In celebration of International Women’s Day I thought a quick blog post about my favourite female directors would be a good idea. As we’re all painfully aware, the proportions of female to male directors in Hollywood and mainstream cinema are very biased (and that’s not even including non-binary filmmakers!) I’ll include a few articles about this at the end of the post, but in summary, as of 2014 there was a 5:1 ratio of men:women working in the industry, with cinematographers (98% men) and directors (91% men) being the most biased. Like many people, I believe on choosing filmmakers based on their talent, not their gender, so yes you can argue the familiar sentiment that we shouldn’t give people positions ‘just because they’re *insert social group here*’ however I think anyone will agree that over ninety percent being one gender, is not just a coincidence.
I won’t turn this post into a long tangent about inequality in the film industry, but I think it’s safe to say we should unequivocally celebrate the female directors we do know about. So, I’m going to share my favourites with you!
5. Jamie Babbit
Credits include: But I’m a Cheerleader (1999), Breaking the Girls (2013), Fresno (2015)
But I’m a Cheerleader was one of the first girl/girl films I watched, and it inspired my love for Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall (a creative partnership I am forever in awe of). Babbit manages to make what seems your typical queer romantic-comedy into a film that is both a normal rom-com which happens to be queer, and a rom-com which is unashamedly in-your-face gay. It deals with serious topics of conversion therapy and homophobia, but still manages to have you laughing at every other line and fully invested in all the characters. Babbit’s knack for dealing with heavy issues in a warmhearted, comedic way can be seen throughout all her projects, and Cheerleader will forever remain a classic in the lesbian archives.
4. Celine Sciamma
Credits include: Water Lillies (2007), Tomboy (2011), Girlhood (2014)
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I made the connection between Water Lillies, a sweet coming-of-age film I watched when I was about fifteen, and Girlhood, a striking comment on femininity and female friendships. When I realised it was the same director I went back and watched the acclaimed Tomboy, which follows a 10-year-old on their journey of self-discovery through gender identity. Sciamma’s films all have the same sense of quiet detachment as we follow the characters through pivitol life stages and relationships. While we can relate and feel connected to the characters, there remains this sense of distance almost as though we’re watching ourselves or a loved one grow up.
3. Sian Heder
Credits include: Tallulah (2016)
Heder’s only credits include some writing on Orange is the New Black (2013-) and a few short films, so I personally resonated with her as a first-time feature writer and director. I watched Tallulah at the end of 2016, mostly for Ellen Page if I’m honest, and I was truly blown away by Heder’s writing and directing. You would never guess that this was Heder’s first rodeo. The film is beyond charming, a word I rarely attach to films. The flow of dialogue is flawless and impeccably pulls you between heart-warming family moments and hilarious ‘quirkiness’. The youthful innocence and fresh perspective Page’s character presents feels to me possibly metaphorical for Heder’s first forray into feature films. I cannot reccomend Heder’s little film (which has a most cliched big heart) enough.
2. Patricia Rozema
Credits include: When Night is Falling (1995), Mansfield Park (1999), Into the Forest (2015)
Undoubtedly my favourite film of 2016 was Rozema’s Into the Forest. Rozema is another director whose earlier work I never connected to her most recent films, having first seen When Night is Falling in about 2012. While all Rozema’s films seem drastically different, they are consistent in excellent direction. Into the Forest jumped into my top five favourite films and its impact doesn’t lessen with rewatches. Rozema’s eye for visual storytelling, particularly in using the landscapes and locations to evoke powerful feelings of awe, inspiration or ominous fear are forever impressive to me. She draws you into the world of her films so seamlessly that when the experience ends you realise you have been holding your breath the entire time and leave the viewing still absorbed in the film’s world and immersed in the atmosphere.
1. Kelly Reichardt
Credits include: Old Joy (2006), Meek’s Cutoff (2010), Certain Women (2016)
Finally, at number one and in my top three directors (and writers) of all-time, we have Kelly Reichardt. What can I even say about Kelly Reichardt? The best thing to come out of 2016 for me was discovering Kelly Reichardt. In a few days I lapped up her entire body of work and have been eagerly awaiting Certain Women ever since. The amount of excitement and pride I feel when reading its reviews is ridiculous! Reichardt is one of those directors who just makes you… feel. One of those filmmakers whose films overwhelm you not with any particular emotion, just an entire feeling of heightened senses and a kind of dreamlike solitude where you’re encased in this bubble with the film. I adore Reichardt’s technique of slow, deliberate filmmaking which focusses most often on women and “glimpses of people passing through” in small town American life. Another thing I love about Reichardt is that her style of directing resonates with my own so much: in interviews she’s said how pedantic she is with the tiniest of details, such as whether a birdsong sound effect was from a species local to the film’s setting. This kind of eye for detail is what I believe gives her films their sense of ease and simplicity – the amount of thought placed in the creation leads to the smoothest and most mesmerising art.
As I cannot leave any list post without a bunch of honorary mentions, here they are:
Andrea Arnold (American Honey, 2016)
Carol Morley (The Falling, 2014)
Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, 2003)
Jordan Scott (Cracks, 2009)
I hope you all had a wonderful IWD 2017. Let’s smash that celluloid ceiling!
Articles on the film industry’s gender bias:
New York Film Academy (2014)
The Guardian (2014)
The Hollywood Reporter (2014)
USC Annenberg (2015)
The Huffington Post (2016)
San Diego State University (2017)