As I stood in line with my fellow cinephiles, braving the notorious flip-flopping Canadian weather, I recounted the various films I’d seen over a period of eleven days. It occurred to me that this year I’d only attended screenings of so-called “women’s films”. Meaning, female voices were found at the foundation of the film as a protagonist, in the screenwriting, holding the camera and/or sitting in that all too elusive director’s chair. In one day alone, I’d witnessed the story of a powerful monarch successfully challenging the notion of hierarchy and racism, I revelled in the stories of athletes taking a stand against the gender pay gap, and I leapt to my feet in a dimly lit theatre, applauding a writer who had pushed past the shadows of those around her to write one of the most recognizable pieces of literature in human history. Each story, with their own specific themes (sacrifice, devotion, loss, connection) were inherently different, but all reinforced that the female voice at TIFF was very much present, unabashed and powerful, just like the women at the heart of their stories.
As a writer, an actor and filmmaker, I enthusiastically celebrated this victory with internal screams of pride. The glory of it all was that this long slew of female-centred stories was not planned out, but was simply a by-product of my picking the films I thought had the potential for greatness. This happy accident wouldn’t have happened five years ago, or even one year ago. In fact, last year while attending the festival it didn’t happen. And even though women directed only one third of the films in this year’s program, there is something to be said for this notable increase.
A part of me, however, was also haunted by the concept of “women’s films”. Alongside the festival ran news coverage of “female directors”, and conferences titled “lady boss” rather than buzz about the high quality content of each films or the “badassery” of these bosses regardless of if they are ladies. Aptly stated in a recent National Post article, “We need to overcome biases that make women’s films niche”. They aren’t “women’s films”; their themes and stories aren’t exclusive to women. They are another inclusive voice for all humanity.
Yes, we’ve come far at TIFF, we’ve come far in the great films we line up to see, and dare I say we’ve come far in the world in general, but we still have far to go.