This year’s Sundance Film Festival is a breakthrough for women in film. More and more female directors, writers and producers are accepted into the festival and audiences are able to see and experience a great collection of female-made films. In addition to exceptional films, the opening days of the festival included many panels focused on women in film, the future of accepting more female filmmakers to Sundance, as well as networks like OWN emphasizing the need and importance for female producers and directors. The great work of these female makers can be not only seen on screen, but felt by viewers, leaving audiences hopeful and excited for more female presence in Hollywood and festivals in general.
Here are my “Best of the Fest” films made by women:
To the Stars directed by Martha Stephens
Stephens previous film, Land Ho!, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and won the John Cassavetes Award at the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards. This year, her film To the Stars was cinematically shot in black and white. Set in 1960s Oklahoma, the film centers on the powerful friendship forged between a shy farmer’s daughter and the reckless new girl in town. The two form a deep friendship that challenges them to face their inner demons and have the courage to show who they are on the inside. The controversial and yet deeply touching story stars Kara Hayward (Moonrise Kingdom), Liana Liberato (The Best of Me), two-time Emmy Award-winner Tony Hale (HBO’s Veep), and more. The film is produced by Kristin Mann and Laura D. Smith. When director Stephens addressed the audience, she couldn’t hold her excitement and enthusiasm for this project and how blessed she felt to be part of Sundance, once again. This film is a breakthrough in the drama genre as its simple set and complex theme blend exceptionally well in black and white. The stories, characters and themes portrayed are touching, heartfelt and unforgettable.
Honey Boy directed by Alma Har’el
This story is personal, deep and captivating in a sad, haunting kind of way. Writer Shia LaBeouf tells his personal life story and relationship with his father. Interestingly enough, he plays his father in the film (Lucas Hedges plays Otis, the character based on himself). The film captures two timeliness; one of 12-year old Otis who starts to find success as a child television star in Hollywood and his abusive relationship with his father. The other is the grown-up Otis who tries to mend the relationship. Half of the film is set in 1995, depicting the childhood experiences and the other half is set in 2005 - Otis in rehab, confronting his memories. This incredible collaboration between screenwriter and star LaBeouf and the director shows the challenges of a growing-up star. The film is raw, controversial and incredibly touching. The fact that is based on Shea’s painful childhood makes it not only relatable, but truthful and a sad experience to watch. The film is produced by Daniela Raplin, among others, and Natasha Braier is director of photography. Cast includes Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe and FKA Twigs.
Paradise Hills directed by Alice Waddington
Even though this film didn’t receive as many raving reviews, I found something quite appealing in its story and cinematography that others failed to see - a colorful spur of controversial and yet relevant ideas. Waddington’s feature debut stars Emma Roberts in a futuristic world where women who don’t comply with society are sent to be fixed at a boarding school - Paradise Hills, run by the Dutchess (played by the exceptional Milla Jovovich). Though she struggled a bit with the storyline, she touches on important topics, such as societal expectations for women, a fascist headmaster, upper class privileges and much more. The director shared that the story resembles her teenage self, as well as her love for sci-fi and fantasy stories, which she wanted to see herself in. The cast includes Danielle MacDonald (Patti Cakes), Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) and Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver).
Other great female made films that you can still see at the Sundance Film Festival:
Shooting the Mafia / Ireland (Director: Kim Longinotto, Producer: Niamh Fagan) — Sicilian Letizia Battaglia began a lifelong battle with the Mafia when she first pointed her camera at a brutally slain victim. Documenting the Cosa Nostra’s barbaric rule, she bore unflinching witness to their crimes.
Birds of Passage / Colombia (Directors: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra, Screenwriters: Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde, Producers: Katrin Pors, Cristina Gallego) — In 1970s Colombia, Rapayet is a man torn between the desire to be powerful and his duty to uphold his culture’s values. His indigenous tribe, the Wayúu, ignores ancient omens and enters the drug trafficking business — where honor is the highest currency and debts are paid with blood.
Before You Know It / U.S.A. (Director: Hannah Pearl Utt, Screenwriters: Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock, Producers: Mallory Schwartz, Josh Hetzler, James Brown) — A long-kept family secret thrusts codependent, thirty-something sisters Rachel and Jackie Gurner into a literal soap opera. A journey that proves that you really can come of age, at any age.
The Farewell / U.S.A., China (Director and screenwriter: Lulu Wang, Producers: Daniele Melia, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Andrew Miano, Anita Gou) — A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.
Sundance Film Festival is set in Park City, Utah and runs from Jan 24 until Feb 3.
© Nikoleta Morales (1/30/19) FF2 Media
Photo credits: Sundance Film Festival