A telling family drama dressed up as a drug trafficking flick.

Kicking off with a documentary portrait of the brilliantly prickly Broadway legend Elaine Stritch and closing with a romantic drama led by Orange Is the New Black star Taylor Schilling, SIFF's Women in Cinema festival is a five-day showcase of films by, about, and starring women. For full descriptions of the fest's nine films and screening times, see siff.net. For now, mini-reviews of two featured films.

Free Ride

Based on a true story and set in an expertly art-directed 1970s, this engrossing drama follows single mother Christina (Anna Paquin) as she relocates with her two daughters to Florida and quickly finds herself embroiled in the drug trade. In a quietly brilliant twist, director Shana Betz keeps the drug-trafficking scenes prosaic to the point of dullness, with involved parties mostly just waiting around and doing degrading grunt work. Instead, the film finds its heart and the majority of its drama in Christina's family. There's a hint of Mildred Pierce in how Christina's desire for a better life for her daughters drives her to do extraordinary things, and how the daughters' open disdain of lower-class living sends her beyond legal deeds. But simplistic melodrama is handily bypassed, with the film collecting good, messy moments for all three of the family's women—especially elder daughter MJ, a conflicted teenager brought to indelible life by Liana Liberato, a young actor filmmakers should be clamoring for in the next couple years.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

Dan Geller and Danya Goldfine's alternately dreamy and titillating documentary tracks the extraordinary events that unfolded on an uninhabited island in the Galapagos in the 1930s. Our main players: a Nietzsche-loving German doctor seeking nothing but isolation for contemplation, the pregnant woman who brought herself to the island hoping the Nietzsche-loving doctor might assist in her delivery (he refuses, as he came here to be left alone), and the flamboyant French baroness who arrives on the island with a small stable of lovers and a dream of building a hotel. What happens next involves guns, drought, turtles, adultery, media circusry, and a murder scandal, brought to the screen by archival footage and photographs, and celebrity narration (often incorporating letters written by actual parties). It's bizarre and fascinating. recommended

Women in Cinema 2014 runs January 22–26 at SIFF cinemas. For full info, see siff.net.