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Female Filmmakers Swept The Directing Honors Out Of Sundance

By Kristy Puchko | Film | January 29, 2018 |

By Kristy Puchko | Film | January 29, 2018 |


Saturday night the 2018 Sundance Film Festival announced its winners in a ceremony hosted by How Did This Get Made’s Jason Mantzoukas (who was there repping his new movie The Long Dumb Road). IndieWire gave a round-up of the winners, and noted something especially thrilling in an award season where female directors have been too often snubbed. In Directing honors across four film categories, a female helmer came out victorious.

Here are the winners and their acclaimed movies:


The Kindergarten Teacher’s Sara Colangelo won the Grand Jury Prize for Directing in the U.S. Dramatic slate. Maggie Gyllenhaal fronts the film as the titular teacher who becomes obsessed with a student she believes is a child prodigy.

In The Wrap’s review, Sharon Waxman writes, “Gyllenhaal offers a beautifully nuanced performance full of intelligence and desperation. She taps into something deep about the unmet emotional needs of a woman whose life is spent putting forth energy toward others.”


On Her Shoulders’ Alexandria Bombach won the Grand Jury Prize for Directing in the U.S. Documentary slate. The doc follows 23-year-old Nadia Murad, a former ISIS sex slave who has become an activist for her Yazidi community, speaking on radio shows, at rallies, and even before the UN about the horrid realities she’s witnessed and her people’s plight.

At The Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri states, “In some ways, (Nadia is) in an existential trap, like something out of a Greek myth: In order to help her people, she needs to relive her trauma, over and over again. / To Bombach’s credit, the film itself doesn’t indulge that trap. Even though she never loses her focus on Nadia, Bombach subtly shifts her attention from Nadia’s specific requests from the international community to the thornier question of what happens to the Yazidis from here onward.”


Shirkers’ Sandi Tan won the Grand Jury Prize for Directing in the Documentary slate. This personal doc follows Tan’s own story about how as a teenager she and her friends shot Singarpore’s first indie film with the help of their mentor, an American named Georges Cardona. But after they wrapped, he took off with the footage and disappeared. 20 years later the 16mm cans popped up in New Orleans, sending Tan down a rabbit hole.

In her THR review, Sheri Linden declares, “Tan has made is a wry and wistful portrait of the artist as a young punk. Combining the 25-year-old material and new interviews with her filmmaking co-conspirators, it’s a cine-essay on movie love, a capsule autobiography and a lament for what might have been.”


And Breathe Normally’s Isold Uggadóttir won the Grand Jury Prize for Directing in the World Cinema Dramatic slate. Set in Iceland, this drama follows single mother Lara (Kristín Thóra Haraldsdóttir) who works at border patrol, and forms an unexpected bond with a detainee named Adja(Babetida Sadjo), who is a female refugee from Guinea-Bissau.

For Variety, Alissa Simon writes, “Just as one starts to predict what the ultimate arc of the screenplay will be, Uggadóttir, a Columbia University MFA graduate known for her prize-winning shorts, throws in a few twists, showing that Adja and Lara have more in common than they would have guessed. What might, in other hands, be melodramatic or emotionally manipulative remains resolutely unsentimental here.”

Here’s hoping these wins will secure all of the above U.S. distribution. In the meantime, behold our list of female-helmed 2018 movies we’re looking forward to.

The header image: Babetida Sadjo, Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir, Isold Uggadottir, Frederique Broos, and Inga Lind Karlsdottir attend the And Breathe Normally Premiere during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival at Prospector Square on January 22, 2018 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images)

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Kristy Puchko is the film editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.