The world premiere of Pet Sematary capped off the 2019 SXSW Film Festival on Saturday, bringing to a close a festival that boasted 60 percent of female-directed films screening in competition. Women were behind the camera to direct or co-direct more than half of the feature-length films screening as part of the festival’s competition programmes which include offerings from experienced filmmakers like Lynn Shelton and actors-turned-directors like Olivia Wilde.
Seven out of 10 features in the Documentary category and Five out of 10 films in the Narrative-Feature Competition are directed by women, including Emily Ting’s comedy Go Back To China and Karen Maine’s Yes, God, Yes about a Catholic high school student (played by Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer) who discovers masturbation in the early 2000s.
“You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself and applauding because there’s still a lot [to do],” Dyer says of the number of female-directed films at SXSW, while speaking with ET Canada. “It’s great, for sure, to see everyone applauding and listening and making changes. It’s great, but I think there’ plenty more to do.”
Maine agrees, adding: “You see the backlash to stuff like the Ghostbusters film and that still pisses me off. It’s good that we’re moving in the right direction but it’s still going to take a while.”
Though Wilde’s Booksmart earned headlines and well-deserved raves for its thoughtful and fun look at two high school BFFs embarking on one wild night of partying before graduation, the film was the lone movie directed by a woman in the festival’s Headliner’s selection. Boasting “big films” and “big talent”, Booksmart stood out among the six major studio-backed films, which also included Us and The Highwaymen, illustrating that mainstream Hollywood still has a ways to go towards gender parity.
Another indie darling, Shelton, was one of three of the Narrative Spotlight category’s female-helmed films with her Sword Of Trust with Marc Maron. The director comes across as less optimistic that this female-heavy slate is here to stay, explaining to ET Canada that she’s seen this trend before.
At Sundance several years ago, Shelton says the festival had gender parity for the first time with eight films directed by women and eight films directed by men in completion. “And it’s never happened since,” she says. “You never know. It’s like, ‘Oh, finally! The time has come’ but you don’t know.”
Women came home with a number of awards from the 2019 festival including SXSW Grand Jury Awards for Yes, God, Yes which was recognized for Best Ensemble while Josephine Mackerras took home the top award in the Narrative Feature Competition for Alice, a drama about a women drawn into the world of high-end prostitution in order to car for herself and her child after her husband’s addiction leave the family penniless.
Female filmmakers also dominated the Documentary Feature Competition awards, with For Sama earning the top award for Waad al-Kateab and co-director Edward Watts. The 26-yar-old al-Kateab, a Syrian journalist and filmmaker is the central focus of the doc which looks as five years of her life through the rebel-held Aleppo during the Syrian uprising in which she documents the challenges faced by women like herself and her group of friends as they fight for a free Syria. For Sama was also the winner fo the Audience Award for Documentary Feature.
Special Jury Recognition in the doc competition also went to Elizabeth Carroll for Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy and Jenifer McShane for Ernie & Joe.
Catch up on reviews you might have missed from SXSW 2019 here