Advertisement

There Is No Shortage Of Great Female-Directed Films

There's been a lot of talk this week about how certain (read: white) female filmmakers have been overlooked in the Oscar nominations. The Sundance Film Festival has made tremendous efforts to highlight a wide variety of bold new movies from women across all backgrounds. Will that same energy around
There's been a lot of talk this week about how certain (read: white) female filmmakers have been overlooked in the Oscar nominations. The Sundance Film Festival has made tremendous efforts to highlight a wide variety of bold new movies from women across all backgrounds. Will that same energy around

There's been a lot of talk this week about how certain (read: white) female filmmakers have been overlooked in the Oscar nominations. The Sundance Film Festival has made tremendous efforts to highlight a wide variety of bold new movies from women across all backgrounds. Will that same energy around "Barbie" be given to them too?

PARK CITY, Utah — Amid our inclination to focus on Hollywood’s many inequities, including, say, the Academy’s failure to recognize one very specifically selected female directorthe notion of a talent deficit can emerge and drown out the truth: We have a plethora of female filmmakers from across all backgrounds telling daring, superb stories all the time. 

They just too often don’t reach the audiences that they deserve. 

This month’s Sundance Film Festival, for instance, premiered a wide variety of interesting movies from women — some of whom you might have never heard of before, and others whose work might get a lot of much-deserved buzz at the festival, only for that to fizzle out as the year progresses. (Hopefully that won’t be the case.)

But in today’s flooded news cycle, it’s hard to sustain interest around a film for 365 whole days. Not all of them are acquired by big film studios, and even those that do don’t always get marketed well or find an audience.

Last year’s festival alone gave us good female-directed films like “A Thousand and One,” “Kokomo City,” “You Hurt My Feelings,” “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” “Rye Lane” and “Polite Society” — and none of these caught the Academy’s eye, either. They’re apparently not even notable enough to be mentioned on many “Oscar snubs” lists.

To be fair, we’re inundated with so many films, many that are right at our fingertips on a streamer, that some would-be viewers might have trouble keeping track of lower-profile releases.

And admittedly, there is a privilege that comes with having access to smaller films that almost always release in New York City, where the HuffPost headquarters is based, and being able to attend festivals like Sundance. 

But if you are seriously interested in widening your scope of female directors beyond the ones whose work makes the most noise during awards season, take a look at what’s coming down the pipeline this year. 

Alongside standout titles from male directors, like Titus Kaphar’s “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” Josh Margolin’s “Thelma” and Johan Grimonprez’s “Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat,” this year promises bold new offerings from female filmmakers across all genres and formats. Here are 11 of the best:

(Left to Right) Dolly De Leon and Keith Kupferer shatter hearts in
(Left to Right) Dolly De Leon and Keith Kupferer shatter hearts in

(Left to Right) Dolly De Leon and Keith Kupferer shatter hearts in "Ghostlight."

“Ghostlight”

Writer-director Kelly O’Sullivan and co-director Alex Thompson turn a film with an unassuming premise — a small town theater production of “Romeo and Juliet” punctures a family’s unspoken wounds — into a stirring and wonderfully performed unraveling of grief and regret. 

Acquired by IFC Films and Sapan Studio

Writer, director and star Alison Rich delivers a hilarious film that reflects millennial obsession with fame and identity.
Writer, director and star Alison Rich delivers a hilarious film that reflects millennial obsession with fame and identity.

Writer, director and star Alison Rich delivers a hilarious film that reflects millennial obsession with fame and identity.

“Pathological”

It’s not often that short films get as much attention as the features, but Sundance had a particularly great selection this year. This one from writer-director Alison Rich is a quirky little story that follows a young professional’s (also played by Rich) increasingly reckless attempt to detangle herself from her own web of lies. Hilarity ensues. 

(Left to Right) Corinna Brown and Busayo Ige star in Yero Timi-Biu's thoughtful new drama short.
(Left to Right) Corinna Brown and Busayo Ige star in Yero Timi-Biu's thoughtful new drama short.

(Left to Right) Corinna Brown and Busayo Ige star in Yero Timi-Biu's thoughtful new drama short.

“Essex Girls”

Every great short film has a beginning, middle and end of a story that can stand on its own merit without needing, say, 90 minutes. Director Yero Timi-Biu’s latest short is no exception to that rule. But “Essex Girls” tells such an honest, beautifully shot story about a Black British teen (Busayo Ige) struggling to find herself inside predominantly white spaces in Essex that you’ll crave for it to expand into a feature. Because it’s a knockout. 

John Early plays a gay New Yorker overwhelmed by his own self-concocted neuroses in the delirious
John Early plays a gay New Yorker overwhelmed by his own self-concocted neuroses in the delirious

John Early plays a gay New Yorker overwhelmed by his own self-concocted neuroses in the delirious "Stress Positions."

“Stress Positions”

Ask anyone at Sundance about this movie and you’ll likely get a different reaction from every single person. And each of them is entirely right. That’s also what makes write-director Theda Hammel’s off-the-rails comedy so special. It’s a cheekily self-aware romp about a group of mostly-white millennial, brownstone-dwelling queer people who are completely trash humans — except for one (the always reliable John Early) who is well-intentioned, though only because he says so. They readily engage in uninformed political debates with each other, only to later look up videos like “What is the Middle East?” on YouTube. Why? To seem capital-E engaged in the early days of Covid, when people still foolishly banged pots and pans outside their windows to support first responders and medical professionals. A chaotic, hysterical and oh-so-entertaining look at the intersections of queerness and faux wokeness, who you are and who you want to come off as — culminating in a totally unhinged house party. This isn’t going to be for everyone, which is part of what makes it work.
Acquired by NEON and expected in theaters this year

Pedro Pascal stars as a hired criminal on his last job in the wildly entertaining four-part anthology film
Pedro Pascal stars as a hired criminal on his last job in the wildly entertaining four-part anthology film

Pedro Pascal stars as a hired criminal on his last job in the wildly entertaining four-part anthology film "Freaky Tales."

“Freaky Tales”

Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck delivered one of the most wildly entertaining movies at the festival this year, and it’s largely a hodgepodge inspired by many other great films. An ’80s- and Oakland-set anthology centered around underdogs, heroes and assassins, “Freaky Tales” takes some of Quentin Tarantino’s hijinks and pizazz mixed with over-the-top gore and a sublime sendup to hip-hop origin stories of the era, and it never steps off the gas. Imagine all of that with a stacked cast including Dominique Thorne, Normani, Jay Ellis, Pedro Pascal, Ben Mendelsohnand Tom Hanks, plus one of the late Angus Cloud’s final performances. This is another very specific film that might have to dig deep for an audience, but it’s well worth watching. 

(Left to Right) Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun try to be totally normal humans in
(Left to Right) Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun try to be totally normal humans in

(Left to Right) Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun try to be totally normal humans in "Love Me."

“Love Me”

For the first, say, 20 minutes or so of writer-directors Sam and Andy Zuchero’s new film, an artificially-intelligent satellite and buoy are trying to pass each other’s tests to see if the other qualifies as a human, in a world no longer populated with humans. And that unexpectedly becomes an interesting exchange to watch on its own, with voiceovers from Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. But from there, the pair materialize as actual humans, with not one inkling of what that even means. They turn to the internet to explain it to them. Using influencer videos and Instagram posts as their guide, they descend a devastating course to become the kind of couple whose only identity is what is given to them by their fans and each other — and has no relation to their reality, whatever that even is anymore. A remarkably innovative and stirring depiction of our real-life apocalypse where we’ve lost the thread of what is actually real. 

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian star very toxic lesbian lovers in
Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian star very toxic lesbian lovers in

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian star very toxic lesbian lovers in "Love Lies Bleeding."

“Love Lies Bleeding”

Filmmaker Rose Glass’s unhinged sophomore feature following the 2019 horror film “Saint Maud” remains one of the most talked about films at Sundance this year — and for good reason. On one hand, the movie’s title bluntly tells you what to expect from it. On the other hand? It somehow still manages to pull the rug up from under you at each glorious turn. Centering on an obsessive lesbian romance between a bodybuilder (Katy O’Brien) and a gym manager (Kristen Stewart), “Love Lies Bleeding” quickly becomes a tale of conceit, murder, deception and wayward beetles in 1989 New Mexico. It’s a rabid, bloody and unforgettable nightmare that never stops to remind you it’s also a love story. Stewart delivers a career-best performance paired with a revelatory O’Brien. Adding to that is the terrific Jena Malone, Dave Franco and Ed O’Harris in memorable supporting turns.  In theaters March 8

Renate Reinsve plays a grieving mother in the steadily creepy slow burn
Renate Reinsve plays a grieving mother in the steadily creepy slow burn

Renate Reinsve plays a grieving mother in the steadily creepy slow burn "Handling the Undead."

“Handling the Undead

Writer-director Thea Hvistendahl’s slow-burn horror seems like it’s going to test your patience throughout its first act. But it’s only when you start to feel like ice is sliding down your spine that you realize it’s been creepily building up to a disturbing and surprisingly moving examination of grief and fear. When deceased members from three different families suddenly and mysteriously return from their graves in Oslo, their loved ones have to reckon with who they’ve become. An outstanding watch. Acquired by NEON

Director Carla Gutierrez tells Frida Kahlo's singular story using the artist's own words in
Director Carla Gutierrez tells Frida Kahlo's singular story using the artist's own words in

Director Carla Gutierrez tells Frida Kahlo's singular story using the artist's own words in "Frida."

“Frida”

There’s always some hesitation going into a movie about a figure whose life story is no stranger to cinema adaptations. The 2002 biopic starring Salma Hayek in the role of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo remains a fantastic contribution to a rich legacy. But director Carla Gutierrez’s black and white documentary examining the many lives of the fiercely feminist painter throughout the first half of the 20th century is equally awe-inspiring. It is primarily propelled by Kahlo’s own words and peppered with interviews with people who had the privilege to grace her path. Using rare archival footage of the artist as well as her own diary entries, “Frida” pulsates to the beat of a singular, unapologetic and curious voice who did everything on her own terms, even throughout much tragedy. While a tribute at heart that doesn’t add a whole lot of new information, Gutierrez’s work here still serves as a warm interaction between audience and subject and a time capsule of the kind of self-affirmation and vulnerability that feels of its own time. A gift.   

Joseph Lopez stars as an aging man left alone with his own fears in
Joseph Lopez stars as an aging man left alone with his own fears in

Joseph Lopez stars as an aging man left alone with his own fears in "The Looming."

“The Looming”

Writer-director Masha Ko’s horror short is another one that sneaks up on you with both its mounting dread as well as its earnestness. A 70-year-old man (Joseph Lopez) swears he hears creepy voices in the home he lives in by himself (and the audience hears them too). But is it dementia? Paranoia? His desperate and utterly heartbreaking attempts to convince his loved ones are disregarded, resulting in a melancholy reflection on senior life that is also impenetrably unsettling.  

Alexis Cofield anchors Natalie Jasmine Harris' stirring drama short
Alexis Cofield anchors Natalie Jasmine Harris' stirring drama short

Alexis Cofield anchors Natalie Jasmine Harris' stirring drama short "Grace."

“Grace”

The fascinating intersection of faith, Blackness and sexuality is rife for countless movies. Writer-director Natalie Jasmine Harris’ gorgeously shot and costumed short stands on its own as one set in the 1950s South and around a Black teenage girl on the cusp of being baptized. The looming ritual and its process fills her with conflict about the quiet, warm affection she has for another girl. Even as the story hits a crushing point, Harris’ film remains delicate and compassionate of her protagonist while also shedding an honest light on her home, surroundings and the love patiently waiting around the corner for her. An intriguing 15-minute drama that could also make a beautiful feature film.  

Related...