Toronto 2019: Recapping the Best of Women in Film

Hermione Corfield in Sea Fever
Hermione Corfield in Sea Fever. Courtesy of TIFF

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival may have come to an end but women in film had many achievements to celebrate.

The Gala and Special Presentation programs were certainly the big headliners with the likes of Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to get emotional as soon as the film starts. Going into this year’s festival, the Fred Rogers biopic was one of my most anticipated films of the years. I left the screening feeling quite satisfied. I do think, however, that Tom Hanks will get a supporting nomination rather than leading.

Kasi Lemmons came to TIFF for the world premiere of the Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet. Cynthia Erivo delivers a commanding performance as the conductor of the Underground Railround. The film focuses on the time period in which she escapes slavery to freedom. There’s the required montage of scenes in which Tubman returns to free more slaves. While it’s still a solid film, it’s one of those films in which you either get out of it what you want or you don’t.


Special Presentations

Moving onto the Special Presentations program, I saw Endings, Beginnings; The Friend; How to Build a Girl; The Other Lamb; and Pelican Blood.

Best known for being a documentary filmmaker, Gabriela Cowperthwaite came to Toronto with a narrative feature, The Friend. One of the themes of this year’s fest was films based on magazine articles. The Friend would be no exception. Jason Segel delivers a career-best performance as Dane, who moves in and helps out when Nicole (Dakota Johnson) gets diagnosed with cancer.

How to Build a Girl features another standout performance from Beanie Feldstein.  Coky Giedroyc directs from Caitlin Moran’s screenplay.  Moran bases her script on her own semi-autobiographical book.  I had the opportunity to speak with director and screenwriter during the fest.  You’ll be able to read what they had to say when the film gets released in theaters.

The Other Lamb takes us into the world of cults in Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska’s English language debut. Raffey Cassidy stars as Selah, a girl who knows nothing but a life growing up surrounded by the Shepherd’s (Michiel Huisman) wives and daughters. Selah starts to question everything she knows when she begins to show signs of puberty and the cops make their way onto the premises. The film can be graphic at times.

Pelican Blood is from writer-director Katrin Gebbe. The film is one of two films to star Nina Hoss during the fest. I will stress that this psychological drama will not be for everyone. While I saw the film, I chose not to write a review.

Finally, Endings, Beginnings boasts a cast that includes Shailene Woodley, Sebastian Stan, and Jamie Dornan. Their characters are in a love triangle in the newest film directed by Drake Doremus from a screenplay co-written with Jardine Libaire. As of press time, there hasn’t been a buyer yet and a 30 percent Rotten Tomatoes percentage isn’t doing the film any favors. Because of those involved, I had an interest in the film. However, I found myself not being entertained in viewing and made the decision against writing a review.

Contemporary World Cinema

The Father is an absurdist dark comedy from co-directors Petar Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva. When Pavel’s mother dies, he rushes home to attend the funeral and help his father, Vasil, out. Pavel is driven up a wall when Vasil starts believing that his just-buried wife is reaching out to him. The two don’t have the best of relationships and it shows through the film.

Tammy’s Always Dying is the sophomore feature from Amy Jo Johnson. The former Power Rangers star turns to Hamilton, Ontario to shoot the bleak film about a woman who is always threatening to jump off the bridge.  Starring Felicity Huffman and Anastasia Phillips, things change for Cathy (Anastasia Phillips) when her alcoholic mother, Tammy (Felicity Huffman), gets diagnosed with cancer. After appearing on the small screen for a number of years, Johnson is showing growth behind the camera as a director. Johnson directs from a script by Joanne Sarazen.


The Audition is the second film of the fest to feature Nina Hoss in a leading role. This time, she stars as a violin teacher who is spending more time with a gifted student than with her own family.  Ina Weisse directs from a script written by Daphne Charizani.

Love Me Tender is the second feature film filmmaker Klaudia Reynicke. Barbara Giordano stars as Seconda, a woman suffering from agoraphobia. She’s forced to fend for herself after her mom dies and her dad leaves her. The film made its international premiere after launching at Locarno.

Murmur is a hybrid narrative-documentary from Heather Young. Shan MacDonald stars as Donna, a woman who is forced to perform community service as a result of DUIs. While serving time there, she falls in love with the animals so much that she ends up bringing them home.


The Rest of Us is from director Aisling Chin-Yee and screenwriter Alanna Francis. It’s quite the family drama when a single mother invites her late ex-husband’s wife and daughter to move in with them. The film can be very heartbreaking at times but shows what happens when people can persevere in tragedy.

If there’s a film to premiere just below the radar, it’s Sea Fever. I watched a screener just before leaving for Toronto and knew then and there that I had to do interviews for the film. I spoke to writer-director Neasa Hardiman and lead actress Hermione Corfield. You’ll see what they had to say when the film gets released.


Proxima is the best of the two films about astronauts to hold their world premieres during the Toronto International Film Festival. Eva Green crushes it as Sarah, an astronaut who must separate from her daughter while training for the upcoming space mission. Alice Winocour directs from a script co-written with Jean-Stéphane Bron.


Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger is one of the shortest features that I saw this year during the Toronto festival with a running time just barely over an hour.  It’s the 53rd film for director Alanis Obomsawin. Many Americans will often speak of how healthcare is better in Canada. If you watch this film, you might have to start rethinking those comments.

The Toronto International Film Festival will return September 10-20, 2020.

(c) Danielle Solzman (9/23/19) FF2 Media

Featured image: Sea Fever

Photos courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

Tags: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, How to Build A Girl, The Friend, The Other Lamb, TIFF, Toronto International Film Festival

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Danielle Solzman is a Chicago-based film critic and an aspiring filmmaker if she can ever put enough time aside to work on her feature-length trans-led political comedy script. When not in Chicago, she attends various film festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Toronto. She graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a BA in Public Relations while earning a Masters in Media Communications from Webster University after writing a thesis paper on comic books against the backdrop of the American political culture.
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