The Female Directors I Love

A Twitter conversation last night with Anna, who blogs at Defiant Success,  got me thinking: who are my favorite female directors?

Having studied film at a women’s college, a significant number of the courses I took centered on women’s cinema. Women experimental filmmakers dominated my course of study. (I can talk your ear off about Marie Menken, Joyce Wieland, Marjorie Kellor, Peggy Ahwesh, but I will spare you.) I was exposed to everything from the MadCat Women’s International Film Festival to the work of German feminist filmmakers to a weekend well-spent at the Anthology Film Archives. This has all come together to help me truly appreciate the work of female directors who are often cast aside by the system.

I always found it painfully ironic that Alice Guy-Blaché directed the first narrative film, La Fée aux Choux,  in 1896. She directed more than 100 films, was the first woman to own and run a film studio, but her impact on film history was largely forgotten until recently.

Guy-Blaché’s career is representative of something greater. Female directors typically have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to get their films made. This has changed only slightly in the last 20 years, even as more and more female directors gain international recognition and even Academy Awards. Women are still most likely to be found working in the independent and avant-garde film circles, where there is a system – so to speak – established that makes it easier for female directors to get films made. Because female directors often work on the edge of the mainstream film industry, their films are sharper, feminist critiques on society than seen in most films.

Here is a list of female directors whose work I always seek out, along with one of their films I recommend.

Chantal Akerman – Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Andrea Arnold – Red Road (2006)
Susanne Bier – After the Wedding (2006)
Jane Campion – Sweetie (1989)
Julie Dash – Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Maya Deren – Meshes of an Afternoon (1943)/ At Land (1944)
Doris Dörrie – Cherry Blossoms (2008)
Su Friedrich – Sink or Swim (1990)
So Yong Kim – In Between Days (2006)
Courtney Hunt – Frozen River (2008)
Samira Makhmalbaf – Blackboards (2000)
Deepa Mehta – Fire (1996)
Mira Nair – Salaam Bombay (1988)
Sally Potter – Orlando (1992)
Kelly Reichardt – Wendy and Lucy (2008)
Helma Sanders-Brahms – Germany Pale Mother (1980)
Agnes Varda – Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)
Margarethe von Trotta – The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975)

I could keep going on and on with this list. Who is your favorite female director? Comment away!

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4 thoughts on “The Female Directors I Love”

  1. Excellent choices. Do you have any interest newcomer Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty? I believe Jane Campion had some involvement with it. Looks like a mixture of Eyes Wide Shut and a David Lynch film.

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