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Women are owning TIFF 2018, and these top female-led titles are must-sees

Kicking off with the Share Her Journey rally on Saturday, TIFF is setting the stage for gender equality in the film industry, standing with women in front of and behind the camera with a five-year commitment to the cause.

In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Hollywood is in the middle of a much-needed shakeup in its compensation, representation and treatment of women. This year, TIFF is helping to pave the way with a five-year plan to increase opportunities, skills, and mentorship for women in the industry. The festival has already raised almost half of its $3 million goal to invest in initiatives and resources for female filmmakers.

And the efforts are already paying off—this year, 34% of the films showing at TIFF were directed by women (an encouraging number considering that, by TIFF's account, only 18% of the top 250 films in 2017 employed women directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers, and just 1% of films employed 10 or more women).

The festival’s female focus will culminate in the Share Her Journey rally taking place on Saturday September 8th. Partnering with ReFrame, TIME’S UP and #AfterMeToo, the rally promises to be an inspiring and empowering morning with a lineup of impressive guest speakers including Geena Davis, Keri Putnam and Mia Kirshner, so grab your girl gang and head to King and John Street for the festivities.

In preparation, here’s our guide to the must-see female-fronted films playing at TIFF.

Directors to watch

The film: Destroyer

An almost unrecognizable Nicole Kidman delivers a performance like you’ve never seen from her as LAPD detective Erin Bell in this gritty crime thriller. Having gone undercover in a dangerous gang as a young cop, Bell is forced to confront her traumatic past and solve a gruesome case when the gang’s leader re-emerges.

The director: Karyn Kusama

You know her from: Kusama is best known for her writing and directorial debut, Girlfight, for which she won the Director’s Prize and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and for directing the 2009 comedy-horror hit, Jennifer’s Body.

The film: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

This biographical comedy-drama boasts a dream team of talented women, led by director Marielle Heller, screenwriter Nicole Holofcener (who has penned and directed female-focused titles including Enough Said, Friends with Money, Every Secret Thing and "Orange Is the New Black"), and powerhouse lead Melissa McCarthy. Based on the life of Lee Israel, McCarthy plays the struggling writer, who once achieved great success by writing about high-profile women, but now must resort to corrupt measures to pay the bills.

The director: Marielle Heller

You know her from: With numerous TV and theatre credits under her belt, Heller made a name for herself writing and directing her critically acclaimed breakout film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

The film: A Million Little Pieces

James Frey’s controversial novel will finally come to the big screen with a strong cast including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Odessa Young, Carla Juri and Charlie Hunnam. Co-scripted by Sam Taylor-Johnson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the story follows a young alcoholic drug addict who checks himself into a Minnesota rehab clinic, where he bonds with many fellow patients on his agonizing path to recovery.

The director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

You know her from: The photographer and filmmaker made her feature film directorial debut with Nowhere Boy, a 2008 biopic about John Lennon, before directing the highly-anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey.

Writers to watch

The film: Wildlife

Starring Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould, Wildlife examines a small-town family’s hopeless pursuit of the American dream. Set in the 1960s American Midwest, fourteen-year-old Joe witnesses the deterioration of his parents’ marriage as his mother falls in love with another man. The coming-of-age story dissects family dynamics in postwar America from a uniquely feminist perspective.

Screenplay by: Zoe Kazan

You know her from: Kazan teamed up with partner and director Paul Dano to pen this big screen adaptation. You’ve seen indie darling Kazan star in films like The Savages, It’s Complicated, Ruby Sparks, The F Word and The Big Sick. Kazan also wrote a number of successful plays before her hit rom-com screenplay Ruby Sparks, and we can’t wait for a more sombre taste of Kazan’s writing style in Wildlife.

The film: What They Had

This emotional family drama has an all-star cast, led by Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, Taissa Farmiga and Josh Lucas. Bridget (Swank), returns home to help her family cope with the declining health of Ruth (Danner), her Alzheimer’s-suffering mother.

Screenplay by: Elizabeth Chomko

You know her from: The director, playwright and actress has plenty of acting credits in television and short film, but Chomko’s directorial and feature screenplay debut What They Had will definitely be the title that puts her on the map.

Leading ladies to watch

The film: Widows

Steve McQueen’s heist drama is the strong female-forward thriller the world needs. Co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (bestselling author of fierce female narratives), the film is centred around four women who band together to take matters into their own hands and finish the job after their criminal husbands are killed in a failed heist attempt.

The leads: The diverse heavyweight ensemble cast is led by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo, who play the desperate wives-turned hardcore heroines.

The film: Assassination Nation

In this dark comedy teen thriller, four social media-obsessed girls at Salem high school are accused of hacking the small town’s private data, destroying privacy and lives and launching a violent witch hunt against the young women over the course of one bloody night.

The leads: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, and Abra head up the cast of badass teenage girls.

The film: Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy

Based on Savannah Knoop’s memoir, "Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy", this is the true story of fiction author Laura Albert (Laura Dern), who writes under a pseudonym, JT LeRoy. She invents a whole persona for LeRoy—a teenage boy from West Virginia—but as her books gain fame and the media demands interviews with JT, Albert enlists her stepsister, Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart) to play the public persona of JT Leroy.

The leads: A standout lineup of female talent comes together as Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Diane Kruger tackle the true and surreal.

Not-to-miss Docs

The festival also boasts a number of documentaries on women in film, including the star-studded This Changes Everything (Meryl Streep! Reese Witherspoon! Shonda Rhimes!) and Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema (a 16-hour essay film on the history of women directors narrated by the epic Tilda Swinton).

For all of our #TIFF18 coverage, click here!

For more films directed by women check out these picks from the Cineplex Store:

Lady Bird                                             Lost in Translation                              A Wrinkle in Time  
Directed by: Greta Gerwig               Directed by: Sophia Coppola             Directed by: Ava Duvernay