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Celebrating the 'NEXTS' at Sundance and in New Zealand

Last year, I wrote a series of posts about a possible golden age for women's filmmaking (links below). I felt optimistic because accessibility to filmmaking has never been easier, because activists are linking up globally and because women are exploring new ways of working together that include a 'quiltmaking' model. This year, there were disappointments.  For instance, the Catching Fire producer, a woman – Nina Jacobson – shoulder-tapped men to write and direct the story adapted from Suzanne Collins' work. And there's Gravity, protagonist Ryan Stone's (Sandra Bullock) film, also written and directed by a man. Why aren't there more blockbuster films with women protagonists that are written and directed by women? As films about women become more common, will films by women also become more common? I hope so, but am not confident.

But it's great to see some evidence in the Sundance selections for 2014 that there's a new generation of women storytellers who are fluent with  technology (and crowdfunding), especially in NEXT <=>. And some evidence here in New Zealand that there's a new generation of women who create highly successful short projects outside the 48 Hours competition, where women are still profoundly under-represented, as they are in almost all local film contexts. So, today, celebrating the NEXTS, at Sundance and here.

The full list of Sundance 2014 projects that women-directed is at Women & Hollywood. Some sections are disappointing for those of us who look for films by and about women. But NEXT <=> has five films directed by women, five by men and one by a man and a woman. Kristin Gore co-wrote a seventh film, War Story. NEXT <=> films are described as–
...sure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling... Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a 'greater' next wave in American cinema.
I'm thrilled that women are strongly represented in this section because of its orientation to the future. I'm thrilled at the diversity of the writers/directors. I'm thrilled that there's a strong group making films about sexuality. And thrilled to recognise some work from their crowdfunding campaigns.

Desiree Akhavan 

Appropriate Behavior / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Desiree Akhavan, co-creator of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective) -- Shirin is struggling to become an ideal Persian daughter, a politically correct bisexual, and a hip, young Brooklynite, but fails miserably in her attempt at all identities. Being without a cliche to hold on to can be a lonely experience. Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer, Scott Adsit, Anh Duong, Arian Moayed. World Premiere

Sydney Freeland
Drunktown's Finest / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sydney Freeland) -- Three young Native Americans -- a rebellious father-to-be, a devout Christian woman, and a promiscuous transsexual -- come of age on an Indian reservation. Cast: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, Morningstar Angeline, Kiowa Gordon, Shauna Baker, Elizabeth Francis. World Premiere

Madeleine Olnek
The Foxy Merkins / U.S.A. (Director: Madeleine Olnek, (Director of Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) Screenwriters: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Madeleine Olnek) -- Two lesbian hookers work the streets of New York. One is a down-on-her-luck newbie; the other is a beautiful -- and straight -- grifter who's an expert on picking up women. Together they face bargain-hunting housewives, double-dealing conservative women, and each other in this prostitute buddy comedy. Cast: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Alex Karpovsky, Susan Ziegler, Sally Sockwell, Deb Margolin.

Ana Lily Amirpour
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ana Lily Amirpour, whose crowdfunding campaign was one those I've most enjoyed ever) -- In the Iranian ghost town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, depraved denizens are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rains, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marno, Milad Eghbali. World Premiere

Martha Stephens
Land Ho! / U.S.A., Iceland (Directors and screenwriters: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz and produced by Gamechanger Films, formed 'to shift the gender disparity in the film marketplace by tapping into the enormous yet undervalued talent pool of women directors and providing the financing necessary to bring their work to audiences worldwide' – is this maybe their first film to be released?) -- A pair of ex-brothers-in-law set off to Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth through Reykjavik nightclubs, trendy spas, and rugged campsites. This bawdy adventure is a throwback to 1980s road comedies, as well as a candid exploration of aging, loneliness, and friendship. Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Nelson, Alice Olivia Clarke, Karrie Krouse, Elizabeth McKee, Emmsje Gauti. World Premiere

Gillian Robespierre photo: Andrea Leoncavallo
Obvious Child/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Gillian Robespierre) -- An honest comedy about what happens when Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern gets dumped, fired, and pregnant, just in time for the worst/best Valentine's Day of her life. Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind. World Premiere

Next in New Zealand
New Zealanders delighted me this week, too, for their work now and because they bring hope for the future.

Daisy Thor-Poet
Daisy Thor-Poet's Forever Emily won the Panasonic Kid Witness News Global Contest Grand Prix and Best Screenplay, selected out of 650 entries from 28 countries. She's also just won the New Zealand section of the contest again, for the third time. Daisy started filmmaking at age 12 and looks up to Jane Campion's 'down-to-earth and simple' style of work, with minimal characters and dialogue.

Young women – Bella Cook, Elizabeth Newton-Jackson, Emma Savage and Nowshin Humayun – also took the top honour as Standout Winner at this week's The Outlook for Some Day Awards. The Outlook for Someday challenge to people under 24 is to make a sustainability-related film, filmed with any camera and any length up to 5 minutes.

And then of course there are those Auckland law students and their Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines [Feminist Parody] Defined Lines and their Lorde - Royals [Legal Parody] Lawyers. It's time to celebrate them, especially after I read Di White's beautiful post in Pantograph Punch, This Broken Ladder: Why Women Still Can’t Make It In The Legal Profession. (Legal practice and filmmaking in New Zealand appear to share some elements that affect women's participation. But at least there are official gender statistics for New Zealand's legal profession.)

A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies (1) (a new model for women's filmmaking)
A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies (2) (Gender & the Venice Film Festival/ media convergence)
A Golden Age for Women Who Make Movies (3) (the International Women's Film Festival Network)