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Celebrating diversity and representation, the work of talented women filmmakers around the world received a well-deserved stage at SXSW 2023.

It’s the final part of my four-part SXSW Short Film showcase (read part one, Best of the Fest, here, read part two, Best Animated Shorts, here, and read part three, Best Music Videos, here), and you might be right to ask yourself if I saved the best for last.

As if we needed another reason to love SXSW, I present one of the prestigious fest’s most important and respectable attributes: its unwavering commitment to a diverse representation of voices and visionaries.

Representation was strong in all categories and all aspects — from the stories being told to the storytellers behind those unique and indelible stories. And it’s not just that we got so many women-driven films, but we got films from LGBTQ+, minority, and global voices who don’t always receive this kind of powerful platform and the opportunity to shine on a global stage of this magnitude.

There was such a vast array of truly exceptional women-driven projects showcased at this year’s SXSW that I couldn’t keep this list to just five films. From the surreal to the sublime, the hilarious to the moving, the tender to the challenging, and everything in between.

These are the ten films that most moved me, thrilled me, made me think, or made me feel. They are the films I couldn’t stop thinking about and the ones I couldn’t wait to talk about. In honor of Women’s History Month, I urge you to seek out these filmmakers, support their work, follow their artistic endeavors, and take time to discover some of the most assured and original voices working in the genre today.

1. Pennies From Heaven (Sandy Honig)

In this quirky, irreverent, impossibly charming comedy short from director Sandy Honig, two eccentric twin sisters embark on a wild adventure after stumbling upon a truck full of pennies.

The film stars the comic duo of Annabel and Sabina Meschke, who wrote the film along with Honig. They play identical twin sisters, Cher and Jacobson-Schmidt, who have shared an identity since birth. From the moment they came out of the womb, they were treated like one person, even sharing a name, with one sister getting the first name and the other getting the surname. They do everything together, including working at the Taint’s Convenience store.

A pair of masked men attempt to rob the store, but they are terrified by the twins, who they assume must be demons. The would-be robbers run off, leaving a truck full of stolen pennies behind.

What follows is a series of wacky vignettes as the now “wealthy” pair take a road trip to celebrate their windfall of at least five dollars. They begin at a diner, where they meet a pair of twin brothers who invite them to a secret club for twins. One delightful dance number and sneaky swindle later, the girls are left to save the day at a dying Penny Museum.

This hilarious little oddball took home the Special Jury Award in the Midnight Shorts category at SXSW, and it’s pretty easy to see why.

2. Vibrator Girl (Kara Strait)

The intriguingly titled Vibrator Girl is about the terrible side effects of compulsive self-pleasure. More substantially, it’s about the dangers of addiction and the heavy weight of distorted body image, especially for women.

A young woman, Marianne, is masturbating with her big blue vibrator. Disturbingly, blue liquid seeps out of her mouth. She visits her doctor to discuss some concerns she’s having, which include hair loss and skin problems. To make matters worse, she’s convinced her vibrator is talking to her. She also confesses the reason she prefers self-pleasure to a romantic partnership is due to significant insecurities regarding her physical appearance.

In the face of such troubling physical and mental ailments, her doctor casually diagnoses her with carpal tunnel syndrome due to excessive masturbation and prescribes a wrist brace and some yoga classes.

Desperate for help, she seeks out an alternative class for women looking to explore their sexuality and get in touch with their erotic divinity in the absence of men or sex toys. But it doesn’t help. And she pushes her fears and anxieties aside for another session with her vibrator — an addiction she knows is killing her but one that compels her just the same.

A surreal exploration into body dysmorphia, loneliness, obsession, and our complicated relationship with sexuality and the pursuit of pleasure, Vibrator Girl cleverly uses a titillating title and subject matter to subvert expectations and deliver a shockingly unsexy and poignant reflection of real-life horror.

Talking about the film, director Kara Strait explains:

“This story forces us to imagine what it feels like to become alienated to one’s own body. It confronts us with the startling failure of healthcare professionals to take care of (or even listen to) women. It questions even the most uplifting and spiritual narratives about what femininity is or should be.”

She goes on to explain:

“It’s obvious why this had to be my first film project as a transwoman – the script resonated with everything I’d shared about my transition: the dysmorphia, the alienation, the desperate need to know myself, and the paralyzing fear that maybe I never would.”

Vibrator Girl is directed by Kara Straitand, produced by Morgane Ciot and Zoe Mintz from the production company Zorg Productions.

3. Mother of the Dawn (Janell Shirtcliff)

Mother of the Dawn

Mother of the Dawn is an enlightening documentary short about a virtually unknown matriarchal religion founded in Brazil by a charismatic truck driver turned medium, mentor, and spiritual guru.

In the early 1950s, in a remote corner of Brazil, a female truck driver named Tia Neiva started having visions of extraterrestrial spirits. Claiming she could always see and talk to spirits, even from a very young age, she realized she could also see events before they happened. She began to hone her skills and built a community of like-minded individuals. That community eventually became a religion called Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn), w