As Women and Hollywood gets ready to hit the ground in Toronto to watch movies, attend parties and participate on panels, we asked TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey, and Director of Festival Programming Kerri Craddock to talk about the state of the festival for women-directed and women-centric films, as well as some of their recommendations for films that should not be missed.
W&H: There’s such a breadth of women-directed and women-centric movies at TIFF this year. Can you each give an overall commentary on the the amount of women represented and your thoughts on that?
Kerri Craddock: I think we’re really happy to have 57 features directed by women this year. That’s about 20 percent of our program, and I think that’s the highest it’s been in the last few years. Across the programming team, we always make a concerted effort to look for diverse voices in the program, including women. And not just in terms of women behind the camera, but also female-driven stories.
I was looking across the program this morning and thinking about this interview, and I was really happy to see the number of women featured in high-profile positions in our Gala Program both in terms of the stories and the women behind the scenes. [Films by and about women are] spread out throughout the programs in sections like Discovery and Contemporary World Cinema. I think there’s a lot of great representation there and a lot of great stories.
Cameron Bailey: One of the other elements we’re always looking for, because we’re an international film festival, is that we want to make sure that representation is as international as possible in terms of stories about women and stories by women. I think we’ve done pretty well this year. We’re working hard. You always wish that there were more of these movies being made.
We’ve got a really strong showing from India this year. I was in Mumbai in July and saw a number of films by women. [Interesting things are happening in terms of] representation of women in India at various levels of society. “Angry Indian Goddesses” is, I think, a really strong example. The director, Pan Nalin, is a man, but the film was written by the women who act in it. It was a collaborative, improvised screenplay worked out in the way, I suppose, Mike Leigh does. The women all contributed stories that they created from impressions of their own characters. It’s a terrific film that’s very funny and heartwarming in many ways, but it’s also about something quite serious at the core.
Then, of course, there’s the film “Parched,” which is directed by Leena Yadav, which is quite specifically about the oppression of women in rural Indian society. A film called “Guilty” by Meghna Gulzar is about the murder of a young girl who’s very shaped by gender values in the particular place it’s set. It’s based on a true story.
This [influx of female-helmed films] kind of just happened in India. I’ve been going to India for over ten years; it [used to be] rare to find any films by women. But now, I think, given some of the really awful violence that’s happened in India and been publicized], that’s changed. I hope that change continues.
W&H: The Platform section is new this year. Can you talk a little bit about why you created it?
CB: We wanted to highlight directors’ cinema at the festival regardless of who was in the film or where it was coming from — just voices that we thought were really strong. We wanted to do something that would attract the interest of audiences and the media covering the festival as well. We kept it small. 12 films. We wanted to highlight directors’ visions and be as international as possible. Three of 12 films in Platform are directed by women. I would say that’s an okay number. I hope we can do better there. But we’ve got very strong representation of French filmmakers; two of three of the women are French.
W&H: Let’s parse the full list a little. The great thing about your festival is that there’s so many options. Help us curate some kind of thought process in terms of who we are going to discover and who we are going to be talking about. There’s always people who generate buzz. Who do you think that will be this year?
KC: One of my favorite films in the Platform section and the program as a whole is “Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story).” It’s the first feature by French filmmaker Eva Husson. It’s a coming-of-age story focused on teenage sexuality. You have a group of teenagers who are just kind of bored with what they’re doing after school, and they are all very curious about each other’s bodies and what everyone is thinking about everyone else. They decide to arrange these kinds of group orgies — for lack of a better word — after school in one of their friend’s houses.
Husson brings a very distinct visual style to the film, and she’s a real director to watch on that front. She really conveys the sense of what teenagers are thinking in those moments and really gets that right — the attitudes you have about each other and sexuality in those years.
W&H: Cameron, do you have any that have stayed in your head?
CB: “Sky” by Fabienne Berthaud in the Platform section. She’s a French filmmaker but it’s set entirely in the U.S. What I loved about it is that it’s so surprising to see a story of a woman dissatisfied in her marriage, and after a surprising incident, she’s able to be free of her marriage. She rediscovers herself. The film constantly takes surprising turns. You think you know where it’s going to go — a classic redemptive tale — but it always takes a different turn. I loved it. Diane Kruger is great in it. Lena Dunham has a small role in it, and she’s very good as well.
“Looking for Grace” is another film that stuck with me, a new film by Australian filmmaker Sue Brooks, who did “Japanese Story.” It starts out as a teenage coming-of-age story, with a young girl running away from home with her best friend, and then it takes a number of turns and ends up painting portraits of an entire family and society, really, through taking different perspectives. I think Sue is great at getting into the heads of these different characters and really showing insight.
One of the films in our City To City spotlight on London is “Northern Soul” by Elaine Constantine. I just loved this movie. I don’t know if it’s that I love the music so much, but I also think it’s a really well-made portrait of a town in Northern England during the early ’80s. Kids discover these old soul records and find all these rare b-sides. They organize parties, which the authorities don’t like. It’s got a real sense of “Footloose” — kids going up against the system. The music is terrific. You really feel like you’re in a party.
I can’t forget to mention “Evolution.” One of the most stunning movies we saw. Kerri and I both love this film. It’s by Lucile Hadžihalilovic. It’s kind of a strange dystopian fantasy film — really unsettling. You feel like you’re really immersed in a world which you’ve never seen before.
KC: Where the women are fully in control of the very strange universe, and where boys are subjected to experiments, whereas so often it’s the reverse.
W&H: You have some big names in the world of female directing premiering films — Barbara Kopple, Chantal Akerman, Patricia Rozema, Jocelyn Moorhouse — some women who are really making continual contributions to filmmaking. I’m excited about some of these big presentations. I think one that’s going to cause big conversations is Gaby Dellal’s “About Ray,” with the transgender conversation that’s going on in our culture. Are there other kinds of high-profile films about women or directed by women that will have people talking?
CB: I’m glad you mentioned Barbara Kopple. “Miss Sharon Jones!” is not just a film by a great female filmmaker, but it’s also about Sharon Jones, who has a remarkable story. You see that in a number of other documentaries. Amy Berg has a documentary about Janis Joplin that’s terrific. Often music docs are about classic old rockstar guys — and we have one of those about Keith Richards and it’s also good — but I’m glad to see these [women-centric] ones. It’s weird that more hasn’t been made about Janis Joplin.
Catherine Hardwicke’s “Miss You Already” is another one [I think people will be talking about]. I’m sure you’ve followed her career closely — it’s a fascinating story. This woman directed one of the top-grossing films of all time, but my sense is that she’s still struggling to get projects off the ground. What I like about “Miss You Already” is that it’s an unapologetically female-centered story about friendship and the difficulties of friendship between women. I think she gets to the heart of that in ways you don’t often see on screen.
W&H: And the opposite of that is Deepa Metha’s “Beeba Boys,” which is all about guys, right?
KC: Yep. There’s a lot of testosterone in that film — that’s for sure.
W&H: I saw the trailer and I find that fascinating too. She’s really such a unique voice. A great Canadian voice. I’m not big on the guns and shooting, but I’m big on Deepa Mehtha.
KC: Yeah, she’s doing something really unique here, I think. Bringing a community you’ve never seen on screen and playing with the genre of the gangster film from her perspective. It’s set in British Columbia. It’s definitely something to check out if you’re a fan.
W&H: I wanted to ask about “Eye in the Sky,” where Helen Mirren plays a military figure, a colonel. What’s your take on this film?
KC: Helen Mirren plays the the most powerful character in the film. It’s wonderfully surprising to see a strong female character in a powerful military role. It’s also going to be a huge sales title for the U.S. The tension is amazing throughout. But what’s also really great about the film is that it highlights the difficulties of these multi-national military operations, in this case the U.K. and the U.S. You get a sense of the behind-the-scenes bureaucracy that actually plays out. [It’s actually] funny sometimes.
She’s the powerhouse of the film. It’s a great performance by her and highlights the role that women have in the military. They make no issue of the fact that she’s a woman in the film; it’s just that’s the way it is. She’s in control because she obviously deserves to be there.
W&H: Tell us about Rebecca Miller’s movie “Maggie’s Plan.”
CB: I think one of the things that people will say, and maybe it’s inevitable, [is] that this is a great New York romance with sharp dialogue and very smart characters with a little bit of neurosis around their behavior [and] that feels like Woody Allen territory and Noah Baumbach territory. But we’ve never really seen this from this perspective, I don’t think. Although she’s working in slightly similar terrain to those two directors, there’s something very specific that Rebecca Miller is able to bring to it. It’s as funny as those films, but I think the insights are different.
Greta Gerwig is given free rein here, and she’s really delightful in the movie. Julianne Moore is hilarious. There’s something not just in the way the women are portrayed, but in the way men are portrayed by Rebecca Miller that’s striking. Ethan Hawke’s character is a man who in many other movies — perhaps in a Woody Allen movie, perhaps in a Noah Baumbach movie – would be let off the hook for his actions, and his actions are pretty unpleasant in relationships. But here, he’s not let off the hook. He dangles. The movie lets him dangle and lets us watch his bad behavior. I think that’s something Rebecca Miller pays real attention to.
W&H: What I find really interesting in the overview of this year for female performances is that all of our top actresses are competing in sometimes more than one role. It’s going to be a much different year as we walk into awards season on the women’s side than we had last year. We’ve got two Cate Blanchett movies, Julianne Moore is all over the place, Susan Sarandon is in a variety of different kinds of roles, and “Grandma” just opened with Lily Tomlin. It feels like a richer year for female characters. You watch a lot of movies. Do you feel like there’s a little movement?
KC: I think so. I think what Cameron was saying about India is really starting to ring true for other parts of the world as well. What I think is there’s always been those key, big Hollywood films where a female performance will pop or female characters do well with audiences. But what I’m really enjoying this year — seeing films from all over — is that we’re seeing [these great female characters and performances] from all over and it’s not just something that Hollywood is focusing on. It seems to be something the world is focusing on. Cameron mentioned France. As always, we have a number of female directors and female-driven stories form France. But what I’m most impressed with is the richness from everywhere.
W&H: Let’s say a woman director made a movie and wants to be in TIFF. What would be the process for an up-and-coming director, or even a more established director, to have their film seen by you?
CB: There are many different ways. We have a team of 22 programmers. If she were a U.S. filmmaker, for instance, Jane Schoettle is our lead programmer for U.S. independent film. She’s terrific. She knows independent movies so well. She’s really got a knack for developing strong relationships with filmmakers. She’s always interested. You’ll see Jane at Sundance and other festivals. She’s always seeking out strong new voices. Maris Curran’s “Five Nights in Maine” is another film we’re really happy to have at the festival. Jane has been somebody who has sort of been working with that filmmaker over the past several months. I think that’s a key way — through the programmers. That’s the person to get to know.
We also get thousands of films that come in, just cold submissions. There’s a process to move them up through the ranks. If the film is strong, it will definitely be noticed that way. But for any festival — not just ours – finding out who is making those decisions is the way to go.
KC: I want to highlight a few other films. “Parisienne” directed by Danielle Arbid — this is a coming-of-age story about a Lebanese student who is coming to Paris for her education and figuring out life. We talked a lot about French voices and French stories. I think there’s a lot of female coming-of-age stories, but what I like about this is that it layers on the migrant experience in Paris on top of that. I think Danielle Arbid is a real voice to watch.
Another one I want to point out is “Mountain” by Yaelle Kayam. This film will be coming to us out of Venice, and I think it will be getting a lot of critical attention there. It’s a story of a Jewish family in Israel and its tradition that the family lives on the grounds of [a] cemetery. The main character’s husband is an intellectual. They have five children. She’s disenchanted with their marriage and very lonely living in these circumstances. Her emotional state [changes] as she discovers the world around her. That’s definitely one you should check out.
CB: You may be familiar with Naomi Kawase’s “An” from Cannes. I would highly recommend that. Sylvia Chang has a new film called “Murmur of the Hearts” from Hong Kong, which we’ll show as well. Mabel Cheung has directed a film called ” A Tale of Three Cities,” which is kind of an epic story based on Jackie Chan’s parents who — who knew? — had a remarkably dramatic story in China during the war and crossing into Hong Kong. All kinds of amazing things happened to them. She’s told the story on a very large scale. So a very intimate Japanese film from Naomi Kawase to an epic-scale film from Mabel Cheung. I think there’s really interesting work coming out of Asia as well.
W&H: Talk about why you wanted to address gender at the industry conversations.
CB: I think the discussion of gender in the film industry and representation of and by women has heated up. I think there’s a lot more to come. A lot more needs to be done. I think that one of the things we can do is help that conversation keep going. At the industry conference, we’ll have a number of conversations. What I like is that it is a mix of industry professionals, who are essentially business people, but also people bringing a historical and scholarly context and journalists like yourself who follow these issues closely. I think bringing all of these people together to advance the conversation is really what we can offer as our contribution. We all have to keep the spotlight on this issue, and I think it will make change.
KC: In addition to the industry conversations, three of the four public on-stage In Conversation With… events will also feature [people] who we think are strong, talented women: Salma Hayek, Julianne Moore and Sarah Silverman. I think all three of them will touch on issues related to gender in their talks as well — but for the public audience, which is great.
W&H: I saw Salma Hayek in Cannes, and she was dropping truth bombs about Hollywood’s gender problem.
C: Salma is on fire when it comes to this. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, which I love. The day before the festival starts, we’re doing a TIFF fundraiser event and our special guest is Natalie Portman. We know she also wants to talk about her career and her role as a woman in Hollywood and internationally, both as an actor and as a writer and director.