Another Sundance is almost upon us, the time of year when the who's who of Hollywood hit the snow and slopes of Utah to bask in freezing temperatures and some of the most noteworthy fare in indie cinema. This year marks the return of Miranda July, her first feature since the highly regarded 'Me and You and Everyone We Know,' and sees last night's Golden Globe winner Susanne Bier bring her winning feature -- 'In a Better World' -- stateside for its U.S. premiere.
However, per usual, female filmmakers might make up close to half of the documentary selections, and have a decent number of shorts screening, but they're hard to come by in the world of narrative features -- especially premieres for higher profile films. (There are only 2 out of 16 female-directed films in the premieres selection, for example.) But let's not go by the numbers and fall into a ranting vortex of aggravation. While they are, for sure, an important part of the cinematic equation, there's some killer female talent at this year's fest that deserves some attention.
Hit the jump to feast on 10 premiere female filmmakers of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
In alphabetical order...
It's fitting that Susanne Bier lands first on the list because 'In a Better World,' which is being screened as part of Sundance's Spotlight series, just won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. The Danish filmmaker made waves at Sundance in 2005 for winning the Audience Award for 'Brothers,' as well as a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize.
Heading back to Denmark after her 2007 film, the Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro-led 'Things We Lost in the Fire,' 'Better World' focuses on the friendship of a young Danish boy and his new friend from London who leads him down a dark path. Digging into revenge and moral dilemmas, the film received raves during it's North American debut at TIFF last year.
After receiving Best Supporting Actress nods at both the Golden Globes and Oscars for 'Up in the Air,' Vera Farmiga decided to step behind the camera and become a director. 'Higher Ground' hops back to the '70s to follow a born-again Christian woman who dives deep into fundamentalism before having a crisis of faith. And Farmiga just so happens to star in the film as well.
There was a certain knowing insight in her performance in 'Air,' and if Sundance's blurb is to be believed, it continues into her directorial talents: "she unleashes her equally formidable talent behind the camera as well. She tackles complex issues with sophistication and graceful insight, crafting a moving story about the transformative powers of faith and doubt."
Five years ago, Miranda July earned a super-bright spotlight for her first feature, 'Me and You and Everyone We Know.' The performance artist jumped into Hollywood with ease, earning critical acclaim and festival adoration, including the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and four awards at Cannes -- Critics Week Grand Prize, Golden Camera, Prix Regards Jeune and Young Critics Award. ... not to mention the top spot in Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of Indie Film in 2004.
After a 6-year hiatus, she returns with 'The Future,' as writer, director and star. Another film that investigates the quirk of life, 'Future' focuses on a couple who adopt a stray cat and turn their lives upside down -- quitting their jobs, disconnecting the Internet and exploring new interests.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom
You might recognize Jennifer Siebel Newsom from her myriad acting gigs, including 'Something's Gotta Give' and the television series 'Life.' Stepping behind the camera for the first time, she's offering up a must-see documentary that focuses on how media's depictions of women are internalized by the female public.
'Miss Representation' talks to everyone from Margaret Cho and Catherine Hardwicke to Condoleeza Rice and Rachel Maddow about how "the collective message that a woman's value and power lie only in her youth, beauty, and sexuality is pervasive." Check out the trailer below for some initial nuggets, such as how a young girl's future aspirations change the more she's immersed in mainstream media.
Dee Rees made a name for herself a few years ago when her short, 'Pariah' won a healthy pile of awards including Audience prizes from LA and San Francisco. She's now made a feature film from her notable short. However, unlike the films that expand on brief scripts, Rees had actually scripted the feature first, while working as an intern on Spike Lee's 'Inside Man,' before whittling it down into the shorter film.
'Pariah' details the life of a Brooklyn teen torn between her growing sexuality and social life, and her conservative upbringing. A true indie, the filmmaker and her team set out on a fundraising campaign earlier this month to help get the film finished in time for Sundance (check out a trailer for the short below).
18 years ago, Kelly Reichardt hit Sundance with 'River of Grass,' a film that not only won a Grand Jury nomination at the fest, but also four nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards. It took ten years for her next feature indie, 'Old Joy,' and now Reichardt is on a regular path of nominations and awards, most recently with 'Wendy and Lucy.'
As part of their Spotlight Series, Sundance is now offering up Reichardt's reunion with 'Wendy and Lucy's' Michelle Williams -- 'Meek's Cutoff' -- which details the lives of settlers traveling through Oregon in 1845. When it screened at TIFF, Karina Longworth called it "the best American feature at the festival."
Webby Award founder and Internet guru Tiffany Shlain is offering up a double dose at Sundance this year. Alongside the short, technology-based short 'Yelp (With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl',' there's her feature documentary: 'Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence.'
Shlain uses the work of her late father (a brain surgeon who penned 'Art and Physics' and 'The Alphabet Versus the Goddess') to explore the modernization of Western civilization and how we can move forward from here, namely investigating our notions of independence and the idea that maybe the future lies in "interdependence."
Jill Sprecher, writer/director of indie flicks 'Clockwatchers' and 'Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,' is returning to the festival where she was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in 1997 (for 'Clockwatchers').
Her latest, 'The Convincer' re-teams her with Alan Arkin ('Conversations'), and tells the tale of a salesman who loves selling a story, and an old farmer he wants to con for a neglected and dusty, but valuable, violin.
One might assume that if "Alex" was helming a documentary about classic B-movie man Roger Corman, the filmmaker would be a he. But this is her feature film debut, after working on the likes of 'Just for Kicks,' 'The Assassination of Richard Nixon' and 'Beautiful Losers.'
For 'Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel,' Stapleton talks to a who's who of Hollywood and the indie world -- just check out this credits list -- to outline the iconic carnage and sexiness whipped up by famed indie filmmaker. ...not to mention the future icons who got their start with him, like Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard.
Athina Rachel Tsangari
Chew on this premise: A twenty-something girl, close with her dying, cancer-stricken father, is pretty sheltered. Her sexual prowess comes from practice sessions with her friend and the mammalian sexiness she's seen on Sir David Attenborough's animal programs, which she mimicks during random wild animal pantomimes.
On its own, 'Attenberg' might seem like a strange offering from Greece, but it's not so surprising when you know that she's one of the associate producers of last year's uber-strange tale of sexuality, 'Dogtooth.' Traversing the divide between loss and life, newcomer and star Ariane Labed won the Best Actress prize at Venice in 2010.
Though 10 have been highlighted, here are the other feature filmmakers at the fest, names you should definitely look out for:
Constance Marks: 'Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey'
Amy Wendel: 'Benavides Born'
Liz Garbus: 'Bobby Fischer Against the World'
Cindy Meehl: 'Buck'
Iria Gomez Concheiro: 'The Cinema Hold Up'
Maryam Keshavarz: 'Circumstance'
Madeleine Olnek: 'Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same'
Julia Ivanova: 'Family Portrait in Black and White'
Pamela Yates: 'Granito'
Anne Sewitsky: 'Happy, Happy'
Susan Saladoff: 'Hot Coffee'
Roberta Torre: 'Lost Kisses'
Alison Ellwood (w/ Alex Gibney): 'Magic Trip'
Megan Griffiths: 'The Off Hours'
Daniele Anastasion (w/ Eric Strauss): 'The Redemption of General Butt Naked'
Susanne Rostock: 'Sing Your Song'
Erica Dunton: 'to.get.her'
Lynn Hershman Leeson: '!Women Art Revolution'