Women Directors Shine at 2004 Film Fests

Women Directors Shine at 2004 Film Fests

By Jan Lisa Huttner


Film festivals, which begin their annual roll-out every January at Sundance and peak in the early Fall, build audience support for movies made outside the Hollywood mainstream. This “buzz” can be especially important for women filmmakers, who often want to tell personal stories made on mini-budgets. At October’s Chicago International Film Festival, 20 out of the 111 films were directed by women filmmakers (22% of the schedule). Here are four already scheduled for commercial distribution, meaning they’ll probably open at your local art house this winter and be on a DVD shelf by summer.



“Group Shot” by Zana Briski can be ordered from www.kids-with-cameras.org.

When Manhattan-based photojournalist Zana Briski began traveling to India in 1995, she was deeply and immediately moved by the harsh realities of Indian women’s lives. Gradually, she began to focus on the sex workers of Calcutta. By the time the women and their customers became suspicious of her motives, she had already given her heart to the children of their community. The result is the new documentary BORN INTO BROTHELS, which has received numerous awards at film festivals around the world. 

The eight kids at the center of the film are all bright-eyed and engaging. Briski gives them simple cameras and helps them understand why some pictures are better than others. While they learn about composition, she learns about them, and without thinking through the consequences, Briski inserts herself into their story. She tries to convince the mothers to send their children to school. She collects birth certificates and report cards, arranges screening interviews, raises hopes and nurtures dreams. Having established how grim their future prospects are without her, BORN INTO BROTHELS unfolds as compelling drama blurring the line between art and empathy.



Photograph of Emily Mortimer & Gerard Butler
from the DEAR FRANKIE Press Kit.

Set in Scotland, DEAR FRANKIE, has a raw, red quality, its characters pushed about by the harsh wind. Frankie’s father Davey is a sailor. Although he sends regular letters from various ports of call, Davey never comes home on leave. Meanwhile Frankie lives with his mother and grandmother, and plots his father’s travels on a giant wall map.

DEAR FRANKIE is the directorial debut of cinematographer Shona Auerbach and her locations are so specific you can almost smell the sea air above your popcorn. Working with screenwriter Andrea Gibb, she has created a wonderful part for Emily Mortimer who stars as Frankie’s mother, Lizzy. When we first meet her, Lizzy is guarded and severe, but when the new man in her life finally makes her smile, the fog lifts and Frankie’s world is filled with light. While the mystery of Frankie’s predicament is a bit clichéd, Mortimer’s inner glow makes the film itself truly heart-warming.



Photograph of Fanny Ardant from the NATALIE Press Kit.

NATHALIE is the epitome of a “French film.” The women look trés sophisticated and the production values are lush. Nevertheless, director Anne Fontaine’s erotic thriller transcends its genre and really gets under your skin.

When Catherine (Fanny Ardant) discovers that her husband is having an affair, she plots her revenge, hiring a beautiful prostitute to seduce him and then break his heart. But the husband is definitely a minor character in this drama, even though he’s played by the internationally-beloved movie star Gérard Depardieu. Transforming Emmanuelle Béart from the crude “Marlene” into the elegant “Nathalie,” Catherine finds herself falling under the spell of her own creation. By the end, the two women are playing a game of their own, like two sleek cats teasing each other with an oblivious little mouse. 



Photograph of Kevin Bacon & Kyra
Sedgwick from THE WOODSMAN Press Kit.

Husband-and-wife team Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick are the stars of THE WOODSMAN, written and directed by Nicole Kassell. Bacon plays a recently paroled sex offender who begins an affair with one of his new co-workers. Walter is not a sympathetic character. We squirm in our seats as he watches the children in his neighborhood playing in the street. But Vickie sees something decent in him, and eventually, through her eyes, we do too.

These two deeply flawed characters mirror each other’s pain. The revelation that Vickie was abused as a girl should be no surprise, nevertheless this information has a profound effect on Walter. For the first time, he actually feels the consequences of his actions from a victim’s perspective. While neither pleasant nor uplifting, THE WOODSMAN is deeply felt and morally courageous.


Shona Auerbach, Zana Briski, Anne Fontaine, and Nicole Kassell:
four new names you should all tuck into your personal memory bank.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2004) – Special for The Woman’s Newspapers. Reposted with permission.


#1 – Selected Awards to Date:

Sundance Film Festival (2004)
WON: Audience Award for Documentary
NOMINATED: Grand Jury Prize for Documentary

2004 Chicago Int’l Film Festival
The Gold Hugo for Best Documentary Feature

Seattle International Film Festival (2004)
The Lena Sharpe Award (sponsored by Women in Cinema Seattle)

Sundance Film Festival (2004)
NOMINATED: Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Feature

Deauville Film Festival (2004)
WON: Special Jury Prize

#2- More Film Festival Information:

Currently, there are over 1,600 film festivals worldwide. Through the film festival circuit, movies from every nation get seen, get attention, and acquire distributors when in the past they had little or no such chance. Film production, distribution, and the film-going experience have changed — and film festivals are driving many of these changes, providing opportunities that no multiplex can. FILM FESTIVAL TODAY covers all aspects of this growing venue for emerging and independent filmmakers. 

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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