With nearly 250 film slated to play, the 58th London Film Festival (October 8-18) will offer audiences an abundance of opportunities to see new work from female filmmakers.
Among them are the long awaited Susanne Bier film Serena, Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, Debra Granik’s Stray Dog, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Sophie Barthes’ Madame Bovary, Jen McGowan’s Kelly and Cal, and Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water.
Unfortunately, none of the festival’s 16 Gala selections were directed by women. However, 3 of the 12 films in the Official Competition boast women helmers, as do 3 of the 12 films in the First Feature Competition, 4 of the 12 films in the Documentary Competition, 11 of the 33 films in the Love category, and 5 of the 23 films in the Debate category.
More women directors are showcased in the LFF’s minor programs.
Here are the women directors in the LFF’s major programs. All descriptions are from the LFF site.
The Falling – Carol Morley
It’s 1969 at an English girls school full of seething hormones and turbulent emotions; Lydia and Abbie are best friends, existing largely in a universe of two. Abbie (a real discovery, newcomer Florence Pugh) is the undisputed leader, with natural charisma and magnetism, and Lydia (Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones) is fixated on her friend, having long been emotionally abandoned by her single mum (Maxine Peake) an agoraphobe who hasn’t ventured outside for years and who barely acknowledges her daughter’s presence. Lydia’s fragile world starts to unravel when her white magik-obsessed brother and Abbie sleep together, and a tragedy and ensuing mysterious delirium overtake the school. Director Carol Morley returns to some of the bigger themes of her acclaimed Dreams of a Life: human connection, isolation, identity, female experience. And here again she employs a refreshingly unique, stylised narrative approach. Her fine art background lends pleasing touches: a fetishising of art class and its accoutrements; the visual and aural memory of a musical interlude that lingers throughout the film. Shot through a delectably candy-coated lens by Agnès Godard (Beau Travail) with Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn contributing angular melodies, syncopated to match the off-beat, bittersweet emotion, Morley has delivered another beguilingly distinctive film, this one about the peculiar, feverish realm of teenage girls.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Ana Lily Amirpour
In the deadbeat Iranian ghost town of Bad City, a lone female vampire stalks the streets at night searching for prey. One of the town’s residents is Arash, who through a series of events involving his junkie father, a prostitute and a drug-dealing pimp, encounters the enigmatic bloodsucker and an unlikely love story begins to unfold. Plot may well be secondary to the striking visual language of Ana Lily Amirpour’s arresting debut; its deliberately enigmatic narrative allowing for a superbly ambitious exercise in style and atmosphere. With its stark black and white photography, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is in many ways evocative of the works of Jim Jarmusch, although ironically it bears the strongest resemblance to his early masterwork Stranger than Paradise than it does his own recent vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. But while Amirpour’s influences are clear, in her effortless blending of multiple genres and monochromatic evocation of a matriarchal underworld, her voice as a singular and exciting new talent is undeniable. If you only see one Iranian vampire western this year, make sure it’s this one.
Girlhood – Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy) continues her exploration of the effects of social conventions on delicately forming female identities in her triumphant third film. Sixteen-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré) must navigate not only the disruptive onset of womanhood, but also the inequalities of being black and living in the underprivileged suburbs of Paris. Excluded from school and in fear of her overbearing brother at home, Marieme escapes into the shielding environment of a girl gang. She renames herself ‘Vic’ for ‘Victory’ and gives up on asking for the things she wants and learns to just take them. Formally meticulous, the film is divided into four distinct segments in which Marieme changes her physical appearance to suit the different worlds she must navigate (school, home, street). Each transformation magnificently captures the heavy burden that visibility and image play in Marieme’s life, whilst Crystel Fournier’s stunning photography that favours a distinctive blue palette ensures that Marieme remains a defiantly vital presence on screen even while it appears she is disappearing from society’s view. The jubilant soundtrack infuses the film with vigour and passion, from the opening juddering electro-goth of Light Asylum’s ‘Dark Allies’ to a full length lip sync to Rhianna’s ‘Diamonds’. With Girlhood Sciamma flawlessly evokes the fragile resilience of youth.
First Feature Competition
Butter on the Latch – Josephine Decker
Sarah and Isolde are former friends who meet by chance at a music festival in the woods of Mendocino, California. Happy to be away from the urban life that has for too long defined them, in this mystical setting Sarah teaches Isolde old folk songs about myths, such as dragons that entwine themselves in women’s hair. From this point they begin to share their most intimate confidences with one another. The flow of their conversation in this female utopia is easy until Steph, a male camper, arrives. As Sarah’s attraction to him becomes apparent, her bond with Isolde unravels. Decker eschews a conventional narrative and instead creates a phantasmagoria that moves from dreamlike fantasy to improvised vérité, helped in no small part by Ashley Connor’s cinematography. The resulting film boldly invites you to ‘feel’ your way through the drama and heralds a genuinely exciting new filmmaking talent.
Macondo – Sudabeh Mortezai
This very impressive first feature by Iranian-Austrian documentarist Sudabeh Mortezai is an assured slice of realism about 11-year-old Ramasan (Minkailov), who lives with his mother (Gazieva) and sisters in Macondo, a Viennese suburb populated largely by refugees. In line with Chechen tradition, the boy – the one family member sufficiently fluent in German to deal with the immigration authorities – has taken responsibility for their well-being since his father vanished in the war in Chechnya. Then a man (Elbiev) turns up in the neighbourhood claiming to have been his dad’s best buddy. Mortezai’s psychologically astute handling of Ramasan’s predicament – should he trust the stranger? – and depiction of the world he inhabits are sympathetic yet unsentimental, so that the boy’s moral and physical welfare matter to us just minutes into the film. Not unlike the Dardennes’ work, the film conveys tenderness whilst gripping like a vice.
Second Coming – Debbie Tucker Green
It’s a bold move to make your debut theatrical feature a modern day take on such a big theological ‘What If?’, and Debbie Tucker Green astonishes with this London-set drama, where the newest family member is neither expected nor biologically possible. Jax (Marshall) works in the welfare office, lives with tube-worker husband (Elba), and their sensitive, nature-loving son JJ who, on the cusp of manhood is constantly looking around him for cues on how to make this transition. It’s rare to see a woman on-screen who remains so taciturn in the face of inner turmoil and as Jax’s self-possession begins to frustrate her friends and family, the film ramps up the tension with Nadine Marshall’s performance creating one of the most unshakable characters in recent memory. Taking the ‘kitchen sink’ tradition of social realism to a fresh new place, it’s a film that lingers, and marks Green as an immediate new voice in British cinema.
Documentary Competition 4/12
Ne Me Quitte Pas – Sabine Lubbe Bakker, Niels Van Koevorden
From the wilds of rural Belgium Ne me quitte pas enters slyly, hard to pin down as observational doc, cautionary tale or heartfelt paean to friendship, then leaves as one of the most affecting portraits of masculinity and alcohol you’ll ever encounter. Marcel and Bob are men of a certain age who like a drink, their friendship cemented by a constant string of insults and half-assed plans for a joint suicide. This immensely accomplished debut feature follows the men’s attempts to sober up and reconnect with their families, while life beyond Bob’s kitchen has moved ahead without them. The humour here – and this is an incredibly funny film – is of the blackest variety; alcoholic pratfalls that look really painful, the wife and kids getting into a car and heading off into the distance. It’s fitting for a hybrid documentary bromance that steers clear of sentimentality, and is all the more of a gut-punch for it.
Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait – Ossama Mohammed, Wiam Simav Bedirxan
Exiled in Paris, filmmaker Ossama Mohammed feels increasingly distant from his homeland of Syria, trying to make sense of the daily stream of images he is confronted with on YouTube. Editing together this parade of torture, death and protests, the fragments of horror may not emerge into a clear picture, but some things are definite – he cannot return and if he could he cannot know what it is he would be returning to. Then one day he is contacted by Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a young woman who lives in Homs. Finding a camera she begins documenting her life and surroundings, sending Mohammed her footage and thoughts. Developing her own filmmaking grammar while getting on with the basics of survival, her warzone dispatches convey a street-level experience as well as the desire for personal creativity and the right to tell one’s own story. A raw, poetic, often harrowing film that does not give history lessons, this is urgent and unforgettable cinema.
Stray Dog – Debra Granik
Debra Granik’s doc introduces us to Ronnie ‘Stray Dog’ Hall, whom the filmmaker first met while making Winter’s Bone. He appears to be an ordinary American biker – a good ole boy and veteran of the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts, patriotically attending memorial rides and supporting other war vets. Yet Granik steadily dismantles preconceptions about Ron’s politics and his attitudes to race and difference. The film has a deceptively simple structure, quietly accruing a picture of Ron’s care for his dirt-poor mountain community, his family, and his Mexican wife and her children. It’s a tender portrait of an America completely outside the mainstream and these people forsaken by the system, but not each other. Ronnie tells a man who can’t pay the rent on the plot in the trailer park he runs: ‘I gotta make a living, but not off one person’. The filmmaking, like its subject, is unpretentious, unhurried and non-judgemental – determined to find the good while acknowledging their desperate situation.
Tender – Lynette Walworth
Australian artist/filmmaker Lynette Wallworth’s first foray into feature-length documentary follows a group at Port Kembla Community Centre as they endeavour to set up a not-for-profit funeral service for the town’s hard-up residents. Led by Centre Manager Jenny, the team of generous and dedicated volunteers tackle taboos and bureaucracy with enterprise and humour, but as they move forward with their plans they are unexpectedly confronted by the imminent death of one of their own group. Wallworth observes this community with great sensitivity, her cinematography keeping the viewer close to the participants as they resist the commodification of death and bring control of the process back to the family and friends of the departed. We see how empowering people to take an active role in the funeral of a loved one can ease the pain of bereavement. Scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, this is a visually beautiful, emotionally engaging and ultimately uplifting film.
Another Year – Oxana Bychkova
Brides – Tinatin Karjrishvili
Kelly and Cal – Jen McGowan
Madame Bovary – Sophie Barthes
Margarita, With A Straw – Shonali Bose
Serena – Susanne Bier
Silent Storm – Corinna Mcfarlane
Still The Water – Naomi Kawase
Viktoria – Maya Vitkova
Waiting For August – Teodora Ana Mihai
The Bigger Picture – Daisy Jacobs
A Girl At My Door – July Jung
The Great Invisible – Margaret Brown
I, Afrikaner – Annalet Steenkamp
Self Made – Shira Geffen
Tales – Rakhshan Banietemad
See the full LFF program and descriptions here.