It’s half-way through 2013 now and in many ways, professional women are having it better now than at any point in the past. It would be incredibly glib to say that there’s equality in the workplace now: consider the fact that women only hold 4% of the CEO titles at Fortune 500 companies. Some might say that big business isn’t a particularly progressive part of society – that corporate structures are created by conservative men with socially conservative agendas. Perhaps.
But deep in Hollywood, California –in the belly of the entertainment beast where the stories are largely liberal in sensibility and they make movies about plucky young gals who prove themselves equal to men– only 1 in 15 film directors are women!
Just think about it: Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to ever win an Oscar for Best Director and it only took until the 82nd Academy Awards for it to happen! On top of that, she was only the 4th nominee IN HISTORY.
Bigelow has always been an exception throughout her career. Even though she is a woman, she has always had a very powerful leaning towards genre films: a territory that many would identify as male. With a filmography that includes macho surf/crime movie Point Break, redneck motorhome vampire horror Near Dark and bomb disposal thriller The Hurt Locker, you wouldn’t say that Bigelow makes films ‘for women’. Zero Dark Thirty is actually the first feature she’s made with a female protagonist – and even in this case, it’s about a woman having to ‘masculinise’ herself so that she can do her job in a man’s world.
We can only imagine how tough it is to be a woman making films in an industry where your primary audiences are assumed to be males aged 15-36. But that’s an entirely different topic for another time (watch this space).
To celebrate release of Zero Dark Thirty and the much-ignored sisterhood of quality filmmakers, we’re throwing the spotlight on some of our favourite double-X chromosome directors working in the English language today! If you haven’t heard of these filmmakers before, we recommend you search them out!
1. Catharine Hardwicke
Like many directors, Hardwicke cut her teeth in another aspect of the movie trade: in her case, as a production designer. Working with filmmakers like Cameron Crowe and David O Russell, she made the jump into directing features with Thirteen, a no-holds barred coming of age story starring a then-unknown Evan Rachel Wood. Just five years and three films later, she would go on to direct the first film in the incredibly successful Twilight franchise.
Unquestionably the best of the series, Hardwicke’s film is the only one of the films that seem remotely grounded in reality, presenting the story’s young female protagonist as a real person and not the cipher she would soon become in the later movies.
Off the back of Twilight’s success, Hardwicke seemed to have the world at her feet. But after the disappointing performance of Red Riding Hood, she’s since returned to the indie film bush leagues. It would appear that the studios have a very short memory. Her next film, a thriller titled Plush, is listed on the IMDb as being in ‘post-production’.
2. Sofia Coppola
Along with Bigelow, Coppola is one of four women to have ever received an Oscar nomination as a director, scoring big with her sophomore feature Lost in Translation. While it’s true that her subsequent films have been in no way as big as her melancholic tour of Tokyo with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, her choice of projects would suggest that she’s not looking to work within the studio system. Somewhere functioned as a slow meditation on fame and ennui while her funky take on Marie Antoinette really divided those audiences who ended up seeing it. Things could be changing, however, as her latest film, The Bling Ring, looks set to be a relative hit. Coming out this summer, it stars a post-Potter Emma Watson as a celebrity-obsessed teenage burglar and is easily her best film Translation. Watch out for it!
3. Lynne Ramsay
With her first two features, Lynne Ramsay quickly established herself as one of Britain’s finest feature directors. Her style combined social realist themes and strong characterisation with a powerful grasp of photography and music. After 2002 release of Morvern Callar and elevation to cult status, Ramsay delivered a shocking and powerful adaptation of Lionel Shriver best-selling novel We Need to Talk About Kevin.
In the 9 years between the release of Morvern and Kevin, Ramsay had worked on an adaptation of The Lovely Bones, a project which would have perfectly suited her sensibilities. After Ramsay’s adaptation was found to have significant departures from the novel, the film ended up in the hands of director Peter Jackson, who released it in 2009 to a poor box-office showing.
More recently, Ramsay made news again after her abrupt departure from the production of a Natalie Portman western Jane Got a Gun. Although her reasons for leaving were very unclear, this article from film.com makes a good point about the way in which this news was covered. Their basic point is that the language widely used by the entertainment media draws on all of the worst female stereotypes: in effect suggesting that she was being hysterical and PMS’ing.
Her body of work is relatively small, but there’s no denying her incredible talent and promising future.
4. Sarah Polley
Even though she’s just 34 years old, Canadian Sarah Polley is somewhat of a movie veteran. You might recognise her from her days as a child, actress starring in Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen. Or perhaps you know her as the lead in Zack Snyder’s excellent Dawn of the Dead remake. But for fans of independent cinema, she’s known for her stunning debut Away From Her. A tender and sympathetic look at Alzheimer’s effects on its victims and their loved ones, the film won its star Julie Christie her first Oscar nomination since 1971’s McCabe and Mrs Miller. She followed that up with Take This Waltz, the surprisingly nuanced Seth Rogen/Michelle Williams drama about a young woman torn between passion and commitment.
This year will also see the release of Stories We Tell, a documentary that’s ostensibly an oral history of her family. The premise sounds a little self-indulgent but word is that it’s absolutely amazing and a real entertaining film as well. So, check that out at your local art house cinema in a few months’ time.
5. Mary Harron
Having cut her teeth in the world of documentaries, Mary Harron shot onto the Hollywood radar with her debut feature I Shot Andy Warhol, which followed the real-life story of feminist Valerie Solanas’ attempt to assassinate the titular pop artist. But it wasn’t until her 2001 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho that her work really entered the public consciousness. Scenes featuring Christian Bale have since been endlessly parodied, culminating in this particularly meta Funny or Die sketch.
Her next film, a liberal-minded biopic of 50s pin-up Bettie Page, received a decent critical reception while her 2011 horror film The Moth Diaries only just arrived in UK cinemas less than a few weeks ago. She’s an attentive director with a great eye and an interesting perspective on feminism. In short: she would have been perfect for one of the later Twilight episodes.
6. Lexi Alexander
With only 2 theatrical films under her belt, German-born Lexi Alexander has made the most of her opportunities, crafting two very different pictures. Her debut feature was Green Street, (known elsewhere as Green Street Hooligans) which saw Elijah Woods’ American exchange student fall in with a dangerous West Ham firm. In the recent history of movies about tough young cockneys getting into trouble, it’s actually one of the better ones. But it’s actually her follow-up that really should have marked her out as a director to watch.
Punisher: War Zone was a sequel/re-boot to an earlier Marvel film starring Thomas Jane. Taking on an entirely new lead actor in Rome’s Ray Stevenson, Alexander made an insane, graphic, balls-to-the-wall action film with gun battles that rival anything John Woo has made. If you don’t believe us, check out this incredibly violent clip.
The film ended up tanking at the box-office, slamming the brakes on her studio career. But in a marketplace where audiences can’t get enough of OTT Michael Bay-style action, Lexi Alexander really needs to be given another shot at blockbuster glory.
7. Nicole Holofcener
The step-daughter of famed producer and Woody Allen collaborator Charles H. Joffe, Holofcener has made her name with a fine line of darkly funny films about the affluent middle classes (mostly starring Catherine Keener). If you have to start somewhere, why not check out her 2006 comic drama Friends with Money: an ensemble piece about a woman in her 30s (Jennifer Aniston) who has to cope with the fact that all her friends have become rich while she still has to take housecleaning jobs. Typical of her work, it’s thoughtful, character-conscious and intelligent in the way it explores its topics.
Likewise, her 2010 movie Please Give stars Keener as a successful business-owner who wrestles with guilt as she tries to reconcile her own good fortune with the suffering of others around her. Take it from us: both of these films are definitely worth seeking out and are incredibly easy to watch despite any misgivings you may have about indie cinema.
Her next film is in post-production and it stars Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus — watch out for it at an arthouse cinema near you!
8. Michelle MacLaren
One of the finest visual directors today hasn’t even made a single feature film, having worked through the recent Golden Age of Television. Starting off as a production manager and building up to a producer credit on shows like the X-Files, MacLaren turned the heads of TV fans with her work as a director on Breaking Bad. As that show’s producing director and most prolific shot-caller, she’s been responsible for a crafting the most cinematic sequences we’ve ever seen on the small screen.
The parking lot shoot out in Season 3 (spoiler clip)? The prison montage at the end of Season 5? Those were both done by her.
While balancing her responsibilities on that particular show, she’s also found time to direct episodes of other blue chip programmes like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead (the episode where they find out what’s in the barn? That’s her as well!). Privileged enough to be working on telly at a time when the quality of writing far exceeds Hollywood movies, it’s unclear whether she would even want to make the jump to feature films. But if she ever does, we’ll be lining up for tickets on the first weekend.
Meek’s Cutoff (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
The Kids Are All Right (dir. Lisa Cholodenko)
Fish Tank (dir. Andrea Arnold)
Ginger & Rosa (dir. Sally Potter)