The last (and only) woman to win an Oscar for Best Director was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. Greta Gerwig was famously the fifth woman ever nominated in the category, for last year’s Ladybird. With odds like those (the Academy Awards are ninety years old), the outlook for women in film has always been a little grim.
But this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival lineup is doing its part to change the narrative, filling its 2018 roster with 143 (out of 310 titles) woman-directed films, the most in the fest’s ten-year history. Another interesting tidbit: at least two films this year invoke the woman-on-a-road-trip-with-man’s-severed-head-in-tow conceit. Make of that what you will.
The fest is also introducing a Women in Film Award, a $2,500 cash prize given to one audience-selected woman-directed film.
In perusing this year’s program booklet, I had a hard time narrowing my list of films to just 7, but that’s definitely a good problem to have! If none of these films tickle your fancy, check out the full list of woman-directed films on MKE Film’s website.1)
If all the women who had ever been harassed online showed up to see this documentary about the world wide web’s toxic masculinity problem (see: Gamergate, revenge porn, most of Twitter), they’d need to add a few more showings. Netizens tells the story of the brave women who dare to fight back.
Director: Cynthia Lowen
- Saturday, Oct. 20 | 3:30 p.m. | Times Cinema
- Thursday, Oct. 25 | 12:30 p.m. | Jan Serr Studio Cinema
- Monday, Oct. 29 | 6:30 p.m. | Avalon Theater
This one might not be for the faint of heart — it scores 5 Hooligans on the Cinema Hooligante scale and MKE Film calls it “what may be the bloodiest climax in cinema history” — but fans of Quentin Tarantino and other revenge-thrillers will enjoy watching Revenge‘s gun-toting female heroine knock off each of her assailants, one by one.
Director: Coralie Fargeat
- Saturday, Oct. 20 | 10:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre West
- Friday, Oct. 26 | 9 p.m. | Avalon Theater
- Tuesday, Oct. 30 | 9:15 p.m. | Times Cinema
Problems with the number zero: you can’t divide by it, it’s sometimes mistaken for the letter ‘o’ depending on font and it’s the number of weeks the U.S. government guarantees for paid leave. This personal story-fueled documentary makes the case that our country’s policy failure is actually costing us more.
Director: Ky Dickens
- Friday, Oct. 19 | 6 p.m. | Oriental Theatre Main
- Sunday, Oct. 21 | 1 p.m. | Avalon Theater
- Tuesday, Oct. 23 | 4 p.m. | Jan Serr Studio Cinema
Another powerful Documentary Festival Favorite, Warrior Women follows Lakota activist Madonna Thunder Hawk’s activism, which spans more than five decades. MKE Film calls it “a portrait of an aging firebrand,” which is honestly what all women should aspire to.
Director: Christina D. King
- Sunday, Oct. 21 | 7:15 p.m. | Oriental Theatre Main
- Monday, Oct. 22 | 8:30 p.m. | Jan Serr Studio Cinema
- Wednesday, Oct. 24 | 1 p.m. | Oriental Theatre East
This documentary zooms in on the proceedings of an experimental human trafficking intervention court in New York, which has begun treating sex workers less like criminals and more like humans in need of support.
Director: Stephanie Wang-Breal
- Friday, Oct. 19 | 9:15 p.m. | Oriental Theatre East
- Saturday, Oct. 27 | 3:45 p.m. | Jan Serr Studio Cinema
Part of new-this-year category GenreQueer, which spotlights LGBTQ+ lives, Rafiki is the story of the budding romance between two girls with politically opponent fathers, living in a country that criminalizes their relationship. Banned in Kenya, Rafiki is a visually stunning tale of love and risk.
Director: Wanuri Kahiu
- Monday, Oct. 22 | 6 p.m. | Avalon Theater
- Sunday, Oct. 28 | 11 a.m. | Oriental Theatre East
- Tuesday, Oct. 30 | 12:30 p.m. | Jan Serr Studio Cinema
For some reason, women are oft-relegated to the kitchen — unless that kitchen’s a professional one. Then we’re staring up at the “culinary glass ceiling,” the site of this #MeToo-era documentary, which follows seven dauntless women chefs as they move through one of the tightest old boys’ clubs.
Director: Maya Gallus
- Sunday, Oct. 21 | 6:30 p.m. | Oriental Theatre West
- Sunday, Oct. 28 | 1 p.m. | Fox-Bay Cinema Grill
- Tuesday, Oct. 30 | 3:15 p.m. | Oriental Theatre West