Sundance 2013: Female directors poised to make their mark at indie festival

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Robbins’ Girl Rising tells the stories of several girls of different political and socio-economic backgrounds from around the world, narrated by a slew of A-list stars, including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, and Selena Gomez. As a male filmmaker, Robbins felt passionate about educating and influencing women to go behind the camera, instead of just in front of it.

“Making a film about educating girls is enough to turn anyone into a rabid feminist, and I’m no exception,” he says. “At every step we sought out great women to collaborate on this project. Overall the movie business is still far too dominated by men. And that’s not just about directors. Outside of a few traditionally female-dominated segments, like wardrobe and casting, the business of making movies — even documentaries — is still a man’s game. … So it’s great to see Sundance leading the way toward a more balanced set of voices in the film industry.”

Those voices include Gregorini, who directed Biel and relative newcomer Kaya Scodelario in Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes (pictured above), about a new neighbor (Biel) shrouded in mystery who becomes the object of preoccupation by a younger woman named Emanuel (Scodelario) and looks eerily like the girl’s dead mother. Emanuel babysits the woman’s newborn, and plunges into a murky, made-up world.

Gregorini says she couldn’t ignore the significance of so many other women also being included. “Hopefully this year’s Sundance lineup sends a clear message to Hollywood and world cinema: ready or not, here we come, not bearing arms, but rather strange and fantastical tales, ones that will enchant and lure and slay you, but a death you will enjoy, because it will be a rebirth and there’s nothing more exciting than shaking things up a bit, pushing the envelope, trying on a pair of ladies panties,” she says, half-jokingly.

“I think this is a very exciting time in independent cinema in part because of our collective growing global consciousness, the margins of what’s of interest have expanded, hunger for truth and meaning have grown and the arcane beat ‘em up, blow it up, me Tarzan, you Jane has perhaps grown a little long in the tooth, so in this moment of searching, Sundance, in their infinite wisdom, has hit upon a zeitgeist.”

Austenland, an adaptation of Shannon Hale’s light novel, produced by Twilight heavyweight Stephenie Meyer, shows off Keri Russell as a Jane Austen fan obsessed with Mr. Darcy who goes on a trip to England searching for her own British gentleman. “It is fun to know that I am not the lone female director but one of many,” says Hess, the movie’s first-time director who co-wrote the quirky 2004 Sundance hit Napoleon Dynamite with her husband. “Hopefully more women will be inspired and encouraged to direct. We have amazing stories to tell and voices to tell them!

As for fellow first-time feature director Passon, whose Concussion follows a woman’s decision to shake up her life and name (from Abby to Eleanor) following a blow to the head, jumping into the “first” of an equal number of men and women filmmakers in a particular Sundance category brings with it inevitable questions, and potential criticism. But, she notes, it’s just the beginning. “I know there will be a lot of scrutiny. Will these films stand up? Will they move people and make them think? Sundance has been very brave here, but also I know they have a ton of confidence in the films in competition,” says Passon. “I think as more and more women find non-traditional ways to get work seen, we’ll see our numbers rise dramatically. The other thing is that women historically have had a hard time making more than two or three features, and many of the films at Cannes are not by new filmmakers. So women drop off huge in that category. For most of the women at Sundance in competition, this is a first or second feature. So it’s not only Sundance’s willingness to embrace women, it’s really about embracing new voices as well.”

Ass Backwards co-writers and stars Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) and June Diane Raphael (New Girl), who are already picking up major buzz for their Sundance Midnight selection comedy about gal pals Kate (Raphael) and Chloe (Wilson) who take a road trip to their hometown to snag the beauty pageant crown they lost as kids, says that being a woman is incidental when it comes to just creating something funny as hell. “June and I didn’t set out to write and star in a film ‘as female filmmakers,’ we just wanted to make an important, poignant film that opens with a shot of our bare asses. We were brave enough to break that glass ceiling,” jokes Wilson. “I think women have always been multi tasking their A’s off, but it’s wonderful to see so many female driven films being recognized this year at Sundance.”

Raphael added, with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek, “I’m thrilled to be a part of this landmark year for women at Sundance. To honor this occasion I will be burning all of my bras.”

For more film news

Read more:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt to host Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony
Ed Burns, Tom Rothman headline Sundance Film Festival juries
Sundance 2013: 4 feature films added to festival slate
Sundance 2013: 4 feature films added to festival slate

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