WEEK IN WOMEN news roundup: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ star Karen Gillan premieres feature film directorial debut, Tribeca Film Festival showcases and awards films by and about women, and Cannes festival to boast female-majority jury

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Karen Gillan appears in a scene from "The Party's Just Beginning," her feature film directorial debut. Mt. Hollywood Films photo

Karen Gillan appears in a scene from “The Party’s Just Beginning,” her feature film directorial debut. Mt. Hollywood Films photo

In between starring in some of the biggest blockbusters of the past year, Karen Gillan managed to write, helm and star in her feature film directorial debut, “The Party’s Just Beginning,” which made its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Gillan, who starred as Nebula in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and the new release “Avengers: Infinity War” and as Martha in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” shot “The Party’s Just Beginning” in hometown of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, according to Deadline Hollywood.

“The whole story is based on a statistic I read that the suicide rate in the Highlands of Scotland are significantly higher among young men than in the rest of Scotland. I was like ‘That’s a strange statistic’ because I grew up there and it’s so idyllic and picturesque and beautiful. Why do we have this dark fact looming over us?” Gillan said.

She plays Liusaidh, who works a dead-end job in a grocery deli by day and spends her nights getting smashed and having sex with strangers in order to deaden the pain of losing a friend to suicide.

It took Gillan six years to write the screenplay and five to finance the film, according to Deadline. She finally broke through with the U.S. film finance company Mt. Hollywood Films, and her film screened in Tribeca’s International Narrative Competition.

Of course, debuting her passion project isn’t the only big news for Gillan and her career this week. According to CNN, Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War” made an estimated $630 million at the worldwide box office for its opening weekend, shattering the record for biggest worldwide opening held by Universal’s “The Fate of the Furious,” which made $541 million for its global opening last year.

“Infinity War” also brought in an estimated $250 million domestically this weekend, making it the biggest opening weekend ever. It edged past the $248 million that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made in 2015.

Nia DaCosta, a first-time feature director, received The Nora Ephron Award for “Little Woods" at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo provided by the Tribeca Film Festival

Nia DaCosta, a first-time feature director, received The Nora Ephron Award for “Little Woods” at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo provided by the Tribeca Film Festival

Films about and by women win awards at Tribeca

Actor-turned-filmmaker Karen Gillan was in good company this year at Tribeca: According to Refinery29, the festival came close to gender parity with 46 percent of its feature films this year directed by women. Of the 96 films in this year’s festival, 43 were directed by women. It was the highest percentage of women-created films since the festival was founded in 2002.

Films about and by women won some major prizes in both the jury and audience awards at the 17th annual festival, which kicked off on April 18 and is closing tonight.

Kent Jones, a first-time narrative director and writer, won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature and Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film for “Diane,” according to a news release. Starring Mary Kay Place, “Diane” centers on a widowed, altruistic septuagenarian whose life is dictated by the needs of others. She fills her days serving food to the homeless, visiting ailing friends in the last years of their lives, and, most centrally, desperately attempting to reach her drug-addicted son, despite his repeated efforts to push her away. But as these pieces of her existence begin to wither and fade, she is forced to look at her own identity—and memories she’d rather forget than face.

“After careful consideration we have chosen a film that we believe encompasses the beauty, aesthetic, as well as the powerful themes of love, struggle, life, death, and womanhood that are the spirit of this year’s festival,” the jury (which included Justin Bartha, Alexander Dinelaris, Bilge Ebiri, Amy Hobby, Chris Messina and Lakeith Stanfield) said in a statement.

Gabrielle Brady, a first-time feature-length documentary director, won Best Documentary Feature for “Island of the Hungry Ghosts.” Dava Whisenant, another first-time director, garnered the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award for “Bathtubs Over Broadway.”

Nia DaCosta, a first-time feature director, received The Nora Ephron Award for “Little Woods.” The Nora Ephron Award was created six years ago to honor excellence in storytelling by a female writer or director embodying the spirit and boldness of the late filmmaker.

Marios Piperides, a first-time feature narrative director, won the Best International Narrative Feature for “Smuggling Hendrix,” while Shawn Snyder, a first-time feature director, earned Best New Narrative Director for “To Dust.”

Synder’s “To Dust” also won the audience choice award for best narrative, while “Mapplethorpe,” directed by Andrea Doane “Ondi” Timoner, was the runner-up for the narrative audience award.

“United Skates,” directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown, received the documentary audience choice award. “Momentum Generation,” directed by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist, was the runner-up for the documentary audience award.

“It was such an honor to have our world premiere at Tribeca this year– and now to win the audience award!? Every one of those votes is like a vote for keeping this skate world alive and its rinks open. There is no greater feeling than knowing that audiences are falling in love with this community, the same way we have,” said “United Skates” directors Winkler and Brown in a statement.

Acclaimed actor Cate Blanchett, shown in the 2015 film "Knight of Cups," is the president of the 2018 Cannes film festival jury. Broad Green Pictures photo

Acclaimed actor Cate Blanchett, shown in the 2015 film “Knight of Cups,” is the president of the 2018 Cannes film festival jury. Broad Green Pictures photo

Cannes Film Festival to boast female-majority jury

In other film festival news, Cannes is set for May 8-19, and for the first time since 2014, the French film fest will boast a female-majority jury. The jury will include five men and four women from seven nationalities and five continents, according to Variety.

Along with jury president Cate Blanchett, this year’s Cannes jury includes “A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay, American actor Kristen Stewart, French actor Léa Seydoux and Burundian musician Khadja Nin.

Rounding out the jury list are “Blade Runner 2049” helmer Denis Villeneuve, seasoned French filmmaker Robert Guédiguian, “Leviathan” director Andrey Zvyagintsev and Chinese actor Chang Chen.

The announcement comes in the wake of criticism over the lack of female directors in official competition at this year’s festival. Only three of 17 films up for Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, are made by women, although the festival’s Un Certain Regard section, which showcases films with unusual themes or techniques, features a majority of female director, according to The Guardian.

“For the last four years, I’ve become much more concerned about the presence of women at the festival. I’ve been having discussions with intelligent women like Jessica Chastain and have listened to their advice about ways to improve certain things. We’ve started paying more attention to the gender ratio on our selection committees, for instance. Right now, two out of the three committees have as many women as men,” Cannes Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux told Variety.

As The Guardian reports, Chastain served on last year’s festival jury, which was headed by Pedro Almodovar, and said at the closing press conference that she found the way women were depicted in the festival’s films “disturbing.”

“This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days, and I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that were represented,” Chastain said. “It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest – with some exceptions.”

“I hope when we include female storytellers they will be more like the women I know in my day-to-day life. They are proactive, have their own point of view and don’t just react to men around them,” she added.


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