Sundance 2013 preview: A plethora of directoresses, bolder sexuality & light showing for Canadians

by Lara Candland
Touchy Feely

The “wow” factor at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival is the strong presence of female directors in the program’s offerings–for the first time in the festival’s history, 50% of the directors are women. It will be fun to see if this new parity for women at the festival changes the film landscape in the coming years: will the stories be different? What will the films look like? Will the female characters speak more, be more nuanced, have more onscreen time, challenge traditional stereotypes?

Freida Mock (Maya Lin: a Strong Vision and Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner) and Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister and Humpday) both offer intriguing looking pieces at the festival: Shelton’s drama Touchy Feely, featuring Rosemarie DeWitt and Allison Janey, looks at a massage therapist who develops an aversion to human touch.

Veteran documentarian Freida Mock explores Anita Hill’s role in the Clarence Thomas hearings, and the ways in which this event revolutionized gender politics in the workplace for American men and women. More than twenty years after the Thomas hearings, this film sheds light on how they shaped the landscape for subsequent generations of women in positions of power.

As a female writer/director/producer who is also exploring female sexuality in a more complex way, newcomer Hannah Fidell hits both of this year’s trends. In A Teacher, the story of a teacher-student affair in a suburban west Texas school, Fidell treats her subject delicately, resisting “the temptation to pathologize her protagonist.” A Teacher is part of the NEXT series, the category for more innovative works, at Sundance.

Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight, her debut narrative feature, also fits the category of female directors exploring sexuality on screen in new and perhaps slightly subversive ways. Afternoon Delight is the hilarious story of an angst-ridden hipster-housewife from L.A. who adopts a stripper in an attempt to assuage her existential crisis. Soloway is most noted for her work in television with Six Feet Under.

Two of the five Canadian films are directed by women: Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell) and Sophie Goyette (The Near Future [Le future proche]). Polley has shown at Sundance before, and been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. In Stories We Tell she creates a personal documentary featuring her own family, looking at the mystery she thinks she may have discovered after her mother’s death.

None of the Canadian films made it into competition this year. The Toronto Star quotes Trevor Goth, director of programming at Sundance, on the light Canadian showing this year: “I think we’ll bounce back next year. This was a down year for it.”

The Sundance Film Festival runs January 17 to 27, 2013 in Park City, Utah.

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