Toronto Film Festival 2019: “But I’ve been optimistic before where I thought we were on the brink of change and it hasn’t happened,” Lemmons says
It took two decades, but “Eve’s Bayou” director Kasi Lemmons finally returned to the Toronto Film Festival with her new biopic of slave-turned-abolutionist hero Harriet Tubman, “Harriet.”
And she joins a record number of female directors at the festival, a point driven home at a Power Women Toronto panel with Ellen Page and Halina Reijn moderated by TheWrap founder and Editor in Chief Sharon Waxman.
“I do think the landscape has changed, but I’ve been optimistic before where I thought we were on the brink of change and it hasn’t happened,” said Lemmons, who came to Toronto with her directorial debut, “Eve’s Bayou,” in 1997.
Waxman had noted that a record 36% of this year’s Toronto films, including shorts, were directed by women this year, up from 35% a year ago. “The statistic you mentioned, that’s progress we can see and feel,” Lemmons said. “It’s really great and I’m thrilled to be working in this new world that I do believe we’re in which is much more inclusive and still has a long way to go, but it feels like it’s headed in the right direction.”
Lemmons also described how the timing is right for “Harriet,” which is about American abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman: “I do think it’s a moment in time where we can deal with a black female protagonist in a period drama. A real hero. A superhero.”
Reijn’s “Instinct,” which was shot for €1 million in just 23 days, is another fact-based film, starring Carice Van Houten as a psychologist who falls in love with one of her patients, who was admitted to her care as a serial rapist. The film has received some backlash from men, she said, but she regards the project as an abstract story about sexuality and power — there is no female nudity in her film, while the men are naked.
“I understand it’s really provocative, but I didn’t mean to provoke,” she said. “It’s about my real struggle with intimacy, my struggle with who I am as a woman.”
Page, an actress whose documentary “There’s Something in the Water” focuses on the injuries caused by environmental racism inflicted on the communities in her home province in Canada, also discussed the challenges of being an out lesbian in the industry.
“I came out when I was 27 years old. Like, what? I wasn’t talking about who I was and being my authentic self because I was an actress in Hollywood,” she said. “That’s absurd — We need to look at these things as absurd! Since I’ve been out — not that it should matter — the things that have been said to me that would be seen as progressive is really appalling to me.”
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