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 writer/director based in New York City.

Born and raised in Germany, Esson brings a quirky European sensibility to the distinctively American subjects she chooses. Her documentary short, FERRY TALES, which turns the unlikely setting of the Staten Island Ferry Powder Room into a celebration of sisterhood received an Academy Award®-nomination in 2004 and premiered on HBO.

In 2006, Esson completed HOLE IN THE SKY - THE SCARS OF 9/11 (New York im Schatten der Türme), which premiered on ARD and received the Gold Award at the World Media Festival. A Season of Madness (2006) is a narrative short film based on a short story by best-selling Author Hanan al-Shaykh.

Her documentary, SKYDANCER, is about the Mohawk ironworkers who are responsible for constructing America's cityscape; the film is a provocative examination of Native American life in the 21st century. Other credits include VERTICAL TRAVELER which explores the pioneering spirit of New York City through the metaphoric story of the city's unique relationship with elevators; LATCHING ON about the politics of breastfeeding in America; and "HOOKER, HARLOT, WHORE, about the history of prostitution in Europe. POETRY OF RESILIENCE is about six international poets who have survived - and written about - some of the world's most unspeakable crimes against humanity. The film received a Cinema for Peace Award-nomination during the Berlin Film Festival in 2012. Esson's films have screened at film festivals around the world and been broadcast on HBO, PBS and ARTE among others.

Esson has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council of the Arts and the Jerome Foundation. She has been nominated for the Rockefeller Media Arts and the USA Artist Fellowships and is a recipient of the the Simons Public Humanities Fellowship.

Esson is currently in production with Cantineros De Cuba, a film that reflects on the story of Cuba, a country undergoing its greatest transformation since 1959. She also has created, written and directed two 5-part series for ARTE: Backroads USA (2013) and American Rivers (2016). (03/19)


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