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Interviews & Reviews

Toni Erdmann Review: See this Winning, Woman-Directed, Oscar Nominated Film


Oscar nominations were announced this week.  Women working behind the camera inside and outside Hollywood and their supporters around the world were chagrined, if unsurprised, to see the list of Best Director nominations comprised entirely of men.  Worse yet, director Mel Gibson, who has been accused of anti-Semitism and repeated domestic violence, took the place of any number of equally qualified women in the same field. Anyone hoping for more recognition of those female directors by The Academy can at least celebrate the nomination of German indie Toni Erdmann for Best Foreign Film. It is helmed and written by director/screenwriter/producer Maren Ade, and is getting a wide release to art houses across the country this weekend.

Toni Erdmann is a quirky, often charming movie about Winfried Conradi, a retired teacher who yearns for and works towards a closer relationship with his grown and career-obsessed daughter, Ines. With a two hour and forty two minutes running time, you’d think this movie would have a complicated and very involved plot.  Actually, it’s quite simple. After Winfreid decides he wants to be closer to Ines, he repeatedly goes to her office and to her business trips, much to her annoyance. The ways he goes about getting her attention are what make the story fun, compelling, complicated, and quirky.  The film’s name, Toni Erdmann, refers to Winfried’s alter ego.  Erdmann is the brash, snaggletoothed, shaggy-haired, yet somehow enigmatic character he plays when he shows up at Ines’s business events.  Audiences are witness to a series of very strange, and often awkward encounters, at various points involving a naked brunch, a karaoke rendition of a Whitney Houston song, and a Bigfoot costume.

The success of this film, and the way it sinks into your psyche to stay, is based in the three-dimensional characterizations, and the slow, authentic evolution of the father-daughter relationship from estranged to deeply connected.  It couldn’t be further from the trappings of a Hollywood feel-good flick. There aren’t neatly tied bows in the way of comfortable conversations, or platitude-filled speeches by the movie’s end. The interactions are just as weird, nutty, and love-filled as in any real familial relationship. That is what makes the film so beautiful: Just because there’s disfunction, doesn’t mean there isn’t love, and a desire to connect.

There’s an argument to be made that if women in the world of cinema are welcomed into the Hollywood studio system, movies like this one would be in shorter supply.  I’d argue that, indeed, there would be more of them, because women who make films are more often involved in the writing and producing.  In fact, the two women who have been nominated for features at this year’s Oscars both own and head production or film distribution companies: Maren Ade co-founded the production company Komplizen Film, and the other nominee, Ava DuVernay, who directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the eye-opening and fascinating documentary 13th, founded the independent distribution company ARRAY.   

Toni Erdmann is a great example of a film that should have been considered for more than just the foreign category at the Oscars. It already won five awards at the 29th European Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Actor, and Actress, and it is the first time a film directed by a women has won its top award. It won all these awards for good reason. This movie has the sort of staying power that will make it a long-appreciated favorite for many who make the effort to seek it out in theaters.  Unfortunately, being both foreign and female-directed, given the current climate at the Academy, we should be grateful it has been recognized by the Academy at all.  With that said, foreign film lovers, those who support women in film, and the 98% of people out there who know the challenge of transforming a strained parental relationship, will do well to add Toni Erdmann to their must-see movie list this Oscar season.

Film grade: A

Interviews & Reviews

The Ten Best Women-Directed Films of 2016

The Ten Best Women-Directed Films of 2016

With the beginning of 2017, we have to stay positive about the changes, however slow, that are happening in the film community for women in film.  Parity won’t ever happen without agitating for equality and consideration in terms of women film directors and all production artists working below the line.  Thank goddess for the work of great groups like Women in Film LA, and the many insiders, both male and female, who believe balance will only benefit the film industry as a whole.  In 2016, the issue was put into tighter focus by the press and actors who called attention to the problem.  A-listers like Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Aniston, and Amy Schumer called Hollywood on their nonsense and the public and press listened.  There are some new programs and events that are making a difference as well. The Horizon Award, enables the winners, all young female filmmakers at the start of their careers, to attend Sundance.  We Can Do It Together, a new nonprofit production company that aims to produce films and TV that empowers women, has Jessica Chastain, Queen Latifah, Catherine Hardwicke, and Juliette Binoche on their team.  Array, which was started by piping hot director Ava DuVernay in 2010, focuses on creating and promoting films created and featuring people of color and women.  Those are just a few companies that got attention last year.   

Cinema Siren contributed our own small part by instituting and moderating a panel at San Diego Comic-Con called Women Rocking Hollywood.  It was a great success at the time, and continues to get attention with the recording, which anyone can see on YouTube.  We hope to get a great panel together this year as well, to build momentum.  It’s very important to keep interest and concern high, since we are entering into a political climate not at all conducive to women’s equality.

Although it’s true that there weren’t a lot of blockbuster tentpole movies directed by women, there were some great female-helmed films released in 2016.   Here is a list of my favorites, and those interested in supporting the future of women in film should seek them out.



THE INVITATION directed by Karyn Kusama

Kusama has a great ability to work in a variety of genres with insight and skill.  Here she crafts a taut psychological thriller about dinner guests at a party in the Hollywood Hills that gets creepier and creepier as paranoia and threats both real and imagined slowly permeate and implode on themselves.  It stars Michiel Huisman (of Game of Thrones)  and is both incredibly tense and engrossing.



ALWAYS SHINE directed by Sophia Takal

Two actresses with varying degrees of success in the film industry go on vacation together, only to pretty much lose themselves and their sanity.  It’s beautifully filmed and takes place around Big Sur.  It’s also a telling tale about the fragility of self worth and societal expectations of women.  Ironically, co-stars Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald climb higher in the hierarchy of Hollywood by showing their considerable talents in their roles.



THE MEDDLER written and directed by Lorene Scafaria

Two women that bring much charisma to the screen, Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne, star as mother and daughter in what appears to be a fluffy drama with blend of charm and a surprising poignancy that will appeal to and entertain a wide audience.  There’s nothing wrong with a little sweetness, and Scafaria delivers that as well as a story about grief, commitment, understanding, and the complicated nature of the parent/child relationship.   



CERTAIN WOMEN written and directed by Kelly Reichardt

Don’t mess with this cast, which includes heavyweights Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern,  Jared Harris, and James Le Gros.  The lives of three small-town women intersect in this stripped-down, subtle, quiet film.  The authenticity and truth of it is stunning, with loneliness and loss taking center stage.  The photography is gorgeous, but this movie requires patience and an appreciation of the slow reveal. It’s pretty much the antithesis of those tentpole action-heavy superhero movies. Go for the fine acting and subtlety, which is rare in most things, especially film.



QUEEN OF KATWE directed by Mira Nair

Wonderful performances by Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo add to that of newcomber Madina Nalwanga, who was a new discovery.  Mira Nair is known for the beauty of her films, and this one is no exception.  About a young girl who goes from selling corn on the streets of Uganda to being an international chess champion, and it’s based on a true story!  It also stars many women and men of color, and was filmed in a part of the world that benefitted significantly from the filming.  Nair has lived in Uganda for over 16 years and has a film school there, so she was the perfect person to bring the story to life!



THE LOVE WITCH written and directed by Anna Biller

The best and coolest thing about this movie is how it pays homage to the technicolor thrillers and horror films of the 1960s.  Don’t be lulled into thinking that’s all to enjoy, though!  Its powerful feminism and fun, it’s celebration of our universal desire to be loved, and highly stylized visuals makes this movie not just a keeper, but a movie you’ll watch for years to come.



THINGS TO COME written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love

Anything with Isabelle Huppert is worth seeing, but THINGS TO COME, or in French, ‘L’AVENIR’, is a particularly strong representation of her talent and magnetism onscreen.  Huppert plays a philosophy teacher in Paris who has to weather a marriage falling apart, a demanding narcissistic mother, and an uncertain career.  She chooses confrontation and reinvention, and she does so in excruciating and fascinating ways, complete with awkward encounters, blowups, and forced introspection.  It’s good precisely because every adult can somehow relate.



TONI ERDMANN written and directed by Maren Ade

Ade’s ode to a decidedly off-kilter father/daughter relationship makes for a strange and endearing little movie.  Winfred has seen his work-obsessed adult daughter Ines less and less.  He decides to insinuate himself into her life by doing practical jokes and repeatedly showing up where she doesn’t want him.  Ultimately he pushes his practical joker personality to the hilt and invents the alto ego of Toni Erdmann, a tacky, bucktoothed life coach. Things get weirder and quirkier from there.  It’s about disconnection and coming together, letting go, and opening your heart.  It’s weird and wonderful.



THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig

Do you sense a theme?  That female writer-directors are creating beautiful work worthy of recognition? If someone else isn’t giving you a chance, you create it for yourself.  This is a theme to which most women can relate. THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is a coming-of-age movie starring the wonderful Hailee Steinfeld as about how unpleasant high school still is and the pain and fear of losing your best friend to her becoming your brother’s girlfriend.  There’s plenty of moments of finger-splaying embarrassment wherein you’ll scream at the screen, but you’ll be laughing the whole time, too.  There are lots of moments of bittersweet poignancy, and a super-sweet super-hot guy she more or less ignores that makes you want to poke her in the eye, but you’ll fall in love with her and wish her well.  Kyra Sedgwick and Woody Harrelson co-star and add, as usual, to the greatness of this flick.  It’s a SIXTEEN CANDLES for the new millennium, and it’s from a first time feature film director. GIVE THIS DIRECTOR A HUGE-BUDGETED MOVIE, FOR GODDESS’ SAKE!



13TH co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay

As enlightening and motivating as it is depressing, DuVernay’s documentary about the connection between the prison system and the history of racial inequality and oppression in this country is entirely engrossing.  For all those who yearn to be informed about life and experience in the US, it is both eye-opening and horrifying.  One in three young black men are expected to go to jail or prison in their lifetime.  Is that statistic representative of the behaviors in our society or is there something more going on?  DuVernay lays out evidence and facts that will change the way you see the justice and prison systems.  You must see this movie.

There are lots of other great movies that just didn’t make my cut, but are wonderful, like Rebecca Miller’s MAGGIE’S PLAN and Meera Manon’s EQUITY, both of which should be lauded at the very least for featuring  women over 40 in complicated, well developed major roles.  Also, Barbara Kopple’s documentary MISS SHARON JONES is a lovely, well-crafted valentine to an inspiring musician who broke all sorts of barriers for women of color over 40.

Honorable Mentions go to two great TV shows:


QUEEN SUGAR created by Ava DuVernay and directed by eight different female directors

You wouldn’t think we would still need to announce all the episodes of a show would be directed by women, but, indeed, DuVernay made a big press splash by doing so.  Rightly so, she believes we have to right the skewed numbers of men vs women directors, so she had some very talented women work on the show, which stars TRUE BLOOD’s Rutina Wesley heading a cast made up nearly completely by people of color.  The fact that it’s really good, the acting is superb, and the storylines are compelling, suggests (as we all already know) that gender has nothing to do with the quality of a show or film.  Delightful in the wake of the release of this first season, that the makers of JESSICA JONES announced all episodes in the second season of that show would be directed by women as well.


THE NIGHT MANAGER directed by Susanne Bier

Based on writing by John le Carre, THE NIGHT MANAGER is an exciting spy story about an ex-soldier played by Tom Hiddleston who infiltrates a dangerous crime ring headed by a terrifying kingpin as portrayed by actor Hugh Laurie.  Who says a woman couldn’t direct the next outing for James Bond?  Actually, no one has even considered it, but this great work by Susanne Bier has thrown her hat in the ring.  You’d never know it was a female at the helm, and you know why?  Yes, of course you know why.

Hey, Hollywood: Start hiring more women to direct mainstream, studio movies, just like you’ve done with men who have only made one $100,000 budgeted movie (Gareth Edwards before GODZILLA) or have never even directed, but only written films (Seth Grahame-Smith, who was slated to direct THE FLASH and subsequently replaced)…In the meantime, we’ll celebrate, talk about, and promote the movies being created by the incredibly talented filmmakers out there who just happen to be women.  Let’s hope 2017 sees some great deals made for women in film, and let’s get behind them in support!


This Weekend The Middleburg Film Festival Celebrates Women in Film


This Weekend The Middleburg Film Festival Celebrates Women in Film: A wide range of films and panels feature women in front of and behind the camera.

2016 has been a topsy-turvy year for women. On the one hand, it’s possible we’ll elect the first female president in history. On the other, disrespect and ignorance around women’s issues have been in the news all year, with the insults during the election, sexual exploitation by celebrities, the questioning of women’s stories of abuse, and more, making the headlines. One subject that has gotten positive attention is the importance of and genuine interest in balancing the numbers of women working in Hollywood, both in front and behind the camera. The Middleburg Film Festival, happening this weekend from October 20th through the 23rd, is playing a powerful and positive role in highlighting the best women working in all roles both inside and outside the studio system.

Since their beginnings only a few years ago, Middleburg Film Festival has always paid attention to the best films in which women play an essential part. Seven films out of the featured 25 are directed by women, but when asked if that’s a conscious effort, executive director Susan Koch said, “We think about it, but we don’t make our selection just because it’s directed by a woman. I think what we’ve found when you look at the statistics, when only 4% of films in Hollywood are directed by women, and we have over 25%, we’re really happy about that. The films we have also hail from all over the world. They just show you the women are out there are making great films. We like to mix it up, not just showing Oscar buzz films, but the independent gems, and especially when you’re talking about women, they often have to do the independent, smaller films, because they’re not given the break to do the larger studio films.

Some of the highlights supporting women in film include the seven films directed by women:

  • Certain Women: a feature film directed by Kelly Reichert, starring Laura Dern and Michelle Williams
  • Toni Erdmann: a feature film directed by Maren Ade about a father attempting to reconnect with his estranged adult daughter, which has already won awards including Best Film at Cannes this year.
  • A Classy Broad: a documentary directed by Anne Goursaud about Marcia Nasatir who was a powerful woman in film and the Vice President of United Artists in the 1970s.
  • The Man Who Saw Too Much: a documentary directed by Trisha Ziff about a tabloid photographer in Mexico.
  • Sonita: a feature film directed by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary, about an undocumented Afghan refugee women living in Iran who dreams of being a rapper.


  • The Edge of Seventeen: directed by Kelly Fremon Craig starring Hailee Steinfeld.
  • L’avenir (Things to Come): directed by Mia Hansen-Love, who won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival, stars Isabel Hubbert as a Parisian philosophy teacher who finds herself having to start again.

There are also films featuring a diversity of women onscreen:

There are also a number of films featuring women in lead roles, including Aquarius, starring Sonia Braga, Custody, starring Catalina Sandino Moreno in a courthouse drama, Jackie, starring Natalie Portman, about Jackie Kennedy, a documentary about a 13 year old eagle hunter in Mongolia, the first ever in her region calledThe Eagle Huntress, and Loving, co-starrring Ruth Negga about the landmark case that changed the laws for interracial marriage that took place in Virginia.


Panels and discussions with powerful allies of women in film are also a highlight of the festival:

There is a panel discussion called Women in Film: Changing the Numbers on Friday morning, with high-profile female producers including Angie Fielder (Lion, Wish You Were Here) and Lauren Versel (Custody, Arbitrage) as well as Cassian Elwes (Blue Valentine, All is Lost, Dallas Buyers Club) one of the most powerful independent producers in Hollywood. About the panel, Koch says, “We think that you can’t talk enough about it. We have one male on that panel, Cassian Elwes, who is a very well known producer. The reason he’s included is because he has a mentoring program and he’s bringing in his mentee. When we talk about how to solve the problem, it’s not just the women who are going to solve it, the whole industry has to step up and make a commitment to change these numbers”.

The keynote address for the Middleburg Film Festival is being delivered by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Saturday, and there’s “Wine and Conversation” with Oscar nominated Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall (Seabiscuit, LA Confidential, Pleasantville) also featuring Anne Hornaday, Chief Film Critic of the Washington Post. About the subject of women in film, and creating equality in Hollywood, Sheila Johnson, Founder of the MFF says, “We’re two pretty powerful women and we go after what we want. We have Sheryl Boone Isaacs coming in also and we’ll be talking more about all this and i’m very excited.”

Film lovers in the area, as well as the increasing number of fans who are making an effort to get here, should also be excited, too. Those who want to see more diversity in storytelling, portrayal, and film artistry will benefit from the festival’s natural inclination to be more inclusive. As to expanding awareness and being ever more inclusive, Johnson believes “the word is getting out there. We have female filmmakers now calling us wanting us to show their films, because they know we are so inclusive of them, and really do want to celebrate women in film. I think that reputation is out there, so I think it will keep getting easier and easier for us to attract women doing film.”

The Middleburg Film Festival runs from October 20th to October 23rd in Middleburg, Virginia, which is located one short hour from the center of Washington, DC. For more information, visit: