At last year’s Sundance Festival, the future looked rosy, with half of all U.S. narrative features and documentaries in the Park City lineup coming from female filmmakers.
It was a promising benchmark — and sadly — not one that was able to be replicated this year. And let’s be clear, Sundance is really thinking about representation. They are doing research. They have created programs to try and address the disparity. These numbers reflect an industry wide problem, and Sundance with its visibility is a place we can mark the forward steps and also acknowledge when things go in the reverse. Picking movies is not a perfect science. You start with what you are given. And clearly last year there were enough exemplary female directed narrative films and this year not as many. The team picks the best movies they see and we want it to stay that way. We just are always glad when we see that women are making the “best” movies just like the guys.
The place that needs the most work is the U.S. narrative-feature competition, where a paltry 25% — 4 out of 16 — of the films are directed by women. And in the US documentary category, where we know women have more success, this year 6 of the 16 films in competition are directed by women — still not the same as the 8 that were included last year.
But, all the news is not bad.
Women-directed films reached near parity in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition and in the World Cinema Documentary Competition it was divided evenly between male and female filmmakers. And, women outnumbered the men in the Next group, where films with an “innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling” will compete.
The final breakdown of the entrants are as follows:
U.S. Dramatic Competition: 4 of 16 are women
U.S. Documentary Competition: 6 of 16 are women
World Cinema Dramatic Competition: 5 of 12 are women
World Cinema Documentary Competition: 6 of 12 are women
Next: 6 of 11 are women
Below is the full list of women-directed films in the competition: (all descriptions from Sundance)
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Presenting the world premieres of 16 narrative feature films, the Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at groundbreaking new voices in American independent film.
Hellion / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kat Candler) — When motocross and heavy metal obsessed, 13-year-old Jacob’s delinquent behavior forces CPS to place his little brother Wes with his aunt, Jacob and his emotionally absent father must finally take responsibility for their actions and each other in order to bring Wes home. Cast: Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner, Jonny Mars, Walt Roberts.
Infinitely Polar Bear / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Maya Forbes) — A manic-depressive mess of a father tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who don’t make the overwhelming task any easier. Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide.
The Sleepwalker / U.S.A., Norway (Director: Mona Fastvold, Screenwriters: Mona Fastvold, Brady Corbet) — A young couple, Kaia and Andrew, are renovating Kaia’s secluded family estate. Their lives are violently interrupted when unexpected guests arrive. The Sleepwalker chronicles the unraveling of the lives of four disparate characters as it transcends genre conventions and narrative contrivance to reveal something much more disturbing. Cast: Gitte Witt, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Stephanie Ellis.
Song One / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kate Barker-Froyland) — Estranged from her family, Franny returns home when an accident leaves her brother comatose. Retracing his life as an aspiring musician, she tracks down his favorite musician, James Forester. Against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s music scene, Franny and James develop an unexpected relationship and face the realities of their lives. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen, Ben Rosenfield.
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Sixteen world-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.
Cesar’s Last Fast / U.S.A. (Directors: Richard Ray Perez, Lorena Parlee) — Inspired by Catholic social teaching, Cesar Chavez risked his life fighting for America’s poorest workers. The film illuminates the intensity of one man’s devotion and personal sacrifice, the birth of an economic justice movement, and tells an untold chapter in the story of civil rights in America.
E-TEAM / U.S.A. (Directors: Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman) — E-TEAM is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and their dramatic work in the field.
Fed Up / U.S.A. (Director: Stephanie Soechtig) — Fed Up blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and weight loss, revealing a 30-year campaign by the food industry, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public, resulting in one of the largest health epidemics in history.
Private Violence / U.S.A. (Director: Cynthia Hill) — One in four women experience violence in their homes. Have you ever asked, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Private Violence shatters the brutality of our logic and intimately reveals the stories of two women: Deanna Walters, who transforms from victim to survivor, and Kit Gruelle, who advocates for justice.
Rich Hill / U.S.A. (Directors: Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos) — In a rural, American town, kids face heartbreaking choices, find comfort in the most fragile of family bonds, and dream of a future of possibility.
Watchers of the Sky / U.S.A. (Director: Edet Belzberg) — Five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Twelve films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.
52 Tuesdays / Australia (Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenplay and story by: Matthew Cormack, Story by: Sophie Hyde) — Sixteen-year-old Billie’s reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for gender transition, and their time together becomes limited to Tuesdays. This emotionally charged story of desire, responsibility, and transformation was filmed over the course of a year—once a week, every week, only on Tuesdays. Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Imogen Archer, Mario Spate, Beau Williams, Sam Althuizen. International Premiere
The Disobedient / Serbia (Director and screenwriter: Mina Djukic) — Leni anxiously waits for her childhood friend Lazar, who is coming back to their hometown after years of studying abroad. After they reunite, they embark on a random bicycle trip around their childhood haunts, which will either exhaust or reinvent their relationship. Cast: Hana Selimovic, Mladen Sovilj, Minja Subota, Danijel Sike, Ivan Djordjevic. World Premiere
Liar’s Dice / India (Director and screenwriter: Geetu Mohandas) — Kamala, a young woman from the village of Chitkul, leaves her native land with her daughter to search for her missing husband. Along the journey, they encounter Nawazudin, a free-spirited army deserter with his own selfish motives who helps them reach their destination. Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Geetanjali Thapa, Manya Gupta. International Premiere
Lock Charmer (El cerrajero) / Argentina (Director and screenwriter: Natalia Smirnoff) — Upon learning that his girlfriend is pregnant, 33-year-old locksmith Sebastian begins to have strange visions about his clients. With the help of an unlikely assistant, he sets out to use his newfound talent for his own good. Cast: Esteban Lamothe, Erica Rivas, Yosiria Huaripata. World Premiere
Viktoria / Bulgaria, Romania (Director and screenwriter: Maya Vitkova) — Although determined not to have a child in Communist Bulgaria, Boryana gives birth to Viktoria, who despite being born with no umbilical cord, is proclaimed to be the baby of the decade. But political collapse and the hardships of the new time bind mother and daughter together. Cast: Irmena Chichikova, Daria Vitkova, Kalina Vitkova, Mariana Krumova, Dimo Dimov, Georgi Spassov. World Premiere
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary international filmmakers working today.
20,000 Days On Earth / United Kingdom (Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) — Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international culture icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, this film examines what makes us who we are and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit. World Premiere
Love Child / South Korea, U.S.A. (Director: Valerie Veatch) — In Seoul in the Republic of Korea, a young couple stands accused of neglect when “Internet addiction” in an online fantasy game costs the life of their infant daughter. Love Child documents the 2010 trial and subsequent ruling that set a global precedent in a world where virtual is the new reality. World Premiere
Mr leos caraX / France (Director: Tessa Louise-Salome) — Mr leos caraX plunges us into the poetic and visionary world of a mysterious, solitary filmmaker who was already a cult figure from his very first film. Punctuated by interviews and previously unseen footage, this documentary is most of all a fine-tuned exploration of the poetic and visionary world of Leos Carax, alias Mr. X. World Premiere
My Prairie Home / Canada (Director: Chelsea McMullan) — A poetic journey through landscapes both real and emotional, Chelsea McMullan’s documentary/musical offers an intimate portrait of transgender singer Rae Spoon, framed by stunning images of the Canadian prairies. McMullan’s imaginative visual interpretations of Spoon’s songs make this an unforgettable look at a unique Canadian artist. International Premiere
SEPIDEH — Reaching for the Stars / Denmark (Director: Berit Madsen) — Sepideh wants to become an astronaut. As a young Iranian woman, she knows it’s dangerous to challenge traditions and expectations. Still, Sepideh holds on to her dream. She knows a tough battle is ahead, a battle that only seems possible to win once she seeks help from an unexpected someone. North American Premiere
Web Junkie / Israel (Directors: Shosh Shlam, Hilla Medalia) — China is the first country to label “Internet addiction” a clinical disorder. Web Junkie investigates a Beijing rehab center where Chinese teenagers are deprogrammed. World Premiere
Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a “greater” next wave in American cinema.
Appropriate Behavior / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Desiree Akhavan) — Shirin is struggling to become an ideal Persian daughter, a politically correct bisexual, and a hip, young Brooklynite, but fails miserably in her attempt at all identities. Being without a cliche to hold on to can be a lonely experience. Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer, Scott Adsit, Anh Duong, Arian Moayed. World Premiere
Drunktown’s Finest / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sydney Freeland) — Three young Native Americans — a rebellious father-to-be, a devout Christian woman, and a promiscuous transsexual — come of age on an Indian reservation. Cast: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, Morningstar Angeline, Kiowa Gordon, Shauna Baker, Elizabeth Francis. World Premiere
The Foxy Merkins / U.S.A. (Director: Madeleine Olnek, Screenwriters: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Madeleine Olnek) — Two lesbian hookers work the streets of New York. One is a down-on-her-luck newbie; the other is a beautiful — and straight — grifter who’s an expert on picking up women. Together they face bargain-hunting housewives, double-dealing conservative women, and each other in this prostitute buddy comedy. Cast: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Alex Karpovsky, Susan Ziegler, Sally Sockwell, Deb Margolin.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ana Lily Amirpour) — In the Iranian ghost town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, depraved denizens are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rains, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marno, Milad Eghbali. World Premiere
Land Ho! / U.S.A., Iceland (Directors and screenwriters: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz) — A pair of ex-brothers-in-law set off to Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth through Reykjavik nightclubs, trendy spas, and rugged campsites. This bawdy adventure is a throwback to 1980s road comedies, as well as a candid exploration of aging, loneliness, and friendship. Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Nelson, Alice Olivia Clarke, Karrie Krouse, Elizabeth McKee, Emmsje Gauti. World Premiere
Obvious Child / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Gillian Robespierre) — An honest comedy about what happens when Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern gets dumped, fired, and pregnant, just in time for the worst/best Valentine’s Day of her life. Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind. World Premiere