'I hope we seize the moment': Women take centre stage at TIFF

This year the Toronto International Film Festival made a concerted effort to increase the representation of women both in front of and behind the camera.

One-third of films shown at this year's festival are directed by women

Jessica Chastain attends the premiere for Woman Walks Ahead at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 10. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

This year the Toronto International Film Festival made a concerted effort to increase the representation of women both in front of and behind the camera.

In terms of female-directed films, this year's festival is making serious progress: one-third of the films shown this year are directed by women. That's a festival record.

Other organizations like Telefilm, NBC and the CBC have committed to similar initiatives.

The change in direction might not strictly be in the name of social progress, but rather good business sense. This past summer was one of the worst ever in terms of ticket sales. 

While Transformers: The Last Knight and The Mummy faltered, female-led films such as Wonder Woman and Girls Trip broke records.

And just this week, director Patty Jenkins was confirmed to direct the Wonder Woman sequel, reportedly in a deal that will make her the highest-paid female director in Hollywood.

Directors Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier attend the premiere for Long Time Running at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 13. (Arthur Mola/Invision/Associated Press)

"If you look at the numbers of women represented in this industry — like the hard numbers — it's pathetic. Like 11 per cent of directors are female," says Jennifer Baichwal, who directed the Tragically Hip documentary Long Time Running.

Directors and performers who spoke to CBC News during TIFF are optimistic about the future, but caution that there's still a long way to go.

Writers Sarah Polley, Margaret Atwood, actress Sarah Gadon and director Mary Harron attend the premiere for Alias Grace at the Winter Garden Theatre on Sept. 14. (Sonia Recchia/Getty Images for Netflix)

"I've been giving 'women-in-film' interviews for 20 years, since my first interviews, about, 'What's the situation in women in film?' and, 'When will it change?'" says Mary Harron, director of the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace.

"And the last two years are the first time I can honestly say it's changed. I honestly think it's getting better."

Brie Larson attends a premiere for Unicorn Store at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. (Evan Agostini/Invision/Associated Press)

"I think that the first step is just feeling like your voice is worthy of being heard," said Brie Larson, who's making her directorial debut at TIFF with Unicorn Store.

"That's the scariest part about stepping into the director's chair, is that it's your vision and your way of showing what you think the world looks like."

Larson will also make her debut in the Marvel cinematic universe as Captain Marvel in 2019.

'I make it a priority to try to work with a female filmmaker every year,' says Jessica Chastain. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

"I think it's important not to just talk about wanting to include all voices, we have to actively participate in that," said Jessica Chastain, who is starring in Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game. "I make it a priority to try to work with a female filmmaker every year."

Director Haifaa al-Mansour attends the premiere for Mary Shelley at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 9. (Arthur Mola/Invision/Associated Press)

"It's amazing to have this now at this age a lot of people talking about women filmmakers and women cinematographers, not only as actresses," says Mary Shelley director Haifaa Al Mansour. "It's a wonderful era for women now, and I hope we seize the moment and make films that leave a legacy.

Elevation Pictures co-president Laurie May says there's 'a core female audience' looking for stories about women, told by women, in film. (CBC)

"Women are half of the audience out there, and to give them stories that resonate with them is really important, and certainly, the focus of Hollywood and a lot of filmmakers to try to create those stories," says Laurie May, co-president of Elevation Pictures, the distribution company behind Lady Bird, the directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig.

"There's a core female audience that's craving these [stories], whether it's Bad Moms's success in a funny comedy, or it's hopefully Lady Bird's success in a touching coming-of-age story."

A rebellious young woman (Saoirse Ronan) navigates the pressures and constraints of Catholic school and life in Sacramento in Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig's solo directorial debut. (TIFF)

With files from CBC's Eli Glasner