An Open Letter to the New York Film Festival Selection Committee – Rania Richardson

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Dear NYFF Selection Committee,

It was a surprise to many last Thursday, when Ava DuVernay was not on the list of Academy Award nominees for Best Director despite her widely hailed work on “Selma.” Then again, Kathryn Bigelow’s 2010 Oscar win for “The Hurt Locker” didn’t exactly usher in a new dawn for female filmmakers.

It’s a boy’s club, this movie world. You know it is. Read on…

The 53rd New York Film Festival is far off now, so you, as the Selection Committee have an opportunity to make a difference over the coming months. As influencers of an event that showcases the best of world cinema, your choices will fill theaters, garner press, fuel discussions and collect awards. You can make a difference by programming more films by women.

Last year, just 4 of your 31 directors were female: Alice Rohrwacher (“The Wonders”), Asia Argento (“Misunderstood”), Mia Hansen-Love (“Eden”), and at the last minute, Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”).

That figure of about 13% of the total is not good enough.

The festival appeared to be moving in a positive direction in your high watermark year of 2012, with 22% female directors, including a few from outside the US and Europe, such as Yesim Ustaoglu from Turkey (“Araf- Somewhere in Between”), Rama Burshtein from Israel (“Fill the Void”) and Song Fang from China (“Memories Look at Me”). The 2013 and 2014 lineups were disappointing follow-ups.

Even the Tribeca Film Festival — yes, even that less prestigious film festival in New York — is so way ahead of you on this front, and has been, for as long as I can remember. Last year, the breakdown was just under 30% with 79 male and 23 females presenting feature-length films. Thank you Tribeca, for year after year championing women in film (not to mention diversity in general).

I’m adding my voice to a chorus that is growing louder and louder. Manohla Dargis of the “The New York Times” has written on numerous occasions on issues of sexism in the film industry. At this year’s Critics’ Choice Movie Awards on January 15, Jessica Chastain spoke eloquently on the subject during her MVP acceptance speech. At the European Film Awards in mid-December, filmmaker Agnes Varda criticized the lack of recognition for female directors.

And last May, director Jane Campion, as President of the Cannes Jury, took the film industry to task for failing to recognize the contribution of women. The only woman with a Palme d’Or (for “The Piano,” a film that shared the top prize twenty-two years ago), Campion said, “…. Women do notice that time and time again we don’t get our share of representation. Excuse me gentlemen, but the guys do seem to eat all the cake.”

Yes, I understand that the obstacles are many. There is a limited pool of films available. You are keying off the best of other festivals worldwide. You don’t believe in quotas.

But still. It’s in the zeitgeist now.

It’s time that the New York Film Festival recognized its role as an industry leader by programming more films by female directors. Great films. Important films. We know you can.


Rania Richardson, Film Reporter and Critic, AWFJ Member

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Rania Richardson (Archived Contributor)

Rania Richardson is the Communications Manager for a philanthropic nonprofit in New York, and a freelance writer specializing in film, culture, and business. She came of age in Cambridge, MA and began her career at Time Magazine. Her favorite film is Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" and her mission is to champion the best in world cinema.