American’s Largest Documentary Festival Puts The Spotlight On Female Filmmakers & Directors

There has never been a more important time to amplify the voices of female filmmakers, directors and storytellers, than now. Sure, we’ve been actively promoting women’s voices in film for a few years now, but given recent revelations about sexual harassment claims and the obvious ways certain men in power abuse their position, it is becoming more and more clear why diversity at the top and in specific decision-making roles is what is going to help change the status quo.

The upcoming DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, has an exciting line-up of films being showcased in New York from November 9-16, with a number of them about and/or by women. The 8th annual festival includes 111 feature-length documentaries (and 85 shorts) and will showcase over 250 films overall. There are 44 films directed or co-directed by women in total. Among those being showcased, festival-goers can expect to see issues such as social activism, politics, music, race and justice on screen.

Also important is the inclusion of a number of voices of women of color. While Hollywood has come under fire in recent times for continuing to “whitewash” certain storylines as well as center the default white, cishet male gaze, DOC NYC is giving a platform to the type of gaze that we want to see more of in the mainstream.

“Documentary storytellers help us make sense of the tumultuous times we’re living in with artistry, humor and inspiring characters. This year’s DOC NYC line-up gives audiences fresh insight into high profile figures and shines a light on lesser-known individuals who leave a big impression,” said Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos in a press statement.

Here are a handful of films that stood out to us in the line-up, as they bring to the forefront a specific female gaze and experiences of women from around the world. The first is ‘Mankiller’ by director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl. It tells the story of Wilma Mankiller, who rose from poverty to become the first female chief of the Cherokee nation. After a forced relocation from her native Oklahoma at 10, Wilma developed her activist chops in turbulent 1960s San Francisco, fighting for land rights during the Alcatraz Occupation.

Back with her people, she organized around issues of social and economic justice, advocating passionately for Native American self-determination even as she battled rampant sexism, political rivals and significant health challenges. ‘Mankiller’ tells the story of this guardian of Cherokee heritage and unsung American heroine.

The second film is ‘6 Weeks to Mother’s Day’ by director Marvin Blunte. Nestled in a remote jungle in Thailand is a unique school that is home for 150 underprivileged and orphaned children. The students of the democratic Children’s Village have as much voice as their teachers, participating in council meetings to make key decisions about their education and community, gaining empowerment in the process. As the 35th anniversary of the school approaches, the children make preparations to honor its extraordinary founder, the woman they all call Mother Aew.

‘Nothing Without Us’ comes from director Harriet Hirshorn. Combining archival footage and interviews with female activists, scientists and scholars in the US and Africa, Harriet demonstrates the vital role that women have played — and continue to play — in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. An unexpectedly upbeat film about pressing global issues conveyed through intimate, evocative journeys, ‘Nothing Without Us’ tells the stories of ordinary women facing their fears, cares and everyday struggles in order to fight for their communities and their very lives.

Director Erika Cohn presents her film ‘The Judge’. In Palestine’s West Bank, Kholoud Al-Faqih is the first woman judge appointed to any of the Middle East’s Shari’a courts. In this documentary courtroom drama, we witness how she applies the law, sometimes with a different emphasis than her male colleagues. We also see the resistance she faces, along with her male counterpart, a progressive Sheik. Al-Faqih is a charming figure who marshals her savvy and determination to navigate a world full of obstacles.

‘Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart’ comes from director Tracy Heather Strain, which follows the life of Lorraine Hansberry, best known for ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ who was a black writer, communist, feminist, lesbian and outspoken trailblazer at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She led an active life, befriending James Baldwin, inspiring Nina Simone, breaking barriers from Broadway to Hollywood, being monitored by the FBI and seeking love on her own terms, all before her untimely death at age 34. After many years in the making, Tracy delivers the rich biography that Hansberry deserves.

There are so many more amazing films being showcased at DOC NYC, we highly recommend buying tickets to support the filmmakers whose work on screen will expand our worldview, and chip away at the narrow standards in the film industry that have for too long excluded diversity. To purchase tickets and see the full festival schedule, visit the DOC NYC website.



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