Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Short, FERRY TALES exposes a secret world that exists in the powder room of the Staten Island Ferry.

2003 | 40 minutes | Color | 16mm/DVD | Order No. 05853


Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Short, FERRY TALES exposes a secret world that exists in the powder room of the Staten Island Ferry--a place that brings together suburban moms and urban dwellers, white-collar and blue-collar, sisters and socialites. For 30 minutes every day, they gather around mirrors to put on their makeup – talking not as wives, mothers, or professionals, but just as themselves. Sassy and honest, they dish on everything from sex scandals to stilettos, family problems to September 11th, leaving stereotypes at the door and surprising viewers with their straight-shooting wisdom.

In broaching such topics as divorce, single motherhood and domestic violence, FERRY TALES goes beyond the surface to show us the realities of life for working women. A rare and honest look at the intersections of race and class, this heartwarming film is also a must have for women’s studies, urban studies and sociology departments. Utterly charming and often outrageous, FERRY TALES gives these unlikely heroines their moment in the spotlight.


'Esson's film gives a fantastic glimpse into one of the countless secret sub-cultures of New York. Her brilliant portrayal rethinks class and gender and turns our ideas of the suburban/urban divide on their head...with important lessons for sociology, women's studies, and urban history alike."

K.E. Fleming New York University

Highly recommended...Absorbing ...a useful addition to collections supporting urban or women’s studies.”

Educational Media Reviews Online

“A delightful microcosm of a diverse group of women…their views of the world, race, relationships, and the challenges and the joys of the working woman in today’s society.”

Meira Blaustein Executive Director, Woodstock Film Festival

“An exploration of a floating community, both transitory and enduring, cliquish and inclusive, performative and insular, this engaging documentary gives new meaning to the notion of the transference of identity…an important contribution to the study of gendered space, racial politics, and urban class dynamics.”

Joseph Boles Dept of Humanities, Arts, and Religion, Northern Arizona University


  • Academy Award Nominee for Best Short Doc.
  • Annapolis Film Festival - Honorable Mention
  • Underdog Film Festival - First Place
  • Woodstock Film Festival - Honorable Mention
  • Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
  • Brooklyn International Film Festival
  • New Orleans Film Festival
  • Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival
  • Exground Filmfest, Germany - European Premiere
  • Sarasota Film Festival
  • Austin Film Festival
  • Seattle International Film Festival
  • Florida Film Festival
  • Palm Springs International Film Festival
  • Adelaide International Women's Film Festival
  • Frame by Frame Documentary Film Festival
  • Dallas Video Fest


Katja Esson

Katja Esson is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, born in Germany and based in Miami. Known for her intimate character-driven documentaries tackling race, class, and gender, her credits include WMM release FERRY TALES, which turns the unlikely setting of the Staten Island Ferry Powder Room into a celebration of sisterhood (HBO 2004). In 2007, HOLE IN THE SKY - THE SCARS OF 9/11 received the Gold-Award at the World-Media-Festival. Her 2011 film SKYDANCER, a WMM release, about two Mohawk ironworkers torn between the Akwesasne reservation and New York City, received nominations for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography at the Shanghai Film Festival and premiered on PBS and ARTE in 2011. Katja’s POETRY OF RESILIENCE, a WMM release, was nominated for the Cinema for Peace Award in 2012. Her five-part documentary series BACKROADS USA (2014) and AMERICAN RIVERS (2016) premiered on ARTE and PBS in 2018. A Simons-Public Humanities Fellow at Kansas University, her films have screened at the Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian. Katja’s work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Knight Foundation, ITVS, IDA Enterprise, NYSCA, the Redford Center, Sundance and the Ford Foundation. (10/23)


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