The 42nd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival will kick off in just two days, and as always, there is an overwhelming amount of amazing-sounding films screening at the fest. We’ve collected some of the titles by and about women that have us most excited. This list is by no means exhaustive — there are plenty of other films written, directed, and about women in the program. These are just some of the highlights, which include directorial debuts, Oscar hopefuls, and more.
Tiff runs from September 7–17. Be sure to check out our interviews with women directors screening films at the fest, which will start rolling out today.
All summaries and images courtesy of Tiff.
” — Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
What it’s about: A rebellious young woman (Saoirse Ronan
) navigates the pressures and constraints of Catholic school and life in Sacramento.
Why we’re interested: Loosely based on writer-director Greta Gerwig
’s own experiences, “Lady Bird
” marks her solo directorial debut. She previously co-helmed “Nights and Weekends
.” We’ve been fans of Gerwig’s writing in oddball comedies “Mistress America
” and “Frances Ha
” and it’s great to see her penning another female-led story, this time starring Saoirse Ronan
, one of the most exciting actors of her generation. In a soon-to-be published interview with us, Gerwig said that the worst advice she received was “Women don’t really have the right personality traits to be directors.” We’re glad she didn’t listen.
“Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami” (Documentary) — Directed by Sophie Fiennes
What it’s about: Filmed over the course of a decade, the new documentary from director Sophie Fiennes
(“The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology”) offers a stylish and unconventional look at the Jamaican-born model, singer, and New Wave icon.
Why we’re interested: “‘Grace Jones
’ exists almost as a cultural construction — a visual fetish,” director Sophie Fiennes
told us in a soon-to-be-published interview. “The film was a unique opportunity to explore the person beyond that fascinating surface.” Like another Tiff film, “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” “Grace Jones
” looks like it will push past the public figure everyone thinks they know to present a real-life woman who is just as compelling as her persona.
” — Written and Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
What it’s about: A recluse (Daniel Craig
) helps a woman (Halle Berry
) and her multiple children when riots erupt in Los Angeles following the 1992 acquittal of the policemen charged with assaulting Rodney King
Why we’re interested: Like so many others, we were bowled over by “Mustang
,” Deniz Gamze Ergüven
’s Oscar-nominated debut about oppressed sisters living in a small village in Turkey. “Kings
” marks her first project in English, and is set during an important chapter in history that hasn’t received nearly enough attention. We’re also looking forward to seeing Halle Berry
in a meaty dramatic role. The Oscar-winning actress has revealed that she herself hopes to start directing and also to produce more projects. “I want to start being a part of making more opportunities for people of color,” she said. “We have to start telling stories that include us and if stories don’t include us, we have to start asking, ‘Why can’t that be a person of color? Why can’t that white male character be a black woman? Why can’t it?’ We have to start pushing the envelope and asking these questions.”
”— Directed by Brie Larson
; Written by Samantha McIntyre
What it’s about: Brie Larson
stars in her directorial debut about a dreamer reluctant to abandon her childish wonder who is offered the most magical gift she can imagine.
Why we’re interested: A feel-good movie about an unconventional young woman who follows her dreams is just what the doctor ordered in these troubled times. When we asked star and director Brie Larson
what drew her to the project in a soon-to-be-published interview, the Oscar winner said, “For me, the idea of going after this unicorn was dreaming the impossible dream. The fact that I wanted to be an actor for so long and was told ‘no’ so many times kind of made me feel a little crazy; I was like a person going after a unicorn. There were all these people scratching their heads and going, ‘Why are you doing this? This is obviously never going to work out,’” she recalled. “So, this is, in some ways, an homage to my life and my journey and hopefully a way to inspire others to keep going on their path, whatever their unicorn is.” The “Room
” actress added, “It’s not an easy time in the world right now, so I hope that, in the spirit of film’s traditional escapism and a way to dream, this film can do that.”
What it’s about: Margot Robbie
stars as controversial Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding
in this alternately tragic, hilarious, and absurd look at one of the biggest scandals in U.S. sports history.
Why we’re interested: “I, Tonya” focuses on Tonya Harding
and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly
’s attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan
in 1994. The buzzy script for the film landed on 2016’s Black List. We’re hopeful that the movie doesn’t just play the story for laughs. When the iconic pop culture moment is rehashed, most overlook Harding’s allegations of her ex-husband’s abuse. Harding has claimed that the attack was his idea, and she didn’t report his plan to the police because she was worried he’d try to kill her if she tried. We’re looking forward to seeing Robbie in a role unlike any we’ve seen her in. The “Suicide Squad
” star is also producing the project.
“Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
”— Co-Written and Directed by Mouly Surya
What it’s about: A young widow violently turns the tables on her would-be attackers, in this powerful, provocative, and visually stunning Indonesian take on the “feminist western” genre.
Why we’re interested: Director Mouly Surya
calls “Marlina” “a celebration of women power” — a far cry from the usual female revenge fantasy, which usually includes a woman becoming completely unhinged with rage and a thirst for blood. According to Surya, Marlina is a woman “on her way to redemption.” That’s a fresh perspective for a genre that’s usually plagued with vigilantes, victims, and little else.
”— Written and Directed by Clio Barnard
What it’s about: Ruth Wilson
stars in British filmmaker Clio Barnard
’s atmospheric and layered drama about the old wounds and bitter new grievances that come to light when a woman returns home to settle the tenancy of her family’s Yorkshire farm.
Why we’re interested: Sibling drama, old grudges, and gendered societal expectations collide in “Dark River
.” In a soon-to-be-published interview, Barnard told us that “it is a film about how damaging it is to be silenced and to bury the past, about how as children we can feel we failed to protect our siblings and can carry misplaced guilt with us for the rest of our lives. It is also about acceptance, putting the past to rest.”
“My Days of Mercy” — Directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer
What it’s about: The daughter (Ellen Page
) of a man on death row falls in love with a woman (Kate Mara
) on the opposing side of her family’s political cause.
Why we’re interested: Political arguments usually last a scene or two in film — and they hardly ever occur between two people in a romantic relationship. “My Days of Mercy” promises to be groundbreaking because it not only depicts two people with very different opinions falling in love, it depicts two women on opposite sides of an issue falling in love. Ellen Page
’s Lucy has a father on death row and is vehemently against the death penalty, while Kate Mara
’s Mercy supports capital punishment. “I wanted to explore the beautiful dynamic between Lucy and Mercy, which I believe is an expression of the transformative, healing power of love,” Tali Shalom-Ezer
told us in an as-yet unpublished interview.
” — Co-Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
What it’s about: Sebastián Lelio
(“A Fantastic Woman,” “Gloria
”) directs Rachel Weisz
and Rachel McAdams
in this adaptation of Naomi Alderman
’s novel about a woman who returns home to her orthodox Jewish community in London and rekindles a romance with her cousin’s wife.
Why we’re interested: Lelio received raves for “Gloria
,” his 2013 film about a vibrant older woman looking for passion and love. It appears that he’s helmed another story about an unconventional female protagonist with “Disobedience
.” Even before Ronit (Rachel Weisz
) embarks on an affair with her cousin’s wife (Rachel McAdams
), she is considered a rebel; she lives a secular life far away from her devout family. “Disobedience
” promises to be a nuanced take on women, faith, family, and living life on your own terms.
“The Seen and Unseen ”— Written and Directed by Kamila Andini
What it’s about: A 10-year-old girl retreats to a fantastical, evocative dream space to deal with the impending loss of her twin brother in this imaginative film from Indonesian director Kamila Andini
Why we’re interested: “The Seen and Unseen” depicts a holistic culture and — unlike most other movies that do so — doesn’t present it through white, privileged characters. Instead, the film uses the philosophy of Sekala Niskala
as a way to examine family, connection, and grief. “Bali is a place where holism is still strongly felt in daily life,” director Kamila Andini
explained to Women and Hollywood in an as-yet unpublished interview. “The Seen and Unseen — or Sekala Niskala
— is the philosophy they believe in life; life is in harmony with all the seen things, and the unseen as well.”
“Woman Walks Ahead
” — Directed by Susanna White
What it’s about: Jessica Chastain
stars in the true story of Catherine Weldon, a 19th-century Brooklyn
artist who travelled to the Dakota Territory and became the confidante of legendary Sioux chief Sitting Bull.
Why we’re interested: Jessica Chastain
consistently delivers amazing performances, and it seems like “Woman Walks Ahead
” handles its subject matter with respect and self-awareness. “In making this movie I was very conscious, of being, like Wheldon, an outsider. While I could relate to being a woman in late 19th century New York, I knew I had a huge amount to learn about Native American culture,” director Susanna White
explained in an upcoming interview with us. “I asked for help from the community and had an amazing experience.” “Woman Walks Ahead
” has a white protagonist but it doesn’t seem like it’ll present yet another white savior narrative. It’s based on a true story and White revealed she was “very moved when [the project’s] Lakota language adviser, Ben Blackbear, watched the movie and said he hoped it would change the way history was taught in schools because it was telling a story his community usually didn’t get told.”
“Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” (Documentary) — Directed by Tracy Heather Strain
What it’s about: Filmmaker Tracy Heather Strain
delivers a moving account of the life of Black playwright, communist, feminist, lesbian, and outspoken trailblazer Lorraine Hansberry
(“A Raisin in the Sun
Why we’re interested: Tony winner Anika Noni Rose
provides the voice for Lorraine Hansberry
’s writing in this documentary. The film also features interviews with Ruby Dee
, Sidney Poitier
, and Louis Gossett Jr.
, all of whom acted in versions of Hansberry’s most famous work, the segregated Chicago-set play “A Raisin in the Sun
.” While “Raisin” is a classic of literature and theater — and movingly portrays the struggles of a black family in the pre-Civil Rights era — it is far from the writer’s only accomplishment. “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” shines a much-needed spotlight on Hansberry’s entire story and legacy.
“I Am Not a Witch
”— Written and Directed by Rungano Nyoni
What it’s about: Part magic realist fable and part gendered social critique, Rungano Nyoni
’s debut feature focuses on a young girl who is banished from her village in Zambia and sent to a camp for exiled witches.
Why we’re interested: It’s rare to see a feature center on a young girl, and this fascinating project is not entirely a work of fiction. “These witch accusations are actually illegal in most parts of Africa, but it still continues. The practice of witchcraft is also illegal but it still continues,” writer-director Rungano Nyoni
told us in an interview. “Sometimes people get very precious about it, they’re like, ‘You’re laughing at these witch accusations and that’s cultural tradition.’ We said, ‘No it’s not.’ You have to call it out for what it is, because it’s mostly aimed at women, and it always has been throughout history so we can’t wrap it in cotton wool. It’s misogyny — that’s all it is. I don’t know how else to express it. We have to embrace that truth before we can do something about it.”
” — Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
; Written by Emma Jensen
What it’s about: Elle Fanning
stars in this scintillating biopic of the “Frankenstein
” author, chronicling her tempestuous marriage to dissolute poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
and the fateful night at a Swiss chateau that inspired her most famous creation.
Why we’re interested: Haifaa Al-Mansour
is following up her critically acclaimed debut narrative “Wadjda
” with another female-led story, this one starring the fabulous Elle Fanning
. “When I read Mary Shelley
’s story I felt an instant connection with it. She grew up in this very conservative culture, where women’s roles were much more rigid and opportunities were extremely limited. But she rose above it, and wrote a story that continues to capture the imagination of readers to this day,” Al-Mansour explained in an upcoming interview with us. “What I love is that she chose to write a book that was so outside of the ‘acceptable’ realms of literature for women, and created a genre — science fiction — that continues to be dominated by male voices. She wrote a book that challenged religious doctrine and raised new ethical questions about the impact uninhibited scientific experimentation would have on a society.” Shelley’s trailblazing story is important, and we’re even happier to bear witness to it since it’s Al-Mansour and Fanning bringing it to the big screen.
” — Written and Directed by Sadaf Foroughi
What it’s about: A 16-year-old girl’s relationship with her family is challenged after her mother takes her to a gynecologist in order to ensure she’s still a virgin.
Why we’re interested: Young women’s sexuality is still very much a taboo subject around the world. It definitely is in the world of “Ava
,” in which the titular Iranian girl is forced by her mother to undergo a physical examination to confirm that she hasn’t had sex. After Ava
’s is subjected to the invasion of privacy, she begins to see the hypocrisy and misogyny everywhere. This is the beginning of her feminist awakening.
“The Children Act
What it’s about: Emma Thompson
and Stanley Tucci
star in this adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan
, about a high-court judge (Thompson) who finds personal and professional crises colliding when she is asked to rule in the case of a brilliant 18-year-old boy who is refusing the blood transfusion that would save his life.
Why we’re interested: Last seen as Mrs. Potts in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast
,” it’s been awhile since Emma Thompson
has had a starring vehicle. In a story reminiscent of real-life medical ethics cases, “Children Act” sees Thompson playing Fiona Maye, a judge coping with a troubled marriage and guilt over a past verdict when the new case is put on her desk. A successful, intelligent woman who’s conflicted and overwhelmed, but determined to do her job and do it well? We can’t think of a better character to showcase Thompson’s talents.
“Number One” — Directed by Tonie Marshall
; Co-Written by Tonie Marshall
and Marion Doussot
What it’s about: In this whip-smart drama about corporate sexism, top French star Emmanuelle Devos
plays a high-ranking female executive who is forced to consider her options and marshal her forces when she realizes that the glass ceiling is fast approaching.
Why we’re interested: Like Meera Menon
,” “Number One” explores a corporate culture from a female perspective — and shows how the professional world isn’t always a welcoming place for a woman, no matter how capable she is at her job.
17 Films By and About Women to Check Out at Tiff 2017 was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.