By: Senior Contributor Lisa Iannucci
Last month, I spent time at the Woodstock Film Festival, watching films written and directed only by women (except for one, with good reason, but I’ll get to that). Forty full-length narratives, documentaries and short films were directed by women in this year’s festival, which made up one-third of this year’s offerings.
I watched Girl Flu, which was written and directed by Dorie Barton and centers on the life of a young girl who gets her period for the first time.Unfortunately, her stoner of a mother – portrayed by Katee Sackhoff -- doesn’t do a very good job of getting Bird, her teenage daughter, through her angst. Bird’s life is turned upside down even more so when she realizes that she can’t go back to the comforts of what was home in the Valley, because things changed too much after she moved. For every mother or daughter, this film hit close to home and Barton’s first feature film, which she said took three years to go from writing to production, accurately captures a wide range of emotions in a young girl’s life.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the premiere of Toby Poser’s Halfway to Zen. Poser plays Vic, who has had a stroke and she and her transgender daughter temporarily stay with her daughter’s father. Nick hasn’t seen his daughter in a decade, after Vic left him because of his violent behavior. Nick is now taking care of his father too, who has dementia, and the complex relationship between all four of them tugged at the familiar heartstrings of the audience.
The Woodstock Film Festival was also the North American premiere of Bette Gordon’s The Drowning. The film stars Julia Stiles, Josh Charles, and Avan Jogia and is about a psychologist who, while walking with his wife (Stiles), jumps into an icy river to save a drowning man (Jogia), only to discover that he’s the same boy he put away for murder 12 years earlier.
There was also Paint it Black, by first-time director Amber Tamblyn, and the world premiere of the documentary Women of Maidan, directed by Olha Onyshko, which talks about how women in the Ukraine became the sustaining heart of the fight against a corrupt regime to win a better future for their children. At the festival Maria Govan won the Tangerine Entertainment Juice Award for Best Female Feature Director for her film Play the Devil.
The women directors definitely brought some hard-hitting emotional topics to the audience.
Melissa Finell debuted her romantic comedy Sensitivity Training which stars Jill Alexander and Anna Lise Phillips with a funny cameo from Amy Madigan and Charles Haid. It’s a romantic comedy and coming-of-age story about love and friendship, LGBT and straight, as well as anger management and tolerance on a micro (and macro) level.
After I watched several films, I sat in the audience of a Women in Film and Media panel, moderated by Thelma Adams with Bette Gordon, Mary Stuart Masterson, Catherine Hardwicke, and Amber Tamblyn. I wanted to see if, after all the talk in Hollywood about gender equality, the women who are working in Hollywood really felt like they are getting their chance to shine. After all, this is the same year that it was announced that two women will be directing high-budget pictures (Patty Jenkins is directing Wonder Woman and Ava DuVernay is directing the long-awaited A Wrinkle in Time).
What I learned didn’t surprise me. The women are and aren’t getting their chance to shine. In most cases, they are paving their own way to what they want to do.
Tamblyn said that it was “absolutely a hard experience,” getting her film made and Gordon explained how she had no mentors and it’s ‘been hard to get recognized for the work I do.”
At the same time, they all professed that things are getting a little better, especially with such creations as The Writers Lab, funded by actress Meryl Streep, which brings 12 women screenwriters over the age of 40 with promising scripts together and Women at Sundance. At the Sundance Film Festival, for the last 13 years, 25% of American directors at the Sundance Film Festival have been female. The Sundance Institute created Women at Sundance which shows that there are barriers and opportunities for women filmmakers, that shows while women are making their mark on independent film festivals, there’s still a long way to go in mainstream Hollywood. Gordon stresses, as a director who just happens to be female, “I want to make films that I want to make,” said Gordon. “But it doesn’t mean that I want it to always be a female-driven film. If I have a good movie idea, it should be enough.”
The panel stress that that television provides a tremendous amount of opportunity for all types of scripts written by women.
What one film did I see that wasn’t directed by a female? The coming-of-senior-age Year By the Sea, directed by Alexander Janko, starring Karen Allen, who you might remember from a little film called “Indiana Jones.”
© Lisa Iannucci FF2 Media (11/14/16)
Top Photo: Bette Gordon’s The Drowning
Middle Photo: Dorie Barton's Girl Flu
Middle Photo: Amber Tamblyn's Paint it Black
Bottom Photo: Woodstock Film Festival logo
Photo Credits: Woodstock Film Festival
Lisa Iannucci has been writing about film and entertainment for years. She has interviewed hundreds of celebrities and is currently working on a film and travel book.