Regardless of what month it is, we recognize the incredible contributions women make to storytelling on screen, and we’re honored to highlight these incredible female writers and directors who are bringing such art, emotion and beauty to Topic and the world.
Tanya Stephan, director of The Missing Children
A mass grave. 796 children’s death certificates. The shame of the Catholic Church. “The Missing Children” explores the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Ireland, where unwed mothers were forced to leave their children behind, and the remains of hundreds of babies were found in unmarked graves, including some in a sewer. This true crime docuseries explores what happened to the babies left behind and those that survived, and the impact on the lives of their families. In anyone else’s hands, this harrowing documentary could be merely horrifying, but award-winning director Tanya Stephan manages to make it not only shocking, but also moving and effective, even leading to an unprecedented apology from the Irish State and more recently, the Cabinet passing the Institutional Burials Bill, which allows for legal forensic evaluation of the site.
Rania Attieh, co-director and co-writer of H.
Originally from Lebanon, Attieh is a powerhouse artist who has received nominations for and won many awards, including the Nora Ephron prize at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019. Attieh frequently collaborates with her partner, Daniel Garcia, with whom she has co-written, codirected, co-edited and produced many films and series, and even established a successful career in fine art with roots in street art and graffiti. H. is one of the pair’s more recent films, in which two seemingly unrelated Helens of Troy (New York) descend into madness after an alleged meteor strike sets off a series of inexplicable, life-altering events.
Emily L. Harrold, director of Meltdown in Dixie
In 2015, Tommy Daras took over the Edisto River Creamery ice cream shop in Orangeburg, SC. One of his first moves as the new owner was to take down the confederate flag that had flown there for over a decade. What follows is an epic battle between Tommy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans who believe the “Old South” is disappearing. In documentary filmmaker and Orangeburg native Emily L. Harrold’s deft hands, this short Topic original documentary film paints an intimate portrait of confederate symbolism in modern America and the lingering racial oppression these symbols help maintain. “Meltdown in Dixie” won Best Short at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in 2021 and was a 2022 duPont-Columbia Awards Finalist.
Maria Melenevskaya, co-writer of An Ordinary Woman
It takes a very delicate balance of humor and tenderness to create a show that works as well as this Russian dramedy does. The “Ordinary Woman” here is Marina, who’s dealing with a cheating husband, a truant teenager, a diva daughter, and a potential birth defect in her unborn child. But those are the least of her problems. She’s just discovered that the top escort from her clandestine high-end sex worker ring has been murdered in a luxury hotel room. Somehow, none of this seems too far-fetched or depressing; in fact, it’s often laugh out loud funny, thanks to the skilled touch of Maria Melenevskaya and her co-writers.
Rebecca Zlotowski - series co-creator and director of Les Sauvages
“Les Sauvages” is part political thriller, part soap opera, and part discourse on civil society in France. Zlotowski co-created the series with Sabri Louatah, who wrote the novel upon which it was based. This rollercoaster ride starts with Idder Chaouch, a politician on the verge of becoming the first ever person of Arab descent to be elected President of France. His campaign, which represents optimism and hope, is threatened by family and racial politics after an assassination attempt is made on his life. In directing “Les Sauvages,” her first drama series, Zlotowski hoped to create something beyond TV, a “work of art.” We think she succeeded.
Cara Jones, writer and director of Blessed Child
It’s hard to imagine the bravery and strength it took Cara Jones to write and direct this documentary film, as she is also it’s main subject. Using her own extraordinary footage, Jones walks us through her life growing up as a “Moonie,” a member of Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, widely accepted to be a cult. “Blessed Child” is as personal as it gets, as Jones details her marriage to a stranger (arranged by the Reverend) amongst 10,000 other couples, and her struggles with identity and family. Her parents were still members of the church at the time of filming, and her brother Bow, a gay man who had to cope with the movement’s homophobia, acted as the film’s cinematographer.
Dorte Warnoe Hogh and Ida Maria Ryden, co-creators and writers of When The Dust Settles
This multi-plot thriller kicks off with a terrorist attack in Copenhagen, but really focuses on eight strangers and how they impact each other’s lives in the aftermath. Despite the action-oriented opener, “When the Dust Settles” is really about how each of our individual decisions and actions have far-reaching consequences for other people, even ones we don’t know. Given this focus on interconnectedness, it’s no surprise that the series was created and written by a pair of communicative women. In fact, Hogh and Ryden have acknowledged that while writing, they discussed the effects our everyday actions have on other people and how central that is to the series.
Nora Mandray, co-director/co-writer of Eli: A Dog in Prison
Mandray is a French filmmaker based in Berlin, but in this moving Topic Originals documentary, she takes on the American prison system with candor and compassion. “Eli: A Dog in Prison” is a study in contrasts: cute, cuddly, innocent Eli is an unruly yellow lab puppy, and the three men tasked with training him to become a highly disciplined guide dog are three hardened criminals convicted of crimes like second-degree murder. Mandray does an artful, nuanced job of portraying the tenderness, patience, and pain of the prisoners and the remarkable transformative power that caring for Eli has on them.
Elvira Lind, director and writer of The Letter Room
Lind not only directed and wrote this Oscar-nominated short film, the film’s star happens to be her husband, Oscar Isaac. Lind deftly extracts a delicately balanced performance out of Isaac, making him somehow sympathetic despite his role as a prison guard who relishes his job invading the privacy of the prisoners by reading their deeply personal mail. The result is what Film Critic MaryAnn Johanson describes as, “the gentlest indictment of the American criminal justice system that I’ve seen yet.”