Friday, 21 August 2015

Personal Challenge: Name 10 Female Directors

Sunday's Short Stack line-up
  I've seen many (in fact, increasingly more) articles about the lack of female film directors, and a lack of women working in film in general. In spite of the fact that I am a woman working in film, it's not really an issue I've actively looked into.

  This weekend, the curators of Short Stack (Nottingham's indie film night) are doing a female filmmaker's special edition, with films solely directed by women. (For the record, they're kindly screening one of my films - the extended cut of The Dress, which will be premiering there before going online).

  The strong line-up at this night proved that there are a lot of female filmmakers locally, but it made me ask myself... can I actually name ten women directors outside of the local circuit? I can easily name 10 - 20 male filmmakers pretty much instantly, but can I do it with the opposite sex?

   The restrictions: they need to have released films under the recognized box office system - so I had to exclude other great, non-local independent filmmakers I know. The second restriction: no women who are known best as actors before turning to directing, like Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, Romola Garai or Elizabeth Banks. Which also kind-of ruled out Madonna.

   And to my surprise, I couldn't do it. Sure, I put a bit of pressure on myself (I gave myself a day to do it - after that mark had passed, I remembered Maya Deren, Amma Asante, Lana Wachowski, Andrea Arnold, Kathryn Bigelow and Carol Morley) and I couldn't get the wonderful Jane Goldman out of my head, who is a writer, not a director.  Also, frustratingly, I wrote down Third Man director Carol Reed, thinking they were female! But still, it was quite an eye-opening exercise for me.

  But at least the six I could name have done wonderful work. So, without further ado, here is who I thought up, in no particular order - and why they should be celebrated....

Agnes Varda

   To my shame, I've never seen one of Agnes' fiction films, much as I'd like to. But she was one of the many directors I learnt about during my time at Film School, and she stuck in my memory after I saw her documentary film The Gleaners & I.  

   She took a standard film about a traditional, hands-on career, and decided to put a personal spin on it; she got distracted during filming by a clock without hands, and took time out to film the clock, whilst gliding past it like a silent hummingbird. A barmy but brilliant woman!

Lone Scherfig

   A director who's work is instantly recognisable through visual cues - dusky settings, chiefly blue and gold colour pallets, and characters who take time out to lie on rooftops or in the streets. 
   Her limitations with colour may not please every eye, and she's never matched the critical success of An Education, but all of her films are intimate, moving character studies (even the brutal The Riot Club) and I find them so beautiful to watch.


Jane Campion

   Actually one of my favourite directors, male or female. See the poetically beautiful but still character-true Bright Star and you'll see why.

   I was lucky enough to see Jane Campion in person, when I attended a talk of her in Cannes. She revealed the method behind her actors' naturalistic performances; she runs the scene through ones as scripted in rehearsal, then she runs it again, and say 'play the part as you - say what you would say in this situation'. She then takes the best bits from these improvisations and works them into the final scene. Genius.

Sally Potter

  Another of my favourite directors - and another I was lucky enough to see in person, when I won the chance to attend a talk with her (and a copy of her book) at Bradford Film Festival. Ginger and Rosa is probably my favourite of hers (coincidentally, starring Jane Campion's daughter) but it's her method I love the most. She really cares about her directors, often putting her arms around them on set, and she even took a starring role in one of her films - The Tango Lesson - to understand the acting process better. And then she wrote her book on that subject. Plus, she took control of Tilda Swinton for her very first major directing job; not many newbies would have the courage to do that!

Sofia Coppola

   Although I'm often dismissive of filmmakers who are successful due to their parents' fame, I think that Sofia Coppola's films deserve to exist outside of her father's shadow.

  True, she hasn't repeated the critical and commercial success of Lost in Translation (although The Virgin Suicides is a first class film, and Marie Antoniette was fairly popular with audiences), all of her films have a uniformly dreamy style, so steadily paced that they seem to move along like prose.


Sam Taylor-Johnson

   I'll admit, I thought of Sam last, when I was really trying to come up with names. I have nothing against her, but I've not seen any of her films, minus a few minutes of Nowhere Boy (which, from what I saw, seemed good!). I have heard a few good things about her, and I'm curious to see what she makes next, after the out-of-her-hands 50 Shades of Grey.

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   So, I may not have been able to name many female directors on my first attempt. I will strive to discover the work of more, and to be more wise about the current gender bias in the media. But at least everyone I thought of has done some great work. That's something to be thankful for.

   Do you want to support female filmmakers? Come along to Short Stack's female filmmakers special on Sunday. The venue is a cool record store in Nottingham, and what's more, tickets are free - you just have to be quick to get a seat!

  If you come, you'll also hear muggins here say a few mumbled words to introduce the extended cut of The Dress. What more could you want?

Sophie


Further reading: 100 Great Movies by Female Directors  by Little White Lies.