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Stockholm Film Festival Places Women Front and Center

Before Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” – the acclaimed period-piece centering on the rivalry of two female courtiers, vying for the attention of England’s queen – closes the Stockholm Intl. Film Festival on Nov. 18, the event will have offered its audience 150 films, 39% of which are directed by women, a higher percentage than most international festivals.

The festival opens on Nov. 7 with the world premiere of Anna Odell’s “X&Y,” a film that playfully explores notions of gender identity. It is highly anticipated after the success of the director’s debut, “The Reunion,” which won the Fipresci Prize at the Venice Film Festival, and the best film and script awards at the Guldbagges, Sweden’s top movie contest.

“X&Y” is one of 22 titles competing for the Bronze Horse, the fest’s top prize, restricted to directors with no more than three films. Ten of these are helmed by women, among which are Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum,” Lila Avilés’ “The Chambermaid,” and Crystal Moselle’s “Skate Kitchen.” Other competition titles include Cannes debut winner “Girl” by Lukas Dhont, “Wildlife” by Paul Dano, “Genesis” by Philippe Lesage, and Hiroshi Okuyama’s first film “Jesus,” winner of the recent San Sebastián Film Festival.

Stockholm is headed by Git Scheynius, one of the event’s founders in 1990 and one of the few female chiefs of an A list festival. Scheynius says its hard work over the years has paid off in terms of the number of films helmed by women in the lineup. The high number – selected from 6,000 titles screened and considered for selection – is no accident, she says. “It’s a number we’ve obtained by actively asking for female directors [to submit their films] and screening them,” she says. “The selection is, of course, the result of artistic choices. It’s a time-consuming and difficult task, but worth it. With more than a third of the lineup made up of films by debut directors, and 80% of our Discovery section directed by women, there is no doubt that an old and worn-out era is on the verge of collapsing and being replaced by new names ready to be discovered.”

Scheynius welcomes the festival circuit’s increasing demands for improvement in the gender mix of program selections. “It is great that more and more people are interested in taking things further and giving more female directors the opportunity to make films, and also to have them screened at the most important festivals,” she says.

“Stockholm has, more or less, always striven to highlight women directors. Going into the festival industry in 1990, then as one of two female festival directors [of major festivals], alongside Sheila Whitaker at the BFI London Film Festival, I was surprised by the great imbalance between men and women. At the start I thought the female directors would increase in numbers much more rapidly.”

Lanthimos is himself a favorite at Stockholm; his film “Dogtooth” won the Bronze Horse in 2009; six years later the Greek director received its Visionary Award. This year the same award will be given to Iranian ace Asghar Farhadi, who opened this year’s Cannes with “Everybody Knows” (which also will be shown at Stockholm); American director Mary Harron (“American Psycho,” “I Shot Andy Warhol”) will come to Stockholm to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. Her latest film “Charlie Says,” a portrayal of the notorious Manson family, will have its Nordic premiere at the festival. Ingmar Bergman actress Gunnel Lindblom, also a film and stage director, will receive the Stockholm Achievement Award.

The fact that this year’s opening film is Swedish stands out at a festival that usually showcases only a few Nordic titles. “Our focus is international film and we consistently aim for the highest possible quality. We don’t feel the need to represent a certain territory, but gladly program Nordic film when we find [the right] collaboration.”

As well as “X&Y,” Scheynius picks out “Girl,” “Los Silencios” and “Birds of Passage” as titles to look out for in the lineup.

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