Girls on Film: TIFF 2011's Fifty Female Feature Filmmakers

Girls on Film: TIFF 2011's Fifty Female Feature Filmmakers

Sep 08, 2011

Girls on Film is a weekly column that tackles anything and everything pertaining to women and cinema. It can be found here every Thursday night, and be sure to follow the Girls on Film Twitter Feed for additional femme-con.

Tilda Swinton in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'

By my estimations, there are FIFTY female feature filmmakers at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. (My internet has made collecting the numbers a bit of a challenge, so if I forgot anyone, please let me know!) Sure, there are over 300 films at the festival, but with an added twenty or so short filmmakers, those numbers aren’t too shabby.

In fact, 2011 marks a noted increase in high-buzz female filmmaking and increased recognition at leading festivals. In 2010, for example, Cannes was a sea of testosterone with no women in sight. This year they offered four. Two of those directors (Julia Leigh and Lynne Ramsay) are joining a talented collection of women in Toronto who have filmed everything from romance to gender issues to the horrors that can plague a happy family and a man in love with his violin.

I wonder if the strides over the last few years – the women who have made the director’s chair a hot property and the Oscar win by Kathryn Bigelow – didn’t reinvigorate the talent pool. Along with the newer directors, there are a number of female filmmakers who have woken up from their cinematic slumber to bring new offerings after five, or even ten years. The cynic in me must note that this could be nothing more than a coincidence linking long and methodically sparse careers, but the optimist in me hopes to see these women find enough success to increase output and make it so that a group of top twenty well-known female filmmakers at TIFF would be a daunting task.

Without further ado, here are the ten female filmmakers courting buzz as TIFF kicks off tonight, plus a list of all the feature and short female filmmaking talent gracing the festival this year. And be sure to stay tuned for some femme-centric capsule reviews, as well as a discussion of one of the most striking films to hit the fest this year.

Friends with Kids* – Jennifer Westfeldt

It’s been a decade since Westfeldt made waves for her writing/starring debut in Kissing Jessica Stein. Now she’s back with her third, marking her directorial debut – Friends with Kids. Like her previous work, Westfeldt continues to use the romantic comedy structure to challenge typical characterizations. First she delved into sexuality, then she challenged the notion of perfect romance, and now she’s twisting the world of child-rearing. She and Adam Scott star as two friends who decide to raise a child together platonically, only to have things get complicated when they begin to date other people (Megan Fox and Edward Burns). Added bonus: this is a huge Bridesmaids reunion: Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, and Chris O’Dowd step in to play married friends also having children.

We Need to Talk About Kevin* – Lynne Ramsay

When you hit a director’s IMDb page and see 5 fan lists naming her one of the great auteurs and female directors, you know you must pay attention. But Lynne Ramsay boasts more than just fan lists – her first film, Ratcatcher, is Criterion release. Now, almost a decade after her sophomore effort Morvern Callar, Ramsay returns with a visceral adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s bestselling book. Tilda Swinton stars as a mother who believes there is something wrong with her son while her husband (John C. Reilly) laughs her fears away. The film chills to the bone and brings up a myriad of questions about love and predisposition, and it will be featured in next week’s Girls on Film column.

Take This Waltz* – Sarah Polley

Five years after her Oscar-nominated directorial debut (Away From Her), Sarah Polley returns to the directorial chair to tell the story of a woman (Michelle Williams) who is torn between her asexually comfortable husband (Seth Rogen) and an alluring neighbor (Luke Kirby). Like Away From Her, Polley once again digs into the complexities of love that keep it from being a “soul mate + soul mate = happily ever after” world. As an added bonus, she takes to the hot streets of summertime Toronto to tell the tale, making use of many of the cities beloved landmarks and neighborhoods.

Hysteria* – Tanya Wexler

Another decade-long wait between films comes courtesy of the American filmmaker Tanya Wexler, who jumps from two little-known movies to big-buzz fare as she grabs the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Felicity Jones, and Rupert Everett to discuss the creation of the vibrator. There’s not much room for drama in a film labeled as a romantic comedy, but let’s hope that there is fair discussion of the much more serious side to the problematic, catch-all Victorian affliction labeled as "hysteria."

Last Call at the Oasis – Jessica Yu

In the late ‘90s, Jessica Yu won an Oscar for her documentary short Breathing Lessons, and her documentary work has always been something to see. She brought Henry Darger’s work to life in In the Realms of the Unreal in 2004, and then offered the stunning 2007 directory Protagonist, which weaved Euripedes into a discussion of masculinity. Now she’s returning with what seems to be a much more straight-forward documentary, Last Call at the Oasis, which investigates the world’s increasing water crisis. She calls on a number of people to speak of the problem from the brow-raising inclusion of Jack Black to the more typical appearances of Erin Brokovich and Robert Glennon.

The Moth Diaries – Mary Harron

Many are now plagued with vampire fatigue, but when Mary Harron decides to tackle the material, it’s worth popping a cinematic No-Doze or two. Eschewing the world set up by Stephenie Meyer and Catherine Hardwicke, Harron heads to an all-girls boarding school to tell a Dracula-esque vampire story without cloying romantic interruptions. Upcoming Snow White Lily Cole plays a student who worries that her friend Lucy has befriended a vampire. (Tip: never name your child Lucy, unless you want to make her vamp-bait.) As her suspicions rise, she sets out to uncover the truth.

Wuthering Heights* – Andrea Arnold

Another short film Oscar-winner, Andrea Arnold puts aside her modern-day filmmaking in the hard-hitting pieces Red Road and Fish Tank to offer a new adaptation of Emily Bronte’s famous novel. However, instead of taking up the period piece cause, Arnold is putting her own style on the classic – as TIFF’s write-up describes, she offers “no starched lace, no panoramic views, no sweeping scores." One can only imagine how Arnold will tackle this romance, as both of her previous films offer a quite brutal take on the habit – perhaps a startling lesson for the Twi-hards that watch it because their beloved Bella’s a fan.

Your Sister’s Sister* – Lynn Shelton

Director Lynn Shelton adds women into the narrative of her second film, moving on from the straight men making gay porn in Humpday and turning to the story of a man haunted by his brother’s death. A weekend getaway to clear his head becomes problematic when he’s caught between the man’s ex and her sister. The film stars Mark Duplass as the mourning man, Emily Blunt as the ex, and Rosemarie DeWitt (United States of Tara) as her sister. Blunt has described it as a poignant comedy of errors.

Chicken with Plums – Marjane Satrapi w/ Vincent Paronnaud

Entering much quirkier territory for her second feature with Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi moves from Persepolis to the second story of her trilogy, the tale of a talented male musician who vows to die when his beloved violin is broken by his wife and he cannot find a replacement. The film outlines his final week of life, intermingling flashbacks and futures with appearances by a nude Sophia Loren and the angel of death, as well as the entire history of cinema. This time, it’s also live-action.

Glenn Close in 'Albert Nobbs'

Albert Nobbs* – Glenn Close/Rodrigo Garcia

This last offering is a total cheat, and my apologies to the many talented filmmakers below, but this s a well-deserved addition. Though she leaves the directing up to previous collaborator Rodrigo Garcia, Albert Nobbs sees Glenn Close as star, producer, and scribe of the piece, and her influence is seen in every frame. She stars as Albert Nobbs, a woman passing as a man so that she may hold a job as a butler in 19th century Dublin. After meeting a charismatic painter, she begins to dream of a life where she doesn’t have to live a lie. The film co-stars Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer, and Aaron Johnson, and features a mix of recognizable British talent as well.

*Film will appear in festival review and/or upcoming female-centric roundup.  


Julia Leigh, Dee Rees, Chantal Akerman, Milagros Mumenthaler, Barbara Willis, Alison Murray, Maggie Peren, Branwen Okpako, Tacita Dean, Bess Kargman, Zaida Bergroth, Mia Hansen-Love, Susan Youssef, Julia Murat, Kaat Beels, Ingrid Veninger, Agnieszka Holland, Michale Boganim, Julia Loktev, Elisabeth Perceval, Anne Fontaine, Ann Emond, Rebecca Daly, Melanie Shatzky, Lea Pool, Tamae Garateguy, Debbie Tucker Green, Elle Flanders, Tamira Sawatzky, Joan Churchill, Ann Hui, Clarissa Campolina, Ayten Amin, Emmanuelle Millet, Angelina Nikonova, Xiaolu Guo, Nancy Savoca, Madonna, Nadine Labaki, Lynn Shelton, Malgoska Szumowska


Raha Shirazi, Janine Fung, Sophie Michael, Rose Lowder, Chelsea McMullan, Adriana Salazar Arroyo, Sarah Goodman, Alina Rudnitskaya, Stephanie Dudley, Lisa Pham, Jeanna Leblanc, T. Marie, Sheila Pye, Karen Johannesen, Sophie Goyette, Joyce Wieland, Xstine Cook, Miranda de Pencier, Gina Haraszti

Categories: Film Festivals
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