10 Women Directors You Should Know by Judy Berman
Kathryn Bigelow may have been the first female filmmaker to win a Best Director Oscar for 2009′s The Hurt Locker. But did you happen to notice that for the most recent Academy Awards, the nominees in the same category were all men — in a year when two movies directed by women, Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right, were up for Best Picture?
Gender inequalities exist throughout the arts, but they’re especially pronounced in the rarefied world of film directing. We all know a few big-name women filmmakers: Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Susan Seidelman, Catherine Hardwicke, Nora Ephron, Julie Taymor. In honor of International Women’s Day, we present ten great, contemporary female directors who you may not know but should definitely check out.
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has spent the past two decades making resonant, personal, independent films that center on the lives of regular women. Balancing drama and insight with a sharp wit, Holofcener coaxes subtle, realistic performances out of her ensemble casts — a talent that earned her (along with her actors and casting directors) a special Robert Altman Award at last month’s Independent Spirit Awards. We’ve also got to give Holofcener a shout out for spotlighting one of our favorite actresses, Catherine Keener, in every single one of her features.
A French filmmaker raised in various parts of Africa, Denis makes films that focus mostly on France’s African and other immigrant populations. Her movies are impeccably composed and edited, generally stick close to a few main characters, and proceed at a slow meditative pace. These are art films with an irresistible humanist touch.
Kelly Reichardt may only have a few films to her name, but she’s easily one of the most exciting voices of independent cinema’s new generation. Although she debuted in 1994 with the acclaimed River of Grass, Reichardt didn’t release a new movie until 2006′s Old Joy, which cast Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy) in a pensive roadtrip movie about a dissolving (or evolving) friendship. Reichardt has come to specialize in minimalist character studies of young people struggling to find their place in the world, the best of which is 2008′s heartbreaking Wendy and Lucy.
French filmmaker and novelist Catherine Breillat is known for telling brutal stories that mash up fairy tales, sisterly rivalry, and extreme sexuality. She’s been making films since the ’70s, but it was her bluntly titled 2001 breakthrough, Fat Girl, that won her a captive American audience. To truly enjoy Breillat, you have to appreciate her cruel sensibility — and for those of us who love it, she’s a perennial favorite.
The daughter of legendary American playwright Arthur Miller, Rebecca Miller wears many hats: she’s a writer, actress, and director who often adapts her own books. Like Holofcener, her absorbing dramas focus mostly on professional women in literary milieus — although Miller’s 2005 film, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, which stars her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, as an environmentalist raising a teenage daughter alone, is a strong exception.
Although she now makes her home in Canada, Deepa Mehta’s creative heart belongs to her birthplace, India. She is best known for her Elements Trilogy (Fire, Earth, and Water), a set of three films, made over the course of a decade, that dramatize pressing controversies — religion, homosexuality, the treatment of women — that consume her homeland. Now, Mehta is collaborating with Salman Rushdie on an adaptation of his book, Midnight’s Children.
Lena DunhamOf all the filmmakers on this list, Lena Dunham is by far the youngest and least experienced. And yet, at only 24, she already has one smart, entertaining, micro-budget movie under her belt, last year’s Tiny Furniture – which she wrote, directed, and starred in, winning a Best First Screenplay nod at the Independent Spirit Awards. Now, all signs point to a long, successful career: Back in the fall, HBO greenlighted Girls, a half-hour comedy series about 20-something ladies with backing from Judd Apatow
Mary HarronA spare, keen-eyed, and pop-minded writer/director, Mary Harron came up as a music journalist in New York’s ’70s punk scene. She’s only made three features, each zeroing in on a controversial cultural figure or work: deranged feminist and SCUM Manifesto author Valerie Solanas, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and pinup queen Bettie Page. Although it’s been six years since her last film, Harron has directed episodes of some of our favorite TV shows (Big Love, Six Feet Under) and is working on perhaps our most anticipated movie of all time, an adaptation of Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s essential oral history of punk, Please Kill Me.
Ondi TimonerShe may not have any Academy Awards under her belt, but Ondi Timoner is one of current cinema’s most perceptive documentary filmmakers. We first marveled at her light-handed storytelling in 2004′s DiG!, which followed bands the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre as they navigated art, fame, and (in the latter’s case) mental illness over a period of seven years. Lately, Timoner has turned her attention to the intersection of science, technology, and private lives. Her narrative debut, which we absolutely can’t wait for, will be the biopic Mapplethorpe (yes, as in Robert).
Sally Potter is an odd one, no doubt about it. Originally known for her avant-garde, feminist short films in the ’70s, Potter eventually brought her artsy aesthetic to full-length movies. Not every critic has embraced her non-linear way of working, which eschews static characterizations and straightforward plots in favor of narrative and linguistic experimentation, but we find that her films are always thought-provoking, even when they aren’t resounding successes.
Women experimental filmmakers
Although experimental film tends to be male-dominated as well, women have had a good deal of success penetrating the high-art realm of cinema. In addition to Sally Potter, we’ve listed some of our favorites below:
She first made her name in the early 1990s as a teenage video maker from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Raised by her mother in inner-city Milwaukee, Benning left school at age 16, primarily due to the homophobia she experienced. Her earliest works, made from the time she was 15, were shot with the Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera, which recorded pixelated, black and white video images onto standard audio cassettes. The Fischer-Price PXL-2000 camera used in her early works that brought her to the spotlight was a Christmas gift from her father, experimental filmmaker James Benning. At first Sadie was standoffish to the PixelVision camera. “I thought, ‘This is a piece of shit. It’s black-and-white. It’s for kids. He’d told me I was getting this surprise. I was expecting a camcorder.”The majority of her shorts combined performance, experimental narrative, handwriting, and cut-up music to explore, among other subjects, gender and sexuality. Her work was twice included in the Whitney Biennial.
Friedrich graduated from Oberlin College in 1975 and made her first film, Hot Water, in 1978. Her films regularly combine elements of narrative, documentary, and experimental styles of film-making and often focus on the roles of women, family, and homosexuality in contemporary America . She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY, and is currently a Professor in the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton University, where she has taught film and video production since 1998.
From the onset of her career in the late 1970s, Su Friedrich has been a leading figure in avant-garde filmmaking and a pivotal force in the establishment of Queer Cinema. Her work has radicalized film form and content by incorporating a feminist perspective and issues of lesbian identity and by creating a remarkable and innovative synthesis of experimental, narrative and documentary genres. Friedrich’s films are multi-lingual, moving fluidly between the personal and the political, from autobiographical films about family to the investigation of society’s notions of sexual identity. Her rich cinematic palette, which includes home movies, archival footage, interviews, and scripted narratives, has resulted in a thrilling body of work that continues to influence and inspire new generations of independent filmmakers.
(born 6 June 1950) is a Belgian film director, artist, and professor of film at the European Graduate School. Akerman’s best-known film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), exemplifies a dedication to the ellipses of conventional narrative cinema
Akerman was born to an observant Jewish family in Brussels, Belgium. Her grandparents and her mother were sent to Auschwitz; only her mother came back. This is a very important factor in her personal experience, and her mother’s anxiety is a recurrent theme in her filmography. Akerman claims that, age the age of 15, after viewing Jean-Luc Godard‘s Pierrot le fou (1965), she decided to make movies the same night. At 18 she entered the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des Techniques de Diffusion, a Belgian film school. During her first term, however, Akerman chose to leave and make Saute ma ville, a thirteen-minute black-and-white picture in 35mm. Akerman partially subsidized Saute ma ville from shares she sold on the Antwerp diamond exchange, procuring its remaining budget through clerical work. In 1971, Saute ma ville premiered at the Oberhausen short-film festival. This same year Akerman moved to New York and remained there until 1972.
At Anthology Film Archives in New York, Akerman became impressed by the work of Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow, and Andy Warhol. She states that Snow’s La Région Centrale introduced her to the relationship between film, time and energy.¹ Her 1972 feature Hotel Monterey and shorts La Chambre 1 and La Chambre 2 reveal structural filmmaking’s influence through their usage of extended-duration takes. These protracted shots serve to oscillate the films’ images between abstraction and figuration. Akerman’s films from this period also signify the start of her collaboration with cinematographer Babette Mangolte.
In 1973, Akerman returned to Belgium and, in 1974, received critical recognition for her feature Je tu il elle. In 1991, she was a member of the jury at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival.
According to the book Images in the Dark by Raymond Murray, Akerman refused to have her work ghettoized, and she denied the New York Gay Film Festival the right to screen Je tu il elle. “I will never permit a film of mine to be shown in a gay film festival.”