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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

#FemmeFilmFest20 - online festival celebrating films directed by women

Updated: May 5, 2023

The 5th Femme Filmmakers Festival started on Friday 28 August 2020 and over the next 10 days there's a curated programme in three sections: short films broken into 15 Showcase Selection and 20 Competition Selection films; and then the 24 Feature Films.

I was honoured to have been asked to be on the judging panel for the 20 short films in the ‘Competition Selection. The winners in various categories being announced on the final day of the festival, Sunday 6 August 2020.

Follow the festival on twitter @femmefilmfest #FemmeFilmFest20

I’ll be adding to this blog during the festival with mini reviews of all the shorts and as many of the main feature films I manage to watch!

Day One – Friday 28 August

Showcase Selection

The Clawford Trilogy d. Caz Armstrong (18 mins) When a young woman advertises for a student to rent a room little she did she realise that she was letting in the true Machiavellian of crime, Clawford. He may look like an innocent cuddly soft toy lion, but he had other plans, worthy of Moriarty himself... With great use of music this dialogue free caper was both comedic & dramatic. A great start to this year's

Competition Selection

El Mago Georges d. Katalin Egely (4 mins) Drawing inspiration from an ancient Persian Mago text. Loved the animation style, the vibrancy of the colours and the paper collage techniques. The use of depth, shallow/deep focus was very cinematic.

Troubled Water d. Elena Wiener (10 mins)

The mixed media animation style was impressive. The central use of the cracked skin combined with disappearing pencil drawing body an effective method for showing the body fighting autoimmune diseases/inner demons. Moving & poetic.

Feature Films

Your Sister’s Sister (2011) d. Lynn Shelton Wow! What a super film. Jack (Mark Duplass) & Iris (Emily Blunt) are best friends, so when he needed some time alone he goes to her family cabin, not knowing that her sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) would be there. Late night drinking leads to this unlikely couple coupling, made more complicated when Iris shows up.

Vagabond (1985) d. Agnes Varda How did Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) end up dead in a ditch? This dramatic/startling set-up reveals in flashback the story of this charismatic young woman. Moving tale of loneliness made more so by the documentary/social realist look.

No Home Movie (2015) d. Chantal Akerman. Akerman's last film is a personal one, an observational/conversational documentary about/with her mother.

Day Two – Saturday 29 August

Showcase Selection

Another Place d. Anna Radchenko/Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux (4 mins)

Music video for rock band Bastille, feat. Canadian singer/songwriter Alessia Cara. The off-kilter set, altering perspectives & the everyday becoming uncanny reminiscent of Expressionism/Surrealism. Effective.

Fucking Down d. Amanda Lago (5 mins)

Striking music video for indie musician Fatal Tiger from Spanish filmmaker Amanda Lago. The women featured bear an uncanny likeness & their distorted/damaged bodies become entwined/infused. Emotionally unsettling.

Competition Selection

Uproot d. Julia Bales (10 mins)

Nina (Joey Ally) visits her brother (Ptolemy Slocum) to try & convince him to move on/out. A moving portrait of mental health and familial love. Clever production design with the use of plants as a metaphor for both new life & rootedness.

The Get d. Kelsie Moore (2 mins)

Seemingly simple animation style*, combined with a first-person testimony describing the process of obtaining ‘the get’ (the Jewish equivalent to a divorce) makes for a powerful short film.

*the soundscape & sense of scale so evocative.

Stormchaser d. Gretl Claggett (27 mins)

All Bonnie wants to do is to track/chase tornadoes, but is stuck in a dead-end job selling inadequate ‘storm doors’. But her tempestuous relationship with her boss triggers a whirlwind of emotions. Visually & aurally impressive.

Feature Films

The Bigamist (1953) d. Ida Lupino

The direction/performances/script tread a very fine line at making the husband (Edmond O'Brien) at the centre of this drama understandable & sympathetic as well as making both wives (Joan Fontaine & IdaLupino) genuine & authentic.

A New Leaf (1971) w/d. Elaine May

Elaine May stars as a multi-millionaire botanist who's wooed by Henry (Walter Matthau) a selfish playboy who's burnt through his fortune. One of the better black comedies featuring a husband daydreaming about how to bump off his wife! Ace!

Day Three – Sunday 30 August

Showcase Selection

Softer d. Ayanna Dozier (5 mins) On screen one black woman is undergoing ‘beauty’ treatments delivered by another, underscored by discordant atonal music. The treatments verge on the barbaric, which chime with the historic narration outlining expectations of black women.

In a Hole d. Sarah Louise Dean (5 mins) Liza is bright & sunny on top of the world, or at least London’s rooftops, whilst Beth is down in a black hole. As cheering up from above doesn’t appear to help, Liza jumps down to join her. A test of true friendship/helping others.

Competition Selection

Faulty Roots d. Ella Greenwood (11 mins)

An effective small-scale drama about teen mental health. By pairing Lola (Greenwood) up with Zack (Sani Thabo) highlights the fundamental difference in the way people perceive depression (Lola) & long-term health conditions (Zack).

Find Me Mother d. Suchana Saha (4 mins)

The simplicity of the brushstrokes & colour palette in the hospital scenes was an effective allusion to life being drained/slipping away, and was a contrast to the more vibrant flashbacks of the mother/daughter's earlier life.

Faith d. Sahera Khan (6 mins)

Sahera Khan is a Muslim, Deaf & British Asian filmmaker who wrote, directed & stars as Taliha who meets up with her estranged friend Marlyn. They'd drifted apart when Marlyn 'came out' & now Taliha is keen to learn more about LGBTQ+ issues.

Feature Films

Adult Life Skills (2016) d. Rachel Tunnard

After the death of her twin brother Anna (Jodie Whittaker) has put living fully on-hold, living in her mum's shed making short films featuring her thumbs. Her mum gives her a deadline to move on/out. Quirky & Twee but an effective take on grief and growth.

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) d. Jamie Babbit

When cheerful cheerleader Megan (Natasha Lyonne) shows signs that she’s a lesbian, her parents pack her off to a conversion therapy camp run by zealous Mary & Mike (Cathy Moriarty & RuPaul). Cute LGBTQ satirical romcom. Loved it!

Day Four – Monday 31 August

Showcase Selection

Raging Cult d. Meagan Adele Lopez (17 mins)

Frustrated by the bombardment of smiling women on social media, friends Sandra & Molly decide to start a cult of feminine rage! Humour comes from the women they interview who try to articulate what makes them angry/channel rage.

Competition Selection The Pregnant Ground d. Haolu Wang (24 mins) After a traumatic stillbirth, a woman starts to believe the ground below her apartment is pregnant. Sound, music & absence of sound are as valuable in creating a surreal nightmarish mood, as are the simple & effective visuals.

Keep Mum d. Luana Di Pasquale (16 mins)

As a woman (Nadira Murray) drunkenly wrecks her big family house, flashes of her past haunts her. Part study in grief, part examination on domestic violence, part 'ghost' story, all rooted in an aching anguish. Well shot, directed, edited particularly good sound design and location.

Feature Films

Cameraperson (2016) d. Kirsten Johnson

Johnson curates a personal memoir from the 50+ docs she's worked on over her 20-year career as a cinematographer working with leading filmmakers. There’s no v/o to guide, just a fascinating glimpse into dozens of lives.

Old Enough (1984) d. Marisa Silver

Summer in New York and two young girls from different worlds become friends. Lonnie (Sarah Boyd) is 11 whilst Karen (Rainbow Harvest) a few years older. Those few years and Karen’s tougher/more wayward upbringing makes a lot of difference.

Day Five – Tuesday 1 September

Showcase Selection

Diane Keaton d. Georgia Michailidi (17 mins)

Anastasia works hard. Whilst Odysseas says he’s too busy writing to help around their apartment. When a leaking sink goes unfixed, Anastasia has had enough. Enough of him, enough of dating an ‘artist’, enough of being a muse.

Competition Selection

Shelter in Place d. Kelsie Moore (15 mins)

Filmed during the covid-19 pandemic, this documentary focuses on a group of immigrants who have sought sanctuary in a church in Utah. With social distancing in place, they turn to virtual communication to stay connected.

Girl in the Hallway d. Valerie Barnhart (10 mins)

Valerie Barnhart's innovative mixed-media animation, drawing on Red Riding Hood symbolism, is a powerful combination of visual design & story, as writer/poet Jamie DeWolf recounts the disappearance of his 7 year old neighbour Xiana Fairchild.

Feature Films

Orlando (1992) d. Sally Potter

In 1600 Orlando (Tilda Swinton) inherits his parents' house, thanks to Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp) on the condition he stays forever young. 400 years of history & gender swapping follow. A sensational sumptuous sexy spectacle. Read my blog on Sally Potter here.

Marie Antoinette (2006) d. Sofia Coppola

A sympathetic portrait of MA. Perhaps given SC’s upbringing in a privileged/sheltered environment she felt a kinship with a young woman whose ability to do her job was constantly questioned.

Read my blog on Marie Antoinette here.

Day Six – Wednesday 2 September Showcase Selection

Olympia d. Giulia Achenza (12 mins) There is a plot, of sorts, but this is more about style. The lead character is a body artist (Aomi Muyock) and film feels/looks like a performance art/fashion piece. The use/positioning of bodies in motion & in repose: in reality & dreams.

Competition Selection

Years d. Danielle Schmidt (18 mins) Directed as part of her degree at Rhode Island School of Design, this spare/lean & therefore fittingly moving drama about Grace (Anna Hunt) who has an eating disorder. There’s distress & distrust even in the mundanity of daily life.

Hearth d. Sophie B. Jacques (11 mins)

When Emillie returns home after renting her house to strangers, we witness what actually happened during her absence.

Two key things:

a) I want that house

b) I’m never renting out mine

Loved how the two timelines existed simultaneously.

Feature Films

Lourdes (2009) d. Jessica Hausner

What I liked abt Hausner’s Eng-language debut Little Joe is what I liked here: the crisp cinematography, bold use of colour, the is it real/imagined?? But here I also engaged emotionally with lead character Christine (Sylvie Testud) who may or may not have been the recipient of a miracle when she makes a pilgrimage to Lourdes with a coach party. So now wondering whether my lack of emotional engagement with Little Joe was caused by ‘little joe’ itself. Need to see more Jessica Hausner now.

Three Poplars on Plyuschikha Street (1968) d. Tatyana Lioznova

Married with kids Nyura (Tatiana Doronina) travels from her rural farm to Moscow to sell a ham. There she’s picked up by a taxi driver (Oleg Yefremov) & they make a connection. Beautiful/tender/heartbreaking.

Day Seven – Thursday 3 September Showcase Selection Concealer d. Kristine Gerolaga (11 mins)

When Ivy (Kristine Gerolaga) reconnects with her friend Bless (Stacie Gancayco-Adlao) she finds that Bless has dramatically changed due to a make-up range she’s using/selling. Funny/chilling take on beauty, cults & pyramid selling.

Competition Selection

Home d. Anita Bruvere (8 mins)

Socially & politically relevant work, looking at how immigrants have enriched lives, and been the recipients of poor/good press. Thought the narrative 'thread' of tracing the history of house and its 'thread/weaving' linked inhabitants a clever one. Loved the mixed-media animation presentation. Thought the solidity of the house and its material possessions (things that remain) juxtaposed well with the more ethereal fleeting people that passed through.

Just Me and You d. Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers (22 mins)

8yo Eva (Dalia Binzari) & her father (Florin Peltea) go on a long road-trip from Montreal-Mexico aboard his 18-wheeler, & let’s just say more return than left. All she wanted to do was go to the beach. Well done.

Feature Films

Little Woods (2019) d. Nia DaCosta

Tessa Thompson and Lily James in powerful performances as estranged sisters reunited following their mother’s death. Each struggling with life & forced to make difficult decisions if they're to survive. A grim but distinctive film.

Salaam Bombay! (1988) d. Mira Nair

11yo Krishna (Shafiq Syed) has to survive the tough streets of Bombay, struggling amongst the other street kids, drug dealers/users, prostitutes/pimps. Devastating/beautiful: full of life/sadness.

Day Eight – Friday 4 September Showcase Selection

Semele d. Myrsini Aristidou (14 mins)

This is all about the unsaid. Semele (Vasiliki Kokkoliadi) aged 8ish? & lacking maternal care at home, hitchhikes miles to visit her ‘absent’ dad (Yannis Stankoglou) at his workplace. All she wants is to be with him, he needs her gone.

Competition Selection

The Gray Area d. Kelsie Moore (18 mins)

Political/personal/important documentary about a family (who've fallen between the cracks of subsidised/owning home) living in a trailer in the Utah desert. Kelsie Moore must’ve built up a lot of trust for them to share their story and for them to appear so natural.

Welcome Home d. Armita Keyani (16 mins)

An Iranian couple who’ve recently setting in Norway, are so keen to practice their Norwegian they invite a pair of visiting Jehovah's Witnesses into their home. Comedic/suspenseful look at language, loneliness & exploitation. Listen to Armita Keyani in conversation to Robin Write and me for Filmotomy Podcast.

Feature Films

Afghan Star (2009) d. Havana Marking

Following the Taliban's ban, in 2005 music was once again allowed to be played/sung in Afghanistan and Tolo TV launched reality TV show Afghan Star. This documentary follows a group of male and female hopefuls competing in the 3rd Series.

Radiance (2017) d. Naomi Kawase

A moving romance between Misako (Ayame Misaki) who writes films’ audio descriptions for the blind and a photographer (Masatoshi Nagase) whose eyesight is deteriorating. Gentle, thoughtful and a powerful look a sight/seeing/noticing.

The Seduction of Mimi (1972) d. Lina Wertmüller

Mimi (Giancarlo Giannini) gets caught up in Sicilian 'politics' incurring the Mafia's wrath. Fleeing to the North leaving his wife behind, he starts a new family. Returning South with them, things get complicated.

Day Nine – Saturday 5 September

Showcase Selection

Blanca Rego Double Bill Circulation (5 mins): a reminder that there is beauty in the everyday – be present! Lockdown (22 mins): Experimental abstract film created daily during the Covid-19 Lockdown. Animated from more than 27k photos of a white bedroom wall and field recordings. Competition Selection

The Story of Painted Songs d. Suchana Saha (6 mins)

Explores social/artistic heritage of Pattachitra scrolls as an artform, whilst integrating that artform into the animation. Ends with a 'live' section with current artists lamenting this past world. Moving/beautiful.

Long Time Listener, First Time Caller d. Nora Kirkpatrick (17 mins)

Nan (Breeda Wool) lives in a small town, married and sexually frustrated. She calls into a late-night radio show hoping for answers/guidance/to find what she’s looking for. Across the board - excellent. Feature Films

The Edge of Democracy (2019) d. Petra Costa

Petra Costa’s family connects her both to the establishment and democratic change, but it’s clear that the fight for democracy won out, as she here takes a firm position in examining the systemic corruption in Brazilian politics.

System Crasher (2019) d. Nora Fingscheidt

OMG! This film, abt out-of-control 9yo Benni (Helena Zengel) navigating the care system, was one of the most distressing/stressful film-watches I’ve experienced. So good/tragic. Zengel’s performance powerful/heartbreaking.

The Assistant (2019) w/d. Kitty Green

A day in the life a busy assistant (Julia Garner) to a powerful film mogul. She sees all, but there are structures in place to keep her from speaking out. It's all about the margins/the unspoken. Chilling response to #MeToo.

Day Ten – Sunday 6 September Showcase Selection

Ghazaal d. Ragini Bhasin (15 mins)

Set in a refugee camp in Turkey, the film focuses on the plight of a 13yo Afghan girl who's bartering/haggling for food for her family, but when her period comes she’s pushed to extremes for get menstruation hygiene products. Melancholic.

Touch d. Lulu Wang (15 mins)

Based on a true story of a seemingly naive elderly Taiwanese man living in the US who touches a young boy’s genitals (in a non-sexual way) not fully appreciating the impact of this act. A controversial topic handled with sensitivity & care.

Wake Up d. Olivia Wilde (10 mins)

A short film sponsored by computer company HP, starring Margaret Qualley, this is a beautiful elegiac warning about spending too much time staring at screens, and not living fully in the moment. Feature Films

Daisies (1966) d. Věra Chytilová

Two young women both named Marie (Jitka Cerhová & Ivana Karbanová) whirl from one chaotic act to another in this feminist Czech New Wave classic. There’s very little in the way of plot, but much in the way of inventiveness, charm & glee.

Water Lilies (2007) d. Céline Sciamma

Three teen girls navigate the emotions of teen sexuality and friendship. It is Anne’s (Louise Blachère) journey we follow, who is friends with Marie (Pauline Acquart) but has a crush on Floriane (Adèle Haenel). Perfect piece of cinema.

Mustang d. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Set in rural Turkey, 5 sisters are being brought up by their uncle/grandmother who feel the time is right for them to give up school & marry. Putting them on this path has devastating consequences.

Read my blog on Mustang here.


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