Everyone wanted to hug Marielle Heller and tell her how much her “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” made them cry. Sarah Gavron was eager to share the spotlight with her “Rocks” writer Theresa Ikoko, reminding everyone it was their film, not just Gavron’s.
“American Woman” filmmaker Semi Chellas and “Abominable” director Jill Culton made fast friends, bonding during cocktail hour and happily moving their conversation to the dinner table. The same went for punctual arrivers Unjoo Moon (whose “I Am Woman” served as the opening night pick for the special presentations section) and “The Perfect Candidate” filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, who started talking to each other upon arrival and didn’t stop until the night concluded (and “The Kingmaker” filmmaker Lauren Greenfield cajoled Al-Mansour to join her at the premiere party for “Jojo Rabbit,” just down the street).
After all that, time to toast the end to a whirlwind first weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. But then there’s the next hot ticket to try to snag: Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” premiering later this week. And, as always, the persistent question: “when can I see your film?”
At IndieWire’s annual Female Filmmakers Dinner on Sunday night at the Toronto International Film Festival, presented by Canada Goose, all the honored guests were eager to chat with each other about their latest work (and what’s to come). The event celebrated directors debuting new films at the festival, including Heller, Lemmons, Julie Delpy, Unjoo Moon, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Alma Har’el, Lauren Greenfield, Jill Culton, Semi Chellas, Sarah Gavron, and Shonali Bose.
At this year’s TIFF, female filmmakers weren’t in short supply: nearly half of the festival’s starry Gala section included films directed by women, including hot titles like Heller’s latest, Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers,” Shonali Bose’s “The Sky Is Pink,” and the closing night film, Marjane Satrapi’s Marie Curie biopic “Radioactive.” And that’s just one section, as some of the best films of the festival (that just so happened to be directed by women) rounded out every piece of the fest’s wide-reaching lineup, from documentaries to shorts, animated studio films to debut indies hoping to snag distribution.
Michelle Quance for IndieWire
Mostly, though, there was a real sense of celebration about everything that had premiered already and the good stuff to come. Heller, who debuted her latest film just the night before, was still reeling from the emotional power of her Saturday night premiere of her Tom Hanks-starring film.
“It’s just felt really good to put the movie out into the world,” Heller said. “As painful as it is to make these things and hope they are received, it’s also a proud moment. I really hope people go see this film in theaters, because I think there’s something about the collective experience of watching it in a room full of strangers in the dark, and getting to cry with a lot of people who you don’t know. That is cinematic therapy, it’s almost like going to church.”
Four days after her premiere, Aussie director Moon was also buzzing from the response to her Helen Reddy biopic, which premiered to a packed house at the Elgin Theatre on Thursday night. “It’s been really amazing and, at times, overwhelming,” she told IndieWire. “I was hoping audiences would enjoy the film, I didn’t expect the really passionate responses that I’ve had. At one of my screenings, they just wouldn’t sit down, and actually, they made me cry, I was so moved.”
As for the movies that moved her, Moon has been on such a whirlwind that she hasn’t had a chance to check anything else out, but she’s been keeping a list of TIFF films she wants to see as soon as things calm down (top of list: new pal Al-Mansour’s latest). Being in a room filled with talented filmmakers didn’t do much to lighten that list either.
“It’s so exciting, Haifaa and I were just talking about, not just our experience of being on set, but she works with her husband, I work with my husband, we both have children, we’re just talking about how you manage that,” Moon said. “Those kind of personal details are really important as a filmmaker, because you’re often working in isolation, you’re working in a little bubble, and suddenly you’re able to come to a festival like this and share experiences and learn from each other.”
Heller echoed that same sentiment. While she’s been to TIFF before, her last visit was too truncated to enjoy time with other creators: she screened her “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” at the 2018 festival, but was literally only in town for eight hours, as she was prepping her Mr. Rogers movie at the same time and had to start shooting while TIFF was still raging.
“I mean, these are my people,” Heller said when asked about the power of gathering with other female filmmakers. “It’s the best feeling, it’s what I care about in the world more than anything, is connecting with other non-binary or female filmmakers who are here trying to push through.”
The event took place on Sunday, September 8 at Toronto’s own The Purman, an event space located in the heart of downtown Toronto. Here’s the full list of directors who were honored at the IndieWire Female Filmmakers Dinner at TIFF, presented by Canada Goose.
Aisling Chin-Yee, “The Rest of Us”
Jill Culton, “Abominable”
Alma Har’el, “Honey Boy”
Malgorzata Szumowska, “The Other Lamb”
Sarah Gavron, “Rocks”
Julie Delpy, “My Zoe”
Haifaa Al-Mansour, “The Perfect Candidate”
Marielle Heller, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Semi Chellas, “American Woman”
Shonali Bose, “The Sky Is Pink”
Lisa Barros D’sa, “Ordinary Love”
Unjoo Moon, “I Am Woman”
Kasi Lemmons, “Harriet”
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, “The Friend”
Katrin Gebbe, “Pelican Blood”
Lauren Greenfield, “The Kingmaker”