I was reading online about the #FavWomanFilmmaker hashtag campaign, to highlight awareness of film directors who are women — still statistically unfavoured by various movie industries, as I’ve certainly been discovering this year. Anyway, as this seems like something everyone should get behind, and as I do love lists (I have a page dedicated to listing all the films by women I’ve seen since I started this blog), I wanted to contribute.
First, though, there are so many women directing excellent films right now, I don’t even know where to begin, and choosing one favourite seems impossible. So in the absence of any better criterion, I’ll start autobiographically.
I grew up in New Zealand, so it’s fair to say that Jane Campion has been pretty inspiring. Her early feature films Sweetie (1990) and An Angel at My Table (1990) are both fantastic, and she has taken up the long-form TV format of the latter recently with Top of the Lake (2013) to quite a bit of success. I’m perhaps less enamoured of The Piano (1993) than most people, but I’ll rep for The Portrait of a Lady (1996), Holy Smoke (1999), In the Cut (2003) or Bright Star (2009) at a moment’s notice. She has a fantastic and consistently excellent body of work.
Still, I can’t leave this at just one, so — using from here a strictly alphabetical ordering system — the other key directors who were putting out films in my early filmgoing years (the 1990s), and who are still active, include:
- Rakhshan Bani-Etemad: an Iranian director too little of whose output I have seen, but whose Nargess (1992) I adored as much as her recent film Ghesse-ha (Tales, 2014);
- Catherine Breillat: she has a series of tough-minded explorations of female sexuality, most notably À ma sœur! (Fat Girl, 2001), but I also have fond memories of that same year’s Brève traversée (Brief Crossing), which I must revisit;
- Claire Denis: seriously guys, Beau travail (1999) is one of the greatest films ever, full stop;
- Sally Potter: you’ll know many of her more famous works, but I want to highlight the underrated The Tango Lesson (1997).
Looking back to earlier decades, trailblazers in many ways:
- Chantal Akerman: sadly died just this year, but has a peerless body of work dating particularly to the 1970s with such films as Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (The Meetings of Anna, 1978) and Jeanne Dielman (1975);
- Dorothy Arzner: had a strong Hollywood career in the 1930s and 1940s with such key works as Dance, Girl, Dance (1940);
- Vĕra Chytilová: for Sedmíkrásky (Daisies, 1966) if for nothing else (that I’ve seen, and that’s my failing);
- Danièle Huillet: directed and edited a series of bold and perennially-divisive structuralist works with her husband Jean-Marie Straub, like Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, 1968);
- Larissa Shepitko: a career cut tragically short, but Voskhozdenie (The Ascent, 1977) should live forever at the top of best-ever lists;
- Agnès Varda: a key figure in the French nouvelle vague whatever the auteurist male critics may try and suggest.
More recent directors to have caught my attention in a big way have been:
- Andrea Arnold, a bold stylist of the cinema;
- Sofia Coppola for her deceptively gaudy Marie Antoinette (2006) and above all The Bling Ring (2013);
- Josephine Decker, who has a far more delicate touch in many ways, making these weird, evanescent but harshly uncompromising stories about women;
- Mia Hansen-Løve, who can even make self-involved dudes seems interesting, as in Eden (2014);
- Kim Longinotto, whose films (like this year’s Dreamcatcher) intersect unapologetically with social justice issues in communities around the world;
- Sarah Polley, a Canadian actor more recently turned director, with a great feeling for compelling narratives;
- Kelly Reichardt, whose attention to landscapes and a sense of place has been particularly peerless;
- Céline Sciamma for her stories of fluid gender identities, particularly Tomboy (2011).
A few directors who urgently need to be making more films:
- Desiree Akhavan
- Lucile Hadžihalilović
- Marielle Heller
- Kasi Lemmons
- Carol Morley
- Gina Prince-Bythewood
- Athina Rachel Tsangari
And finally, some whose names I look back on and wonder whatever happened to their feature film directing careers. I don’t daresay there may have been reasons that extend beyond the contours of industry sexism, and I know some are still active in other media, but it’s still a pity. Unless of course it turns out they’re still going strong in which case, hey distributors, WTF?
- Carine Adler Under the Skin (1997)
- Allison Anders Grace of My Heart (1996)
- Sadie Benning some fine short films in the 1990s like Flat Is Beautiful (1999)
- Lidia Bobrova V toy strane… (In That Country, 1998)
- Émilie Deleuze Peau neuve (New Dawn, 1999)
- Marleen Gorris Antonia (Antonia’s Line, 1995)
- Alison Maclean Jesus’ Son (1999)
- Moufida Tlatli Saimt el Qusur (The Silences of the Palace, 1994)
Those are just some names that come to mind. There are directors I’ve missed off, and there are directors whose works I haven’t yet caught up with. In short, there is, I believe, a bold and inspiring future for films directed by women.