5 first-time female directors to discover at tribeca film festival

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival belongs to the female directors breaking onto the feature-film scene for the first time. Here’s what to catch, from Katie Holmes’ directorial debut to Jenny Gage’s hotly tipped portrait of teenage girls coming of age...

by Blair Cannon
13 April 2016, 7:35pm

Still from 'AWOL,' directed by Deb Shoval

The Tribeca Film Festival starts today, and it's a great year for new female talent: one third of the 78 feature films selected for 2016 are directed by women. We picked five standouts who are taking to the screen, and telling incredible stories, with their very first feature-length films this year. Whether through documentary storytelling or the creation of fictional worlds, these directors have already grabbed the attention of TFF's industry-leading organizers and are on their way to making a name for themselves in what is still, in 2016, a largely male-dominated field.

All This Panic, dir. Jenny Gage
This documentary about coming of age in New York City follows sisters Dusty and Ginger through three years of their high school lives. As the sisters allow cinematographer couple Jenny Gage (the film's director) and Tom Betterton (the film's director of photography) into their private worlds, they illustrate the pain, confusion, self-discovery, and friendship involved in growing up as a girl. While the couple are newcomers to the silver screen, they have already made their mark in the world of fashion photography, shooting for magazines like Vanity Fair and Italian Vogue. This time, however, Gage and Betterton are digging beneath the surface, to find out what it means to be a young woman in today's New York City.

As I Open My Eyes, dir. Leyla Bouzid
Set at the very beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, As I Open My Eyes follows spunky frontwoman Farah and her underground rock band in the fight against traditional Tunisian social ideals and family expectations. The political tension that surrounds the friends is only broken during the band's performances, when Farah and the group can really escape. The film — which has already received over 25 major international awards — is director Leyla Bouzid's first, and the story is based off of her own experience of running a club with her friends under president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali's dictatorship in Tunisia.

Bad Rap, dir. Salima Koroma
As a former hip-hop writer and editor, director Salima Koroma is more than familiar with the rap world, even with its so-called outsiders. In Bad Rap, Koroma follows four Asian-American rappers as they struggle to disprove Asian stereotypes in order to succeed in music. Through performances and interviews with rappers like New York's Awkwafina and LA's Dumbfoundead, each with their own distinct style, the documentary warns American rap fans not to profile their Asian counterparts, or underestimate their talents.

AWOL, dir. Deb Shoval
For her feature film debut, director Deb Shoval transformed her award-winning short "AWOL" into a feature-length love story between two women that lifts them above suffocating small-town life. Lead Lola Kirke restlessly searches for a purpose until she meets a lonely housewife who completely changes her world — and threatens to distract her from her plans to join the army and finally get out of town. AWOL has been praised for both its strong casting and for Shoval's clear and intense storytelling of life in bleary rural Pennsylvania.

All We Had, dir. Katie Holmes
Actress Katie Holmes makes her directorial debut with an adaptation of Annie Weatherwax's 2014 novel All We Had. The film follows Rita (played by Holmes) and her 13-year-old daughter Ruthie as they lose everything they have and move to a new town during the recession. As Rita fights to keep herself and her daughter financially above water, Ruthie struggles to grow up and realize the imperfections of her mother and her world. Holmes counts her relationship with nine-year-old daughter Suri as inspiration and decided to play the lead in her own movie because, as an actress, "you don't give good roles away." 


Text Blair Cannon
Images courtesy Tribeca Film Festival

female directors
Tribeca Film Festival
katie holmes
Bad Rap
women in film
all this panic
jenny gage
all we had
as i open my eyes
deb shoval
leyla bouzid
salima koroma
tff 2016