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by Leslie Combemale
The beginning of every year is such a confusing time for film. Since January is a very bad month at the box office, historically studios have put out their least marketable films, and critics have had to brace themselves for the worst releases of the year. I’m talking about the explosion-heavy, sword and sandal, terror-behind-every-door type films that weren’t deemed good enough to be dropped at Halloween or the holiday blockbuster season.
At the same time, awards season is in full swing, and though all the films being pitched as Oscar worthy had some sort of limited release before December 31st, a number of prestige films are placed in theaters to entice voters and build more buzz. As a woman and as a film journalist, invariably this time of year is disappointing, because every year so many great female-helmed and female-fronted films get ignored. Just look at the films recognized with nominations by the DGA. They nominated all men to their Best Director category, then threw female directors Charlotte Wells (Aftersun), Audrey Diwan (Happening) Antoneta Alamos Kusijanovic (Murina) and Alice Diop (Saint Omer) a small bone, by nominating them in the Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Theatrical Feature Film category.
Then there’s Sundance, always both a literal and figurative breath of fresh air, where this year over 50% of films in nearly all categories of the festival are directed by folks who identify as women: 61% in the US Dramatic Competition, 63% in the US Documentary, 58% in the World Dramatic Competition, and 46% in the World Documentary, to be precise. Of all the feature films announced, 53% are directed or co-directed by female-identifying creatives.
That’s a lot to sift through, but we at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists are here to help. The following are just a few of the standouts. Some are compelling and some are the most buzzed-about titles being premiered or featured at this year’s fest.
Interdisciplinary Puerto Rican artist Glorimar Marrero Sánchez’s first feature film as writer/director, La Pecera (The Fishbowl), made her a recipient of the Tribeca Film Institute’s Latin American Film Fund. Isel Rodríguez stars as cancer patient Noelia, who seeks healing from the bliss of the eastern Puerto Rican island of her childhood. The examination of the toxicity of colonization doesn’t overshadow the lyricism in this filmmaker’s work here, which is present regardless of the context.