eye out for.
Blow The Man Down
Directed by: Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole
Starring: Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Anette O’Toole, Marceline Hugot
Sisters Mary Beth (Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Lowe) are born and bred natives of Easter Cove, a small fishing town off the coast of Maine. Their mother’s death has left them with bills, an over-mortgaged house and a failing business — now must cover up a crime. But what they don’t know is that they’re not the only ones in town with a secret. Think Manchester by the Sea meets Thoroughbreds in this darkly funny tale coming-of-age tale of sisterhood, scored with soaring sea shanties.
Directed by: Lara Jean Gallagher
Starring: Otmara Marrero, Sydney Sweeney, Will Brittain, Sonya Walger
There’s a quiet sense of unease at the heart of Clementine, which follows 29-year-old Karen (Marrero) who deals with a difficult split by breaking into her ex’s beautiful Oregon lakehouse. There, she meets Lana (Handmaid’s Tale and Sharp Objects alum Sydney Sweeney) a younger girl with an old soul, whose mysterious charm holds magnetic power. Theirs is a slow seduction that teaches them both some important truths about growing up.
Directed by: Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia
Starring: Diego Peretti, Julianne Nicholson, Daniel Fanego, Malena Sanchez, Fracisco Lumerman
In 1968, French singer Serge Gainsbourg wrote “Initials BB,” an ode to sex symbol, actress, and winged-eyeliner master Brigitte Bardot. This film plays on that iconic musical moment with its portrayal of Sergio Garces (Peretti), an Argentinian Gainsbourg wannabe searching for his own identity as he grapples with the consequences of a crime he didn’t quite mean to commit. If you’re a fan of covers of songs by sexually-explicit 1960s weirdos, dark comedies and crime capers, this is for you.
The Short History Of The Long Road
Directed by: Ani Simon-Kennedy
Starring: Sabrina Carpenter, Steven Ogg, Danny Trejo, Maggie Siff, Rusty Schwimmer
Teenage Nola (Carpenter) has grown up on the road. She and her father (Ogg) live out of their beat-up VW van, stopping long enough for Nola to pick up a library book here and there, take a public shower, or do laundry at the carwash. They take on odd jobs for money, and preach their nomadic, self-sufficient lifestyle to anyone who will listen. But when an unexpected twist casts Nola out on her own, she decides to seek out the mother who gave her those big blue eyes — and then her trailer breaks down, forcing her to use all the tools her father taught her.
Knives and Skin
Directed by: Jennifer Reeder
Starring: Marika Engelhardt, Tim Hopper, Kate Arrington, Audrey Francis, James Vincent Meredith, Ty Olwin, Grace Smith, Ireon Roach, Raven Whitley, Kayla Carter, Jalen Gilbert, Emma Ladji, Robert Cunningham, Tony Fitzpatrick, Marilyn Dodds Frank
This movie was described to me as Twin Peaks meets Heathers,and that’s all I need to know. Reader captures this surreal, voyeuristic tale of a suburban high school girl (Engelhardt)’s mysterious disappearance with a moody cinematography, vibrant, saturated colours, and acapella 80s covers. Yes, please.
Directed by: Sonejuhi Sinha
Starring: Geetanjali Thapa, Olivia DeJonge, Robert Aramayo, Cynthia Nixon
Based on Sinha’s own short film, Love Comes Later, which premiered in-competition at the Cannes Film Festival, this slow-burn thriller tells the story of Riz (Thapa), a recent immigrant from India with a shady past she’s trying to escape. But when she takes a job as a housekeeper at a seedy motel run by Una (Nixon), she and roommate Dallas (DeJonge) start to get pulled into the very life Riz has been trying to run from.
Directed by: Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia
You’re 28. You’re single. According to the Chinese government, you’re a “leftover lady,” an unmarried woman over the age of 27. Shlam and Medalia’s documentary feature chronicles the phenomenon lived by millions of Chinese women, including 34-year-old Beijing lawyer Qiu HuaMei, called “ugly” by her matchmaker, 28-year-old Xu Mi, who lives at home with her mother, and 36-year-old Gai Qi, whose family disapproves of her relationship with a younger man. Government-sponsored speed dating? Matchmakers? This movie’s got it all, and more.
Directed by: Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin
This documentary feature takes a hard look at the industrial Scottish town of Jerviston, where teenager Gemma is being raised by her grandparents. Using her as their lens on a community that’s been left behind, Fiske and Hallin combine a moving coming-of-age tale with a fight for survival.
Directed by: Jeanie Finlay
Freddy McConnell, a pregnant trans man living in Deale, England, decided to carry his baby to term himself. Jeanie Finlay’s powerful documentary film captures his journey to parenthood, as he navigates healthcare costs, family tensions, constant judgements by strangers, and an uncomfortable reckoning with his own sense of identity.
Directed by: Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit
Starring: Stav Strashko, Netsanet Zenaneh Mekonnen, Noam Lugasy, Arad Triffon Reshef, Niv Sultan, Asi Levy
This Hebrew language film stars Ukrainian-born Israeli model Strashko as 17-year-old Eden, a trans woman hiding her gender identity from her friends until she discovers that they’re planning to sell their kidneys to afford cosmetic surgery and dresses for senior prom. And if that sounds a little provocative, remember that Maymon co-wrote Skin, this year’s controversial Oscar-winner for Best Short Film.
White As Snow
Directed by: Anne Fontaine
Starring: Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Huppert, Damien Bonnard, Vincent Macaigne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Charles Berling
After seeing Greta earlier this year, all I want to see is Huppert take on another unhinged fairy tale monster. Enter White As Snow, Fontaine’s sexy modern update on the Snow White story, which stars Huppert as Maud, the Evil Stepmother to de Laâge’s Claire, a beautiful young woman who provokes her with her youth and beauty. When Claire is sent away from her home, she comes across seven local men with whom she embarks on a no-strings-attached journey of sexual awakening. And there’s probably an apple in there somewhere, too.
Directed by: Semi Challas
Starring: Hong Chau, Sarah Gadon, Lola Kirke, John Gallagher Jr., Ellen Burstyn, David Cubitt
Chellas co-wrote two of my favourite Mad Men episodes (Season 5’s “Far Away Places” and “The Other Woman”), so I had high expectations for this her directorial debut. American Woman far exceeded them. Based on the 2003 novel by the same name by Susan Choi, the film tells the story of the abduction and radicalisation of Patty Hearst (Gadon) through the eyes of a Jenny Shimada (Chau), a real-life activist and fugitive, who spent time with the heiress and her captors in the mid-1970s. Shifting the perspective to Jenny, a woman of colour, gives the well-trod story a fresh and much-needed update.
Directed by: Tanya Wexler
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Judy Greer, Jermaine Fowler, Jai Courtney
Buffalo native Peg Dahl (Deutch) is a hustler. Interested in little more than raking in enough cash to be taken seriously as a budding businesswoman and getting out of the town she despises. So, a fateful call with a debt collector opens the door to a major financial opportunity. She dives right in. Deutch is a riot in this funny, touching film that feels all the more special because it’s a story that would usually feature a male protagonist. (The vibe is roughly comparable to the first half of Wolf of Wall Street, when Jordan Bellfort and his cronies are scamming old ladies with penny stocks.) Who said women can’t skirt the law and make the big bucks?
Directed by: Mary Harron
Starring: Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon, Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Merritt Wever, Chace Crawford, Suki Waterhouse, Annabeth Gish
This is the second Manson-themed film to hit theaters in 2019, with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood set to follow in July. But Harron’s ( American Psycho) version, from a script by Guinevere Turner, is hardly interested in Charles Manson, cult leader and convicted murderer. Instead, she turns her lens onto the women in his notorious Family, exploring the misogynist dynamics at the heart of the counterculture, and the aftermath of the horrific murders that would land Leslie Van Houten (Murray), Patricia Krenwinkle (Bacon) and Susan Atkins (Rendon) with a life sentence.
Directed by: Dolly Wells
Starring: Grace Van Patten, Emily Mortimer, Timm Sharp, John Early, Gary Richardson, Ebon Moss Bachrach
Fans of HBO’s Doll & Em, rejoice! Wells’ feature directorial debut reunites the frequent collaborators in a coming-of-age tale starring Mortimer as Julia, a reclusive writer who rents out a room in her Lilian (Van Patten) a twenty-something who moved to New York for her boyfriend, only to be dumped upon arrival. Like so many New York City roommates, Lilian and Julia do not get along. But instead of resorting to labelling toilet paper rolls, or monitoring how long they keep the lights on, the two instead begin a passive-aggressive note corresponding. Wells, who was just in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, knows how to craft a sharp insult.
Directed by: Katharine O’Brien
Starring: Simon Pegg, Juno Temple, Alexandra Daddario, Tao Okamoto, Bria Vinaite, Robert Schwartzman
Not to make everything about A Star Is Born, but fans of Ally and Jackson’s troubled relationship might want to check out this portrait of a promising artist (Temple) struggling to help her best-friend and veteran record producer (Pegg) cope with his mental health issues while preserving his legacy in the L.A. music scene.
Directed by: Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman
One year, and two months ago, a gunman opened fire at Marjorie Stoneman Dougas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and members of staff, and wounding 17 others. In their moving documentary, which features interviews with survivors and parents of the victims, veteran journalists Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman examine the aftermath of the horrific event that sparked renewed debate over the place of guns in America.
At The Heart of Gold
Directed by: Erin Lee Carr
Carr has a rare talent for unpacking incredibly complex true crime situations, delving deep into the psyche of women society has written off. (See: Mommy Dead and Dearest, Carr’s popular HBO documentary about Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who conspired with her boyfriend to murder her abusive mother.) In At The Heart of Gold, Carr flips the script, turning her lens onto the allegations of rampant sexual abuse of hundreds of young women by USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, and the system that allowed him to go unchecked for so long.
Directed by: Martha Shane and Ian Cheney
The grinning shit emoji talks like Sir Patrick Stewart now, so I think it’s safe to say those colourful pictorials are here to stay. But how did emojis start? Who is in charge of creating and codifying what is essentially a modern language? And what does the future look like? Those are the questions Martha Shane and Ian Cheney seek to answer in their feature documentary, which traces the early beginnings of emoji in Japan, and the campaigns for more inclusive and diverse representation. All hail the period emoji!
Circus of Books
Directed by: Rachel Mason
Mason is a nice Jewish girl whose parents own a gay porn shop. In this moving, often hilarious, feature documentary, Mason chronicles Barry and Karen Mason’s journey from selling medical devices to restocking copies of Hand Job Magazine, and launching the adult film production company that would eventually put their kids through school. It’s a compelling family store, but also a look at a dying L.A. landmark — financial struggles and a shrinking customer based forced Circus of Books to close back in January.
Directed by: Sasie Sealy
Starring: Tsai Chin, Corey Ha, Michael Tow, Woody Fu, Wai Ching Ho, Clem Cheung
I mean, we’ve had how many iterations of Bad Grandpa? It’s about time we got an upgrade. Enter Lucky Grandma, Sealy’s film about an 80-year-old matriarch (Tsai Chin) who decides to start living her best life after her the death of her husband. After a fortune teller (Ho) predicts an upcoming lucky day, Grandma heads off to the casino, only to find herself at the centre of a Chinatown gang war. Who’s the bad girl now?
Directed by: Elsa Amiel
Starring: Julia Föri, Peter Mullan, Arieh Worthalter, Vidal Arzoni, Agata Buzek
Amiel’s directorial debut is all about girl power. Literally. Pearl stars newcomer Föry as Lea Pearl, a french bodybuilder competing for the title of Miss Heaven. But all that hard work and training is put at risk when her ex ( Worthalter) shows up with the six-year-old son (Arsoni) she left behind.
Martha: A Picture Story
Directed by: Selina Miles
Long before street art became a desirable Instagram backdrop and influencers flocked to Bushwick for guided tours before brunch, photographer Martha Cooper made it her business to document New York City’s burgeoning graffiti movement, and its intersection with the early beginnings of hip-hop. Miles’ film tracks her long and action packed career in a documentary that takes us from 1970s New York to Germany’s U-Bahn.
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