17 Female-Directed Films From SXSW 2015 That Everyone Needs To See

Festivals like South By Southwest are perhaps the best places to discover new or yet unrecognized (often unduly) filmmakers. Free from the weights and shackles of hegemonic Hollywood and its proclivity toward turning a cold shoulder on women directors, the world of independent cinema is an especially opportune place to find blossoming female artistic voices.

This year's slate of SXSW films includes a good number of female-directed and -written projects, ranging quite a bit in form, genre, tone, and subject matter. We rifled through the films composing the Narrative and Documentary Competitions, the Headlining lineup, the Narrative and Documentary Spotlight lists, and the experimental category called "Visions," and pulled out a number of female-helmed titles. Be they delivered by veterans or newbies, these are some of the most exciting features to catch at this year's fest.

Image: Bright Pictures/Creativity Capital/Finite Films

by Michael Arbeiter

'6 Years'

Written and directed by: Hannah Fidell

What it is: A tumultuous story of young love and all the intrinsic complications that come along with it.

What else she’s done: The 2013 drama A Teacher, independent cinema’s forerunner to The Boy Next Door.

Grouping: Narrative Competition

Image: Duplass Brothers Productions/Arts+Labor

'Funny Bunny'

Written and directed by: Alison Bagnall

What it is: A dramedy about misguided activists and overprivileged manchildren, and the love triangle that ensnares the lot of them.

What else she’s done: The crime comedy Buffalo ‘66 and the Greta Gerwig rom-com The Dish and the Spoon.

Grouping: Narrative Competition

Image: Magic Owl

'Frame by Frame'

Directed by: Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli

What it is: A documentary about impassioned Afghan photojournalists cutting through the tyranny of the Taliban regime to work toward a plateau of free press.

What else the’ve done: Bombach has directed and produced a variety of documentary projects under the “A MoveShake Story” umbrella, while Scarpelli has written and directed a series of “EXPOSED” doc shorts.

Grouping: Documentary Competition



Co-directed by: Samantha Futerman (with Ryan Miyamoto)

What it is: A doc about co-director Samantha Futerman’s adulthood reunion with the twin sister she was separated from after both were put up for adoption.

What else she’s done: Actress Futerman has appeared in Memoirs of a Geisha, The Big C, and Kroll Show.

Grouping: Documentary Competition

Image: Small Package Films

'A Woman Like Me'

Directed by: Alex Sichel and Elizabeth Giamatti

What it is: The now deceased filmmaker Sichel’s trans-genre project about dealing with her own case of terminal breast cancer through the creation of a likewise suffering physical character, played in the film by Lili Taylor.

What else she’s done: SIchel directed the New York ’90s counterculture drama All Over Me.

Grouping: Documentary Competition

Image: Elizabeth Giamatti

'BRAND: A Second Coming'

Written and directed by: Ondi Timoner

What it is: A chronicling of actor/comedian Russell Brand’s ascension from addiction to stardom, and an exploration of the mercantilism surrounding his career.

What else she’s done: A slew of documentary features, including Dig!, Recycle, Join Us, We Live in Public, and Cool It.

Grouping: Headliners

Image: Mayfair Film Partnership/Interloper Films

'Hello, My Name Is Doris'

Co-written by: Laura Terruso (with Michael Showalter)

What it is: A coming-of-middle-age comedy about a 60-year-old Sally Field discovering a new sense of belonging in the youth hipster scene.

What else she’s done: A number of comedy shorts, including Dyke Dollar, Doris & The Intern, and The L Train.

Grouping: Headliners

Image: Haven Entertainment/Red Crown Productions

'The Automatic Hate'

Co-written by: Katharine O’Brien (with Justin Lerner)

What it is: A drama about a pair of estranged cousins working to mend the long maintained family fissures instituted by their fathers, but succumbing perhaps to the rivalries that tore them apart in the first place.

What else she’s done: Written and directed a few shorts, but little else.

Grouping: Narrative Spotlight

Image: BN Films/Caliber Media Company/FortWinter Films/Revek Entertainment


Directed by: Jamie Babbitt

Written by: Karey Dornetto

What it is: A black comedy about a pair of sisters — a recovering sex addict (Judy Greer) and an optimistic lesbian (Natasha Lyonne) — working as service staff members in a California hotel, where they find themselves at the center of a murder coverup.

What else they’ve done: Babbit directed the 1999 gay-themed indie dramedy But I’m a Cheerleader, as well as episodes of Gilmore Girls, Girls, and dozens of other television shows. Dornetto has written for a good number of programs as well, including South Park, Arrested Development, Community, and Portlandia.

Grouping: Narrative Spotlight

Image: Getty Images


'I Dream Too Much'

Written and directed by: Katie Cokinos

What it is: A soft drama about a teenage girl’s budding relationship with her reclusive great aunt following her discovery of the latter’s romantic past.

What else she’s done: Pretty much nothing, other than production work on Slacker and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Grouping: Narrative Spotlight

Image: 77 Films/Attic Light Films

'Life in Color'

Written and directed by: Katharine Emmer

What it is: A romance about an initially contentious pair housesitting a mutual friend’s place together.

What else she’s done: She was in an episode of Desperate Housewives… otherwise not much.

Grouping: Narrative Spotlight

Image: Beethoven Street

'A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story'

Directed by: Sara Hirsh Bordo

What it is: A documentary about Lizzie Velasquez, a lifelong bullying victim who pioneered an anti-bullying movement in adulthood.

What else she’s done: A good deal of activist work, but little in film.

Grouping: Documentary Spotlight

Image: Honest Engine Films/Women Rising

'GTFO: Get the F&#% Out'

Directed by: Shannon Sun-Higginson

What it is: An in-depth examination of sexual harrassment and misogyny in the video gaming world.

What else she’s done: She’s worked production on The Getaway series and a couple of Anthony Bourdain shows.

Grouping: Narrative Competition

Image: Shannon Sun-Higginson

'Disaster Playground'

Directed by: Nelly Ben Hayoun

What it is: A documentary examining the plausible disasters that might befall outer space exploration.

What else she’s done: Mostly non-film work, collaborating with fellow scientists on SETI Institute projects.

Grouping: Visions

Image: Disaster Playground


Written and directed by: Rebecca Johnson

What it is: A complicated crime-romance drama about a young lady’s complicity in a murder plot against a boy who is in love with her.

What else she’s done: Her short film Top Girl got a good deal of attention.

Grouping: Visions

Image: Bright Pictures/Creativity Capital/Finite Films

'Petting Zoo'

Written and directed by: Micah Magee

What it is: An all-star high school student living in Texas gets pregnant and must face the wrath of her conservative family, and find solace in the home of her grandmother.

What else she’s done: A handful of shorts, including My Last Day in Nigeria, Heat, and Heimkommen.

Grouping: Visions

Image: The Match Factory/Makrorama/Haos Film/Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB)

'Sailing a Sinking Sea'

Directed by: Olivia Wyatt

What it is: An exploration of the Moken culture of Southeast Asia.

What else she’s done: Documentaries Seeking the Spirit, Staring Into the Sun, and The Pierced Heart & the Machete.

Grouping: Narrative Competition

Image: Daniel 13 Productions