10 Films that Put Women at the Center of the Fall Festival Circuit

Fall Festival

Studios and festivals are really putting in the effort this year to make good on their promises to promote more female-driven work. Toronto International Film Festival is leading the way with a record thirteen In-Competition films from women directors.

And going beyond the director’s chair, projects including female writers, and featuring prominent leading women are all over the 2018 fall festival circuit.

A few projects got their start earlier in the year and are making pit stops in Toronto and Venice on their way into the world. Titles like Sara Colangelo‘s Sundance hit “The Kindergarten Teacher,” which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal in an Oscar-worthy performance, and features a crew that is more than 50% women. There was also Wanuri Kahiu‘s “Rafiki,” a film forbidden in its homeland of Kenya because it depicts two women in a loving but illegal relationship. It premiered at Cannes to a standing ovation. And Mélanie Laurent‘s “Galveston,” her first entirely English-language film, which stars Elle Fanning and Ben Foster and got good reviews out of SXSW. All three will screen at TIFF in September.

Others are still waiting to be seen. Today we are taking a look at ten of the films making the festival rounds with women in leading roles on screen, behind the scenes, or both. We tried to particularly highlight films written and directed by women, but ultimately chose to include films from a few male directors which feature women in the most prominent roles.

Quincy Jones10. “Quincy” (Netflix)
Dir. Rashida Jones, Alan Hicks
Premieres at: TIFF

This documentary about the legendary music producer and mogul Quincy Jones is co-directed by his famous-in-her-own-right daughter, Rashida Jones. Exploring the life and career of one of the most iconic music producers ever to live, this will undoubtedly join the ranks of some other hungrily embraced bio-docs we’ve seen this year, from “RBG” to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

The Nightingale9. “The Nightingale” (Transmission Films)
Dir. Jennifer Kent
Premieres at: Venice Film Festival

The acclaimed director of “The Babadook” is back with this thriller set in the 19th century. It follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish woman who travels through Tasmania with the help of a local tracker (Baykali Ganambarr) in search of the British officer (Sam Claflin) who violently attacked her family. Kent writes and directs the film that does not yet have US distribution.

Where Hands Touch8. “Where Hands Touch” (No U.S. Distribution)
Dir. Amma Asante

Premieres at: TIFF

Amma Asante returns with an original story about a bi-racial teenager in the perilous circumstances of Nazi Germany in 1944. Further complicating the matter, she falls in love with a boy who is a legally mandated member of Hitler’s Youth. Amandla Stenberg stars in Asante’s latest story of a young woman in a forbidden romance and facing a society that refuses to accept her.

landofsteadyhabits still 017. “The Land of Steady Habits” (Netflix)
Dir. Nicole Holofcener

Premieres at: TIFF

Just days before it lands on Netflix for all the world to see, Nicole Holofcener’s latest will enjoy a friendly Canadian welcome. Ben Mendelsohn stars in this drama about a recently retired man who makes all the wrong choices along the path to figuring out his new life. The few critics who’ve seen it have already started buzzing in the positive. Holofcener’s previous film credits include “Friends With Money” and “Enough Said,” and she has proven herself as a director who understands how to effectively use humor in very heavy and dramatic situations.

oliviacolman favourite6. “The Favourite” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Premieres at: Venice Film Festival

A story of British royalty that isn’t about the Tudors? This little-told piece of British history receives the Lanthimos treatment, with Olivia Colman playing the ruling monarch, Queen Anne. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz also star in this likely odd film about a strange time in British history. Many think this will be the Greek director’s most mainstream film to date, and could be the one that truly wins him over with the Academy. He previously scored an Oscar nomination for writing “The Lobster,” but this time the writing credits belong to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. This could go in so many directions.

highlife 01 15. “High Life” (No U.S. Distribution)
Dir. Claire Denis

Premieres at: TIFF

Celebrated French director Claire Denis turns her eye to science fiction with this drama about a father and daughter surviving the reaches of deep space. “High Life” stars Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, and André Benjamin. With screenings set for TIFF, San Sebastian, and NYFF, the film that still lacks US distribution will surely hit theaters in the near future.

Destroyer FirstLookImage4. “Destroyer” (Annapurna Pictures)
Dir. Karyn Kusama

Premieres at: TIFF

Slated for a theatrical release that begins December 25, Nicole Kidman stars in Karyn Kusama’s newest drama. The director of “Jennifer’s Body” and “The Invitation” turns her focus on an LAPD detective forced to confront her past when she faces a gang member with whom she had previous dealings during an undercover assignment. There has been a lot said about Kidman’s transformation for this role, but will the months between TIFF and the end of the year derail “Destroyer”‘s progress?

can you forgive melissa3. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Dir. Marielle Heller
Premieres at: TIFF

Academy Award-nominated actress Melissa McCarthy turns toward the dramatic in this biopic about Lee Israel. In the 70s and 80s, the celebrity biographer became a world-class forger of celebrity letters and notes. Following the success of her directorial debut, “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Marielle Heller was quickly attached to several projects. But it took three years for this follow up to make it to audiences. It is also interesting to note that the script was written by Jeff Whitty and writer/director Nicole Holofcener. Fox Searchlight is releasing the film in October, but look to Canada for the first hints of potential Oscar buzz for this one.

If Beale Street Could Talk Stephan James Kiki Layne2. “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Annapurna Pictures)
Dir. Barry Jenkins

Premieres at: TIFF

Toronto won the honors of premiering Barry Jenkins’ follow up to “Moonlight,” the 2016 Best Picture. Expectations are high for this adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same name. KiKi Layne stars as a woman who fights against injustice in her efforts to save her fiance who was wrongfully accused of a crime. Layne leads a cast that also includes a talented collection of stars including Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonnah Parris, Colman Domingo, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, and more. It’s prime theatrical release date at the end of November follows the world premiere in Canada and a visit to the Big Apple.

Widows 51. “Widows” (20th Century Fox)
Dir. Steve McQueen

Premieres at: TIFF

Director Steve McQueen adapts Lynda LaPlante’s 1983 and 2002 miniseries. The story follows four women who band together to pay off their criminal husbands’ debts after the men are killed in a crime gone wrong. McQueen co-wrote the script with “Gone Girl” writer Gillian Flynn. And the badass ladies of this crime/thriller include Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, Jacki Weaver, and Carrie Coon. This has the potential to be the ultimate Girl Power film of the year.

What are some of the female-driven films you’re looking forward to on the 2018 fall festival circuit? Comment below and share!

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Written by Karen M. Peterson

Karen Peterson is a writer from Southern California. When she is not at the ballpark cheering on her LA Angels, she can usually be found in a movie theater or in front of the television. Karen is obsessed with awards shows, and loves everything from the smallest indie film to the biggest of big budget spectacles. She is also unapologetically in love with Tom Cruise.


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