The Atlanta Film Festival Wants You to Know There Are Many Great New Movies Made By Women

By  · Published on December 4th, 2014

Atlanta Film Festival

The address of women in film isn’t new to film festivals, many of which have at least the occasional panel on issues regarding gender imbalance behind and in front of the camera. But lately there seems to be an increased spotlight on what various fests have to offer their audience in terms of female filmmakers and movies about women and how much of their program consists of titles that pass the Bechdel test or some other barometer like it. Last month, I wrote on the Bath Film Festival’s new system for stamping an ‘F’ rating to any of its selections meeting a pro-female criteria. More recently, the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam had a themed program devoted to “the female gaze,” including screenings of old and new films plus panel discussions of such ideas as a Bechdel test specifically tailored to nonfiction cinema (see my response at Nonfics).

Now an American event is joining the conversation, as the Atlanta Film Festival announced this week an initial wave of selections for its 2015 program, and all 10 titles named are works directed by women. As ATLFF Director of Programming Kristy Breneman points out, almost half of the fest’s 2014 program, both features and shorts, was made up of women-directed films (such as Obvious Child). On top of that, the event’s jury awards for best narrative feature and best documentary feature and the audience-award winner for best feature went to films by women. Because of that, Breneman made it a point to start things off for next year’s fest by unveiling an entirely female-helmed bunch as their first announcement of films selected for the event, which is held in March. Among the titles is Melanie Laurent’s Breath (aka Respire), to which our own Kate Erbland gave an ‘A-’ grade at TIFF.

This all comes at the end of a year that began with claim that 2014 would be a bad one or women-directed films, at least as far as wide releases were concerned. In the mainstream, representation of women behind the camera was indeed pretty terrible, especially after Jupiter Ascending was delayed and thereby removed the single female director of a summer blockbuster (Lana Wachowski, who is one half of that movie’s sibling directorial team) from the season. But as the year went on, talk of and then confirmation of a woman (Michelle MacLaren) being chosen to helm Wonder Woman, as well as praise for Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken and Ava DuVernay’s Selma, the latter spawning buzz that it could give us our first African-American Oscar nominee (and likely winner) for Best Director.

It’s also a year when pundits are quick to point out that a lot of films with female leads (Ida, Mommy, Wild, Still Alice) are directed by men or to argue that there aren’t any strong candidates for the Academy Award for Best Actress, the latter a notion we’ve already shot down with a spotlight on some great female lead performances that are out there (like Jenny Slate in Obvious Child), if you actually look. I wouldn’t make the case that we shouldn’t be constantly addressing the problems with the film industry regarding the employment and representation of women. We definitely should be. But we should also constantly be recognizing what is there and the achievements being made by women in film. That’s what will more likely influence Hollywood and others in the industry to take notice that great women filmmakers exist and great women characters and issues are desired by moviegoers, more than the complaints that there aren’t enough.

This announcement by the Atlanta Film Festival is contributing to that, the positive angle. At first, I’ll admit, I was concerned that the fest was making an effort to select and then announce as a way of making itself look good, as in putting quantity above quality simply to celebrate its attention to gender equality, but the selections named appear to be nothing but good work, not the result of a quota or agenda. And it’s not necessarily about being “women’s films,” either. The narratives are all about women characters, including female perverts, best friends, roommates and a secret teen sisterhood, but the four documentaries at least focus on male musicians, transgender men and whole communities in stories dealing with race and class rather than gender.

As for the rest of the coming year, I’m not sure if it’ll weigh better or worse for women filmmakers and stories, but already we at least know that Jupiter Rising is among the wide, mainstream releases, as is Sam Taylor-Wood’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Elizabeth Banks’s Pitch Perfect 2, Niki Caro’s McFarland, USA, Anne Fletcher’s Don’t Mess With Texas, Beth McCarthy-Miller’s Mean Moms, Nancy Meyers’s The Intern and Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s Kung Fu Panda 3. That’s only eight women for around 100 titles listed on Wikipedia for 2015 so far, and some of them don’t sound like great movies worth celebrating, certainly not yet, but then there’s also a third of the just announced Sundance films being helmed by women (including Nikole Beckwith’s Stockholm, Pennsylvania) and we’re getting somewhere. Not a perfect place by any means, of course, but a place where we can celebrate and champion women in film while continuing to criticize the persisting overall dearth of women in film.

Here are the ten films directed by women that were announced as part of the 39th annual Atlanta Film Festival, which runs March 20–29, 2015:

Apartment Troubles
directed by Jennifer Prediger, Jess Weixler?USA, 2014, English, 77 minutes
Olivia and Nicole are codependent roommates who are definitely going to make it; They’re just not sure how. When they get evicted from their shoebox apartment in Manhattan – conceptual art just doesn’t cover the rent – they boldly take off to L.A. and the promise of sunshine. As one door slams shut, another opens – a tarot card reading later, the duo decide to take their performance art sensibilities to the mainstream by auditioning for a reality TV talent show.
Starring: Jess Weixler, Jennifer Prediger, Megan Mullally, Will Forte, Jeffrey Tambor, Bob Byington
Breathe (Respire)
directed by Mélanie Laurent?France, 2014, French, 91 minutes
Seventeen-year-old Charlie is bright and beautiful, but not without her insecurities. When new girl Sarah arrives, Charlie is captured by her charisma and the two strike up a deep friendship. For a time, it seems as though each is what the other has been waiting for. When Sarah tires of Charlie and begins making new friends, their relationship takes a turn for the worse.
Starring: Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Carré, Claire Keim
Female Pervert
directed by Jiyoung Lee?USA, 2015, English, 63 minutes
Phoebe is a lonely video game designer seeking a true connection in the modern world. Unfortunately, she doesn’t relate to people like most in ‘normal society.’ So she starts seeing a therapist, she changes her diet and joins a book club. As her path to self-improvement unfurls, some of her more eccentric interests lead her down a darker path. She meets a few men along the way, hoping to spark a love connection. But her perversions are hard to suppress. Will she be able to change? Or will she accept her fate as a female pervert?
Starring: Jennifer Kim, Joshua Mikel
Imba Means Sing
directed by Danielle Bernstein?USA/Uganda, 2015, English, 75 minutes
Following Angel, Moses and Nina from the slums of Kampala, Uganda through a world tour with the Grammy-nominated African Children’s Choir, “Imba Means Sing” showcases these extraordinary characters as they travel from one extreme to the other. The story is told from the children’s perspectives on their one shot journey from poverty to education. The film is an intimate look at how each child processes the joys and challenges of this life-altering opportunity.
Next Year (L’année Prochaine)
directed by Vania Leturcq?France/Belgium, 2014, French, 105 minutes
Clotilde and Aude are eighteen and have always been best friends. Their relationship is strong and interdependent, as teenage friendships can be. They are finishing school and have to decide what to do the following year, after their baccalaureate. Clotilde decides to leave their small, provincial village and go to Paris, dragging Aude along with her. But the two friends will experience this departure differently, ultimately splitting up.
Starring: Constance Rousseau, Jenna Thiam, Julien Boisselier, Kévin Azaïs
Old South
directed by Danielle Beverly?USA, 2015, English, 54 minutes
In a historically black neighborhood in Athens, Georgia, a college fraternity traditionally known to fly the confederate flag moves in and establishes their presence by staging an antebellum style parade. “Old South” follows the neighborhood struggle over three years, while both communities fight to preserve their historical legacies against an evolving cultural backdrop in the South – and the nation as a whole.
The Sideways Light
directed by Jennifer Harlow?USA, 2014, English, 85 minutes
An ethereal and creepy mystery, “The Sideways Light” tells the story of Lily as she cares for her ailing mother, Ruth. While Ruth’s mind unravels, Lily struggles to understand her and the strange happenings in the house her family has called home for generations. Is Ruth the cause of the disturbances in the house? Or is it something older and more profound hidden there and in Lily’s bloodline?
Starring: Lindsay Burdge, Annalee Jefferies, Mark Reeb, Matthew Newton
The Sisterhood of Night
directed by Caryn Waechter?USA, 2014, English, 102 minutes
The story begins when Emily Parris exposes a secret society of teenage girls who have slipped out of the world of social media, into a mysterious world deep in the woods. Emily’s allegations of sexually deviant activities throw the town of Kingston into hysteria and the national media spotlight. As the accused uphold a vow of silence, Emily’s blog takes an unexpected turn when girls across the country emerge with personal stories of sexual abuse. Why are the Sisterhood girls willing to risk so much for a ritualistic gathering in the woods? From the story by Pulitzer Prize-winner Steven Millhauser, “The Sisterhood of Night” chronicles a provocative alternative to adolescent loneliness, revealing the tragedy and humor of teenage years changed forever by the Internet age.
Starring: Georgie Henley, Kara Hayward, Willa Cuthrell, Olivia De Jonge, Kal Penn, Laura Fraser
Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story
directed by N.C. Heikin?USA, 2014, English, 84 minutes
At 17, Frank Morgan was deemed Charlie Parker’s successor. In order to be just like his idol, he started taking heroin. Frank Morgan went from alto sax prodigy to junkie to bank robber. He landed in San Quentin, where there were so many jazz junkies that they formed a big band. It would take Morgan 30 hard years to turn his life around, but he did. Seamlessly weaving live performance and biography, “Sound of Redemption” penetrates the heart of the complex and gifted Frank Morgan and raises the roof at San Quentin.
Trans: A Documentary About Transboys
directed by Nathalie Cools?Belgium, 2014, Dutch, 42 minutes
There are several important steps that a trans man goes through during his transition. Following procedures that take place at the University Hospital in Ghent, Belgium, “Trans” follows several anonymous trans men as they find themselves at different stages in the process to transition from woman to man.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.