As another awards season kicks into high gear at the Toronto International Film Festival, one disappointment of last year's Oscar campaign is still on the minds of some.
Despite a number of films that ranked among the most critically acclaimed movies of the year — Debra Granik's Leave No Trace, Marielle Heller's Can You Ever Forgive Me? Chloe Zhao's The Rider, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here — women were again shut out (for the 86th time in 91 years) from the best director category.
Coming on the heels of Greta Gerwig's nomination for Lady Bird in 2018 (the fifth for a woman and first in a decade), that result felt for many like a step back for an industry that in recent years has made steps towards greater gender equality amid the upheaval of the #MeToo movement. Although myriad reasons lead to an Academy Award nomination, the lack of apparent consideration for those filmmakers was, to some, conspicuous.
"With Can You Ever Forgive Me, it's easy to look at that and say 'my film was nominated for a million different awards and I was sort of the only person not acknowledged for working on that project'," says Heller, whose film landed nods for Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant and its screenwriters. "But the truth of the matter is that movie got a huge amount of attention. And that was a small movie that could have gone unseen and fallen through the cracks."
Heller will in Toronto premiere her third film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and Matthew Rhys as a visiting journalist sent to profile the Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood host. The film's trailer on YouTube has already attracted nearly 11 million views.
"I feel encouraged by the number of really talented women filmmakers that have movies coming out this year," says Heller, but "the awards campaigns are not the only thing that matter. We're making movies that audiences will hopefully see."
The Toronto International Film Festival has tried to play an active role in shifting the awards-season conversation towards more equitable terrain. Last year, like many other festival leaders, the festival's artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey signed a "50/50 by 2020" pledge promising transparency in the selection process. In this year's programme, 36 per cent of the selections are directed by women.