Nuns, cannibals, and Lady MacBeth: All the best female-led film at the Sundance Festival 2017

Watch them all tbh


Strange as it sounds, a lot of people don’t bother with Sundance films because they’re independent, which apparently means “not as good”. The exact opposite is the case – watching just one of the films being played at this years festival is likely to be better than anything you’ll go and see at the cinema.

And if that’s not enough, Sundance is known for supporting films created by, written by, directed by women, and there’s a whole fleet of incredible films that have been created by women, featuring women, for women. Here are some of the best.

Band Aid

Focussing on a married couple who can’t stop fighting and decide to start a band, using their arguments as inspiration, Band Aid offers a unique and honest perspective on modern relationships. Zoe Lister-Jones, who writes, directs, and stars in the film, has created a “carefully observed and cleverly conceived” film that showcases a relatively comedic portrayal of a couple who refuse to acknowledge their pain.

In a world of Tinder and dick pics and fuck boys, this film offers a refreshing take on the modern day relationship – one that’s not easy, one that’s constantly changing and evolving, but also one that’s not worth giving up on because it would be easier.

To the Bone

Not for the faint hearted, this film follows 20-year-old Ellen as she attempts to finally find a solution for her anorexia. Plagued by years of being shepherded through various recovery programs , Ellen enters a group recovery home for youths, led by a non-traditional doctor. It’s a film about the need to discover yourself in order to be able to face your demons, and Marti Noxon perfectly tackles the challenges of self-esteem with a funny, yet painstakingly honest, voice.

With a stunning performance by Lily Collins, supported by Keanu Reaves, Carrie Preston, and Lili Taylor, To the Bone “subverts expectations at every turn with its razor-sharp script, and its undiluted look at what young women face in living up to both society’s expectations of beauty, and their own”.

XX

The first all-female-driven horror anthology film, XX consists of “four murderous tales of  supernatural frights, predatory thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay”. Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin, and Jovanka Vuckovic join forces to challenge the glass ceiling of horror films, a stagnant status quo within the film industry.

What’s in the box?!

Ingrid Goes West

Aubrey Plaza stars as Ingrid in this brilliant depiction of a woman who struggles with mental health issues, and has a serious addiction to lifestyle icons on Instagram – you know the ones, the people who always look so effortlessly groomed, with their life together in a fairytale-esque land that is perpetually sunny. Cashing in the $60,000 cheque she inherited from her mother, Ingrid jets off to the West Coast in a desperate bid to become the bff of one such lifestyle icon.

It’s easy to see from the start where this film is headed, but that’s part of the black comedy – half of the joke hinges on the fact that the audience is in on it. Plaza is joined by Elizabeth Olsen, and their impeccable comic timing is what makes this film really fly.

Novitiate

An interesting coming of age story about a young girl’s first love. Only, in this film, that first love happens to be God. The film follows young women as they enter a convent, and struggle with their own personal fears and desires, as well as coming to terms with the highly restrictive nature of the order.

Written and directed by Maggie Betts, who “has crafted an uncanny journey of a young woman in a rarefied world on the brink of extinction”, and offers up an honest critique of convent life, as well as the reforms that greatly reduced the number of those living it during the 60s.

The perfect backdrop for exploring a variety of women’s experiences; nuns may dress and live in a community of uniformity, but each nun is an individual woman, with individual experiences and emotions, something that Betts has managed to capture.

Lady Macbeth

Adapted by Alice Birch from a novella by Nickolai Leskov, this film leaves you feeling shaken and unnerved. Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a rebel to her core who refuses to submit to her husband and father-in-law’s cruelty. On the surface it seems like another damsel in distress type film, about a woman forced into a marriage with a man she loathes, finding solace in the arms of the new groomsman.

You want to be on Katherine’s side, willing her towards happiness, but you can’t – the film refuses to allow the audience to have the emotional reactions they want to have. Birch has twisted the traditional damsel archetype, creating in Katherine some form of either a psychopath or sociopath, placing her on the same level as her husband. You’re not meant to sympathise with any of the characters – Katherine especially.

My Happy Family

“Quietly funny, profoundly observant, and possessed of a compassionate spirit”, My Happy Family tells of 52-year-old Manana who packs her bags and leaves the three bedroom flat she shares with her husband, her parents, her two grown children, and her son-in-law in order to start a new life for herself. A story about the a woman finding personal freedom, despite the obligations society has placed on her.

Winnie

A fresh and complex portrait of Winnie Mandela, the woman who brushed patriarchy aside to fight on the front line, taking uncompromising steps to inspire an uprising while her husband remained in jail for 27 years. Using previously unseen footage and interviews, Pascale Lamche placed Winnie at the centre of her own narrative, in a film that forces you to question how, and why, history has intimidated and silenced women because of their political power.

Raw

The story of a 16-year-old girl as she heads to veterinary college, where she is subjected to bizarre initiations that include being forced to eat a raw rabbit liver. A committed vegetarian, she soon develops an insatiable appetite for meat, while at the same time she is struggling to come to terms with an increasing sexual desire. Julia Ducournau has created a “grisly, viscerally charged experience”, a darkly funny coming-of-age story.