October sees the release of a number of women-centric films. The highly anticipated release of “Suffragette,” directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan — a partnership that first stemmed from their 2007 film “Brick Lane” — comprises a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep (as Emmeline Pankhurst), Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff. The film, which is based on the early 20th-century fight for women’s suffrage in Britain, speaks volumes to the ongoing struggle for the emancipation of women across the world today. As such, it is both encouraging and exciting that the film is receiving such recognition. Conversations about the sexist exclusion of women within the film industry (Hollywood, we’re looking at you) are making waves, and it’s down to female filmmakers and feminists alike, who are persistently producing inspiring works to challenge the status quo.
In the doc “A Ballerina’s Tale,” Misty Copeland is pulling out all the stops to confront the elitism and racial hostility at one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world. Too few are aware that there has never been a black female principle dancer at a major international company — something that Copeland sets out to change.
An ever-popular Angelina Jolie serves as executive producer for “Difret,” an Ethopian film (and this year’s closing film at the Athena Film Festival) that tells the resonant story of Hirut (Tizita Hagere), a young girl who is kidnapped by a group of armed men and later imprisoned for murder after shooting one of her captors with a rifle. Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet), founder of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, works relentlessly to have Hirut released from unjust incarceration, arguing that she acted in self-defense. Named after an Amharic word that translates as “courage,” “Difret” is a film that profoundly explores the tireless efforts of women fighting for their human right to live without fear of subjugation or forced marriage.
Sarah Silverman gives a well received performance as suburban wife Laney, who — while seeming to have it all — suffers from chronic depression and drug addiction in “I Smile Back.” Channeling Cassavetes’s 1974 “A Woman Under the Influence” in its depiction of a mesmerizing female protagonist who is cracking under the pressure of social expectations, the veteran comedienne is a performer to look out for in this unexpected latest chapter of her career.
October has lots of options with terrific performances from strong female protagonists. All descriptions are from press releases, unless stated otherwise.
The true love story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) and Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) and their fight for justice. A decorated New Jersey police detective, Laurel is diagnosed with cancer and wants to leave her hard-earned pension to her domestic partner, Stacie. However, the county officials, Freeholders, conspire to prevent Laurel from doing this. Hard-nosed detective Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) and activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell) unite in Laurel and Stacie’s defense, rallying police officers and ordinary citizens to support their struggle for equality. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Addicted to Fresno – Directed by Jamie Babbit; Written by Karey Dornetto
A comedy about co-dependent sisters who work as hotel maids in Fresno, CA. Shannon (Judy Greer) is fresh out of sex rehab when her younger, overly optimistic lesbian sister Martha (Natasha Lyonne) lands her a job as a maid at Fresno Suites, the local hotel. When Shannon jeopardizes her fresh start by accidentally killing a hotel guest after a post-rehab relapse, Martha goes to great lengths to help her sister cover up the crime. Shannon finally learns to take responsibility for her actions, and the sisters begin to resolve their tortured relationship.
He Named Me Malala (Documentary)
An intimate portrait of Malala Yousafzai, who was wounded when Taliban gunmen opened fire on her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The then 15-year-old teenager, who had been targeted for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education was shot in the head, sparked international media outrage. An educational activist in Pakistan, Yousafzai has since emerged as a leading campaigner for the rights of children worldwide and, in December 2014, became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Shout Gladi Gladi (Documentary)
Narrated by Meryl Streep, “Shout Gladi Gladi” celebrates the extraordinary people who rescue African women and girls from obstetric fistula, a medical condition that can turn them into reviled outcasts. Filmed in Malawi and Sierra Leone, the film spotlights the quest of Ann Gloag, the indefatigable philanthropist and former nurse who drives the movement to save these vulnerable women and presents the patients as they tell stirring tales of their struggles and triumphs. Everything culminates with the exuberant Gladi Gladi ceremony, a singing and dancing blowout that marks the day the women and girls return home cured. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Sherpa (Documentary) – Directed by Jennifer Peedom
Mount Everest inspires numerous stories putting foreign climbers at the peak of attention. “Sherpa” shifts the focus to the Himalayan locals who do most of the heavy lifting on the mountain they call Chomolungma. Veteran director Jennifer Peedom follows an expedition with Phurba Tashi Sherpa, preparing for his world record-setting 22nd ascent as a guide. Shot in 2014, the film also documents unprecedented upheaval as an avalanche kills sixteen Sherpas and the tragedy incites others to challenge the status quo. (TIFF)
The Wine of Summer – Written and Directed by Maria Matteoli
James (Ethan Peck) quits his law career in pursuit of his childhood dream of becoming an actor. While studying acting under the tutelage of Shelley (Marcia Gay Harden), he becomes engrossed in Carlo Lucchesi’s play, Tinto de Verano, which is set in Spain. When James’ girlfriend leaves him, he spontaneously flies to Spain, where he encounters the misanthropic playwright Lucchesi at a bookstore in Barcelona. Lucchesi is in a relationship with a much younger woman, Veronica (Elsa Pataky), but still nurtures an old love for his long lost muse, Eliza (Sonia Braga), a novelist, who happens to be visiting her son in Barcelona. In the golden backdrop of Spain, these characters find their fates intertwined.
(T)ERROR (Documentary) – Co-Directed by Lyric R. Cabral
A real-life thriller, “(T)error” is the first documentary to place filmmakers on the ground during a live FBI counterterrorism sting operation. With unprecedented access to an active informant — Saeed “Shariff” Torres, a 63-year-old former Black Panther — viewers get an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them. “(T)error” illuminates the fragile relationships between individual and surveillance state in modern America, and asks – Who is watching the watchers?
The Final Girls
Max (Taissa Farmiga), a high school senior, is mysteriously transported with her friends into a 1980’s horror film that starred Max’s mother (Malin Akerman), a celebrated scream queen. Trapped inside the movie, Max finds herself reunited with her mom, who she lost in real life. Together with Max’s friends, they must fend off the camp counselors’ raging hormones, battle a deranged machete-wielding killer and find a way to escape the movie and make it back home.
Dukhtar – Written and Directed by Afia Nathaniel
Set in Pakistan, Dukhtar (Daughter) is a dramatic story of a mother who kidnaps her ten-year-old daughter to save her from the fate of a child bride. Their daring escape triggers a relentless hunt and as their pursuers close in on them, mother and daughter meet a cynical truck driver who offers unlikely hope. (Athena Film Festival)
Victoria, a young Spanish woman, dances through the Berlin scene with abandon. She meets four mates outside a club who introduce themselves as Sonne, Boxer, Blinker and Fuß. They quickly get chatting. Sonne and Victoria take a fancy to each other and slip away from the group at the first opportunity. But their tender flirting is rudely interrupted by the others because, for these pals, the night is far from over. To settle an old debt they have to pull off a dodgy deal. And because one of them is too drunk, they decide that Victoria, of all people, should take over the role of driver. What began as a game suddenly becomes deadly serious.
In My Father’s House (Documentary) – Directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
This film explores identity and legacy in the African-American family, as Grammy award-winning rapper Che ‘Rhymefest’ Smith and his long-lost father reconnect and try to build a new future in Chicago’s turbulent South Side. Himself a child of a broken home, Che hasn’t seen his father in over 20 years, and presumes him dead. But after buying his father’s childhood home, Che sets out to find him, and learns that he is now a homeless, alcoholic living only several blocks away.
Big Stone Gap – Written and Directed by Adriana Trigiani
Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd), the town’s self-proclaimed spinster, has resigned herself to a quiet life of singlehood and being useful. She works in her family’s pharmacy, delivers the prescriptions herself and directs the town’s annual outdoor drama, until one day she learns of a long-buried family secret that changes the course of her life forever. (Rotten Tomatoes)
A Woman Like Me (Hybrid Documentary) – Directed by Elizabeth Giamatti and Alex Sichel; Written by Alex Sichel
“A Woman Like Me” is a hybrid documentary that interweaves the real story of director Alex Sichel, diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2011, with the fictional story of Anna Seashell (Lili Taylor), who tries to find the glass half full when faced with the same diagnosis. The documentary follows Alex as she uses her craft as a filmmaker to explore what is foremost on her mind while confronting a terminal disease: parenting, marriage, faith, life, and death. When we are stuck between a rock and hard place, can our imagination get us out?
A Ballerina’s Tale (Documentary)
Iconic ballerina Misty Copeland made history when she became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer of the legendary American Ballet Theater. Get the incredible, behind-the-scenes story of how she overcame a tumultuous upbringing and near career-ending injuries to become one of the most revered dancers of her generation.
Room – Written by Emma Donoghue
Escaping from the captivity in which they have been held for half a decade, a young woman (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay) struggle to adjust to the strange, terrifying and wondrous world outside their one-room prison. (TIFF)
When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place ﬁlled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak. Co-starring Jessica Chastain.
Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford star as “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes and anchor Dan Rather, in this gripping docudrama about the news magazine’s investigation into George W. Bush’s alleged draft-dodging during Vietnam. (TIFF)
Meadowland – Directed by Reed Morano
In the hazy aftermath of an unimaginable loss, Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and Phil (Luke Wilson) come unhinged, recklessly ignoring the repercussions. Phil starts to lose sight of his morals as Sarah puts herself in increasingly dangerous situations, falling deeper into her own fever dream.
In 9th-century China, Nie Yinniang (Qi Zhu) is a young woman who was abducted in childhood from a decorated general and raised by a nun who trained her in the martial arts. After 13 years of exile, she is returned to the land of her birth as an exceptional assassin, with orders to kill her betrothed husband-to-be. She must confront her parents, her memories, and her long-repressed feelings in a choice to sacrifice the man she loves or break forever with the sacred way of the righteous assassins.
Momentum – Co-Written by Debra Sullivan
When Alex (Olga Kurylenko), an infiltration expert with a secret past, accidentally reveals her identity during what should have been a routine heist, she quickly finds herself mixed up in a government conspiracy and entangled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a master assassin (James Purefoy) and his team of killers. Armed with her own set of lethal skills, Alex looks to exact revenge for her murdered friends while uncovering the truth.
The Tainted Veil (Documentary)- Co-Directed by Nahla Alfahad
Generally, in religious and secular societies, it is a simple issue and a matter of choice to wear the hijab. “The Tainted Veil” voices arguments and deep rooted errors in thought and practice and the many reasons behind what make the hijab a controversial topic all over the world. “The Tainted Veil” for once and for all, attempts to put the topic to rest, showing the reason why it is so tainted, and the people behind it, against it and for it.
Heart of A Dog (Documentary) – Directed by Laurie Anderson
Acclaimed musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson presents her meditation on love and death as relates to her dog in this playful, lucid and heartbreaking nonfiction feature. Taking as a jumping off point the recent passing of her beloved terrier, Lolabelle, Anderson touches on what her love for her dog means to her by processing her childhood, music, and her life as an artist. Through all of it, she draws upon her childhood experiences and political beliefs as she lovingly tries to help Lolabelle’s spirit face the immediate tribulations it will experience immediately after death (as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead). Aided by a beautiful use of her own compositions, animation and 8 milimeter film from her family archive, Anderson creates a gorgeous, heartbreaking tapestry on love and loss – reminding us that every love story is a ghost story.
The Scarapist – Co-Directed and Written by Jeanne Marie Spicuzza
Suburban novelist Lana (Jeanne Marie Spicuzza) becomes entangled in a web of perversity, insanity and violence by her psychotherapist, Ilse (Katy Colloton). With the help of her minions (R. Michael Gull), Ilse sets out to destroy Lana and her family.
Suffragette – Directed by Sarah Gavron; Written by Abi Morgan
“Suffragette” centers on Maud (Carey Mulligan), a working wife and mother whose life is forever changed when she is secretly recruited to join the U.K.’s growing suffragette movement. Galvanized by the outlaw fugitive Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud and her dedicated fellow suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women’s civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.
I Smile Back – Written by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan
Laney (Sarah Silverman) is an attractive, intelligent suburban wife and devoted mother of two adorable children. She has the perfect husband (Josh Charles) who plays basketball with the kids in the driveway, a pristine house and a shiny SUV for carting the children to their next activity. However, just beneath the façade lie depression and disillusionment that send her careening into a secret world of reckless compulsion. Only very real danger will force her to face the painful root of her destructiveness and its crumbling effect on those she loves.
Jem and the Holograms
As a small-town girl (Aubrey Peebles) catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her three sisters begin a journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden.
India’s Daughter (Documentary) – Directed by Leslee Udwin
The story of an exceptional and inspiring young woman, the 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh, now publicly known as “India’s Daughter.” The film documents her short life and the explosive cultural and political climate surrounding her murder by brutal gang rape in New Delhi in December 2012.
From executive producer Angelina Jolie comes the award-winning drama “Difret,” based on the inspirational true story of a young Ethiopian girl and a tenacious lawyer embroiled in a life-or-death clash between cultural traditions and their country’s advancement of equal rights. When 14-year-old Hirut is abducted in her rural village’s tradition of kidnapping women for marriage, she fights back, accidentally killing her captor and intended husband. Local law demands a death sentence for Hirut, but Maeza, a tough and passionate lawyer from a women’s legal aide practice, steps in to fight for her. With both Hirut’s life and the future of the practice at stake, the two women must make their case for self-defense against one of Ethiopia’s oldest and most deeply-rooted traditions.
Our Brand Is Crisis
Political consultant “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) could give a master class in spin. She’s come out of retirement to work for presidential hopeful Castillo (Joaquim De Almeida), and her motivation is simple. She means to beat her old rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who’s masterminding the campaign for the contender set to win by a landslide. (Toronto International Film Festival)
The Wonders – Written and Directed by Alice Rohrwacher
Rohrwacher’s sophomore feature centers on a family of beekeepers living in stark isolation in central Italy. The dynamic of their overcrowded household is disrupted by the simultaneous arrival of a silently troubled teenaged boy taken in as a farmhand, and a production crew recruiting local farmers to participate in a cheesy televised celebration of ancient Etruscan culture presented by the mysterious Milly Catena (Monica Bellucci). Both intrusions are of particular interest to the eldest daughter, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), who is struggling to find her footing in the world. (Rotten Tomatoes)
The Armor of Light (Documentary) – Directed by Abigail Disney
“The Armor of Light” follows the journey of an Evangelical minister trying to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America. The film tracks Reverend Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life. Reverend Schenck is shocked and perplexed by the reactions of his long-time friends and colleagues who warn him away from this complex, politically explosive issue.
Bare – Written and Directed by Natalia Leite
After a lifetime of living in her sheltered and rural hometown without any apparent means of changing a certain fate, Sarah (Dianna Agron) discovers a possible way out in Pepper (Paz De La Huerta), a mysterious female drifter. Through Pepper’s influence, Sarah is motivated to take a job at a highway strip club where Pepper sells drugs. Underneath Sarah’s search for freedom is her discovery of love. But as their friendship develops into a romance, and Sarah’s life veers further away from what it was. She soon finds herself trapped in a double life and quickly realizes what happens when real life collides with fantasy.