Female Directors Make Their Stand at TIFF 2014
When it comes to number-crunching, it's clear that Hollywood needs to start bulking up on female directors (a recent study showed that women make up only 4.7% of the directing pool when it comes to studio-released features). While the tide might already be turning (at the very least, it's being talked about more than ever, and that's certainly one step forward), it's already evident at the Toronto International Film Festival that female directors have something to say. Even a quick glance at the festival's program reveals a startling number of female directors (Jezebel shares that there are at least 42, or about 15% of total offerings) with films in every program.
The women filmmakers of TIFF are not confined to certain sections, and the result is a film schedule that boasts a bevy of names that film fans should be on the lookout for, from the recognizable to the brand-new. Are women taking over TIFF? Not yet, but here a few features that prove that maybe they should.
Melanie Laurent, ‘Breathe’
Best known stateside for her work as the fire-starting and fearless Shoshanna from Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ the French multi-hyphenate has also started spending some time behind the camera. ‘Breathe’ (aka ‘Respire’) may only be the second feature film the budding filmmaker has made, but it’s not hard to see why it was chosen to appear during the Cannes Film Festival’s lauded Critics Week back in May. Now it’s appearing at TIFF as part of the festival’s Contemporary World Cinema section, but Laurent’s wickedly clever and emotionally honest feature could easily have slipped into the “Discovery” program, because Laurent is a real find and her movie is a true gem. Based on Anne-Sophie Brasme’s 2004 novel of the same name (well, the same French name: ‘Respire’), the film tracks the fraught and intense relationship between a pair of teen girls. ‘Breathe’ is both twisted and tight, but Laurent’s ability to balance gorgeous shots and believable emotion sets it apart and elevates the final product.
Maya Forbes, ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’
Forbes’ directorial debut is pulled from her own childhood spent dealing with a bipolar father, and those details shine through in her period-set film. The movie debuted at Sundance and is continuing its festival play with a roll-out at TIFF, and is solid first feature for Forbes, best known for her work on ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ and penning films like ‘The Rocker.’
Lynn Shelton, ‘Laggies’
A long-time darling of the indie scene, Shelton has steadily started making films with bigger stars and more mainstream appeal. ‘Laggies’ features the kind of cast that can effectively straddle both the indie scene and the mainstream world, including Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Sam Rockwell. A story about arrested development taken to the highest degree, Knightley stars as a twentysomething who, so freaked about the inevitability of growing older, abandons her life to move in with a teen (Moretz) and her dad (Rockwell). Who she doesn’t know. For kind of awhile. It’s not nearly as weird as it sounds, but it’s a big step forward for Shelton as she makes her move into more multiplex-friendly fare.
Lone Scherfig, ‘The Riot Club’
Scherfig’s already got some big accolades under her belt thanks to 2010’s ‘An Education,’ and ‘The Riot Club’ allows her spend more time back in period Britain, a setting and time that’s worked out pretty well for her in the past. This time around, Scherfig is concerned with university boys behaving badly, a nice change-up for the normally romance-oriented filmmaker.
Gina Prince-Bythewood, ‘Beyond the Lights’
A fresh spin on ‘The Bodyguard,’ the latest from ‘Love & Basketball’ and ‘Secret Life of Bees’ filmmaker is already playing to solid acclaim. Starring rising talents Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker, the romantic and music-heavy feature has all the hallmarks of a new crowd-pleaser.
Mia Hansen-Love, ‘Eden’
The French filmmaker has already stirred up festival affection with her previous features like ‘Father of My Children’ and ‘Goodbye First Love,’ and her newest outing should keep audiences bouncing in their seats. No, really, because ‘Eden’ is all about the rise of French house music, told by way of a stacked indie cast that includes Greta Gerwig and Brady Corbet. Fun fact? The dudes from Daft Punk reportedly show up in a party scene – without their helmets.
Anne Fontaine, ‘Gemma Bovary’
TIFF has apparently gone mad for Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel, with no less than two (very different) interpretations playing throughout the festival. First up is Anne Fontaine’s ‘Gemma Bovary,’ a take on the revisionist graphic from Posy Simmonds that stars, you guessed it, Gemma Arterton in the title role (that works out pretty nicely, right?). Fontaine has a stellar background with indie works that tap into the female experience, including ‘Adore’ and ‘Coco Before Chanel.’
Sophie Barthes, ‘Madame Bovary’
Sophie Barthes’ take on Flaubert’s novel is the more straightforward entry of the dueling ‘Bovary’ features at TIFF, and Barthes has a stellar cast to keep her period peace ticking along with all the drama and longing the author put into his novel. Starring Mia Wasikowska in the title role, Barthes and her leading actress gracefully explore the nature of lust, desire, and secrets.
Shira Piven, ‘Welcome to Me’
Kristen Wiig continues to explore her darker side in Shira Piven’s ‘Welcome to Me,’ an exceedingly modern dramedy that tackles both the media and mental illness all in one neat little package. Piven’s feature – only her second – is centered on a woman (Wiig) with borderline personality disorder who suddenly wins the lottery (excellent) and then uses that money to craft her own talk show (wait, what?). What do our insecurities look like when they’re quite literally tossed up on the small screen? Piven and Wiig dig deep on this one.
Jessica Hausner, ‘Amour Fou’
Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner pulls double duty with her Romantic Era-set drama. The historically accurate feature has already pulled in accolades from the Cannes crowd (it was a nominee in the Un Certain Regard section), and now hits TIFF with the kind of buzz that might translate to Oscar attention.
Marjane Satrapi, ‘The Voices’
Marjane Satrapi is nothing if not bold, and her Ryan Reynolds-starring dark dramedy is certainly nutty and original. The Iranian filmmaker gamely takes on a very strange story – Ryan Reynolds is insane! he talks to animals! there are dead bodies everywhere! – with something approaching grace and a crazy keen sense of humor. The ‘Persepolis’ director takes plenty of risks, and they pay off with this very weird and totally fresh feature.