NYFF ’16: Preview Guide to Female-Directed Feature Films

The 54th Annual New York Film Festival (NYFF) of the Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC) opens September 30, with a new documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay, renowned for Selma. (2014).  Running through October 16, the full slate includes, by my count of all the sections: 11 new feature-length films (fiction and documentary), plus one restored revival, as well as 18 short films directed by women.  Many filmmakers attend the screenings for post Q and As, held at several theaters on the Lincoln Center campus.  I will be covering and reviewing as many of these films as possible for FF2 Media.  

How did female film directors fare in each section of feature-length films? In the most prominent “Main Slate” are films by five women directors out of 25, five women directors in the “Spotlight on Documentary” out of 15 films, and one film each by a woman in the new “Explorations” section, out of six, and in “Revivals” of restored masterpieces, out of nine.  The selection committee was chaired by Festival Director Kent Jones, and included Florence Almozini, FSLC Associate Director of Programming, and Amy Taubin, Contributing Editor, Artforum and Film Comment, FSLC’s journal.

For comparison with other major, international film festivals this year, the Cannes Film Festival in the spring included three female-directed films in the major category “In Competition,” out of 21; “Un Certain Regard” for emerging talent included four by women out of 18 films, and the international “Director’s Fortnight” had one out of four.  The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opens just before NYFF, is presenting a record seven women directors out of the 20 in the high-profile “Galas”; nearly 30 percent of all movies in this year’s TIFF are directed by women.  

MAIN SLATE: Five Feature Films by Women Directors

Opening Night – 13th (USA) – directed by Ava DuVernay World Premiere  

The first-ever nonfiction work selected for the prestigious opening slot of the Festival, the title refers to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  DuVernay is quoted in the announcement, “This film was made as an answer to my own questions about how and why we have become the most incarcerated nation in the world, how and why we regard some of our citizens as innately criminal, and how and why good people allow this injustice to happen generation after generation.”  Netflix will debut her film globally on October 7, 2016, as well as in a limited theatrical release.  

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/the-13th/

Certain Women (USA) – directed by Kelly Reichardt.  

She is known for writing and directing quietly devastating women-starring films Wendy and Lucy (2008) and Meek’s Cutoff (2010).  Her latest work, already screened to acclaim at several international film festivals, is based on Maile Meloy‘s short stories in Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It (2009), and stars Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone.  IFC Films will release her film in theaters on October 14, 2016.  

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/certain-women/

The Rehearsal (New Zealand) – directed by Alison Maclean U.S. Premiere  

Maclean has been catching attention since her eye-opening short fantasy Kitchen Sink (1989), then hearts and minds with her sensitive literary adaptation Jesus’ Son (1999)  Even as her new film, adapted from Eleanor Catton’s novel, is being hailed as her “return”, she has been, in fact, busy directing television episodes, including Sex and the City and The L Word — as many women directors do.  In a panel of women directors at this past Tribeca Film Festival [https://ff2media.azurewebsites.net/filmsfortwo/2016/05/11/nora-ephron-award-2016-tribeca-film-festival/] Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) specifically cited TV as more open and flexible for women directors, for herself and such as Agnieszka Holland and Susan Bier; DuVernay has proclaimed her pride in selecting a team of seven women directors for her new OWN series Queen Sugar.  IFC Films will release Maclean’s film in theaters on October 6, 2016.

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/the-rehearsal/

Things to Come (L’Avenir) (France/Germany) – directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

From youthful actress to film critic to director, her films were known for drawing on experiences of people she knew, including The Father of My Children (Le père de mes enfants) (2009), included in FSLC/MoMA’s New Directors/New Films, and Eden (2015), in the New York Film Festival.  Isabelle Huppert stars as a philosophy professor trying to face aging in her family and work relationships philosophically.  Sundance Selects has set theatrical release for December 2, 2016.

Film and Screening Information: http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/things-to-come/

Toni Erdmann – directed by Maren Ade (Germany – selected submission for Foreign Language Oscar)

Her very modern romance Everyone Else (Alle Anderen) was shown in the 2009 NYFF, and her latest film has already won awards at many international film festivals as a comic audience-pleaser, even with a 162 minute running time.  Ade is the only woman director who will be participating in one of the free Directors Dialogue, a Q&A with a NYFF selection committee member, on Sunday, Oct 2, at 7pm, in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater (presented by HBO).  Sony Pictures Classics will release her film December 25, 2016.

Film and Screening Information: http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/toni-erdmann/

EXPLORATIONS: One Feature Film by a Women Director

Everything Else (Todo lo demás) (Mexico) – directed by Natalia Almada North American Premiere

Almada’s first fiction feature, in this new section that the Festival says is for “bold selections from the vanguard of contemporary cinema”, stars Adriana Barraza, Oscar nominee for Babel.  The director is known for documentaries that combine beautiful aesthetics and social revelations, which you might have seen on PBS’s POV series – To The Other Side (Al Otro Lado) in 2006; El General in 2010; The Night Watchman (El Velador) in 2012.  

Film and Screening Information: http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/everything-else/

SPOTLIGHT ON DOCUMENTARY:  Five Feature Films Co/Directed by Women:

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (USA) – directed by Alexis Bloom & Fisher Stevens

Bloom moves from broadcast journalist and producer for her first feature-length co-directing credit in teaming with Stevens, who moved from actor to producer to documentary director a decade ago.  HBO Documentary Films will show the film in early 2017.

Film and Screening Information: http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/bright-lights-starring-carrie-fisher-debbie-reynolds/

The Cinema Travellers (India) – directed by Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya  US Premiere

Abraham researched and wore several hats (editing, producing, sound recording) on her debut co-directed feature film for eight years before its premiere at Cannes, where it won Best Documentary, and accolades at other international festivals.  

Film and Screening Information: http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/the-cinema-travellers/

Karl Marx City (USA/Germany) directed by Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker

Epperlein has been teaming with Tucker on documentaries, and in life, for over ten years.  They are known for a series of films related to war (Gunner Palace in 2004; The Prisoner in 2006; Bulletproof Salesman in 2008), where she does camera, he does sound, and they jointly edit.  But from their home base in Berlin, their new film is more personal for her, about growing up in the former East Germany and her new suspicions about her family.  

Film and Screening Information: http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/karl-marx-city/

Cuba, Fatherland or Death (Patria O Muerte) (Cuba/USA) – directed by Olatz López Garmendia

López Garmendia has garnered much style attention as a former model, interior designer with luxury goods lines, and muse/sometime actress/former wife of artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel (who executive produced her film).  Returning to her birth name after their 17 years together, her new barely feature-length documentary is about the people and landscape in Cuba now.

HBO Documentary Films will premiere her film in November 2017.

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/patria-o-muerte/

Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature (USA) – directed by Linda Saffire & Adam Schlesinger

Last year, Saffire co-directed the just-under feature length portrait of athletes in Sporting Dreams, including a girl basketball player, that you may have seen on cable TV.  She and her co-director have gone longer to focus on the woman who has been a star dancer with New York City Ballet for three decades.

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/restless-creature-wendy-whelan/

REVIVALS: One Woman Director

Harlan County USA (1976) – directed by Barbara Kopple,

This classic verité documentary on coal miners not only garnered Kopple her first Oscar for her first feature-length film in what is now a stellar 40-year career, but was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  The issues and the people she profiled are still very much relevant.  The restoration was funded by New York Women in Film & Television in 2004 through a Women’s Film Preservation Fund Legacy Grant and underwritten by the Academy Film Archive.

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/harlan-county-usa/

There are also a couple of feature-length films not directed by women, but are also of note for those interested in women artists:

In Spotlight on Documentary, Errol Morris’s bio-doc The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/the-b-side/

In Special Events, Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Davis as Emily Dickinson, presented by FSLC’s journal Film Comment.  

Film and Screening Information:  http://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/a-quiet-passion/

For MavensNest, [http://mavensnest.net/movies], I will also be identifying the films created with women in other positions, particularly writers, cinematographers, editors, and composers.

Will I get to see them all?  Will you?  Member tickets for the 2016 New York Film Festival pre-sale started September 6; public tickets go on sale September 11.   For more specifics about NYFF tickets http://filmlinc.org/NYFF, including a complete list of on-sale dates, prices, discount options, and their rush and standby policies.

The Festival does sometimes add showings “by popular demand”.  Already available are such benefits as, according to FSLC, “VIP passes and subscription packages offer the earliest opportunities to purchase tickets and secure seats at some of the festival’s biggest events including Opening and Closing Nights, and Centerpiece. VIP passes also provide access to many exciting events, including the invitation-only Opening Night party, “An Evening with…” dinner, Filmmaker Brunch, and VIP Lounge. Benefits vary based on the pass or package type purchased. VIP passes and subscription packages are on sale now.”

© Nora Lee Mandel 09/08/16

Photo Credit: New York Film Festival



About Nora

Nora Lee Mandel [http://MavensNest.net/movies.html] is a member of New York Film Critics Online and Alliance of Women Film Journalists; her reviews are counted in Rotten Tomatoes’ TomatoMeter [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/nora-lee-mandel/].  She reviews films and television in Film Festival Traveler, Film-Forward, Lilith, and NH Jewish Film Festival’s Film Buzz.  Her ongoing Critical Guide to Jewish Women in Movies and TV [http://MavensNest.net/Lilith.html] has been the basis for talks to audiences in New York and New Jersey, and Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival.  @NLM_MavensNest

Tags: 13th, Adam Schlesinger, Alexis Bloom, Alison Maclean, Ava DuVernay, Bright Lights, Carrie Fisher, Certain Women, Cuba, Debbie Reynolds, Everything Else, Fatherland or Death, FF2 Media, Fisher Stevens, Karl Marx City, Kelly Reichardt, Linda Saffire, Maren Ade, Mia Hansen-Love, Michael Tucker, Natalia Almada, New York Film Festival, Nora Lee Mandel, NYFF, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Petra Epperlein, Revivals, The Cinema Travellers, The Rehearsal, Things to Come, Toni Erdmann, Wendy Whelan

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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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