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Ferry Tales cover photo

Ferry Tales 2003

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Katja Esson, Sabine Schenk, Corinna Sager
Directed by Katja Esson
VHS, color, 88 min.

College - Adult
Women's Studies, Urban Studies, American Studies

Date Entered: 12/01/2004

Reviewed by Michelle Zafron, Health Sciences Library, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

Ferry Tales might very well have been designed for every man with the burning question: just what is it that goes on in the ladies room? Not that one should assume Ferry Tales is about a generic experience; instead it concerns a highly specific subculture, one that occurs in the women’s powder room on the 8:15 AM ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan.

Every weekday morning, a group of women vanish into the ferry’s powder room, usually not to return until the boat docks in Manhattan, and they depart for their jobs. It’s an amazingly diverse group of working women, who might not necessarily have connected otherwise. The powder room is the place where their differences dissolve. The women and the director suggest it’s also a place of transformation. As the women apply makeup, change, and fix their hair, they physically and mentally change into their working personas. One woman describes the experience as one of transition, a place where she can psych herself into going to work. At the same time, it’s very much a social phenomenon. The women in the powder room form a self-described “ferry clique,” one with a whole set of unwritten rules and rituals. They gossip and network and socialize. While they aren’t necessarily friends, there is an empathetic connection among them.

The film was shot during 2001, and the director incorporated the trauma of 9/11 into her piece. In a series of emotional interviews, the women (sitting in various groups of three) recount their experiences as they were disembarking from the ferry as the World Trade Center was burning. Post 9/11, the consensus seems to be that the trauma both strengthened their relationships and brought stress on them as well.

Ferry Tales is very much about an “in the moment type of thing,” as one interviewee terms it. The film is an absorbing look at how women interact and how they juggle their various working and home personas. The camera work is energetic and dynamic, and the finished film is fascinating. Ferry Tales would be a useful addition to collections supporting urban or women’s studies, and is highly recommended.


  • Academy Award nominee