Welcome to the first day of TIFF!!! If you’re anything like me, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of excellent programming at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the curating only seems to get strong year after year.
To help narrow the field down just a tiny bit, here are some titles helmed by women, because it’s 2019, and if you came to the festival and didn’t see something directed by a woman, you did it wrong. There, I said it.
Pelican Blood (Katrin Gebbe): drop everything and see this movie. It’s about a woman who adopts a second daughter, and this second daughter turns out to be…well, it’s not PC to say “a psychopath” but basically, she feels no empathy, and claims dark spirits are rooting for her to do terrible things. So the poor mother had to decide whether to give this daughter back (and we all know what the return policy on kids is like), or risk her other daughter’s safety. Because oh yeah: of course they live out in the countryside. This movie is unnerving and fascinating and very, very tense.
Murmur (Heather Young): Young explores her signature theme of isolated women with a 60 year old who starts compulsively adopting dogs to keep the loneliness at bay. The film is stark and haunting, a slow burn that rewards patience.
Abominable (Jill Culton): Culton writes and co-directs this absorbing animated fairy tale about a magical yeti who needs to get home. Audiences of all ages will love this one.
How To Build A Girl (Coky Giedroyc): Fans of Caitlin Moran will be thrilled with this one, based on her novel of the same name. Beanie Feldstein stars as the impoverished young writer who reinvents herself as a music journalist and lady-sex-adventurer. Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd co-star.
The Father (Kristina Grozeva): co-written AND co-directed by Grozeva, The Father is hard to pin down but easy to like.
It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (Marielle Heller): is there a single beating heart among us who isn’t looking forward to this Mr. Rogers biopic starring the inestimable Tom Hanks? I doubt it. The first time I saw the trailer in theatres, I teared up. I haven’t seen this yet, and if I’m smart, I’ll leave it for the end of the festival, when I can be a big sloppy mess and then just go home. I have such high hopes. It’s almost sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Honey Boy (Alma Ha’rel): actually I haven’t seen this one either, but I’m willing to take a chance on it. Written by Shia LaBeouf about his own life, Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges star as LaBeouf at different stages, and LaBeouf stars as his own father. It might be awful and it might be wonderful, but either way, I’m betting it will be interesting.
Blow The Man Down (Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy Blow The Man Down): two sisters in Maine bond over the inheritance of their mother’s fish shop, and also the covering up of a crime. Gritty and bare, this one was a favourite out of Tribeca and is worth the watch.
Harriet (Kasi Lemmons): I mean, it’s hard to believe we haven’t had a big biopic of Harriet Tubman’s life before now. Crazy. And Cynthia Erivo is already getting Oscar buzz for her performance about a woman who escapes slavery only to go back to help others do the same. Powerful stuff.
Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria): literally could not be more different from the above, a bunch of strippers including Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu turn the tables on their Wall Street customers after the 2008 financial crisis leaves them strapped, and they do the scamming for a change. Hear them roar!
Speaking of which. I Am Woman (Unjoo Moon): yes, that’s literally a Helen Reddy biopic. I wouldn’t know the name if not for my mother, who always had time for Reddy’s feminist anthem (was Helen Reddy the Katy Perry of the 1970s? Am I going to hell for even suggesting it?)
Hala (Minhal Baig): I admit it, I looked at this one primarily for its star, Geraldine Viswanathan, who I thought was the breakout star of Blockers, another female-directed film I enjoyed courtesy of SXSW. This movie is another coming of age tale, but here she plays the daughter of strict immigrant parents, which makes for a very interesting shift in perspective and a fascinating twist in the genre, which never seems to go out of style.
Radioactive (Marjane Satrapi): Rosamund Pike plays Marie Curie, a woman I hope to heck you’ve heard of before; she’s the only person ever to win the Nobel Prize in two different fields, physics and chemistry. This film’s based on an excellent graphic novel, and I encourage you to check it out as well.
My Zoe (Julie Delpy): honestly, I’m there for whatever Delpy puts out, but by all accounts, this one is much different from her usual fare – a psychological drama with hints of science fiction. Yes please. In fact, I’d take two (not to be greedy, but I would).
Honestly, I could go on, I could double and triple this list and stand by each and every one of them. This is me, exercising restraint. And this is you, pretending to believe that I am capable of restraint.
And may I just say, before signing off, that I am extremely proud of TIFF for going the extra mile to present us with such a wealth of choice. Other festivals have shirked the responsibility by claiming that women directors are such a minority that they’re happy to have their programming reflect that. Of course it’s true. Female directors are still very much the minority. But they’ll also stay that way if not for bold initiatives like this one from TIFF. And I think their lineup speaks for itself: there is no lack of talent here. Does it perhaps take more time to find all of these gems? Certainly. But female directors are telling such a wide breadth of stories at this festival, their presence feels essential, and of course it is. TIFF is the festival of the future, only they’re doing it now, and we get to live it. There is no better time to be at TIFF. The women are here. In numbers too big to ignore.