The Tribeca Film Festival is combatting Hollywood’s gender inequality problem this year with a bounty of female-directed and female-led films.
This year, 40% of the films showing at the Tribeca Film Festival were directed by women. And the lineup includes overtly feminist films like the boundary-pushing Big Sister, a short film about a woman who uses her superpowers to stop male sexual offenders, and Flower, a coming-of-age comedy starring Zoey Deutch as a teenager who extorts money from older men. The variety of female narratives and filmmakers is refreshing. Hollywood's gender inequality problem is well known. Dissecting the top 100 grossing films of 2016, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film discovered that only 4% of the films were directed by women and just 29% of the films' protagonists were females. Yet, over half of moviegoers are women.
Thankfully, the industry has made serious efforts to combat gender inequality this year. IMDb adopted the "F" rating, a classification system focused on highlighting films directed by, written by, and/or starring women. (Recent films that fall under a "Triple F" rating include Certain Women and American Honey.) And participants of this year's Sundance Film Festival advocated for gender equality by taking part in the worldwide Women's March on January 21, 2017, and organizing their own protest — see the impassioned speech on intersectional feminism Jessica Williams delivered in Park City.
"A powerful female character to me is simply an honestly portrayed one," says Sophie Brooks, the writer and director of Tribeca film The Boy Downstairs. "Women can be any and all varieties of strong and weak and funny and sexy — as long as it's honest, it's powerful to me."
Here are the 6 female-led films to check out at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.
The Boy Downstairs
Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna from Girls) stars in this indie rom-com about a twenty-something struggling to get her life in order. Directed and written by Sophie Brooks, the film focuses on a young writer experiencing flashbacks of her failed relationship after she accidentally moves into the same apartment building as her ex. It's the worst possible thing for Diana, who ended the relationship when she decided to move to London and, two years later, has finally decided to put down roots in New York. What follows is a relatable film about love and making choices. "Zosia was a dream to work with," says Brooks. "I feel beyond lucky to have had her as my leading lady in my first feature film. She has such emotional sincerity, while also expressing this comic timing and awareness that makes her utterly charming. It's really rewarding to be collaborating with someone who is as invested in the story as you are."
One Percent More Humid
One Percent More Humid follows two childhood friends (played by Juno Temple and Julia Garner) who reunite for a vacation that's intended to be a much-needed break from life, but becomes more of a confrontation than a distraction. Directed and written by Liz W. Garcia, the movie stands out for its depiction of the strong, healing bonds of female friendships. The girls try their hardest to get over a shared trauma through drinking and swimming. But, sometimes, you have to face your fears before you can escape them. The two women must reconcile the pain of a fatal car accident before they can enjoy their young-adulthoods. But it takes a lot of avoidant behavior to reach that realization. Like other protagonists on this list, the two girls initially fill the cracks in their hearts with sex and romance.
Superhero Gili has made it her mission to rid the world of male sexual offenders. She harnesses her powers to (very) violently combat them. However, she encounters a crossroads when she discovers her younger brother has sexual harassed a girl. Michal Gassner, who directed and wrote Big Sister during her time at The Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School, says the short film's kick-ass protagonist is her own ideal superhero. "She wasn't supposed to be a superhero at first — the character started out as a woman simply reacting to comments she gets on the street," says Gassner. "But while developing her, more of the experiences I've encountered related to sexual violence were channeled into Gili's body and mind until she became a violent hunter of sexual offenders. This is Gilli: a feminine hero that wants reality to change, but as she feels alone and frustrated, she herself becomes the violence she is fighting against."
Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some!!) stars in this coming-of-age comedy about a girl with jagged edges. Erica has a lot on her plate: her father is in jail, her mother has a new romance, and, to make things worse, the guy and his son have just moved into her house. She falls in love with a "hot older man" played by Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) that Erica and her friends have spent many of their hours obsessively fawning over. Led by emerging director Max Winkler and screenwritten by YA author Alex McAulay, the film marries comedy with the tenderness of growing into yourself. What Flower presents is a 17-year-old overwhelmed by her topsy-turvy life, and her sometimes misguided efforts to relieve the stress.
Despite its punchy, oversaturated cinematography and strong acting, the most breathtaking thing about Blame is that the film was directed by a 20-year-old. Quinn Shephard provides a fresh spin on the "mean girls" plot in her debut feature film. In addition to writing and directing the film, Shephard stars as Abigail, a high school theater star with a questionable moral compass. When the new drama teacher (played by Chris Messina) casts Abigail as the lead in a school production of The Crucible, her classmate Melissa (Nadia Alexander) becomes suspicious of their student-teacher relationship. What follows is a tale of revelations, affairs, and betrayals inspired by Arthur Miller's classic play.
Lila and Bernadette, the female leads of Sweet Virginia (played by Imogen Poots and Rosemarie DeWitt), exist in a moral grey area. Set in present-day Alaska, the film follows what happens when the two women become widows after their husbands are killed in a burglary-turned-homicide. Secrets, murders, and duplicity are revealed over the course of the film as the widows' innocence in this small-town tragedy is thrown into question. "The strength of the female characters in Sweet Virginia is one of the reasons why I was drawn to the script in the first place," says director Jamie M. Dagg. "Lila and Bernie are complex characters because they were written with intentionality. Their behavior at times is questionable, but understandable considering the circumstances they live under."
The Tribeca International Film Festival runs from April 19 to April 30.
Text André-Naquian Wheeler
Images courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival