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Tribeca 2016 Preview: Films By and About Women to Catch At This Year’s Fest

Tribeca 2016 Preview: Films By and About Women to Catch At This Year's Fest

The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off tomorrow. Only 33 percent of the films screening in the competition sections are directed by women. Still, the 15th edition of Tribeca features a significant number of promising, noteworthy projects from novice and veteran female filmmakers alike. We’ve compiled a list of some of the features by and about women we’re most excited about.  

The eclectic selection includes stories about refugees, a legendary, award-winning painter, an aspiring female rock musician in Tunis, a Park Slope-set murder mystery and the directorial debut of a movie star. Also be sure to check out Tribeca Talks, which will include conversations with Andrea Arnold, Jodie Foster with Julie Taymor, Tina Fey and others. 

Plot summaries courtesy of Tribeca’s site and Press materials.

“After Spring” (Documentary) – Directed by Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching

What it’s about: With the Syrian conflict entering its sixth year, millions of people continue to be displaced. This is the story of what happens next. By following two refugee families in transition and aid workers fighting to keep the camp running, viewers will experience what it is like to live in Zaatari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees. With no end in sight for the conflict or this refugee crisis, everyone must decide if they can rebuild their lives in a place that was never meant to be permanent. (Press materials)

Why we’re interested: “After Spring” director Ellen Martinez attended high school in Syria and spent over eight years living in the Middle East. She told Women and Hollywood that she was “extremely frustrated how the media failed to talk to the Syrian people and show the human side of the story” as conflict escalated in the country. Co-director Steph Ching’s grandmother was a refugee in China at the end of WWII. Refugee camps are, of course, a hot topic in the media right now, but we’re very much looking forward to a portrait of refugees where the ones documenting their stories ensure that refugees’ voices are actually heard. Martinez and Ching emphasized that they hope the film “will help people better understand what it means to be a refugee.” They elaborated, “The families in our film had happy, fulfilling lives back in Syria before they were forced to flee. No one chooses to become a refugee and we hope our documentary can help audiences put a human face on this issue that is so often generalized in the media.” 

Check It” (Documentary) – Co-Directed by Dana Flor

What it’s about: Fed up with being pushed around, a group of gay and trans teens of color form a gang and fight back on the brutal streets of Washington D.C. They call their gang “Check it” and this group of one-time victims of bullying, rape and abuse have turned the tables on anyone trying to hurt them. (Dan Hunt)

Why we’re interested: The fashion-forward friends at the center of “Check It” steal, fight and sell sex a few blocks from the White House. “They operate in the shadows of the emblem of all the hopes and dreams America has to offer,” co-director Dana Flor told Women and Hollywood. We are eager to see how Check It bands together to survive, and to hear their much-needed perspective about what’s going on in the country’s school system and streets. “It’s a challenge to gain the trust of kids who have been let down by many people and institutions that they have encountered in their lives,” Flor explained to Women and Hollywood. She added, “It took patience but most importantly time. We had to show that we were there for them for the long haul.” “Check It” will offer the opportunity to see these kids open up, and will hopefully open up a dialogue about class, race, homophobia and transphobia in the U.S.

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four” (Documentary) – Directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi

What it’s about: “This case is the last gasp of the Satanic ritual abuse panic.” So says Debbie Nathan, a journalist and author of “Satan’s Silence,” and one of the many experts called up in the documentary “Southwest of Salem” to explore the case of the San Antonio Four. In 1994, four women were accused, tried and convicted of the heinous sexual assault of two young girls — as one newscaster puts it, “the modern version of the witchcraft trials.” Twenty years later, the four women have maintained their innocence, insisting that the accusations were entirely fabricated, and borne of homophobic prejudice and a late-’90s mania about covens, cults and child abuse. (Cara Cusumano)

Why we’re interested: True-crime, the occult and homophobia — “Southwest of Salem” promises a gripping story and critical social commentary. Director Deborah S. Esquenazi promised Women and Hollywood that the “fast-paced” doc features “several plot twists,” but we’re even more enticed by the “underlying mythologies and intersectional themes” that she said play out, including “some deep-seated homophobia and misogyny at the root of the highly-sexualized trials of the alleged ringleader of this crime, Liz Ramirez.” 

Abortion: Stories Women Tell”  (Documentary) – Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos

What it’s about: In 1973, the US Supreme court decision Roe v. Wade gave every woman the right to have an abortion. Since 2011, over half the states in the nation have significantly restricted access to abortions. In 2016, abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in America, especially in Missouri, where each year sees more restrictions. Award-winning director and Missouri native Tracy Droz Tragos sheds new light on the contentious issue, with a focus not on the debate, but rather on the women themselves: those struggling with unplanned pregnancies, the providers who show up at clinics to give medical care, as well as the activists on the sidewalks hoping to sway decisions and lives. (Deborah Rudolph)

Why we’re interested: We’re still reeling from Dawn Porter’s brilliant Sundance award-winning abortion doc “Trapped,” and we want to hear more from providers, activists and patients. “When you start to break down the realities that women face — whether they consider themselves pro-choice or pro-life — things get very grey and blurry,” Tragos told Women and Hollywood. She continued, “I spoke to so many ‘pro-life’ women who had multiple abortions. Many women working in abortion care have never had abortions themselves.” This multi-perspective look at a hugely divisive, important topic will undoubtedly be an emotional roller coaster for viewers, at turns heartbreaking, inspiring and maddening.

“Everybody Knows … Elizabeth Murray” (Documentary) – Directed by Kristi Zea

What it’s about: This tribute to the dynamic artist Elizabeth Murray, an intrinsic figure in New York’s contemporary art landscape from the 1970s until the early 2000s, highlights her struggle to balance personal and family ambition with artistic drive in a male-dominated art world. It also addresses her later battle with cancer, at the peak of her career. (Press materials) 

Why we’re interested: It’s great to see a female artist get her due. Even better, this portrait of painter Elizabeth Murray, McArthur genius grant-winner, is presented by another woman — her friend Kristi Zea, an Oscar-nominated production designer and producer who is making her directorial debut. Zea told Women and Hollywood that she met Murray on an all-female hiking trip in Utah. “We recognized similarities in our lives as we juggled the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood,” she said of their bond. Zea wants the doc to make viewers “feel uplifted and inspired to follow their path no matter how difficult the circumstances.” She added, “As a woman I want them to acknowledge the power and strength of love and dedication to family while continuing to work in our desired professions.” 

AWOL” – Directed by Deb Shoval

What it’s about: Lola Kirke (“Mistress America”) shines as Joey, an aimless young woman searching for a direction in her small town in rural Pennsylvania. A visit to an Army recruiting office appears to provide her a path but when she meets and falls in love with Rayna (Breeda Wool), a rough and tumble housewife neglected by her long-haul trucker husband, that path diverges in ways that neither woman anticipated. As Joey falls deeper in love, she begins to lose sight of what’s most important to her while also becoming blind to the mistakes she is making. (Cara Cusumano)

Why we’re interested: We loved Lola Kirke in “Mistress America,” and it sounds as though “AWOL” will show a different side of the rising star. We always welcome the chance to see LGBTQ relationships on the big screen and this romantic drama, Deb Shoval’s feature debut, is based on her award-winning short, so it will be interesting to see how she expands her original story.

Always Shine” – Directed by Sophia Takal

What it’s about: Two women, both actresses with differing degrees of success, travel north from Los Angeles to Big Sur for a weekend vacation in “Always Shine,” Sophia Takal’s twisty, psychological thriller. Both see the trip as an opportunity to reconnect after years of competition and jealousy has driven a wedge between them, but upon arrival to their isolated, forest retreat, the pair discovers that their once intimate friendship has deteriorated into forced conversations, betrayals both real and imagined, petty jealousies and deep-seated resentment. As the women allow their feelings to fester, each begins to lose their bearings not only on the true nature of their relationship, but on their own identities. (Cara Cusumano)

Why we’re interested: We are desperate to see more movies about female friendship — and not necessarily just the mutually supportive, empowering kind. The two central characters in “Always Shine” seem to chip away at each other in subtle, toxic ways. Women (and men!) are complicated, and so too are their relationships, including the platonic ones. We want to learn more about the history of this friendship and how each party played a part in poisoning it.

All We Had” – Directed by Katie Holmes

What it’s about: Ruthie Carmichael (Stefania Owen) makes the best of bad circumstances, pulled along in the wake of the hard luck of her mother Rita (Katie Holmes). From escaping a bad boyfriend to their car breaking down on the road to going broke, they continually find themselves in search of stability. When their attempt at settling in a new town hits a stumbling block, and as the shine wears off of the kind strangers who supported them when they had first arrived, even Ruthie struggles to keep it together. (Genna Terranova)

Why we’re interested: We’re always thrilled to see actresses get behind the camera. Women are underrepresented on-screen, but even more so behind the scenes. Katie Holmes’ directorial debut is something to celebrate, especially because she’s telling a women-centric story. “All We Had” is giving us “Anywhere But Here” vibes; the 1999 dramedy starred Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman as a mother and daughter both struggling to grow up. Holmes shared with Women and Hollywood that she too sees “All We Had” as a coming-of-age story about both of its central characters. She said that she hopes people “walk away from this film with more empathy for others” and a “greater understanding and patience for what people endure because of circumstances that are out of their control.” That’s certainly a message we can get behind.

Women Who Kill – Directed by Ingrid Jungermann

What it’s about: Morgan (Ingrid Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) work well together as hosts of their semi-famous true crime podcast because they didn’t work, at all, as a couple. When Morgan strikes up a relationship with the mysterious Simone (Sheila Vand, importing substantial menace from her breakout role in “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”) their professional interest boils over into a cycle of suspicion, paranoia and fear. Thankfully, Morgan has a confidant (maybe not her first choice given that she is in prison for murder). (Loren Hammonds)

Why we’re interested: We’re betting this comedy offers a hilarious representation of the neighborhood it’s set in: Brooklyn’s Park Slope. As one character says, “It’s Park Slope. There aren’t hate crimes here, just a lot of intense parenting.” Jungermann told Women and Hollywood that she was drawn to the story because of her “unhealthy obsession with ‘Serial,’ [her] history of failed relationships and a desire to deconstruct the romantic comedy structure.” “I wanted to make a movie that felt both familiar and foreign and tap into the universal problem of loneliness,” she said. Jungermann was told, “You need a lead character that is a straight male or you can’t sell this.” We’re relieved she didn’t compromise her story, and are personally thrilled to spend our money on a movie about gay women.


What it’s about: James Lapine’s family courtroom drama stars Viola Davis, Hayden Panettiere and Catalina Sandino Moreno as the key players in a custody case set against the backdrop of the myriad struggles at New York Family Court. In one corner, there’s Sara (Moreno), a young, single mother of two who suddenly finds herself embroiled in a custody battle when her son’s teacher calls the Administration for Children’s Services regarding a cut above his eye. Then there’s Martha Schulman (Davis), a beleaguered family court judge struggling through a 23-year marriage to Jason (Tony Shalhoub), and finding that it might not be possible to compartmentalize work and home. Recent law school graduate Alexandra Fisher (Panettiere) is assigned to Sara’s case, and finds it brings up haunting memories of her own. Hanging over it all is the recent death of a young girl whom the system failed. (Genna Terranova)

Why we’re interested: We were awed by Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Marcia Clark in “American Crime Story,” and we’re hungry to see another woman battle it out in the courtroom. This female-centered legal drama with a great cast led by Emmy-winner Viola Davis fits the mark. Davis seems to be drawn to the drama of the legal system: in addition to starring in “Custody” and portraying a law professor in “How To Get Away with Murder,” she’s developing “Conviction,” a series for TNT inspired by the life of  Kym Worthy, the second African-American to serve as a county prosecutor in Michigan. 

As I Open My Eyes”  – Directed by Leyla Bouzid

What it’s about: Tradition butts up against progress in Leyla Bouzid’s debut feature “As I Open My Eyes,” a musically-charged French-Tunisian film that follows a young woman in a band as she navigates familial, cultural and social ideals in contemporary Tunis. Her band — assembled of several friends and one more-than-a-friend — plays a blend of original music and covers at local bars, including men’s-only joints. For Farah (Baya Medhaffar), the young woman at the heart of the film, music transcends cultures and languages, and the lengthy musical interludes demonstrate a kind of escapism. But music too is wrapped up in the politics. “As I Open My Eyes” situates itself at the dawn of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, and Farah’s music addresses politics and issues in her home country. (Frederic Boye)

Why we’re interested: A female-fronted band singing politically-charged songs in male-dominated spaces? Sounds great to us. Farah’s music seems to feature prominently in the film, so we cannot wait to see and hear “As I Open My Eyes.” The biggest challenge was producing and creating the original soundtrack of the film,” director Leyla Bouzid told Women and Hollywood. “All the songs are written for the film. The composer Khyam Allami made the rock music I dreamed of with lute and inspired by traditional Tunisian music with Arabic lyrics. He composed the music for the voice of the main actress. I had to find a young girl able to sing and act! I searched for real musicians that suited my characters, we formed the band, they practiced and they really played and sang while filming without any playback.”  

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