by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
Female directors have been the toast of town at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week, with films that have been embraced by the industry, film critics and audiences. Although women directors still make up an anemically small percentage of the ranks of film directors everywhere around the world, their special spins on a number of high profile films here are worth noting.
No film premiere generated as much excitement as the red carpet gala of JENNIFER'S BODY, a feminist revenge comedy scribed by Oscar-winning scenarist Diablo Cody, whose JUNO was an instant classic, and directed by Karyn Kusama, whose boxing film GIRLFIGHT was an American indie sensation. The film, which is being released by 20th Century Fox this weekend in the United States, is a tale of female vengeance, as an impossibly attractive high school cheerleader literally chews up her male victims. This unusual take on postpunk feminism deftly mixes horror and comedy in unexpected ways that should make the film quite the sensation at the box office.
Two women better known for their acting chops have made their directorial debuts here this week. Drew Barrymore offers a uniquely feminist view of the roller-derby genre in WHIP IT. The film stars Ellen Page, the lead in JUNO, among the film's quirkier assets. An Oscar nominee for her role as the deaf mute in Woody Allen's jazz-inflected SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1999), English actress Samantha Morton takes on the director reins for THE UNLOVED, a tough film about the survival of a teenage girl in the UK's state-run orphanage system. The film, which was produced by Channel Four for television broadcast, stars Robert Carlyle and newcomer Molly Windsor.
Lone Scherfig, the Danish director whose debut film ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS was an international arthouse smash, has directed a fetching film in the period piece AN EDUCATION, which won the Audience Award at last year's Sundance Film Festival. The film, which is to be released in the United States by Sony Pictures Classics, tells the tale of a young woman in stuffy early 1960s England who becomes involved with a sophisticate (played by Peter Saarsgaard) and his artsy, envelope-pushing social set. The film, which features exquisite period detail and a wonderful set of performances from such players as Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and Emma Thompson, could well be a sleeper hit and an Oscar contender by year's end.
Another possible Oscar film making its premiere in Toronto is BRIGHT STAR, the latest film from director Jane Campion. The film is a period romantic epic about the love story of English poet John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne. The film teams the dashing Ben Whishaw and the beautiful Abbie Cornish in a torrid tale that opens in theaters in the US and Canada this weekend. The film is also distinguished as the first release from a new US distribution company, Apparition.
Other films from female directors that have made a strong impression here include THE VITNER'S LUCK by New Zealand director Niki Caro, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE by American director Rebecca Miller, THE ANGEL by Norwegian director Margaret Olin, THE WAITING CITY by Australian auteur Claire McCarthy and VISION by legendary German director Margarethe Von Trotta.
For more information on these and other films, visit www.tiff.net