The Breaker Upperers. Photo by Matt Klitscher

SXSWomen: Female Filmmakers Seize Timely Opportunities

‭Wider equality movement reflected in 2018's SXSW Film program

The past several months have marked a sea change in the film industry, with the public unveiling of decades of gender discrimination and abuse in Hollywood. This is a powerful time for women, and the 2018 SXSW Film Festival lineup is especially fitting for the year of Time’s Up and #MeToo with a number of female directors screening their works.

"We ladies are being heard more than ever and there's a growing appreciation for our work. It's exciting to be a small part of this bigger, beautiful movement.”

Kay Cannon’s Blockers is a raucous comedy starring Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena as hyper-concerned parents determined to protect their daughters’ virginity on prom night. The movie is the directorial debut for Cannon, the writer behind the Pitch Perfect franchise, 30 Rock and Girlboss. “It’s a genuine honor to be at SXSW,” she says. “Any year would be a thrill, but this year in particular has a special feel to it. We ladies are being heard more than ever and there’s a growing appreciation for our work. It’s exciting to be a small part of this bigger, beautiful movement.”

Cannon has been proving herself as a comedy writer and producer for a decade, but what was it about Blockers that made it the one she wanted to tackle as director?

Blockers. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Blockers. Courtesy of Universal Pictures


Blockers is a story that deals with, among other issues, young women and their sexuality and female empowerment,” she explains. “I couldn’t wait to take on that subject from my personal point of view. The fact that it’s an R-rated studio comedy made me want to do it even more given that so few women, in the history of film, have been offered the opportunity. I mean, five years ago, this comedy about teenage girls making a pact to lose their virginity probably would have been directed by a middle-aged white dude. That I got to do it means the world to me.”

Suzi Yoonessi, known as director of such films as Dear Lemon Lima and The Real Reason Women Don’t Direct More Action Movies joins SXSW’s Narrative Spotlight category with Unlovable, the story of a woman (Charlene deGuzman) who is seeking treatment for sex and love addiction. Melissa Leo and John Hawkes co-star in Yoonessi’s biggest project so far, and the director speaks warmly about bringing the timely film to this year’s festival.

“As a child, I learned from my grandmother that women are natural storytellers, so I’m thrilled to be part of this groundbreaking class of diverse directors at SXSW where minorities become the MAJORITY!” she enthuses. “I’m elated that Unlovable is premiering at a festival that’s paving the way for a new generation of female voices, and my inner riot grrrl is having a dance party [in] my heart.”Matching her enthusiasm is Miranda Bailey, the director behind the SXSW 2018 film You Can Choose Your Family, and producer of such films as Swiss Army Man, The Squid and the Whale and The Diary of a Teenage Girl. “I was very excited to see that there were so many female filmmakers this year,” she says. “It proves that we are out there! And like any filmmaker who is lucky enough to be invited to SXSW - whether or not they are a woman, dude or a Martian — I’m stoked to premiere my first feature film to the most fun and rowdiest audiences of all film festivals!”

You Can Choose Your Family takes place in 1992 and follows the contentious relationship between grunge-loving Phillip (Logan Miller) and his strict father (Jim Gaffigan). The Narrative Spotlight film will have its World Premiere at this year’s festival.

Short filmmaker Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami of the docu-series Funny Girls are the minds behind The Breaker Upperers, an oddball outing from the producers of 2016 SXSW fan fave Hunt For the Wilderpeople. Both women are thrilled to bring their break-up comedy to the fest, with Sami saying: “I’m inspired by the many, many women stepping into traditionally male-dominated roles in the film industry. Girl power, yo! I look forward to checking out all their amazing work in Austin.”

See or the SXSW GO app for all SXSW Film Festival screening information. Also, look for SXSW conference programming related to “Empowerment, Inclusion, and Activism in Business and the Arts,” one of 12 significant trends for SXSW 2018.

Unlovable. Photo by Moira Morel.

Unlovable. Photo by Moira Morel.

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