Ephron Award Winner Sets Notable Firsts for Female Director

Rania Attieh won the 7th Annual Nora Ephron Award, with $25,000 prize, at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival for her World Premiere Initials S.G.  Hers is the first win for: co-writer & director (her fourth feature film collaboration with Daniel Garcia); Lebanese-born; film shot in South America (Argentina); male lead; and exudes jazz.

Sponsored by Chanel and accompanied by Swoon’s print “Alison the Lacemaker”, the award honored: “One narrative film directed by or written by a woman making its World or International Premiere, which recognizes a woman who embodies the spirit and vision of the legendary filmmaker and writer Nora Ephron.”  

The jurors this year were: Debra Messing, actress/activist; Chloë Sevigny, actress/director; and DeWanda Wise, actress/producer.  They declared Initials S.G. “thrilling, distinct, and fully immersive. It was also something we’d never seen before. A true cinematic experience.”  Crossing crime noir and black comedy genres, Diego Peretti plays charming extras actor Sergio Garces, channeling French crooner Serge Gainsbourg, whose Buenos Aires life takes unpredictable turns for the worse even before he romances depressed, ditzy American film agent Jane (Julianne Nicholson).

Tribeca, as usual, would not identify Ephron Award-eligible films in advance; I calculated 15 probably qualified. Two won other notice: Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature to Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy for the salty female-empowering thriller Blow the Man Down, with Special Jury Mention to Ani Simon-Kennedy for hippie girl odyssey The Short History of the Long Road.


In-eligible as only a North American Premiere was South Korean director & writer Bora Kim’s semi-autobiographical House Of Hummingbird (Beol-sae), which won Best International Narrative Feature; Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature (Ji-hu Park); and Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature (Gook-Hyun Kang).  Well Go USA will distribute in U.S. theaters.

Where Are Previous Nora Ephron Award Winners Now?

2018 Little Woods (USA) Written & Directed by Nia DaCosta

Neon’s release last month to over 30 U.S. theaters grossed just over $145,000 so far, according to Box Office Mojo.  The Ephron Award helped bring DaCosta to the attention of producer/filmmaker Jordan Peele, who breathed new social commentary into the Hollywood horror genre with Get Out and Us.  DaCosta is now directing his “spiritual sequel” to the Clive Barker-inspired 1992 Black horror classic Candyman, set for theaters June 12, 2020 (carefully scheduled a week after the Wonder Woman sequel).  She next works on studio re-imaginings of Sleeping With The Enemy and Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  

2017 The Divine Order (Switzerland) Written & Directed by Petra Volpe

Last year Volpe wrote the now-filming Frieden (Peace), a post-World War II fictional family drama mini-series for Swiss television, then re-settled in New York City to work on her own writing/directing projects.  She let FF2 Media know she is developing two English-language films: Naked Man, a men’s prison drama, and Mr. Beekeeper, a tragi-comedy set in Queens.

2016 Adult Life Skills (U.K.) Written & Directed by Rachel Tunnard

Briefly in limited release January 2019 to coincide with star/BFF Jodie Whittaker’s first season finale in Dr. Who, it is finally available on U.S. digital platforms.  While developing her own projects, Tunnard is garnering prominent writer-for-hire gigs, including Military Wives, based on a true story of choirs, starring Dame Kristin Scott Thomas; director Peter Cattaneo is now in post-production.  Tunnard let FF2 Media know she is now working on Ardman Animation’s follow-up to Chicken Run, the huge stop-motion animation hit of 2000.  

2015 Sworn Virgin (Albania/Italy) Directed & Co-Written by Laura Bispuri

Strand released her Daughter of Mine follow-up in February to only two theaters in the U.S. for a gross of over $10,000, according to Box Office Mojo; it’s now available on digital platforms.  Saying she wanted to do more political films about injustices, her short fiction film The Entrance is included in The Love Europe Project, promoted as“10 Films, One Europe”, that last month began streaming overseas.

2014 Zero Motivation (Israel) Written & Directed by Talya Lavie

The Israeli Culture and Sport Ministry awarded Lavie the 2018 Film Art Prize for her creativity.  She has been mentoring new directors, especially on how to deal with the media. With Spiro Films, she is now developing Honeymoon, about a newly married couple’s “dazed urban odyssey…with past loves, repressed doubts and the single life they left behind.”

Nelly Tagar in ZERO MOTIVATION (Photo Credits: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films)

2013 Farah Goes Bang (USA) Written and directed by Meera Menon

Menon continued directing TV this year.  The Walking Dead’s new showrunner Angela Kang specifically recruited female writers and directors this past season, including Menon, around Samantha Mathis’s frighteningly powerful villain.  After directing three episodes of SyFy Channel’s The Magicians for showrunner Sera Gamble, Menon helmed an episode of AMC’s spooky The Terror: Infamy upcoming series, set in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

Past Ephron Award winners appreciated FF2 Media’s continued unique support.

© Nora Lee Mandel (May 2019) FF2 Media

Featured photo: Initials S.G.

Photo credits: Tribeca Film Festival

Tags: Intitials S.G., Nora Ephron Award, Rania Attieh, Tribeca Film Festival

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Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. After high school weekends spent learning film history at NY’s Museum of Modern Art, she studied film criticism at New York University. In addition to many years of writing for national and New York City organizations in the arts, education, history, and city planning, her reviews of documentaries, independent, and foreign-language films, books, television, exhibitions, and music have also appeared in such outlets as: Film-Forward.com, FilmFestival Traveler and Lilith Magazine, the independent Jewish feminist quarterly. Her ongoing Critical Guide to Jewish Women in Movies, TV, and Pop Music has been the basis for her talks around the New York region.
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