Some find it debatable to focus on gender when it comes to the arts. More than a few women filmmakers, for example, have expressed discomfort at drawing attention to their sex. Says Mira Nair, whose The Reluctant Fundamentalist opened the Venice Film Festival, "I am beyond gender and inspired by art." Yet the fact remains that while female stars may strut their stuff on red carpets, cinema has long been male-dominated, and women directors have been relatively rare at international film fests.
How exciting, then, that following the royal snub this May in Cannes, femme filmmakers have stepped to the fore at the 37th edition of the Toronto Film Festival kicking off September 6. They've shined as well in the overlapping Venice fest. "We did not have a quota for women directors," says fest director Alberto Barbera. "We chose the films without any prejudices and we realized later that a third were by women. I think it's a sign of the times."
Now Toronto is upon us, with its brain-scrambling lineup of 300 films, a healthy 90 by women directors -- up more than 20 percent from last year's fest. Of the 17 high-profile Galas, 6 titles are by women. Across all the fest sections women's films span a broad spectrum, from personal stories, to time traveling sci-fiers, to the Holocaust. On tap, too, are a wealth of femme-helmed documentaries exploring women's lives, from portraits of Venus and Serena Williams, to Marilyn Monroe, to Hannah Arendt.
Here's a partial list of TIFF's films by women directors that I hope to report on over the coming week:
Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley. A fluidly crafted memoir by this ever interesting filmmaker/actor about her own family and search for her real father. Though purportedly a documentary, the film pushes the edges of the nonfiction envelope.
Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer and Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy. Based on David Mitchell's cult novel of the same name, this epic takes up the theme of how we all connect, traveling from the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future. In a New Yorker profile Lana said, "'Cloud Atlas' represents a midpoint between the future idea that everything is fragmented and the past idea that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end." Now who wouldn't get on board with that? Note: some Internet churl wants to disqualify transgendered Lana from the femme slot.
Free Angela & All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch is a documentary that explores how a bookish 26-year-old philosophy professor ends up on the FBI's Most Wanted List and an international political icon in the early 1970s.
Love, Marilyn by Academy Award-nominee Liz Garbus plumbs a recently unearthed cache of the icon's personal papers to reconstruct Marilyn -- through readings, interviews, archival footage -- as we've never known her. Reviews out of Telluride have been glowing and the documentary has nabbed a Gala slot at Toronto.
Imogene by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini features Kristen Wiig as a playwright who stages a suicide in an attempt to win back her ex (Matt Dillon), only to wind up in the custody of her gambling-addict mother (Annette Bening).
Ginger and Rosa by Sally Potter ("Orlando") is a coming-of-ager toplined by Elle Fanning and newcomer Alice Englert (the daughter of director Jane Campion) in a love story set against the Cuban Missile Crisis. Anyone who caught Potter's adult and very sexy "Yes" -- about a woman in the U.K. in a passionate affair with a Muslim -- will rush to see her latest.
Midnight's Children by Deepa Mehta -- from Salman Rushdie's sprawling, semi-autobiographical novel of the same name -- focuses on a young man switched at birth to a life of privilege. Mehta's previous Water boasts a final scene among the most powerful in cinema.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mira Nair stars Riz Ahmed as a hotshot Pakistani Wall Street analyst who turns his back on the American dream in the wake of 9/11, and Kate Hudson as a New York artist who may or may not be his salvation. Provocatively proposes that the Americans are Fundamentalists in their own fashion.
West of Memphis by Amy Berg uncovers new evidence in the case of three young Arkansas men wrongly sent to prison for 18 years as teens for the 1993 murder of three 8-year-old boys.
Lore by Cate Shortland, the long-awaited follow-up to her exquisite "Somersault, is a sensual and complex story that explores the tribulations faced by five siblings with Nazi parents in the aftermath of World War II.
Love is All You Need by Academy Award winner Danish director Susanne Bier, a romantic comedy about the search for love set in Sorrento, Italy and starring Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm and Paprika Steen.
P.S. As a relief from high-mindedness, I also plan to see, even if I have to cut ahead of the line and risk the ire of Toronto's intrepid media gang, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, in a separate category of madness and irreverence all its own.