Films by women directors are few, but memorable at NYFF

The New York Film Festival of the Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC) sets the standard for the best arthouse films in the U.S.  The 56th annual festival opened September 28, 2018, and ran through October 14.  This year’s included a modest number of women directors, but, as Ruth Gordon wrote in the classic Pat and Mike, they were “cherce:”

Main Slate:

4, plus 1 co-written by a woman, out of 30

Documentary Spotlight:

2 out of 14

Revivals and Retrospectives:

1 woman co-director, out of 25, and 2 new cinéphile documentaries out of 3 (1 about a woman director)


16 out of 36

Convergence (VR/Immersive Cinema/AI projects):

4 out of 12

Shorts: 7 out of 21


Happy as Lazzaro – Netflix/Theaters

Release date: 11/30

Alice Rohrwacher, with female cinematographer and editor, takes Italian neorealism to a wonderful level of magic realism for contemporary class and economic consciousness of rural and urban poor, in sympathy with migrants.

High Life – A24

Release date: 2019

Claire Denis’s 18th feature is her first science fiction in her 30-year career – her first in English because, she said at the press conference, “People in space speak English or Russian, not French.”  In fraught travel to a black hole, Juliette Binoche is a sensually mad reproduction scientist and Denis-fan Robert Pattinson is a murderer reformed by his baby daughter to face their future.


Private Life – Netflix/theaters

Release date:10/5

Dedicating the film to her daughter, Tamara Jenkins was inspired by her own experiences to humanistically create a 40-something couple toiling with fertility treatments and adoption that impact his suburban sister-in-law and college drop-out daughter in unexpectedly emotional, amusing and moving ways. Read FF2 Media’s review of the film.

Too Late to Die Young – KimStim release

Dominga Sotomayor beautifully symbolizes the rush of freedom in Chile in 1990 as adolescents coming of age in an unconventional co-op family vacation camp on New Year’s Eve.  


Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes – Magnolia

Release date: 12/7

Alexis Bloom is top-notch at getting accusers from his distant and recent past to bitterly reveal how the late media czar’s pattern of sexual harassment and abuse of power began early in his career – and how Fox News reflects his style and priorities.

The Waldheim Waltz – Menemsha Films

Release date:10/19

Ruth Beckermann vividly reminds us that another president lied about his past, whitewashed his country’s history, encouraged nationalism and anti-Semitism, and won election – in Austria, Spring 1986.  Her video tapes from demonstrations alongside “dissidents, socialists, Trotskyites, Jews and outraged people” strikingly contrast with official broadcast coverage. The protests and international media reactions finally pushed her country to deal with their Nazi complicity, even as the same forces are rising again.


Auteur partners Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet were represented by leftist German shorts from 1960s. (Grasshopper Film release)  

Margarethe von Trotta’s Searching For Ingmar Bergman is her personal tribute to the master auteur, emphasizing autobiographical elements and great roles for his actresses/lovers, while encouraging new audiences to his oeuvre. (Oscilloscope Laboratories release)

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché

Pamela B. Green is passionate about advancing Guy-Blaché’s recognition as first woman filmmaker, starting 1894 in France as writer, director, and producer, and to the U.S.  She went from studio head to forgotten creator of more than a thousand innovative works (now mis-credited, mis-filed, or lost like too many silents). Narrator Jodie Foster joined Green in urging more acknowledgment for her new role model and for theatrical and educational distribution of this exciting and essential documentary.

New York Women in Film & Television presented a panel on “Early Women Film Pioneers: Alice Guy-Blaché”: Jane Gaines on the Women Film Pioneers Project at Columbia University; Susan Lazarus on Women’s Film Preservation Fund, which supported several Guy-Blaché films; and Be Natural co-writer Joan Simon on curating public screenings.

PROJECTIONS – My Top Favorites

In addition to Ericka Beckman’s retrospective of 1980s experimental funny, feminist shorts Cinderella and You the Better (restored by Academy Film Archive), my favorite in former avant-garde section: Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bizarre. This gorgeous collage of global textiles feels like being inside a jacquard loom weaving a mix of cultures, travelogue footage, and animation.  

SHORTS – My Top Favorites

In Veslemøy’s Song (International Shorts), Canadian director Sofia Bohdanowicz hand-processed black-and-white film to follow a young woman’s adventures in historical, archival, and musical research (including at Lincoln Center) to re-discover Kathleen Parlow, her grandfather’s teacher and one of 20th century’s eminent female violinists.

In God Never Dies (New York Stories), Barbara Cigarroa’s Texas borderland bicultural experience transfers to NYS’s Hudson Valley. Her actors are farm workers: a single mother with children briefly get a look inside their American Dream – new house in the fields.

The prestige of the NY Film Festival could bring these films to an outlet near you!

© Nora Lee Mandel (10/21/18) FF2 Media


Featured photo: Alba Rohrwacher and Adriano Tardiolo in Happy as Lazzaro (2018)

Photos: New York 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:, 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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