It’s that time, when a major film festival is going on and those of who aren’t there have to bear the burden of sifting through all the tweets from those who are. Never fear! You can have your very own film festival from your couch, featuring films from women who are showing new work at this year’s SXSW. I’m here to help.
Thinking of all the promising careers in Hollywood over the years that were cut short by any number of circumstances, Elaine May’s directing career is near the top of my list of most aggravating. Here was a great comedian who had crossed into a role women still have trouble attaining today. She had vision, dedication, and technical skill. But the movie business is unforgiving for some. And we’re all the ones who missed out on what could have been.
Discovering a great, previously unknown performance from an admired actor is one of the joys of watching little-known films. Discovering a pair of great performances from actors you never knew worked together is even better. This was just part of my delight while watching Nancy Savoca’s 1991 film Dogfight, starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor.
Of the many reasons I wish I’d been in attendance at the Toronto Film Festival last month, the wide variety of films by women that were shown and celebrated is at the top. Six of the festival’s twenty gala presentations were for films directed by women, and the one of those I most look forward to seeing is Ruba Nadda’s thriller Inescapable. I love it when women make thrillers, since for some reason the general establishment seems to be shocked when they can handle it (odd, considering how many popular novelists who write thrillers are of the female persuasion, and how many of America’s favorite CBS crime shows are run by women, as well). This thriller in particular looks timely and tense, telling the story of a father who must return to his native Syria after thirty years to search for his missing daughter. In that Liam-Neeson-esque role is Alexander Siddig, one of the most underused actors of recent memory.
I very much believe it is the duty of a true film fan to look around on a regular basis and make sure that the films you’re consuming represent a variety of voices. It is, obviously, one of the reasons I write this column. In that spirit, I actively encourage every person reading this right now to make sure that this week, you watch at least one film by a woman. I’m going to make it very easy on you and make a list of great options available on Netflix Instant Watch right now! (Of course, there are many more amazing women-directed films available online, whether on Netflix’s rotating selection or for purchase on iTunes or Amazon or what have you. I look forward to making more lists like this in the future.)
In the wake of last week’s release of the Sight & Sound list of the Greatest Films of All Time for 2012—a list that comes out once a decade, and is generated by collecting the opinions of hundreds of film critics—a conversation cropped up about the lack of representation of films directed by women. (Only one film on the list of fifty, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielmann, qualifies.) Particularly on Melissa Silverstein’s Women and Hollywood blog, film fans threw out a wide variety of titles representing quality work by people who are not men.
I think all film buffs have a few hyper-specific types of films that appeal to them in a sort of odd, beacon-like way. One of mine is indie films about normal people struggling with financial problems. Though that doesn’t sound particularly exciting, I’m quite serious—I’m fascinated by the kinds of stories that are told in this area, because they reflect so much more of real, everyday life than just about any other kind of drama. Big dramas—your medical crisis stories, your soaring star-crossed romances, your legal tours-de-force—depict out-of-the-ordinary events. Paying your bills, saving for the future of your children, facing the mundane demands of each day: that’s true drama. That’s existence.
Being the film festival that bills itself as the largest in the country, it is only right and just that many interesting films by women are showing this year at the Seattle International Film Festival. The most high-profile of these was the film shown last night at the Opening Night Gala, Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister. But if you, like me, sadly could not attend, there are plenty of other opportunities to support female filmmakers during the fest. By my count, 50 of the 273 features showing were directed or co-directed by a woman. While I’d still love to live in a world with a better ratio than that, 50 films is a lot of work to check out, and that’s great. I’ve been able to see a few I can recommend already.
On May 11, Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s second film, Where Do We Go Now?, will open in the United States. A festival sensation, winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival amid heavy competition and receiving acclaim at Cannes, that film is one of my most anticipated of the year. That anticipation grew astronomically when I finally watched Labaki’s first film, 2007′s Caramel. It’s an impressive debut feature that does one of my very favorite, rare things: lets female characters be kind to one another in the way that real friends are.
Though there was a resurgence of vocal Muppet devotion with the release of last year’s film The Muppets, one can’t really call that a “comeback.” Pretty much everyone I know has always loved the whole spectrum of Jim Henson’s creations, and millions upon millions of children have grown up and continue to grow up watching the original Sesame Street and its multiple international versions. Heck, I still like to watch Sesame Street sometimes. There is pure joy and sincerity in just about every Muppet production, and that draws people in.