There’s no stopping the calls for women behind and in front of the camera, and one film festival has a four-day long response: a women-centered film festival. Created by Women in the World and Independent Film Center, 51Fest will feature world and New York premieres of women-led films, documentaries and television shows, all followed by conversations with select actors, producers and directors. Guests will include Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever and writer/producer Cindy Chupack. The festival kicks off tonight with the world premiere of Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story, a documentary on how America’s most beloved (and hated) redhead faced social exile after a photo surfaced of her holding a bloodied Trump head. The screening will be followed by a conversation between Griffin and Women in the World founder Tina Brown.
51Fest showcases a mix of acclaimed actors and writers heading in new directions, as well as up-and-coming actors in complex, fresh roles. Kaitlyn Dever has traded the funny, sexually frustrated queer icon Amy of Booksmart for a heavy role as the justice-seeking Marie Adler in the new Netflix series Unbelievable. The limited series is an adaptation of the Marshall Project and ProPublica’s haunting article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” which follows investigating detectives, Adler and those close to Adler, as her sexual assault claim becomes muddied with doubt.
“I’m psyched to watch the rest of the show,” said 51Fest program director Anne Hubbell, who co-founded Tangerine Entertainment, a production company that focuses on content by women directors. “I watched the first one and I was waiting for that Netflix clock to come up. I was like, ‘No, where is it? I have to wait two months?”
Similarly, Angela Bassett hung up her Wakandian garb and fierce Mission Impossible wigs for a softer role in Otherhood. The film, which will have a sneak preview at 51Fest, features Bassett as Carol, one of three mothers who are forgotten by their sons on Mother’s Day and decide to move in with them to reconcile their relationships – though things don’t go as planned. The role lets Bassett take a stab at the girl gang comedy genre that has become increasingly popular in Hollywood, giving us gifts like Girls Trip and Rough Night. Otherhood may also give Bassett a chance to renew the cigarette-smoking, clothes-burning, scorn of her iconic Bernadine character in Waiting to Exhale (though hopefully Carol is nicer to her son than Bernadine was to her cheating husband). The post-screening conversation will be with director Cindy Chupack, who has been a writer and executive producer behind both Sex and the City and Modern Family.
“That’s interesting to me,” said Hubbell. “She’s sort of changing lanes and directing at a time where she’s not just breaking into the business.”
Independent Film Center and Women in the World have been working on the fest since just last fall. Women in the World is a foundation that holds events, such as salons, film screenings and summits, centered on promoting women who provoke change across the world. Tina Brown, its founder, is an award-winning journalist and author who has edited and written for magazines including Vanity Fair and the New Yorker.
51Fest wants to take the film industry into a new direction, through diverse stories on screen, whether fiction or nonfiction. It follows several real-life subjects. How To Get Away with Murder’s Aja Naomi King stars as Somali activist Ifrah Ahmed in A Girl from Mogadishu. In Official Secrets, Keira Knightley plays British intelligence specialist Katharine Gun, who attempted to stop the Iraq War. The festival closes with the New York premiere of Untouchable, a documentary on Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, featuring subjects unseen in mainstream coverage. Both of them, Hope D’Amore and Erika Rosenbaum, will be at the screening, as will Ahmed and Gun.
“You rarely get to hear from someone who was a whistleblower for an international conspiracy to start the Iraq War,” said Hubbell. “And hear her actual experience and what it’s like now that a movie’s made after her life. So, you’re seeing a fictionalized version and you’ll also hear from the subjects, which is kind of cool.”
Tickets can be bought individually or in a package. Opening night costs $20 for IFC members and $25 for all other guests. All other tickets cost $15 for IFC members and $18 for all other guests. Full festival packages, which reserve both tickets and seats at post-screening conversations cost $300 for IFC guests and $350 for everyone else.