Here at Filmotomy, we champion female filmmakers, and in 2018 we watched some excellent films such as Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, Debra Garnik’s Leave No Trace, and Chloé Zhao’s The Rider. There were also some amazing debut films from up and coming female filmmakers, which we want to bring your attention to and spread the word about. We do hope you seek these debut films out, and if there’s any you would like to mention, please let us know in the comments. And do make sure, to continue to support female filmmakers in any way you can.
1. The Strange Ones: Co-directed by Lauren Wolkstein & Christopher Radcliff
The Strange Ones follows two travelers (Alex Pettyfer & James Freedson-Jackson)as they make their way across a remote American landscape. On the surface all seems normal, but what appears to be a simple vacation soon gives way to a dark and complex web of secrets. Told in a non-linear style, this is a haunting little film which demands repeat viewing.
This is Wolkstein’s and Radcliff’s first feature film and is adapted from a short film also called The Strange Ones. The film’s central performances are strong and the film deals with some dark and disturbing themes. A sombre thriller which is worth seeking out.
2. Oh Lucy!: Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi
Oh Lucy! is a drama-comedy which tells the story of Setsuko Kawashima (Shinobu Terajima ), a lonely, chain-smoking office lady in Tokyo who is past her prime. After deciding to take an English class, she discovers a new identity in her American alter ego, ‘Lucy,’ and falls for her instructor, John (Josh Hartnett). When John suddenly disappears, Setsuko earnestly sets out on a quest to find him, eventually leading her to the outskirts of Southern California.
The balance between laugh out loud comedy moments and more dramatic scenes, helps makes this film stand out. Terajima’s performance is very noteworthy, and this film helps to show the differences between the two cultures. A quirky and very personal film; it’ll be interesting to see what director Atsuko Hirayanagi does next.
3. Blockers: Directed by Kay Cannon
Kay Cannon is best known for being the writer of the Pitch Perfect films, and in 2018 she released her debut comedy film, Blockers. In less capable hands, Blockers could have been yet another run-of-the-mill teen sex comedy, but Cannon manages to deliver an amusing comedy with some big laugh-out-loud moments.
The film stars Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, and John Cena as a trio of parents who try to stop their daughters (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon) from losing their virginity on prom night. Blockers went on to gross $93 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics, with Kevin Scott from Exclaim!, giving the film an 8/10, saying “Blockers is still a teen sex comedy, but this is as progressive as comedies get.”
4. Dead Pigs: Directed by Cathy Yan
Dead Pigs is the debut film from Chinese-American Director Cathy Yan. A multi-strand narrative which focuses on several different characters, this film analyzes the current state of society in China. The film centres around the lives a bumbling pig farmer, a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an expat architect and a disenchanted rich girl, who all collide as thousands of dead pigs float down the river towards a rapidly modernizing Shanghai.
Yan’s first feature is a dark, quirky comedy which peels back the layers of contemporary society and examines human interactions. A hit on the festival circuit, it is worth seeking this film out if you can.
5. Never Goin’ Back: Directed by Augustine Frizzell
Never Goin’ Back is not only directed by Augustine Frizzell, but also edited and written by her as well. Set in southern Texas, Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are best friends and high school dropouts who spend their lives trying to have fun while working as waitresses and keeping an eye on each other.
They decide to head to Galveston so they can play at the beach. However, their ineptitude causes them to go broke, get robbed and nearly lose their jobs. This is a charming, coming-of-age drama which is entertaining, funny and witty. A great film to watch with your best friend!
6. The Day I Lost My Shadow: Directed by Soudade Kaadan
In 2018 I attended the LFF, and caught this moving debut from Soudade Kaadon. Set in Syria in 2012 a mother called Sana (Sawsan Arsheed) ventures into a war zone to find a gas cylinder so she can prepare a meal for her son. She discovers that in the besieged area, the people there have lost their shadows. Sana must find her way back home to her son, and has to endure a difficult journey, joined by siblings Jalal (Samer Ismail) and Reem (Reham Al Kassar).
This is an incredibly emotional film, and its narrative is simply but powerful. Shot in Lebanon with largely with exiled Syrian cast and crew, Kaadan manages to captures life in a war zone. Arsheed’s naturalistic performance shines in this film, and the bond between mother and child is wonderfully captured here.
7. The Fight: Directed by: Jessica Hynes
Another debut I manage to catch at the LFF, was Jessica Hynes The Fight. Hynes is a personal hero for me, as I grew up watching her in the excellent British sit-com Spaced. Her directional debut film The Fight, is a funny, moving and powerful film about overcoming your past demons and finding your identity.
Hynes stars as Tina who lives in a quiet seaside town but her life is anything but quiet – her mother is threatening to leave her father, her daughter is being bullied and she and her husband Mick (Shaun Parkes) are juggling full-time jobs and three children. Determined to beat her inner demons, Tina puts on her fighting gloves – literally. This is a charming film with its heart in the right places.
8. Nancy: Directed by Christina Choe
This intriguing mystery from Christina Choe, follows Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) who becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple whose daughter went missing thirty years ago, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief. The film manages to capture your attention and draw you into this claustrophobic and deeply troubled world.
With a strong central performance from Riseborough, and strong supporting roles from J Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi, Nancy is a film which unfolds gradually in order to create an engaging psychological drama about family and identity. In his review for Vulture, David Edelstein described how ”Nancy hits you like a potent short story: What? Is that it? And then come the shivers.” Fans of psychological thrillers, should make sure to seek this one out.
9. I Am Not a Witch: Directed by Rungano Nyoni
I Am Not A Witch is a powerful drama which centres around Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) who is the first child taken to a traveling witch camp. At the camp she is told that should she cut the ribbon and attempt to escape, she will be cursed and transformed into a goat. It was screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and won the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.
Nyoni was inspired by actual stories of witchcraft accusations in Zambia. In her research for the film, she traveled to Ghana and spent time in a real witch camp, observing her daily life and rituals. This is an often amusing, very moving and highly original film, which was selected as the British entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards, but sadly it was not nominated.
10. The Tale: Directed by Jennifer Fox
This autobiographical drama deals with director Jennifer Fox’s own account of sexual abuse as a child, it is an extremely impactful film which was a bold decision for Fox to shoot. Jennifer is played by Laura Dern, who has it all, with a loving boyfriend and a great career as a journalist and professor. But when her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story – “The Tale” – that Jennifer wrote when she was 13, detailing a special relationship Jennifer had with two adult coaches, Jennifer decides to seek out the truth about what happened.
The young actress Isabelle Nélisse plays Fox as a child, and gives an amazing performance. Dern is also extremely noteworthy in the film. The Tale handles its extraordinarily challenging subject matter with sensitivity and respect. Incredibly heart-breaking, and very moving; do seek this one out, but please be aware that you will be driven to tears.