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Cannes: Meet the 20 Female Filmmakers Debuting New Films at This Year’s Festival

There are major signs of diverse life on this year's slate, which includes 20 female filmmakers set to debut new feature films at the festival. Get to know them now.

Clockwise from top left: Eva Husson, Wanuri Kahiu, Alice Rohrwacher, Nandita Das, Cristina Gallego

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Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

While the Cannes Film Festival has long struggled to put together a Competition slate that includes more than a fraction of female filmmakers, there are major signs of diverse life throughout the rest of this year’s feature film slate, which includes 20 female filmmakers set to debut new films at the lauded festival. At least said Competition includes a trio of intriguing (and very different-sounding) offerings, including films from both Cannes regulars and a newbie. Elsewhere, there’s still more exciting new work to be found from filmmakers both established and emerging.

The Un Certain Regard section — which often touts high numbers of female filmmakers — nearly reached parity with its slate, as six of its 13 films were directed by women. In the International Critics’ Week (AKA Semaine de la Critique) sidebar, they’re actually leading the way. In the first time in a decade, this year’s competition slate includes a majority of films made by female directors. And this year’s Directors’ Fortnight includes four films directed by women, including a fifth co-directed by a woman. Get to know the filmmakers — and their Cannes-bound projects — below.

Competition

Eva Husson, “Girls of the Sun”

“Girls of the Sun”

Elle Driver

Husson is the only female director making her debut in Cannes competition at the festival this year, having previously earned accolades for her 2015 debut “Bang Gang,” which premiered at Toronto. That breakout second feature was a hit on the 2015 festival circuit, hopscotching through other heavy hitters like TIFF, London, and New York’s own Rendezvous with French Cinema. She’s ready for a big, splashy bow on the Croisette, and her ambitious next feature sounds like just the ticket. Golshifteh Farahani stars in the film as the commander-in-chief of a Kurdish female battalion known as the titular “Girls of the Sun.” As she and her fellow soldiers prepare to storm the same town where she was first captured by extremists, she also bonds with an embedded journalist, played by Cannes best actress winner Emmanuelle Bercot.

Alice Rohrwacher, “Happy as Lazzaro”

Rohrwacher’s features have only premiered at Cannes, including her 2011 debut “Corpo Celeste” (which was on the Directors’ Fortnight slate) and her Grand Prix-winning followup “The Wonders.” The young Italian filmmaker cracked the Cannes competition for the first time in 2014 with her sophomore effort “The Wonders,” which helped propel her to international acclaim and ultimately landed her a spot as NYFF’s filmmaker in residence in 2016. It was during that time that she set about drilling down on her long-in-the-making third film, which follows a man who travels through time, though she assured IndieWire back in 2016 that it wasn’t science-fiction. Instead, it’s another rural tale sure to combine delicate, rustic imagery with a soul-searching core. Still, it’s an ambitious jump forward for Rohrwacher, whose previous effort dramatized her offbeat coming of age with her beekeeping family.

Nadine Labaki, “Capernaum”

Like Rohrwacher, actress-turned-fimmaker Labaki is also a Cannes regular, a graduate of the festival’s Residence program, during which she wrote “Caramel,” which opened in Directors’ Fortnight in 2007. And her second film, “Where Do We Go Now?,” screened in Un Certain Regard in 2011. Two years ago, Labaki was a member of the Un Certain Regard jury, which awarded its highest prize to Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams.” Labaki’s relatively short career has already been one filled with tremendous range, from the workplace comedy/offbeat romance of “Caramel” to the tension-filled drama of “Where Do We Go Now?,” which chronicled a small Lebanese village torn apart by religious discord. Her latest is billed as a “politically-charged fable” that follows a child who sues his own family.

Un Certain Regard

Vanessa Filho, “Angel Face” 

French artist Filho is best known for her works in a variety of non-filmmaking artistic endeavors, including photography and even music, but she’s long dabbled in the cinematic arts. She’s got two shorts under her belt, including 2002’s “Primtifs” and 2007’s “Be a Good Girl,” but her feature debut promises something much bigger. For one thing, she snagged Marion Cotillard for the lead role, a hard-living French woman who suddenly abandons her young daughter when she meets an exciting man on a night out. Filho’s eye is impeccable, and much of her photography work puts women at the center, so it seems like a natural enough progression. Want to see more? Check out her sprawling portfolio website.

Valeria Golino, “Euphoria”

Yes, that Valeria Golino. The Italian actress is best known to American audiences for her run of roles in films like “Rain Man,” “Big Top Pee-Wee,” and both “Hot Shots!” films, but Golino’s career extends far beyond box office bait. First drafted into acting by Lina Wertmüller when Golino was just a teen, she caught the acting bug after starring in Wertmüller’s 1983 feature “A Joke of Destiny.” Within just three years, the Venice Film Festival bestowed their Best Actress prize on Golino for her work in Francesco Maselli’s “A Tale of Love” (she won the same prize again in 2015 for “For Your Love,” making her one of only three actresses to pull off such a feat). She’s starred in dozens of films over the years, but she turned her attention to directing in 2013 with her “Honey,” which debuted in the Un Certain Regard section. In 2016, she served as a member of the Competition jury that awarded the Palme d’Or to “I, Daniel Blake.” Her new film focuses on a pair of mismatched brothers stuck in very different circumstances.

Wanuri Kahiu, “Friend” 

“Rafiki”

Cannes

Kahiu’s “Friend” (also known as “Rafiki”), is the very first Kenyan feature film to debut at the festival, and it’s already stirred up some major controversy in its own home country. Last week, Kenya banned the same-sex romance because it “promote[s] lesbianism” in violation of Kenyan laws prohibiting gay sex. That won’t stop it from bowing at Cannes, though. The film is Kahiu’s second feature film, following her 2009 drama “From a Whisper.” Her 2010 sci-fi short “Pumzi” screened at Sundance in 2010. Kahiu notes on the her official site that “Friend” was inspired by another film by a female filmmaker, the 2007 Caine Prize winner, Monica Arac de Nyeko’s “Jambula Tree,” which chronicled a story of two girls in love in Uganda.

Nandita Das, “Manto”

Das is one of the biggest names in contemporary Indian film, with over 40 feature films to her name, and she’s also long enjoyed a strong relationship with Cannes. She has twice served on a festival jury, including the Competition jury in 2005 and the Cinéfondation and short films jury in 2013. She directed her first feature a decade ago, the drama “Firaaq,” set in the aftermath of terrible riots in Gujarat. That film didn’t play at Cannes, but it included a lauded festival run elsewhere, including awards from Dubai, Thessaloniki, and Istanbul. Her newest film is a biographical drama about the writer Saadat Hasan Manto (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and set in 1940s India.

Gaya Jiji, “My Favorite Fabric”

First-time feature filmmaker Jiji is one of the few female directors to emerge from Syria in recent years, and her film — a story about female sexuality that’s reportedly been inspired in part by “Belle de Jour” and centers on a strong female lead discovering herself while working at a brothel — seems destined to establish her as a filmmaker on the rise. In 2016, she won the Women in Motion Young Talent Award along with Leyla Bouzid and Ida Panahandeh, which was presented at Cannes (while the award is not an official part of the festival, Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux and president Pierre Lescure were on hand to present it as part of their partnership with sponsor Keurig), so it’s fitting that her film is bowing there two years later.

Meryem Benm’Barek, “Sofia”

“Sofia”

Curiousa Films

The Franco-Moroccan filmmaker previously directed the short “Jennah,” which won the 2014 Grand Prize at Rhode Island Festival, and is making her feature debut with a film that she’s previously said she hopes furthers the representation of Arab women on the big screen. A pregnancy drama with a twist — no one knows the eponymous Sofia is pregnant, which makes things really weird when she gives birth at a family dinner — the film follows the new mother and her cousin on a desperate search for the baby’s father that sounds like equal parts thriller and domestic drama.

Andréa Bescond, “Little Tickles” (co-directed with Eric Métayer)

Bescond is another first-time feature filmmaker making her debut in Un Certain Regard, co-directing the film “Little Tickles” alongside long-time French actor Eric Métayer. Bescond also wrote the script and stars in the film as the adult version of protagonist Odette, who is forced to reckon with a childhood incident that threatens her life and career.

Renée Nader Messora, “The Dead and the Others” (co-directed with João Salaviza)

For her first directed feature, the Sao Paolo-born cinematographer and writer Messora teamed up with fellow filmmaker Salaviza to tell a uniquely personal story filtered through a fictionalized lens. The film is based on their experience living for nearly a year in Pedra Branca, a village of the Krahô people in North Brazil. “The Dead and the Others” centers on a Krahô teen torn between two different worlds.

This list continues on the next page with selections from both Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight. 

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