Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.
The numbers are awful. Last week, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s latest study, “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair? Gender, Race & Age of Directors across 1,000 films from 2007-2017,” found that, of the 109 film directors associated with the 100 top movies of 2017, 92.7 percent were male; 7.3 percent were female. Days later, the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film followed with the “Celluloid Ceiling” study, finding that women comprised just 18 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. That number remains mostly unchanged over the last two decades.
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the figures are very different. For the 2018 edition of the festival, 37 percent of the 122 feature films premiering are directed by women, a slight uptick from last year when 34 percent of all films were helmed by female directors (in years past, the average has hovered around 25 percent), and their contributions were prominent across all sections, with women debuting films in not just the competition sections, but also in the forward-thinking NEXT section, the wild Midnight category (which played home to the long-gestating anthology “XX,” featuring four shorts directed by women), and even the starry Premieres docket.
This year will see female filmmakers debuting features in every section, including 21 in competition and 11 in premiere categories. We’ve selected 19 of the most-anticipated features (with one special shorts bonus), including films from both newcomers and established talents like Lynne Ramsay and Laura Nix, narrative and documentary offerings, and at least one film with a proven track record of making its audience pass out.
This year’s festival runs from January 18-28 in Park City, Utah. Check out the full lineup, plus all of our coverage of the festival, right here. Want to see only a list of female-directed films at the festival? Head this way.
Ring the Andrea Riseborough alarm, because we’ve got a hot one. The lauded — and occasionally woefully overlooked — actress toplines what has to be one of the festival’s most intriguing titles, Christina Choe’s feature directorial debut “Nancy.” Nancy (Riseborough) becomes steadily convinced that she was kidnapped when she was a child, a dangerous fantasy made even more potent by her discovering a couple who just so happened to have a child — a girl, Nancy’s age — kidnapped when she was small. This can’t possibly end well.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”
“Appropriate Behavior” filmmaker Desiree Akhavan finally returns to the festival that introduced her prodigious chops and delightfully off-kilter humor to the world, thanks to her long-gestating adaptation of the Emily M. Danforth novel of the same name. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz as the eponymous Cameron, the film tracks the teenager’s first tenuous steps into understanding her sexuality, a fraught endeavor made worse by her aunt’s horror at the prospect that Cameron might be gay, Sent to a gay conversion camp, Moretz finds a slew of compelling supporting stars, including “American Honey” breakout Sasha Lane, “Blame” filmmaker Quinn Shephard, Jennifer Ehle, John Gallagher Jr., and Forrest Goodluck. Akhavan has already shown her deft hand at taking complicated, complex matters of sexuality and family and turning them into rich, wily final products. Here’s hoping “Cameron Post” continues that tradition.
“The Kindergarten Teacher”
Writer-director Sara Colangelo premiered her feature debut “Little Accidents” at Sundance back in 2014, and now she returns to the festival with her adaptation of Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s drama, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a restless Staten Island teacher who takes special interest a five-year-old student’s poetry. The project was developed almost entirely by women, including Pie Films’ Talia Kleinhendler and Osnat Keren (who produced the original) and Maven Pictures co-founders Trudie Styler and Celine Rattray, who financed the project. Gyllenhaal also took on producing duties in a film that promises to show off her — and Colangelo’s — big range.
Writer and director Jennifer Fox used her own experiences to inform what might wind up being one of the festival’s buzziest titles. Bolstered by a sacked cast that includes both rising and established stars like Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Ritter, Common, and Elizabeth Debicki, the film follows successful journalist Jennifer (Dern), who is forced to grapple with an experience that spans decades and leaves her nearly a stranger to herself. Burstyn’s on board as Jennifer’s mother, who discovers a long-forgotten story that Jennifer wrote when she was just 13 years old that tells the — turns out, true — story of her relationship with a pair of older, revered coaches. Fox previously won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for best documentary for “Beirut: The Last Home Movie.”
“You Were Never Really Here”
Lynne Ramsay’s Palme d’Or contender pulled in both Best Actor and Best Screenplay at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and now the singular Scottish filmmaker is bringing the film to Sundance, where it’s likely to only earn more accolades. Adapted from a Jonathan Ames novella, Ramsay’s film has been billed as an “enticing challenge” and an “elegant homage to a mold of scrappy detective stories that often collapses into a concise pileup of stylish possibilities,” but there’s no doubt that it offers Phoenix one of his best roles yet, and more proof of Ramsay’s ability to turn complex material into something thoroughly her own.
“Half the Picture”
There’s timely and then there’s timely. Amy Adrion’s documentary asks a slew of female filmmakers and industry luminaries in a business built on systemic discrimination. And has she got a murderer’s row of talking head talent to tell it like it is, including Ava DuVernay, Lesli Linka Glatter, Brenda Chapman, Martha Coolidge, Rosanna Arquette, Miranda July, Karyn Kusama, Kasi Lemmons, Tina Mabry, Kimberly Peirce, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Lynn Shelton, Lucy Walker, Jill Soloway, and Penelope Spheeris, Sam Taylor-Johnson, and that’s just half of her cast list.
“The Long Dumb Road”
Hannah Fidell first caught our attention with her unnerving second feature, “A Teacher,” which cast her frequent star Lindsay Burdge (who also appears in “The Long Dumb Road”) as a high school teacher driven mad by her affair with a male student. Strikingly rendered and assuredly directed, it announced Fidell as a major talent to watch. She soon followed it with the aching romance “6 Years,” but her latest sounds like something totally different: a buddy comedy starring Jason Mantzoukas and Tony Revolori as mismatched traveling companions who embark on a trip through the American Southwest.
Coralie Fargeat’s aptly-named feature film debut follows Matilda Lutz as Jen, initially drawn as a shy wallflower who is desperate to be loved (especially by her boyfriend, played by Kevin Jannsens), who is pushed to wild extremes when she’s violated by the man she loves and his loutish group of friends who unexpectedly descend upon what was meant to be a quiet weekend away. Jen’s rage is complete — and complex — and the heavily genre-influenced film finds both its fun and shock value in her sudden evolution into a badass final girl for the ages. How shocking is it? It made at least one TIFF attendee faint. At least one!
No one has an eye for street casting quite like Crystal Moselle, whose feature debut — the fascinating documentary “The Wolfpack” — was born from her real-life run-ins with the family at its heart. Her newest feature, a narrative this time, is reportedly inspired by events in the lives of the ladies that make up the titular Skate Kitchen crew and written by Moselle, Aslihan Unaldi, and Jennifer Silverman. Per its official synopsis, “the film tells the story of Camille, a lonely suburban teenager whose life changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys into the raw New York City subculture, she begins to make choices that lead to a deeper understanding of herself.” And while Moselle is diving into the world of narrative filmmaking with the new project, she’s not entirely shunning her early breaks, as she reportedly “street cast the girls from the film after overhearing a conversation between them on the subway.”