The Toronto International Film Festival has announced more entries in a number of lineups for the 40th installment of the high-profile fest. Of the first batch of films TIFF made public, a mere 14% were directed by women. We are going to wait to tally the numbers of female-helmed films at TIFF 2015 until the complete lineups for each section are revealed. In the meantime, it’s worth having a look at the newly announced women-directed features set to screen at the festival. While the titles aren’t plentiful, they’re certainly promising.
In typical festival fashion, the Documentary section seems to be where women directors feature the most prominently. Performance artist Laurie Anderson’s “Heart of a Dog,” a “personal essay” based in part on Anderson’s own pooch, will make its Canadian premiere shortly after its debut at Venice Film Fest. Amy Berg’s portrait of Janice Joplin, “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” will screen at both festivals as well. The highlight of TIFF’s documentary section is, in our eyes, the world premiere of a new Barbara Kopple film. The two-time Oscar winner will introduce the world to “Miss Sharon Jones!,” which chronicles a year in the life of the R&B legend. Naturally, not all of the docs focus on single subjects — be they music stars or dogs. More wide-ranging and socially conscious fare includes Geeta Gandbhir and Shaemeen Obaid-Chinoy’s “A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peace Keepers,” which follows a unit of Bangladeshi female police officers who embark on a UN peacekeeping mission and challenge stereotypes about Muslim women.
The Midnight Madness program shines a light on genre films, particularly action, horror and fantasy. Sadly, this section is sorely lacking female directors. Not a single film in Midnight Madness is directed solely by a woman. “Southbound,” a horror film comprised of interconnected stories set on a desert highway, is co-directed by Roxanne Benjamin. (On a related note, research from the Sundance Institute testifies to the fact that a) women directors are especially
underrepresented when it comes to genre flicks and b) there’s a
misconception that women aren’t interested in directing these kinds of
Female filmmakers are even worse off in the Masters program, which, according to TIFF, “features the latest bold, exciting and moving works from masters of contemporary cinema.” None of the films in this section so far are directed by women. (Yikes. Come on, TIFF.)
The picture is (ever so slightly) brighter in the Vanguard program, a selection of art-house and genre films. This category, famous for edgy and innovative fare, includes one female-directed film: Lucile Hadžihalilović’s “Evolution,” with the uber-creepy premise of a boy who finds a corpse in the sea who’s given a mysterious injection at the hospital following his discovery. Shortly after his hospital visit, he realizes that something is growing inside him.
An exciting addition to TIFF’s Special Presentation lineup is Patricia Rozema’s “Into the Forest,” a drama set in the not-too-distant future focusing on two sisters (Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood) struggling to survive the elements — and loneliness — in a forest. You can check out the previously announced women-directed Special Presentation films in our previous TIFF lineup post.
The Contemporary World Cinema program will include Anne Émond’s “Our Loved Ones,” a family drama set in a small town in 1978. So far, Émond is the only female director in this category. However, only the Canadian titles have been released.
TIFF’s slate for the Cinematheque, or Classics, section includes Kelly Reichardt’s directorial debut “River of Grass” (1994). This program celebrates the heritage and preservation of previously released films. Kopple’s Oscar-winning “Harlan County, USA” (1976) will also be screened.
See below for plot descriptions of the newly announced women-directed films, courtesy of TIFF.
Harlan County, USA Barbara Kopple, USA Harlan County, USA chronicles a fiercely contested labour battle in Kentucky during the early 1970s. The strike began when the miners working for the Eastover Mining Co. joined the UMW, and its corporate parent, Duke Power, refused to sign the standard union contract. By living with the 180-odd families involved in the strike, Kopple shows the backbreaking burdens of the miners’ life in the best of times and the looming fear of destitution in the worst. While the film is unabashedly partisan, it’s worth remembering that the company’s refusal to sign a contract was condemned by the National Labor Relations Board and that the corporation agreed to sign only under heavy pressure from federal mediators.
River of Grass Kelly Reichardt, USA. Shot on 16mm, the story follows the misadventures of disaffected housewife Cozy, played by Lisa Bowman, and the aimless layabout Lee, played by indie legend Larry Fessenden, who also acted as a producer and the film’s editor. Described by Reichardt as “a road movie without the road, a love story without the love, and a crime story without the crime,” River of Grass introduces viewers to a director already in command of her craft and defining her signature themes.
CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Our Loved Ones (Les êtres chers) Anne Émond, Canada North American Premiere. The story begins in 1978 in a small town on the Lower St. Lawrence, where the Leblanc family is rocked by the tragic death of Guy, found dead in the basement of the family home. For many years, the real cause of his death is hidden from certain members of the family, his son David among them. David starts his own family with his wife Marie and lovingly raises his children, Laurence and Frédéric, but deep down he still carries with him a kind of unhappiness. Our Loved Ones is a film of filial love, family secrets, redemption and inherited fate. Featuring 2015 TIFF Rising Star Karelle Tremblay.
Evolution Lucile Hadžihalilović, France World Premiere. A 10-year-old boy discovers a dead body in the sea just before he is brought to the hospital for a mysterious injection. Before long, something appears to be growing inside of him.
Southbound Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and Radio Silence, USA. World Premiere Five intertwining tales of terror unfold along an endless desert highway. On a desolate stretch of road, weary travellers — two men on the run from their past, a band on their way to the next gig, a man struggling to get home, a brother in search of his long-lost sister and a family on vacation — are forced to confront their worst fears and darkest secrets in these interwoven tales of terror and remorse on the open road.
A Flickering Truth Pietra Brettkelly, New Zealand/Afghanistan North American Premiere. As Afghanistan teeters on an unpredictable future, A Flickering Truth uncovers the world of three dreamers and cinephiles, the dust of 100 years of war and the restoration of 8,000 hours of film archive that they risked their lives to conceal. What surprises will emerge from the cloak of time?
Miss Sharon Jones! Barbara Kopple, USA World Premiere. Two-time Academy Award-winner Barbara Kopple follows R&B queen Sharon Jones over the course of an eventful year, as she battles a cancer diagnosis and struggles to hold her band the Dap-Kings together. Additionally, TIFF Cinematheque will showcase Kopple’s film Harlan County, USA which played at the first Festival in 1976.
Nasser Jihan El-Tahri, France/South Africa International Premiere. Filmmaker Jihan El-Tahri explores the history of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the revolutionary army officer whose decade-long reign as president of Egypt saw him defy the West during the 1956 Suez Crisis, co-found the international Non-Aligned Movement, and suffer a dramatic defeat to Israel in the Six-Day War.
P.S. Jerusalem Danae Elon, Canada/Israel World Premiere. Danae Elon grew up in Jerusalem. After many years of living abroad, she moves back with her three young sons and French-Algerian
husband Philip who are fresh to the city. Over three years, she documents their experiences, bearing witness to what makes
Jerusalem so fiercely contested. A looming presence is the memory of her late father, the esteemed author Amos Elon, seen in home
movies. Through the prism of one family’s life, the film exposes a complex portrait of Jerusalem today.
Sherpa Jennifer Peedom, Australia/United Kingdom Canadian Premiere. Director Jennifer Peedom set out to uncover tension in the 2014 Everest climbing season from the Sherpas’ point of view, and instead
captured a tragedy when an avalanche struck, killing 16 Sherpas. Sherpa tells the story of how the Sherpas united after the tragedy in
the face of fierce opposition to reclaim the mountain they call Chomolungma
Women He’s Undressed Gillian Armstrong, Australia International Premiere. During Hollywood’s golden age, the Australian known as Orry-Kelly was a costume designer for an astonishing 282 films including
classics like Some Like It Hot, Casablanca, and An American in Paris. As a gay male during a closeted era, he was also a keeper of
secrets. Director Gillian Armstrong (Oscar and Lucinda; Little Women) employs inventive recreations, interviews and film clips to
uncover his story.
PREVIOUSLY ANNOUNCED FILMS IN THIS PROGRAMME:
Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard, Canada World Premiere. Omar Khadr: child soldier or unrepentant terrorist? The 28-year-old Canadian has been a polarizing figure since he was 15. In 2002,
Khadr was captured by American forces in Afghanistan and charged with war crimes, including murder. After spending half his life
behind bars, including a decade at Guantanamo, Khadr is released. This is his story, in his own words.
Ninth Floor Mina Shum, Canada World Premiere. It started quietly when six Caribbean students, strangers in a cold new land, began to suspect their professor of racism. It ended in the
most explosive student uprising Canada had even known. Over four decades later, Ninth Floor reopens the file on the infamous Sir
George Williams Riot: a watershed moment in Canadian race relations and one of the most contested episodes in the nation’s history.
Director Mina Shum (Double Happiness) locates the protagonists in clandestine locations throughout Trinidad and Montreal — the
wintry city where it all went down. In a cinematic gesture of reckoning and redemption, she listens as they set the record straight.
Welcome to F.L. Geneviève Dulude-De Celles, Canada World Premiere. Welcome to F.L. portrays a community of teenagers navigating their environment, identity and other questions of youth within their
high-school world in a small town in Quebec. Learning to define themselves inside and outside school boundaries as they transition
into the challenges of adulthood, they expose refreshing points of view filled with humour, philosophy and courage.
Into the Forest Patricia Rozema, Canada World Premiere. In a not-too-distant future, sisters Nell and Eva find themselves shuttered in their home. Surrounded by nothing but miles of dense forest, the sisters must fend for themselves using the supplies and food reserves they have before turning to the forest to discover what it will provide. They are faced with a world where rumour is the only guide, trust is a scarce commodity, gas is king and loneliness is excruciating. And yet somehow miraculously, love still grows. Starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood
See previously announced women-directed special presentations.