The Tribeca Film Festival in NYC starts this Wednesday, April 19th! Here’s 6 films with female directors or female protagonists that you should def go out and see :) By Kristen Cochrane.
Despite major progress in discussions on gender and the workplace, the film industry has continued to lag in terms of gender diversity (and obviously, we mean the representation of women and people who identify as queer, nonbinary, trans, and fluid, among other identities). We also don’t want to see tokenized representation, but truly nuanced portrayals of underrepresented identities. In January, the 19th annual Celluloid Report announced the findings of its longitudinal study on gender diversity behind the camera, and it’s depressing. Basically, the findings did not indicate any significant improvement in eighteen years. In 2016, the percentage of female directors, a meagre 7%, showed a 2% decrease from 1998. For behind-the-camera roles outside of directing in 2016, the percentage was 17% percent (which is still really embarrassing), the same figure that was reported in 1998 (also extremely embarrassing).
Since this is tragic, we have compiled a list of films at Tribeca that are trying to break the Celluloid Ceiling. These films have female directors or female protagonists (the latter being at a 29% in 2016). By supporting these films (i.e. by seeing them at theatres or buying them or renting them online), you are also contributing to the shattering of the Celluloid Ceiling . Here’s where you can start:
1. One Percent More Humid, dir. Liz W. Garcia
One Percent More Humid is going to be exciting a number of reasons, in particular its casting of a talented female duo. It stars Juno Temple and Julia Garner, two actresses who have shown a lot of promise for their nuanced portrayals of characters who contain multitudes (shout outs to Walt Whitman). You’ll definitely recognize Juno Temple—she’s been outstandingly prolific in both commercial and indie films, from Disney’s behemoth Maleficent (2014) to acclaimed Chilean director Sebastian Silva’s Magic Magic (2013). You may also recognize Garner, who played Lily Tomlin’s granddaughter in Grandma (2015) In Liz W. Garcia’s sophomore drama One Percent More Humid, Iris (Temple) and Catherine (Garner) reunite during a humid summer in New England in the aftermath of a tragedy they both survived. Audience-wise, there will probably be tears, but based on the cast, it will probably be worth it.
2. The Boy Downstairs, dir. Sophie Brooks
Girl-meets-boy (again) in The Boy Downstairs. Courtesy of Jon Pack.
In a classic story on transnational migration among Creatives™, Diana (played by Zosia Mamet, a.k.a. Shoshanna from Girls) is a young writer who has returned to her native New York City after spending two years in London. Although this could sound like a horror film when we think about the cost of living in both of these cities, it’s actually a romantic comedy. While apartment hunting (another nightmare that belongs in a horror film), Diana finds the perfect apartment, but realizes her downstairs neighbour is her ex-partner whose heart she left in pieces. Awk! Still, she keeps the apartment, and feelings get mixed up again. The Boy Downstairs not only stars an independent female character, but has a first-time female director at the helm.
3. Manifesto, dir. Julian Rosefeldt
Cate Blanchett in the art film Manifesto. Courtesy of FilmRise.
The spectrum of Cate Blanchett’s talent actually scares me. Case in point: in video artist Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, Blanchett plays 13 different characters who embody a different artistic or philosophical movement. Its first incarnation was as a multi-screen installation exhibited in 2015 in Berlin, New York, and Melbourne. In one of her more straightlaced characterizations, Blanchett plays a news anchor who discusses conceptual art during a live broadcast in the pouring rain. In another, she plays a homeless man who waxes theoretical on the Situationist movement of the 1960s co-founded by french theorist Guy Debord, a manifesto which criticized the emerging screen culture of the era—a self-reflexive nod to the original screenings of Manifesto with its multiple, simultaneous screen installations.
4. Die göttliche Ordnung / The Divine Order, dir. Petra Volpe
Did you know that women in Switzerland only got the right to vote in 1971? Award-winning Swiss filmmaker Petra Volpe’s narrative feature is set within this context. Despite the fervour of the revolutionary May 1968 events across Europe that sought to dismantle archaic, conservative views (like gender roles), some people were left out of the movement. In The Divine Order, young housewife Nora (Marie Luenberger), who lives with her husband and two sons in a small, traditional Swiss village, is one such person. While Nora has remained quiet and seemingly well-liked by everyone, she joins the Swiss suffragette movement. This film sets a historical precedent for modern-day tone-policing (when women, racialized people, and queer people, among many others, are told to protest silently—as if that is really the invariable solution to all of our human rights issues).
5. Nadie Nos Mira / Nobody’s Watching, dir. Julia Solomonoff
Nadie Nos Mira / Nobody’s Watching, (2017), dir. Julia Solomonoff, Argentina. Courtesy of John Harris.
If you don’t know about the mastery of Argentina’s cinematic output, here’s your chance to get a taste. Argentinian-born Julia Solomonoff’s first feature film Hermanas / Sisters (2005) was co-produced by Brazilian director Walter Salles (On the Road, The Motorcycle Diaries), and Solomonoff’s films have reflected on geographical movement (i.e. people living in a diaspora and its intersections with social circumstances, whether these circumstances are political, social, or sexual. Nadie Nos Mira / Nobody’s Watching reckons with the spectrum of sexuality – a subject she has touched upon in the past (see: El último verano de la boyita / The Last Summer of the Boyita (2009)). In Nobody’s Watching, 30-year-old actor Nico leaves Argentina for New York after breaking up with his male, married producer. The film is topical in its depiction of undocumented immigration (Nico overstays his visa), and in its treatment of the contemporary gig economy (Nico’s acting career is fledgling, since he’s too blond to play Latino characters, and his accent is too strong to play non-Latino characters). If Solomonoff’s previous work and Argentina’s history of producing seriously excellent films is anything to go on (it is), Nobody’s Watching is one to watch.
6. Flower, dir. Max Winkler
Zoey Deutch as Erica Vandross in Max Winkler’s dark comedy Flower. Courtesy of Full Metal Mullet, LLC.
Portraying teenage female sexuality is notoriously difficult (ditto: experiencing life as a female teenager). In Max Winkler’s Flower, 17-year-old Erica Vandross (played by Zoey Deutch, whom you might recognize from her role as girlfriend of James Franco’s bad boy tech billionaire archetype in the 2016 comedy Why Him?) pervs on older men at bowling alleys while hanging out with her friends. Not only that, but she connives them into giving her money. Winkler, who also co-wrote the script, noted that the film feels like it’s from the 1980s, in the same vein as Risky Business or Lover Boy, except that the Tom Cruise and Patrick Dempsey types are written for a teenage girl in Flower. Instead of the tired Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, Winkler said that Erica is at once like Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and Mia from Fish Tank. The film is set in Los Angeles, an appropriate milieu for badass teens that recalls cinematic teen classics of the 1980s and 1990s (think Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless). The film’s influences don’t end there; Winkler lists François Truffaut’s Les Quatre-cents Coups / The 400 Blows, Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas, and interviews with the self-styled slut #motha Amber Rose as influences.
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Her academic research is currently on queer Latin American cinema, but she also writes about art, sexuality, and life stories. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.