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What Happened to the Women Directed Films from the Sundance Class of 2013?

What Happened to the Women Directed Films from the Sundance Class of 2013?

The 2013
Sundance Film Festival was notable for the number of women directors,
particularly in the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary Competitions — where half
were female filmmakers. As Sundance 2014 gets underway, here’s a look at what
happened to the 16 features, 19 documentaries and one miniseries over the last
year. Domestic grosses and theater counts (when available) are courtesy of Box
Office Mojo. Distributors do not provide video on demand numbers, although this
is an increasingly important part of the financial viability of independent
film.

 

U.S. Dramatic Competition

Afternoon
Delight
(Jill Soloway)

Television
writer and producer (Six Feet Under) Jill
Soloway won the directing award for her racy debut film. It was picked up in May
by The Film Arcade, and Soloway trimmed some scenes of female sexuality to
receive the MPAA’s R rating. Afternoon
Delight
got a traditional platform release, opening on August 30 at 2
theaters (then expanding to 39), and grossed $174,496. Soloway was nominated
for a best first screenplay Spirit Award and her film was included in a number
of best-of lists, including Quentin Tarantino’s. Afternoon Delight arrives on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on February 18.

 

Austenland
(Jerusha Hess)

Sony Pictures
Classics acquired the romantic comedy mid-way through the festival for a
reported $4.5 million. Jerusha Hess had co-written three films with her husband
Jared (including 2004 Sundance favorite Napoleon
Dynamite
), but Austenland is her
directorial debut, which she adapted with author Shannon Hale. SPC eschews new
VOD models and prefers to slowly roll their films out theatrically, so Austenland opened at 4 theaters on August
16 and expanded to 274, with a total gross of $2,159,041. Twilight author Stephanie Meyer is the film’s brand-name producer,
but in 2013, that was not an asset: the $40 million adaptation of her novel The Host only brought in $26 million. Austenland arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on
February 11.

 

Concussion
(Stacie Passon)

Stacie Passon’s
much-discussed debut was picked up mid-fest by Radius-TWC for $600,000. This division
of The Weinstein Company is a “boutique” label for multi-platform day-and-date
releases, and Concussion arrived in
theaters as well as VOD on October 10. After expanding from two theaters to 25,
Concussion grossed $42,606. It
received a Spirit Award nomination for Best First Feature, and the DVD will be
released on January 28.

 

The Truth About Emanuel (Previously Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes)
(Francesca Gregorini)

Tribeca Film and
Well Go USA Entertainment jointly acquired Francesca Gregorini’s psychological
thriller in May. After co-directing Tanner
Hall
(2009) with Tatiana von Furstenberg, this is the first solo directing
credit for Gregorini (daughter of actress Barbara Bach). The film got a
VOD release on November 26 and arrived in 11 theaters on January 10. In her much-debated “Appeal for Sanity” in The New York Times, Manohla Dargis dismissed The Truth About Emanuel as an indie
unworthy of theatrical release (based on VOD availability and a wan reception
at Sundance).

 

In a World… (Lake Bell)

In a World was picked up by Roadside
Attractions in February, after Lake Bell took home the Waldo Salt Screenwriting
Award for her debut film (she also stars). Their platform theatrical release
began on August 9 with three theaters, and the comedy expanded to 144 theaters
and earned $2,963,902, making it the top-grossing film by a Sundance 2013
female director. Lake Bell received a Spirit Award nomination for Best First
Screenplay. In a World is currently available
as a digital download, and the DVD and Blu-ray will be released on January 21.

 

The Lifeguard (Liz W. Garcia)

Focus World (the
VOD label of Focus Features) and Screen Media Films acquired the debut film
from television producer Liz W. Garcia (Cold
Case
, Memphis Beat) in March. The
drama was heavily promoted by star Kristen Bell, who was making news with the
Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie).
It arrived on various VOD platforms on July 30, followed by a small theatrical
release on August 30. The DVD hit stores in October and The Lifeguard can be seen on Netflix Instant.

 

May
in the Summer
(Cherien Dabis)

Her debut film Amreeka was in the Sundance 2009 dramatic
competition and Cherien Dabis’s follow-up, May
in the Summer
, opened the 2013 festival. In addition to writing and
directing, Dabis also stars as the title character in this culture-clash
comedy. Cohen Media Group acquired May in
the Summer
in February 2013 and will release the film in 2014.

 

Touchy
Feely
(Lynn Shelton)

Lynn Shelton’s
last four films have been selected for Sundance: Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister,
Touchy Feely and Laggies in 2014. Magnolia Pictures picked up the Seattle-based comedy-drama in March, reuniting Shelton with the distributor of her breakout film, Humpday. Touchy Feely was released on VOD and in theaters on September 6,
eventually playing at five theaters and grossing $36,128. The DVD and Blu-ray
were released on December 10 and Touchy
Feely
is available on Netflix Instant.

 

U.S. Documentary Competition

After
Tiller
(Martha Shane and Lana Wilson)

After Tiller profiles the handful of
third-trimester abortion doctors in the United States and was acquired by
Oscilloscope Laboratories in February. It’s the documentary debut of Lana
Wilson and the second film from Martha Shane (Bi the Way). The filmmakers and their subjects were featured in
numerous news programs and publications throughout the year. Opening on
September 20, and rolling out to six theaters, After Tiller grossed $67,414. Nominated for a Spirit Award as best
documentary, After Tiller has
screenings at independent theaters and universities scheduled through February.
It will be released on VOD and DVD in late spring.

 

American
Promise
(Joe Brewster and
Michele Stephenson)

American Promise is based on the
long-term commitment of married filmmakers Joe
Brewster and Michele Stephenson (a psychiatrist and attorney, respectively),
who followed their son and his friend through the 12 years of their education.
It won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in
Filmmaking and was released theatrically by their production company Rada Film
Group. Starting with two theaters on October 18, it expanded to eight theaters
and grossed $138,471. American Promise
airs February 3 on PBS stations as part of the P.O.V. series and is available for theatrical screenings through
Tugg. Brewster and Stephenson have also written a tie-in book (with Hilary
Beard) called Promises Kept: Raising
Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life
, available as a paperback and
e-book.

 

Blackfish
(Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

Gabriela
Cowperthaite’s incendiary documentary unleashed a torrent of trouble for
SeaWorld, which encountered protesters even at the Rose Bowl Parade. Blackfish attracted a lot of buyer
interest at Sundance, and a deal closed mid-fest with Magnolia Pictures and CNN
Films (for a reported low seven figures). Magnolia began their rollout on July
19, expanding to 99 theaters for a gross of $2,073,582. Blackfish was the highest-grossing documentary by a female director
in 2013 and was included in the Oscar short list. But the biggest impact came
when it aired on CNN, becoming the cable news channel’s highest-ranking film of
the year. The DVD and Blu-ray were released in November, and Blackfish spent the rest of the year as
a top-seller at iTunes. It is also available on Netflix Instant.

 

Citizen
Koch
(Carl Deal and Tia Lessin)

After its
Sundance premiere, the hot-button documentary Citizen Koch (as in David and Charles) became the focus of its own
controversy when the Independent Television Service (funded by the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting) withdrew finishing funds. Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water) turned to Kickstarter
and more than doubled their goal, raising $169,522. Variance Films acquired Citizen Koch last week and will release
it in April.

 

Gideon’s
Army
(Dawn Porter)

Dawn Porter’s
look at public defenders won the U.S. Documentary editing award (Matthew
Hamachek is the editor) and has been nominated for a Spirit Award for best
documentary. Porter is a film and television producer making her directorial
debut. Gideon’s Army received an
Oscar-qualifying theatrical run just before it aired on HBO in July. No DVD
date has been announced, but Gideon’s
Army
is available for theatrical screenings through Tugg.

 

Life
According to Sam
(Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine)

Life According to Sam follows the only
child of two physicians who has a rare genetic disease that causes rapid aging.
The married filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine won an Academy Award for
their 2012 short documentary Inocente,
and enjoyed a brief theatrical run before its October premiere on HBO got Life According to Sam on the Oscar short
list. The documentary’s ebullient subject Sam Berns, who was 17, passed away on
January 10, 2014 of complications from progeria.

 

Valentine
Road
(Marta Cunningham)

Marta Cunningham
has been a professional ballet dancer as well as an actress and singer. (She is
married to actor James Frain.) Valentine
Road
, about the aftermath of a hate crime, is her directorial debut. It has
won juried awards for best documentary at gay and lesbian film festivals in Atlanta,
Dublin, Madrid, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Tel Aviv as well as the
audience award at NewFest. Valentine Road
had a small theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles before premiering on
HBO in October.

 

99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites,
Lucian Read and Nina Krstic)

This Occupy Wall
Street film employs the same collaborative philosophy as the movement it
documents: there are four directors listed, an additional five credited as co-directors,
and nearly 100 filmmakers across the United States providing footage. After the
film’s world premiere, Participant Media acquired 99% during the last days of Sundance. The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film opened in New York and
Los Angeles on September 6, then premiered on the new PIVOT Network, launched
by Participant to engage socially conscious millennials. The documentary has
played at film festivals around the world (especially those focusing on human
rights) and is available on iTunes.

 

World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Il Futuro (Alicia Scherson)

Chilean
filmmaker Alicia Scherson (Turistas) adapted
Roberto Bolano’s Una Novelita Lumpen
and filmed in Rome, where the book is set. (This 2002 novel has not been
translated into English.) Il Futuro
had its world premiere at Sundance and was released by Strand Releasing on
September 6, with a gross of $14,001 from three theaters. The DVD came out on
December 3 and Il Futuro is also
available as a digital download from Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

 

What
They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love
(Mouly Surya)

The second film
from Mouly Surya (Fiksi) became the
first Indonesian film to compete at the Sundance Film Festival. Her poetic look
at teens at a Jakarta high school for the visually impaired had its world
premiere at Sundance. It went on to play festivals around the globe, including
Hong Kong, Tokyo, Karolvy Vary, Warsaw and Rotterdam, where it won the NETPAC
Award for best Asian feature film. Despite a warm reception at Sundance, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk
About Love
did not get U.S. distribution.

 

World Cinema Documentary Competition

The
Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear
(Tinatin Gurchiani)

Georgian-born
Tinatin Gurchiani won the Directing Award in World Cinema Documentary for her
debut film, which had its North American premiere at Sundance. She looks at the
post-Soviet generation through interviews with camera-ready youth. Icarus Films
acquired The Machine Which Makes
Everything Disappear
on the first day of Sundance and released it in
theaters on August 2. The DVD was released in September and it’s also available
via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

 

A
River Changes Course
(Kalyanee Mam)

The first feature
documentary from cinematographer Kalyanee Mam (Inside Job) was shot over two years in her native Cambodia. After
having its world premiere at Sundance, A
River Changes Course
won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. It’s gone on to
win a number of other festival prizes including the Golden Gate Award for best
feature documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the
grand jury prize at the Environmental Film Fesival at Yale. It was nominated
for the Spirit Awards Truer Than Fiction Award. After a brief theatrical run on
October 4, A River Changes Course is
available through Tugg for additional screenings.

 

Salma
(Kim Longinotto)

In Salma, British filmmaker Kim Longinotto
(Pink Saris) reveals the oppression
faced by the Tamil poet Rajathi Salma in rural southern India. This Women Make Movies
production (financed by the British television network Channel 4) had its world
premiere at Sundance before screening at two dozen film festivals. It’s
currently available from WMM as a non-theatrical rental for schools, libraries
and institutions. Longinotto and Salma also co-authored the book Salma: Filming a Poet in Her Village,
which is available as a paperback and e-book.

 

The
Square
(Jehane Noujaim)

After winning
the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance, Jehane Noujaim
returned to Egypt last summer to shoot the latest political unrest, and her new
cut won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Square has been nominated for a
Spirit Award for best documentary. A self-financed Oscar-qualifying run
launched on October 25 and grossed $52,954 from three theaters in three weeks.
Netflix then picked up the high-profile film to launch their new documentary label.
The rental and streaming giant bet big on The
Square’s
Oscar chances by premiering it on Netflix Instant (and returning
the documentary to selected theaters) the day after the nominations were
announced. Their gamble paid off — Noujaim got her Oscar nomination.

 

NEXT

It
Felt Like Love
(Eliza Hittman)

Variance Films
acquired the frank coming-of-age drama in November, after a long festival run
that included a Special Jury Prize at the Sarasota Film Festival. Eliza
Hittman’s feature debut also landed her on Filmmaker
Magazine‘s 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2013 list. It Felt Like Love will be released in March.

 

American Milkshake (Previous Milkshake)
(David Andalman and Mariko Munro)

This 1990s high
school comedy is the feature debut of David Andalman and Mariko Munro (as well
as the acting debut of Harrison Ford’s daughter Georgia) and the announcement
that Phase 4 Films picked it up came a day after the festival closed. The title
was changed from Milkshake to American Milkshake (echoing
American Pie), and it was released
theatrically on September 6 and on VOD as part of the Kevin Smith Movie Club. American Milkshake is currently
available as VOD and the DVD will be released on January 28.

 

A
Teacher
(Hannah Fidell)

Oscilloscope
Laboratories picked up this intimate drama in February, between its Sundance
premiere and SXSW screening. A Teacher
was shot in Austin and Hannah Fidell won this year’s SXSW Chicken & Egg
Emergent Narrative Woman Director Award. The film opened on September 6 on VOD
and theatrically (where it earned $8,348 after expanding to seven theaters). A Teacher is available as VOD, with no
DVD release currently scheduled.

 

Spotlight

Fill
the Void
(Rama Burshtein)

Rama Burshtein’s
debut feature, the first made by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman about her
community, was already Israel’s Oscar entry when Sony Pictures Classics
acquired it in October 2012 (before the New York Film Festival, but after
Venice and Toronto). Fill the Void
didn’t make the foreign language Oscar short list, but after Sundance, SPC began
their platform release. Opening on May 24 in three theaters, it eventually
expanded to 64 and grossed $1,775,316. The DVD was released in September and Fill the Void is also available as a
digital download from iTunes.

 

Stories
We Tell
(Sarah Polley)

Stories We Tell debuted in August 2012 at
the Venice Film Festival before screening at Telluride and Toronto, where
Roadside Attractions picked up the National Film Board of Canada-produced
documentary for U.S. distribution. Instead of entering the 2012 awards season, Stories We Tell went to Sundance and was
released theatrically on May 10, 2013. Sarah Polley’s first documentary grossed
$1,600,145 (its widest release was 70 theaters). In September, it became
available on DVD and VOD. Stories We Tell
was included on a number of best-of lists and landed on the Academy Awards
documentary short list.

 

Park City at Midnight

Kink
(Christina Voros)

Christina Voros’s
creative collaboration with James Franco went from cinematographer/director (As I Lay Dying, Sal) to director/producer for this peek into the San Francisco
Armory home of Kink.com. Franco’s production company Rabbit Bandini released
his other Sundance film Interior. Leather
Bar.
in theaters this month. Meanwhile, Voros’s bondage documentary has
been on the festival circuit (Seattle International Film Festival, Frameline, NewFest,
DOC NYC), but has no theatrical, VOD or DVD release date.

 

New Frontier (Films)

Charlie
Victor Romeo
(Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels and Karyn Michelson)

This performance
documentary, which recreates the black-box recordings of airline emergencies, is
one of a growing number of independent movies shot in 3D. Charlie Victor Romeo is a production of Collective: Unconscious (where
it began as a theatrical performance in 1999) and 3-Legged Dog Media, which
uses cutting edge technology to present experimental works for stage and
screen. After its world premiere at Sundance, it played at other fests
including AFI, the New York Film Festival and the Hamptons Film Festival. Charlie Victor Romeo opens at Film Forum
in New York City on January 29 and Downtown Independent in Los Angeles on
January 31. The stage version of Charlie
Victor Romeo
was performed for aviation, safety and medical professionals
and the movie (in 3D and 2D) is likewise available for non-theatrical
screenings at conferences and seminars.

 

Premieres

Top
of the Lake
(Jane Campion and Garth Davis)

This miniseries
is a co-production of the Sundance Channel, BBC2 and UKTV (Australia/New Zealand).
It screened only once at the 2013 festival (that’s a binge-worthy six hours),
and premiered on the Sundance Channel on March 18. This isn’t Jane Campion’s
first miniseries: her Janet Frame biography, An Angel at My Table, was originally made for television, and the 158-minute film version retains its episodic structure. Elisabeth Moss won a
Critics’ Choice Television Award and a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a
Miniseries and Top of the Lake won an
Emmy for cinematography. The DVD was released on January 7, 2014 and the series
is available on Netflix Instant.

 

Adore (Previously Two Mothers) (Anne Fontaine)

Adore was the first acquisition
for Exclusive Releasing, picked up five days after its world premiere at
Sundance. It was released in 57 theaters (along with VOD) on September 6, grossing $318,982.
It is one of the few adaptations of Doris Lessing’s fiction (from her 2003
novella The Grandmothers). The Nobel
Prize-winning British author passed away on November 17, 2013. Adore was released on DVD and Blu-ray on
December 10.

 

Very
Good Girls
(Naomi Foner)

Very Good Girls is the directorial debut
of screenwriter and producer Naomi Foner (Running
on Empty
, Losing Isaiah), who is
the mother of actors Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal. The newly formed sales and
production company 13 Films repped the coming-of-age drama starring Dakota
Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen at the American Film Market in November, but no
acquisition announcement has yet been made.

 

Documentary Premieres

Anita
(Freida Lee Mock)

Anita Hill
speaks extensively for the first time since the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings
in this documentary directed by Oscar-winner Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision). Samuel
Goldwyn Films acquired it in August, and reports indicated that Anita would be released in the fall,
placing it the midst of the 2013 awards season. Instead, it arrives in theaters
on March 21, 2014.

 

The
Crash Reel
(Lucy Walker)

Phase 4 Films
picked up Lucy Walker’s documentary about snowboarder Kevin Pearce in May, with
HBO retaining television broadcast rights. The
Crash Reel
then took an unusual course, premiering on HBO in July and
arriving in theaters on December 13, just in time to qualify for the Academy
Awards. Walker’s feature documentary Waste
Land
(2010) and short “The Tsunami and
the Cherry Blossom” (2011) were Oscar-nominated, and The Crash Reel made the feature documentary short list. It is
available for digital download from iTunes and the DVD will be released on
February 4.

 

History
of The Eagles Part One
(Alison Ellwood)

Just two days
into the festival, Showtime acquired the exclusive broadcast rights to the
feature-alength rock doc History of The
Eagles Part One
(as well as the hour-long Part Two). Both documentaries began airing less than a month later
(February 15) and were released as 3-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets on April 30. Alison
Ellwood is a television editor (Tanner ’88)
and producer (30 Days) who began
working on feature documentaries with the prolific Alex Gibney. They
co-directed Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s
Search for a Kool Place
, a late addition to Sundance 2011. History of The Eagles is her first solo
directing credit.

 

Running
from Crazy
(Barbara Kopple)

Barbara Kopple’s
portrait of Mariel Hemingway was produced by Cabin Creek Films for OWN (Oprah
Winfrey is an executive producer). Winfrey’s cable network partnered with the
indie distributor Vitagraph Films to give the documentary an Oscar-qualifying
theatrical run. (Kopple has won two Academy Awards, for Harlan County U.S.A. and American
Dream
.) Running from Crazy opened
on November 1 and grossed $33,300 from five theaters, but did not make the Oscar
short list. It will air on OWN in early 2014.

 

Serena Donadoni
is a freelance film critic in Detroit. She compiles a list of women directors
on The Cinema Girl Blog. Follow her tweets about movies and more @TheCinemaGirl
and daily film reviews @SerenaDonadoni.

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Comments

Serena Donadoni

Both Deadline and Variety report on January 19, 2014 that "Kink" (Christina Voros) has been picked up for distribution by MPI Pictures with a theatrical release scheduled for late summer.

Salty Bill

Well done! A very thorough, detail-oriented piece. Most helpful.

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