SPOTLIGHT April 2018: Lynne Ramsey, Glaswegian, Director of YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 1Writer/director Lynne Ramsay is yet another confirmation that Scotland is one of the coolest places on the planet for cultivating artists. Ramsay has created a multi-hyphenate career as writer, director, producer, and cinematographer. A number of distinguished film world insiders have called her one of the greatest living filmmakers. As evidenced by her career and loyal fans, it appears that she stands squarely in the middle of those Scots who don’t suffer fools, and for better or worse, dance to their own drums. Continue reading…

SMALL DEATHS AND AUSPICIOUS BEGINNINGS

awfjspotlightsmallsmallGlasgow has brought the world a long list of visual and performing artists, many of whom — like actor Billy Connolly, architect Charles Mackintosh, artist Susan Philipsz, and writer Denise Mina — are known for their strong-willed and freethinking perspectives. Born in that city in 1969, Lynne Ramsay expressed herself through writing and painting, and became so fascinated by photography that she studied it at Napier College in Edinburgh. She continued by expanding her interests and honing her skills at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, where she specialized in cinematography. Her experiences in school instilled in her the aesthetic of telling a story less through exposition, and more through the use of bold images accompanied and underscored by the integration of artistic sound design. Always passionate about writing her own material, Ramsay has written or adapted nearly all of the screenplays for her shorts and feature films.

Ramsay’s graduation short, Small Deaths, won the Prix du Jury at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The film, intriguingly structured as three vignettes in the life of a young girl, was filmed with non-professional actors who delivered stunning performances under Ramsay’s direction. Small Deaths was a portent of things to come.

Ramsay has repeated her debut feat, not only at Cannes two years later with her short Gasman, but with each of her subsequent projects, all of which have been lauded in festivals around the world. Small Deaths also signaled Ramsay’s ongoing interest in intense subject matter that examines the perspectives of children, often damaged by circumstances and dealing with guilt, grief, and trauma. She studiously avoids cliches and embraces character studies that always reveal something new and unanticipated about the human condition.

A LYRICAL, BLEAK AESTHETIC

lynne ramsey ratcatcher posterRamsay’s debut feature Ratcatcher (1999) was an exploration of Glaswegian working class circumstances during the 1970s, and once again focused on the story of a child in crisis. James, at age 12, deals with overwhelming guilt over accidentally causing a friend’s death. Ratcatcher was relentlessly bleak, but lyrical. In the film, moments of beauty in the midst of despair define Ramsay’s vision to be singularly stylized and gritty, with a growing auteur-like presentation of story. Winning an avalanche of awards — including the Carl Foreman Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTAs, the Douglas Hickox Award at the British Independent Film Awards, and a nomination for the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes — the film confirmed Ramsay as an outstanding talent.

On Ratcatcher, Ramsay also signaled her ongoing collaboration with women working in film by hiring female composer Rachel Portman, editor Lucia Zucchetti, production designer Jane Morton, and art director Robina Nicholson.

Morvern Callar (2002) was Ramsay’s first adaptation from another source. It is a film that fully reveals Ramsay’s skill as visual narrator able to capture and express emotion though images as simple as that of an old woman pointing to snow outside her window. It is not, as is the case with all of Ramsay’s filmography, a movie that Hollywood would expect a female filmmaker to make. Witness the scene where Morvern cuts up and disposes of her dead lover’s body.

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

With Movern Callar, Ramsay demonstrated that her skills as an artistic storyteller could be applied to Alan Warner’s cult novel with equal impact and success as with material she originated. The film is also a sterling example of the importance of music and sound design as essential elements in Ramsay’s cinematic art. And, again, her work with actors brought Samantha Morton, starring as the anti-heroic young woman who attempts to create a new life out of her boyfriend’s sudden suicide, accolades from Cannes, rave reviews and the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress.

Continuing her explorations into nihilism and emotional deterioration, Ramsay went on to adapt, direct, and produce the critical sensation We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011). Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, the film is about the experience of a mother, Eva dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting perpetrated by her son. The film brought kudos to the luminous and ever-compelling Tilda Swinton as Eva, and brought greater fame for breakout star Ezra Miller, who played Kevin. We Need to Talk about Kevin was named one of the best films of the year by a number of critics, following was was a rocky road during development and on its path to release.

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

LESSONS LEARNED

The announcement in 2001 that Ramsay would be adapting and directing Alice Sebold’s heartbreaking bestseller The Lovely Bones, which once again examined a young life, death, grief, and guilt, was exciting news for the filmmaker’s growing number of dedicated fans. Ramsay had read the unfinished manuscript, and immediately committed to work on it. Unfortunately, creative differences ensued, and she parted ways with the project, with the finished film becoming a poorly-received release for director Peter Jackson. This was not the last time creative differences led to speed bumps in Ramsey’s otherwise soaring career.

In 2013, she left the helm of Jane Got a Gun, just as filming was to get underway. When speaking about possible repercussions resulting from her walking away from the film, Ramsay said she’d heard someone ask if she’d been ‘on her period.’ She’s indicated that from her perspective, she felt the producers getting farther and farther away from her vision, and reported that she’d been being asked for covering shots, with the intent, she feared, they would do re-edits. There were rumors circulated that Ramsay is difficult to work with, yet throughout her career and in all of her completed projects, she has made lasting friendships with both cast and crew.

The fallout from the Jane Got a Gun debacle led to Ramsay going to Santorini in Greece to recover and regroup, and move forward, both personally and professionally. It was in Santorini that she began writing the adaptation of You Were Never Really Here. The message, if there is one to be delivered via Ramsay’s travails, is not to underestimate a Glaswegian artist. Trifle with them at your peril, as they know their own integrity, and will stand by it.

FEARLESS FILMMAKING

lynne ramsay you were never posterIt took six years from the success of We Need to Talk about Kevin to the release of Ramsay’s new film, You Were Never Really Here, which opens theatrically in the US on April 6, 2018. The film, based on a novella by writer and raconteur Jonathan Ames, is about Joe, a veteran with PTSD, who tracks down and rescues sex trafficked girls. When violence is necessary, as it often is, he uses a ball peen hammer. He lives his days struggling with depression, constant flashbacks, and suicidal ideation. His only moments of joy involve caring for his dementia-suffering mother.

During the process of writing You Were Never Really Here and and preparing for filming, Ramsay imagined and held firm to her ideal casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Joe. Her instincts were right, and the two proved to be a professional match made in cinema heaven. They have much in common. Both director and actor avoid social media, preferring to let their work speak for them. They also appreciate the balance of visuals, music, and character that make up the language of cinema, and see all aspects of filmmaking as collaborative. Pre-release, the film has garnered considerable awards buzz. Although an unfinished version of the film was shown at its Cannes premiere, it was given a seven minute standing ovation and Ramsay won Best Screenplay, with Phoenix winning Best Actor.

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 2 W POST

In You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay’s use of sound design and startling visuals continues, both with ever more dramatic effect. In fact, she has said with her next movie, she’d like to start her filmmaking process by creating the sound and music first, and then filming.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

lynne ramsay head closerThere is no question that Ramsay’s no-nonsense, straightforward style and her commitment to maintain her aesthetic and artistic vision would be met differently were she a man. What has to happen now, given the changes taking place in Hollywood, is that she be embraced for the master filmmaker she is, without regard to her gender. With each new project, she proves she is one of the best filmmakers working in the world today. She is interested in doing more studio films, including a superhero movie, but hasn’t gotten those offers. awfjspotlightsmallsmall She has said she could do anything. Movie lovers and cinematic history will be the better for her being able to prove it, in every way and as often as she wants. — Leslie Combemale

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Celebrating Women Cinematographers — Nikki Baughan reports

Rachel Morrison made history this year by becoming the first woman to be nominated for the best cinematography Oscar, for her raw, immersive work on Dee Rees’ Mudbound (2017). But that stellar achievement is something of a double-edged sword. It’s possible to be thrilled by her success, while also remaining frustrated that she’s the first woman to be so honoured by the Academy and that gender representation across all industry sectors remains so shameful. While the statistics are enduringly disheartening, women have been working tirelessly behind the camera since the earliest days of movies. So perhaps it’s time to replace that lament of ‘Where are the women?’ with a battle cry of ‘Here are the women’, to recognise and celebrate inclusivity were it exists, and to demand more of it. Continue reading….

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SPOTLIGHT March 2018: Rachel Morrison, Cinematographer, Oscar Nominee for MUDBOUND

rachel morrison head 2Bringing a moving image to life takes much more than having the technical skills down pat. Capturing that collection of indelible images requires another special skillset – one that isn’t necessarily taught in school. It requires an understated ability to tap into the director’s vision and the actors’ emotions to produce breathtaking visual poetry. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison’s impressive body of work has long exhibited these traits. Rachel Morrison is a monumental cinematographer whose work is illuminated with nuance. Continue reading…

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Daniela Vega and Sebastien Lelio on A FANTASTIC WOMAN — Jessica Zack interviews

daniela vega crossed legsIn conversation with Daniela Vega, it becomes understandable why the word “natural” comes up repeatedly. Her appearance may be fabulously stylish, but it’s clear that one of her motivating beliefs, in her own life as well as in her mesmerizing portrayal of Marina in A Fantastic Woman, is that “some things, some rights, are so universal, so natural, they shouldn’t even be questioned.” Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT February 2018: Daniela Vega, Star of A FANTASTIC WOMAN, Chile’s Oscar Contender

daniela vega head glamawfjspotlightsmallsmallTrailblazers whose groundbreaking accomplishments change the world, clearing the way for those who follow in their footsteps, are often reluctant to draw attention to themselves. Their motivation is simply to be allowed to be themselves. So it is with Daniela Vega, the first openly transgender actress and model in Chile, and star of the Oscar-nominated A Fantastic Woman. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT January 2018: Mattie Do, Lao Filmmaker, Oscar Contender for DEAREST SISTER

awfjspotlightsmallsmallmattie do buddhistFilmmaker Mattie Do’s very name signifies a series of impressive firsts: Lao’s first woman director and helmer of the first Lao movies to play at international film festivals, and more recently, her latest film Dearest Sister (Nong hak) became the first from the country to be submitted to The Oscars’ Best Foreign Language category. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Women Warriors Fuel LAST JEDI, Jolie fuels BREADWINNER and WANDA lists at National Film Registry — Brandy McDonnell reports

Women warriors continue to feel the Force in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Producer Angelina Jolie promotes director Nora Twomey’s animated film, The Breadwinner, bringing to life the struggle of an Afghan girl to support her family. Wanda and Lives of Performers are added to National Film Registry. Read details on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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SPOTLIGHT December, 2017: Angelina Jolie, Humanitarian Filmmaker

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angelina with handWith award season already in full thrust, SPOTLIGHT asks: Has there ever been an A-list actress who has – in the prime of her career – choosen to promote not herself, but two films that tell stories about third world countries?

The actress doesn’t even play a role in either film, but opts instead to produce The Breadwinner, an animated story about a young Afghan girl who dresses as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and to direct First They Killed My Father, an unflinching child’s view on the Khmer Rouge’s deadly rule in Cambodia.Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Varda and Tomlin Honored, Nowlin Plays PTSD Woman Vet, Sexual Harassment Help Line Set

Legendary French filmmaker Agnes Varda, now age 89, receives an honorary Oscar in Hollywood, while The Society of Voice Arts & Sciences has bestowed upon Lily Tomlin the Voice Arts Icon Award, presented at New York’s Lincoln Center. Actress Kate Nowlin weighs in on what it’s like to play a war veteran suffering from PTSD in Blood Stripe, which she also co-scripted. The tsunami of stories out sexual harassment continues to sweep through the entertainment industry and Women in Film Los Angeles is launching a sexual harassment hot line to help those who have suffered unwanted sexual attention for decades to overcome the trauma. Read details on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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SPOTLIGHT November 2017: Dee Rees, Independently Epic Filmmaker, Director MUDBOUND

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rees head 1

With just a few films to her credit, director Dee Rees is already making an assured and unique mark on American cinema. She brings mature talent, technical skill, and creative vision, all while being true to herself as a gay African-American woman. Available November 17, her latest film Mudbound vividly demonstrates she can extend her intimately emotional filmmaking to an epic scale. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT October 2017: Agnès Varda, Filmmaker, Honorary Oscar Recipient, Director of FACES PLACES

“You decide you do something, then you are totally ready for things to happen.” Agnès Varda, on YouTube

agnes headsho croppedawfjspotlightsmallsmallFilm director Agnès Varda was talking about her process for creating documentaries, but she might as well have been talking about her storied career as the only female director of the French New Wave. Over her 63 years (and counting) of filmmaking, Varda has created a vast body of work composed not only of documentaries, but also short films and features. She is also an accomplished photographer. And now, at age 89, Varda has a new film and a new honor to add to her crowded list of awards and recognitions. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT September 2017: MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher.com Film Critic and Activist

awfjspotlightsmallsmallOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPioneering film critic MaryAnn Johanson celebrates the twentieth anniversary of her popular FilckFilosopher.com website this month; an impressive enough feat in itself. That MaryAnn has established herself as a distinct, influential and prolific feminist critic in a fiercely competitive and male-dominated industry, however, is testament not just to her boundless knowledge of and passion for film, but also of her extraordinary tenacity and determination. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT August 2017: Kathryn Bigelow, Auteur, Oscar Winner, Director of DETROIT

awfjspotlightsmallsmallbigalow critics choice longKathryn Bigelow continues to advance the cause of women working in the film industry. Although she’s said that she prefers to be considered a ‘director’ rather than a ‘female director,’ she has consistently broken through the gender-based barriers that persist in the movie industry. Bigelow’s name is associated with a long list of ‘the first and/or only woman to win…’ stellar accomplishments, including capturing Academy Award gold for Best Director and Best Picture, BAFTA Award for Best Director and Best Picture, DGA Award for Outstanding Direction, PGA Award for Best Theatrical Production and numerous critics group awards (including four AWFJ EDA Awards) for best direction and best film, all for The Hurt Locker in 2008, followed by a similar array of accolades in 2012 for Zero Dark Thirty. Her latest film, Detroit, releases this month, and is already garnering awards buzz. It’s time for AWFJ to celebrate the multitalented and highly accomplished Kathryn Bigelow in our August SPOTLIGHT. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT July 2017: Claire McCarthy, Filmmaker, OPHELIA

awfjspotlightsmallsmallclaire mccarthy 2Outside Oz, Australian filmmaker Claire McCarthy is known primarily for her 2009 film The Waiting City, starring Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton as a couple in disarray as they travel to India to take delivery of a child they have adopted. But McCarthy’s broader filmography even more forcefully underscores why she is the perfect director for the upcoming Ophelia project, Hamlet retold from the perspective of Shakespeare’s iconically tragic ingenue as played by Daisy Ridley. As Michelle Hannett reported from Cannes in May, the film is one of the most highly anticipated for 2018 release. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT June 2017: Amber Tamblyn, Actress, Poet, Director of PAINT IT BLACK

awfjspotlightsmallsmallamber jeans 2If courage had a name, it would be Amber Tamblyn. Her unblinkingly honest artistic achievements are legion.

The 34-year-old actress just made her directorial and screenwriting debut with Paint It Black, an emotionally charged drama about the relationship between a vulnerable young woman (Alia Shawkat) and her lover’s possessive mother (Janet McTeer) following his untimely death. As the film was releasing theatrically in May, Tamblyn hit the New York boards for the first time, starring off-Broadway in Can You Forgive Her?, penned by two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Gina Gionfriddo. And, Tamblyn’s third book of poetry, Dark Sparkler, published in 2015, considers the dehumanizing myth-making surrounding more than 25 actresses who died young, including Marilyn Monroe, Brittany Murphy and Thelma Todd. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT May 2017: Sheila Nevins, President HBO Documentary Films, Producer and Author

awfjspotlightsmallsmallSheila Nevins is a straight shooter. Answer her casual “How are you?” with “Can’t complain. And you?” and you’ll get “I’ve got a lot to complain about!” in reply.

Nevins’ career could be viewed as an active response to the many complaints she has about the world in which we live. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT April, 2017: Katell Quillévéré, Filmmaker, HEAL THE LIVING

awfjspotlightsmallsmallWhen Katell Quillévéré was awarded France’s Jean Vigo Prize in 2010 for her first feature film, Love Like Poison, the cinematic community knew they had an exciting and original new filmmaker to follow. Quillévéré, who studied philosophy and cinema at the University of Paris, shows a unique talent for asking big questions through the lives of her characters. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT March 2017: Amy Hobby, Feminist Film Producer and Activist

awfjspotlightsmallsmallLast year, during one of Tribeca Film Festival’s Tribeca Talks, Jodie Foster famously commented that women who’ve maneuvered their way into the upper echelons of the Hollywood hierarchy have not been particularly helpful to women working behind the lens.

amy hobby head 1But Tribeca Film Institute’s recently anointed Executive Director Amy Hobby disagrees. While acknowledging some validity in Foster’s statement and noting that statistics continue to show dismal gender disparity in the movie industry, Hobby claims that the scene is changing.

Take note: Amy Hobby is in the know, and she’s in a position where she can actually make it so. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT February 2017: Amma Asante, Filmmaker, A UNITED KINGDOM — by Marilyn Ferdinand

awfjspotlightsmallsmallamma with mask“We whopped Spider-Man, and that is my claim to fame!”

With the good humor and energy that have helped her break through to the front ranks of the film industry, director/ screenwriter/actress Amma Asante celebrated the opening week box-office victory of her spellbinding feature Belle (2013) over the popular superhero franchise. Belle tells the moving true story of a biracial woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, brought up as an aristocrat in 18th century England. While it luxuriates in the kind of genteel elegance that is catnip to audiences, Asante also offers a penetrating look at the abomination of slavery upon which such rich lifestyles were based, and the confusion its title character feels as a result. Read on…

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It’s a Wrap: AWFJ Looks Back at 2016

AWFJ is completing our tenth anniversary year, and it’s time to take stock and evolve. What has our organization accomplished during 2016, and what are our goals for 2017. But as we look back to evaluate our accomplishments and before we set forth plans for a new year filled with worthwhile projects, let’s pause for a moment to give due credit to the AWFJ members who’ve contributed their ideas, time and energy to make our 2016 programs and enterprises so successful. Well done! And here’s round of applause and a virtual pat on the back to each of you in recognition of your collegiality and activism. Now on to the nitty gritty about what AWFJ has done curing 2016, with shout outs to individual members who helmed projects and made them happen. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT January 2017: Ava DuVernay, Film Director and Crusader — by Marilyn Ferdinand

awfjspotlightsmallsmallava-duvernay-head-shotIt’s hard to think of a more galvanizing, charismatic woman in film than Ava DuVernay. The 44-year-old producer, director, writer, distributor and crusader for social justice broke into the larger cultural zeitgeist in 2015, the year her acclaimed film Selma was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and four Golden Globes, and won the AWFJ EDA Award for Best Woman Director. She is the winner of three AWFJ EDA Awards in 2016, including those for Best Documentary and Best Female Director for 13th and Outstanding Achievement by a Woman in Film. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT DECEMBER 2016: Maren Ade, Director and Producer, TONI ERDMANN — by Julide Tanriverdi

awfjspotlightsmallsmallmaren-ade2The German filmmaker Maren Ade is making waves with her third feature Toni Erdmann which caused a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival. Now it opens in theaters and this is a movie no one should miss. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT November, 2016: Ally Derks, IDFA Founder, Documentaries Mogul and innovator

awfjspotlightsmallsmallallyderksIDFA’s founder and director Ally Derks is in the AWFJ SPOTLIGHT this month, as she helms the 2016 festival from November 16 to 29. During her 30-year tenure at IDFA, Derks has built the festival into the world’s preeminent documentaries showcase, marketplace and pitch forum, with year round programs to develop the art of documentary filmmaking and broaden its horizons. This will be the last IDFA under Derk’s direction, as she leaves the organization to spend 2017 living and working in Berlin as an invited fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy, an institution of the prestigious Robert Bosch Stiftung. Read on…

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SPOTLIGHT October 2016: Bonni Cohen, Acclaimed Director and Producer

Bonni CohenThe filmmaking team of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk explore the results of social media bullying with the new thought-provoking, conversation-starting documentary, Audrie & Daisy.

The documentary, which is currently streaming on Netflix, focuses primarily on two teenage sexual assault victims who had their humiliation made public via Facebook and other online social media outlets. The documentary should be considered a must-see for high school students, and the filmmakers should be applauded for their approach to this disturbing topic. Read on.

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SPOTLIGHT September 2016: Vera Farmiga, Actress and Filmmaker

Vera FarmigaVera Farmiga earned an Oscar nomination as well as AWFJ, BAFTA, Broadcast Film Critics, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globe nominations for her outstanding work in 2009’s Up in the Air. But that was just the tip of the awards iceberg as Farmiga’s been recognized for her impressive work in diverse roles by film critics and awards organizations worldwide throughout her 20+ year career. Read on>>.

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