Female Directors to Watch
Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard even dubbed this year’s fest “the year of the women,” with 36 percent of the films directed by women and 13 female directors winning awards. (We’ll reserve our applause for the 50 percent mark.)
Here’s a roundup of the festival’s must-see female-helmed films.
Kris Swanberg triumphed at Sundance this year with Unexpected. The Cobie Smulders-fronted drama looks at motherhood and the much-debated topic of mothers “having it all.”
Set in the Swanberg favorite locale of Chicago, Smulders plays a 30-year-old high-school teacher who finds out she’s pregnant at the same time as one of her students. Together, they bond and prepare for a life they want but aren’t quite prepared for. The warmhearted film is relatable without being preachy, realistic without being sad-sack. It’s the grown-up version of Juno that touches on class differences and sacrifice.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
In the weeks following the festival, everyone from my roommate to my barista asked what my favorite film was. My answer is this strong debut feature from theater director Marielle Heller. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s 2002 graphic novel of the same name, is a raw, funny, searingly honest portrayal of female teenage sexuality and discovery.
If you’ve ever been a teenage girl, you’ll find something to admire and relate to — and something that has rarely been on screen before. Set in ’70s San Francisco, the gorgeously shot film (which won Excellence in Cinematography for DP Brandon Trost) features British actress Bel Powley as a 15-year-old aspiring cartoonist living with her mom (Kristen Wiig), younger sister, and her mom’s hot boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård).
Powley knocks the performance out of the park, portraying a teen confronting her sexual identity (and attraction to her mother’s boyfriend), drugs, body image, and female friendships.
Already a hit on the international festival circuit, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden finally hit stateside with her premiere at Sundance. Inspired by the experiences of her brother Sven (who co-wrote the screenplay), Eden tells the two-decades-long story of a French aspiring DJ coming up in the early ’90s.
Hansen-Løve zeroes in on the house music scene as it makes its way around the globe, from Paris to NYC. While some characters find success in the burgeoning EDM world (Daft Punk is featured), lead character Paul Vallee’s career flounders as the rest of the world grows up without him.
As Andrew Barker says in Variety, the film is “sensitive in its evocation of the fleeting joys and simmering disappointments of the artistic life.” It’s not your life, exactly, but by the time the credits roll you’ll feel as if you lived it, relating to each step in the journey even as you’re shaking your head.
This film was one of my favorites, which is saying a lot considering I went into Tig blind. Although I knew of the titular stand-up comedian, I hadn’t heard her now-famous “I have cancer” set from a few years back. Turns out, I didn’t need to.
This well-paced documentary contains long snippets from the set, interspersed in a story about one of the hardest years in her life (along with her cancer diagnosis, Tig Notaro lost her mother and went through a painful breakup).
Mixed with the same humor we’ve come to love from Tig herself, the documentary contains a disarming mix of vulnerability and bulls-eye poignancy. Helmed by two female directors (Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York), this peek behind the curtain at one comedian’s life turns tragedy into something we can laugh about and learn from.
Sleeping With Other People
I was giggling like a teenager at Leslye Headland’s newest film, Sleeping With Other People.
Headland — who is always hilarious in her post-show Q&A’s — brought her charming (and sometimes dirty) wit to this romantic comedy starring funny people Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie. The film, which Headland describes as “When Harry Met Sally… with jerks,” features two serial cheaters who keep circling each other and wind up as best friends and confidants.
Subverting the usual cliches (for the most part), the funny flick packs edginess with smartly sweet moments, creating characters who feel not only like people you know but ones you’d want to hang with.
I didn’t see these female-directed films (try as I might, I can’t see them all), but I can recommend them based on their buzz.
- City of Gold
- Prophet’s Prey
- Dark Horse (Audience Award, Documentary)
- The Wolfpack (U.S. Grand Jury Prize, Documentary)
- (T)error (U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakout First Feature)
- Dreamcatcher (World Cinema Documentary Directing Award)
- The Summer of Sangaile (World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award)