The Slow Burn: Three Lyrical Women Filmmakers At Sundance

by Michael Lavine

Sundance was loaded with a diverse range of fantastic films this year, and a noticeable theme was the presence of many women filmmakers delivering command performances. With film narrative running on a continuum from anti plot to arc plot, from non-narrative to hyper narrative, clustered together around a point focusing on the cinematic are three great films by three amazing women film directors. If you are looking for lots of plot twists and explosions, its time to move along. Driven mainly by image, these films are subtle and sparse, each creating a unique film language, with the distinctive voices of the each of the directors shining through.

Certain Women

CertainWomen still1 byNicoleRivelli

Kelly Reichardt is an indie film rock star with classics such as Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff already under her belt. Based on the short stories by Maile Meloy, her new film, Certain Women, is a minimalist masterpiece.  Following the spare narratives of several women living in Montana, Ms Reichardt layers a contemplative cinematic vignette of loneliness and yearning. The film starts with a small town lawyer (Laura Dern) having a tryst during her lunch break.  She is working on an injury claim for a construction worker (Jared Harris) who ends up taking a hostage. It’s all very low key and perfectly naturalistic. The second vignette involves Gina (Michelle Williams) on a camping trip with her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and teen daughter.  With dramatic irony we know now that he is having an affair with the Lawyer.  Their relationship is imperceptibly strained as they attempt to buy a pile of sandstone bricks from a neighbor for the foundation of the new home they’re planning to build.  The third vignette follows a lonely Native American ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) who becomes infatuated with a night school teacher (Kristen Stewart). The two eat at the diner after class, but when Beth quits teaching, the ranch hand in unable to let go.  Ms Reichardt has put together a collection of independent women, all struggling with their own isolation­­­.

The Fits

Fits still1 RoyaltyHightower byFilmCourtesyofTHEFITSDPPaulYee


While working out under her brother’s guidance in the boxing room at their local Cincinnati gym, an eleven-year-old tomboy named Toni (Royalty Hightower) becomes fascinated with a tight-knit dance team she sees practicing in the auditorium.  Deciding to try out for the team she meticulously rehearses the repetitive routine. As several of the girls are plagued by mysterious seizures, Toni struggles with her fears of being contaminated.  The first time director Anne Rose Holmer states, “At its heart, THE FITS is a meditation on movement as seen from the perspective of adolescent girls. The film explores the particularly young female phenomenon of mass hysteria, also known as mass psychogenic illness.”


Lovesong still1 FerrisWheel copy

Sundance Film Festival alumna So Yong Kim (In Between Days, Treeless Mountain, For Ellen) delivers a stripped down exploration of an ambiguous friendship that is both intimate and beautiful.  Sarah (a star turn by Riley Keough) is stuck in an unhappy marriage and taking care of her 3-year-old daughter. When her free spirited friend Mindy (Former BUST cover girl Jena Malone) comes to visit, the connection between these two women intensifies in subtle and unexpected ways. 

The film jumps three years to days before Mindy’s Wedding.  When Sarah arrives, the two women reconnect and their intimate connection puts the wedding in jeopardy. LOVESONG is a bittersweet love story about muted desire and the grey areas that define friendship. 

Image via Love Song, Certain Women, The Fits, Lovesong

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