Whistler Film Festival: 2019 EDA Award Nominees and AWFJ Juries – Jennifer Merin reports

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For the seventh consecutive year, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists has had the honor to partner with Whistler Film Festival to recognize women filmmakers with presentation of EDA Awards for Best Female-Directed Feature Film and Best Female-Directed Short at the 2019 festival, held in Whistler from December 4 to 8, 2019.

Under the guidance of Executive Director Shauna Hardy Mishaw, Whistler Film Festival has consistently opened the doors of opportunity for female filmmakers through its programming of films, various mentoring programs and partnerships with AWFJ, Women in the Directors Chair and other organizations.

The 2019 WFF program includes 86 films, including 43 feature films and 43 shorts. Of the total, 40% are directed or co-directed by women or non-binary individuals, including 30% (or 13) of the scheduled feature films and 48% (or 21) of the shorts.

The festival has nominated seven films to be considered for the EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Feature, and ten films for Best Female-Directed Short. AWFJ invites members to sit on jury panels dedicated to each of the two EDA Award categories. The details are below:

NOMINATED FEATURE FILMS (in alphabetical order):

ANTIGONE
Director Sophie Deraspe
A brilliant contemporary retelling of the story of Antigone, set in Montreal. Echoing the classic Greek tragedy of Sophocles, ANTIGONE is the journey of a young woman who defies the authorities and the criminal justice system to protect her family. After a clash with the police leaves one brother dead, and the other incarcerated and facing deportation to the country where their parents were murdered, Antigone orchestrates Polynice’s escape from prison and struggles to keep her family together as their citizenship is threatened and her sentence is deliberated. The film rings with a poignant sense of adolescent rage and heralds Sophie Deraspe’s most accomplished directorial venture to date. Read more.

BLACK CONFLUX
Director Nicole Dorsey
Set in 1987 in Newfoundland, BLACK CONFLUX tells the unsettling story of two wildly different yet eerily similar souls. Parallel narrative arcs follow fifteen-year-old Jackie, lost among her friends and trying to find herself, and social outsider and brewery worker Dennis, nursing a vitriolic masculine entitlement that betrays him in brutish and sullen outbursts. Amid crippling bouts of self-doubt in most every aspect of his life, once alone he is by jarring turns taunted by and assiduously doted on by a host of enchanting female personas. Jackie embarks on a rebellious streak of skipping school, partying and hitchhiking, unknowingly setting out on a course fated to collide with an insular loner whose incel impulses reign supreme on solo drives steeped in fantasy. First-time filmmaker Nicole Dorsey commands the suspenseful elements leading to the climactic encounter between these two damaged souls. Read more.

LIBERTE: A CALL TO SPY
Director Lydia Dean Pilcher
Sarah Megan Thomas proves a cinematic triple-threat in the roles of producer, writer and lead actor in this thrilling true story of female spies of the Allied resistance during WWII. Forced to consider new avenues for espionage after the Nazis invade France, Winston Churchill resolved to create a covert brigade of female spies within his Special Operations Executive. Spy-mistress Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) was tasked with overseeing this unit, and the bulk of the narrative focuses on the efforts of two of her most effective recruits: American expatriate Virginia Hall (played by Sarah Megan Thomas) and Muslim pacifist Noor Inayat Khan (Radhike Aote). Together, these women form a sisterhood while entangled in dangerous missions to build a new type of spy network and help stop Hitler. Read more.

LOST TRANSMISSIONS
Director Katharine O’Brian
Katharine O’Brien goes beyond the trope of sensationalized documentation in LOST TRANSMISSIONS, giving an all-encompassing look at modern societal failings in dealing with schizophrenia. Hannah’s heartbreakingly desperate attempts to get Theo the help he needs bring her to the brink of her own sanity, and to the bleak realisation that the American healthcare system is not equipped to adequately intervene. Pegg and Temple’s compassionate portrayals of their characters’ all-consuming mental battles will resonate with anyone who has struggled with mental illness, either directly or in supporting a loved one. A marvellously acted and empathetic reflection on two debilitating mental health issues acutely experienced by so many, set to an impressive soundtrack. Read more.

PANDORA’S BOX
Director Rebecca Snow
Subtitled “Lifting the Lid on Menstruation”, this sometimes cheeky but always thoughtful exploration of issues surrounding women’s menstrual cycles takes a trip around the world, showing how male dominant attitudes towards a perfectly natural phenomenon have been used as a tool of repression in many patriarchal societies. Stigmatised and superstitious practices and attitudes pervade in many religious belief systems and cultures, from social ostracisation and body-shaming to violent practices like female genital mutilation. Read more.
 
THE REST OF US
Director Ainsling Chin Yee
Children’s author and illustrator Cami (Heather Graham) painstakingly rebuilt her life after her husband Craig abandoned her and her unruly teenage daughter, Aster (Sophie Nélisse). In the wake of his unexpected passing, newly widowed mistress-turned-wife Rachel (Jody Balfour) and her young daughter face eviction from what was once Cami and Craig’s family home. In a spontaneous bout of empathy Cami invites the pair to move into a trailer on her property, to save them from sleeping in Rachel’s car. Unsurprisingly the two Moms don’t exactly get along, and the young half-sisters have their share of differences too. Aisling Chin-Yee’s directorial debut, having previously produced RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS (2013) is a thoughtful exploration of the complexities of female relationships as these two mothers attempt, not always gracefully, to coexist and raise their daughters and guide them through their unique grief. Read more.

SPINSTER
Director Andrea Dorfman
Chelsea Peretti is most widely known for her roles in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation, her Netflix-streaming stand-up special One of The Greats, and a scene-stealing appearance in GAME NIGHT with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams. In her feature film debut, Peretti gives an outstanding performance as thirty-nine-year-old Gaby, an outspoken cynic plagued by the societal pressure that all too often comes with being single at a ‘certain age’. Following an unceremonious break-up, Gaby resolves to find love via a series of blind dates, each one more ill-fated and comically rendered than the last. Read more.

AWFJ FEATURE FILM JURY:

Liz Braun
Laura Emerick
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Jennifer Merin (Chair)
Susan Wloszczyna

SHORT FILM NOMINEES (in alphabetical order):

THE BEAR AND THE BEEKEEPER
Director Kristina Mileska
An ageing beekeeper tries to keep a pesky predator away from his beehives in order to keep the memory of his loved one alive. Dialogue-free short THE BEAR AND THE BEEKEEPER explores themes of loss and memory with a sense of whimsy and lightness. Read more.
 

DAUGHTER
Director Daria Kashcheeva
In this innovative and heart-wrenching puppet animation, the bond between a father and his daughter is threatened by matters that go unspoken and hurts that are slow to heal. Read more.
 
 
EXAM
Director Sonia K. Hadad
A teenage girl reluctantly agrees to deliver a package of cocaine on the day of an important test. Tension rises as a series of unfortunate events threaten to derail more than her GPA in this unnerving drama. Read more.
 
 
IN LOVING MEMORY
Director Mayumi Yoshida and Diana Bang
When Kailey attends the wake of her father, who abandoned her as a child, she is forced to face a myriad of emotions amid a minefield of colourful characters. IN LOVING MEMORY is a layered examination of the complexities of families and navigating loss. Read more.
 

MUDPOTS
Director Cate Smierciak
Facing her imminent departure, Shelby and her best friend, Jess, spend one last dreamy afternoon together that culminates in a romantic moment at Shelby’s going-away party. A visually stunning tale of holding on while still saying goodbye. Read more.
 

MONSTER GOD
Director Agustina San Martin
God is now a Power Plant. On a misty night cows escape, a child is chosen, and a teenager tries to find freedom. This ominous sci-fi/drama hybrid received a special mention at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Read more.
 

STANDSTILL
Director Katia Shannon
On the way to starting a new life with her boyfriend, Amanda gets stuck in traffic. Her fight to get through the gridlock turns into a fight for survival as her body comes to a standstill. With panic mounting, Amanda must face her deepest vulnerabilities in order to survive. Read more.
 

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN
Director Katrina Saville
Dawn struggles emotionally after her roommate, a charismatic con-woman, robs her of her possessions, money, and identity. Haunted by lingering memories, Dawn takes matters into her own hands in this tense drama. Read more.
 
 
WATERMELON JUICE
Director Irene Moray
In this lusciously sensual drama, young couple Barbara and Pol go on holiday to heal old wounds and reconnect with good friends. A sensitive portrait of a woman finding refuge from trauma through intimacy. Read more.
 
 
WHY SLUGS HAVE NO LEGS
Director Aline Höchli
Slugs have a hard time keeping up with the pace of life in the city of insects. When a financial crisis hits, the industrious bees only see one solution. Droll imagery and a jaunty soundtrack converge in this clever modern parable. Read more.
 
 
 
SHORT FILM JURY

Marina Antunes (Chair)
Betsy Bozdech
Leba Hertz
Lois Alter Mark
Diana Saenger

Whistler Film Festival 2019 takes place in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada from December 4 to 8. The EDA Award winners will be announced at the Whistler Film Festival Awards Ceremony on December 8. Stay tuned for updates.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).