Over 50 percent of the titles set to screen at AFI Fest 2020 are directed by women. Slated to run until October 22, this year’s reimagined virtual festival kicks off today with Rachel Brosnahan-starrer “I’m Your Woman,” Julia Hart’s drama about a suburban housewife who hits the road with her baby after her husband bails on them. Other features on our radar include Heidi Ewing’s “I’ll Carry You With Me,” a romance about a gay couple battling homophobia and xenophobia, and Yulene Olaizola’s “Tragic Jungle,” the story of a Belizean woman fleeing a white British landowner.
We’ve collected some highlights from this year’s fest, but our list is far from exhaustive. There are many other offerings worth checking out, including Maya Cozier’s “She Paradise” and Roseanne Liang’s “Shadow in the Clouds,” which we highlighted at Tribeca Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival, respectively. “She Paradise” is a portrait of a teenager who joins a dance crew, while “Shadow in the Cloud” follows a WWII pilot assigned to protect a top-secret package aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress with an all-male crew.
There are also plenty of shorts to look forward to, including Mishal Mahmud’s “Breach of Trust” and Priscilla Gonzalez Sainz’s “Status Pending.” The former investigates the University of Southern California’s cover-up involving the sexual misconduct of former full-time gynecologist George Tyndall, and the latter sees five first-generation immigration lawyers working to help immigrants in the U.S.
Check out more highlights from AFI Fest 2020 below. Synopses courtesy of the fest.
“I’m Your Woman” – Directed by Julia Hart; Written by Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz
What it’s about: Suburban housewife Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) lives a seemingly easy life, supported by husband Eddie’s (Bill Heck) career as a thief. But when Eddie betrays his partners, Jean and her baby are forced to go on the run, and Eddie’s old friend Cal (Arinzé Kene) is tasked with the job of keeping them safe. After Cal mysteriously disappears, Jean befriends Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), and the two women set out on a perilous journey into the heart of Eddie’s criminal underworld.
Why we’re excited: In “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Rachel Brosnahan portrays a burgeoning stand-up comedian who finds herself after her husband leaves her for another woman. She’s exploring similar territory in “I’m Your Woman” as another character whose life is upended by a ne’er-do-well spouse. Seemingly getting her “Widows” on, Brosnahan’s Jean finds new strength and agency without her husband and in the company of another woman. We’re huge fans of narratives that see women lifting one another up, and ones that grant female characters moral complexity — and it seems “I’m Your Woman” will feature both. Plus, it’s from director Julia Hart, who made one of our faves from last year, “Fast Color.”
“I Carry You With Me” – Directed by Heidi Ewing; Written by Heidi Ewing and Alan Page
What it’s about: Director Heidi Ewing cleverly blends fictional characters with their real-life counterparts in this artful love story that spans decades, crosses borders, and artfully weaves in poignant commentary on immigration, injustice, and homophobia.
Why we’re excited: We’ve been eagerly awaiting “I Carry You With Me” since Ewing won the Audience Award: NEXT and the NEXT Innovator Prize for the drama at Sundance this year. That it’s an exploration of immigration and a romance, has been making the festival rounds to critical acclaim, and is based on a true story — well, that just builds the anticipation. In an interview with us, Ewing explained how two friends inspired her to make the movie. “After many years of friendship, my two friends told me their story of meeting, falling in love, and eventually coming to the United States, where they are successful business owners,” she recalled. “I was floored by what they told me and knew it should be a film.”
“Wander Darkly” – Written and Directed by Tara Miele
What it’s about: A troubled relationship is further shaken by a traumatic event. New parents Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) retrace pivotal moments of their romance from a surreal perspective and a time-bending narrative structure.
Why we’re excited: “Wander Darkly” sounds like an imaginative thought exercise, but its story is in fact grounded in reality. Writer-director Tara Miele, whose varied credits include everything from eps of “Batwoman” and “Hawaii Five-o” to micro budget features and the viral video “Meet a Muslim,” told us that the film’s plot is inspired by an actual experience she had. She and her husband were in a bad crash, and while both survived, Miele blacked out after the impact, and was concussed in its aftermath. When her six-month-old baby ignored her calls, she momentarily believed she’d died in the crash and she was merely witnessing what came after.
“We would never move into the house we had just bought, and my mother would raise our children,” Miele recalled thinking. “The moment passed, but the idea that the end could come so quickly and unforgivingly shook me.” That’s what drew her to tell a story about a woman who needs to be convinced by her husband that she’s still alive.
That concept has us sold, but we’re also looking forward to seeing Sienna Miller, who impressed in last year’s “American Woman,” take on another meaty starring role.
“Tragic Jungle” – Directed by Yulene Olaizola; Written by Yulene Olaizola and Rubén Imaz
What it’s about: A Belizean woman desperately trying to get away from a white British landowner heads deep into the Mayan rainforest, but will her presence awaken a mythical spirit, Xtabay, who seeks revenge on those who have harmed the land?
Why we’re excited: The winner of Venice’s prize for Best Film in a Foreign Language, “Tragic Jungle’s” premise is ripe with metaphorical possibilities. Set in the 1920s, Yulene Olaizola’s fifth feature sets its sights on colonialism, race, gender, and the environment with the conflict between its Belizean protagonist and the British landowner who wants to marry her, and it adds another layer to the story with the Xtabay. From Yucatec Mayan myths, the Xtabay is a female demon who seduces and lures men to their deaths. With its mysteries, creepy ambience, social commentary, and cultural specificity, “Tragic Jungle” has the trappings to be the next “Midsommar” or “The Nightingale,” a gripping genre pic that also has something meaningful to say.
“My Little Sister” – Written and Directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond
What it’s about: Berlin-born twin siblings Lisa (Nina Hoss) and Sven (Lars Eidinger) have a lifelong shared passion for theater. When Sven is diagnosed with leukemia, Lisa begins to dramatically re-evaluate her life
Why we’re excited: Switzerland’s Pick for the International Feature Film category at the 2021 Oscars, “My Little Sister” puts a sibling relationship front and center, a rarity in film and TV. Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond’s latest also seems like it will avoid something all-too common: a cheesy, one-dimensional story about sickness.
Lisa is dedicated to helping her brother, an actor, get back on the stage, but she’s not sacrificing her own identity to be his caregiver. “Lisa at first seems a little self-effacing, mostly focusing on her brother and her family,” Reymond explained in an interview. She’s introduced as “the wife of a successful man and has given up on her career to look after their children.” As the film progresses, her “inner strength” grows due to “the ordeals she has to face.” It seems as though this “Little Sister” still has some growing up to do, and that journey includes learning how to stand up for herself.