It’s no secret that Hollywood is mainly a white man’s game. So, come festival time, the onus is on the programmers and audiences to challenge archaic industry limitations and set new standards for more diverse, inclusive representation. While the world of fiction filmmaking still falls woefully behind in this arena, the ever-evolving universe of documentary cinema has, in recent years, allowed for women filmmakers to have their voices heard and their art celebrated in unprecedented ways. Just this year, the National Film Board announced its commitment to establish gender parity in film production by 2019. Still, there is much work to be done. This year at VIFF check out some of these fantastic documentaries by women directors and contribute to the process.
All This Panic
Given that this summer was the ten-year anniversary of my graduation from high school (yes, I skipped the reunion), my teenage self hasn’t been too far from my mind lately. Watching Jenny Gage’s portrait of seven young Brooklyn girls navigating that delicate precipice between childhood and adulthood was a true trip down nostalgia lane. All This Panic is a rare thing: a moving, beautiful film that foregrounds the experiences of young women and allows them the space to narrate their thoughts and feelings without intervention. Sisters Ginger and Dusty, along with a group of their friends and classmates, gift us a glimpse into their world over the span of three years, as we watch them finish high school and interrogate their identities in the way that all young people must at some point.
Questions of sexuality, responsibility, mental health, friendship, family—All This Panic’s got it all. Gage’s film is stylish, intimate and poignant, and will surely resonant with anyone who was ever a 17-year-old girl—and probably also with those who weren’t.
Tatiana Huezo, whose debut documentary, The Tiniest Place, followed the residents of a small town in El Salvador living in the aftermath of civil war, has crafted another beautiful film bomb. Tempestad (“Storm” in Spanish), is a searing indictment of Mexico’s corrupt justice system, and a heart-breaking meditation on the ways that violence seeps under the skin of a country at war with itself.
Tempestad follows the stories of two women who fall victim to the darkness that has corroded the soul of Mexico. Through voice-over narration we hear their disparate tales recounted over a background of haunting images: abandoned buildings, the countryside seen through the windows of a bus, and a big-top circus tent in rural Mexico where one of the women works as a clown. Huezo’s gift is weaving together the visual and aural in the most powerful of ways, transforming her compositions into potent socio-political commentary. Formally rigorous and packing a whole lot of emotional punch, Tempestad is a must-see for all serious doc-lovers.
Having swept the festival circuit by storm and made off with several prestigious audience awards in the process, Sonita is sure to find a warm home at VIFF. The story of an 18-year-old Afghan refugee living in Iran with dreams of becoming a hip-hop artist like Rihanna, Sonita tugs at all the heartstrings. Ri-Ri better be keeping her eye on this girl—Sonita is feisty, confident and outspoken, despite the trials she has suffered throughout her young life, and she’s got rhymes. Living with her sister and niece in a single-room unit in Tehran, Sonita sweeps the floors of the refugee integration centre where she attends life-skills classes and receives support from the staff. She is also fiercely dedicated to pursuing her music career, and writes increasingly politicized raps about the situation facing young women in her birth country.
When Sonita’s mother visits her with the explicit goal of taking her back to Afghanistan to sell her off for money to pay her brother’s dowry, things take a powerful turn. Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami interrogates the role of documentarian when she boldly chooses to intervene in determining Sonita’s future, returning agency to this young activist whose voice is urgent and necessary in a world that would otherwise silence it.
All This Panic screens on October 6 at the Vancouver Playhouse and on October 8 at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Tempestad screens on October 9 at Vancity Theatre. Sonita screens on October 2 at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts and on October 4 at the Vancouver Playhouse. Purchase tickets here, here and here.