Most emphasis on women in film right now revolves around the dismal numbers of female directors allowed to make Hollywood blockbusters, but women are seriously ruling the indie world, even if they're barely represented by the vast number of "prestigious" film festivals. Ahem, Cannes.
Hollywood execs and film festival programmers will cite that it’s not technically their jobs to promote equality in the industry and that they know there are great women filmmakers out there, but gosh-golly they just don’t know where to look! To answer that, I'd like to offer up a few women you can pay attention to—both new and established—in the hopes that maybe someday we'll have the power to demand more women directors, and at least now we'll have a few names to demand.
Of course any list like this could never cover the thousands of women making films, but here’s a good start. (PS Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is in theaters now. Invest your dollars in a female-driven box office and GO SEE IT!)
A Scottish writer/director who broke on the scene with the haunting Ratcatcher in 1999, Lynne Ramsay has not only created roles for women in her films, but has also allowed her women to inhabit spaces that are never purely good or evil.
In her last feature We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011), Ramsay directed Tilda Swinton as an ambivalently devoted mother grieving the loss of her family and her imprisoned son who killed them and half of his high school class. For those of you who’ve dabbled in the horror/thriller genre, but lament the miserable one-dimensional characterizations of women, this one is for you.
Her other work can be slightly lighter, but you’ll always find unexpected humor and humanism. Plus, she’s not afraid to speak her mind about the “bullshitters and backstabbers” of the film industry.
Julie Delpy is the queen. I once sneaked into a USC-only event to hear her Q&A, where she ended up answering none of the male moderator’s questions and all of her own. Read any of her interviews, and you’ll find yourself pumping a fist, cheering her on.
Once a muse of Jean-Luc Godard, Delpy ventured into screenwriting with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, then went pretty much everywhere, making The Countess, a drama about a medieval queen who bathes in virgin blood (yeesh!), to the hilarious 2 Days in Paris, which was largely ignored by critics, but is one of the funniest romantic comedies in years. Top that off with the ensemble '70s comedy film Le Skylab, and her new excursion with Linklater, and Delpy’s one of the most successful women in the business, and one of the surliest.
Like many of the filmmakers you’ll find on this list, Reichardt’s developed a full-package approach to filmmaking that most of Hollywood can’t seem to comprehend. Every film pays meticulous attention to music, sound, framing, and design, which results in epic movies like Meek’s Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams (Reichardt’s frequent collaborator). If you like your indie cinema a little strange, but still with a narrative you can follow and feel with, Ramsay is the master of accessible surreal.
Mentored by Spike Lee at NYU, Dee Rees has been directing short films for over a decade, so when her feature film Pariah, the story of a black lesbian teen navigating a world not meant for her, was acquired by Focus Features, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Rees has been willing to touch subjects other filmmakers fear are too dangerous to make money, but it seems to have paid off.
Now she’s set to direct This Man, This Woman, the Southern thriller Bolo, Large Print, and an HBO series with Viola Davis. We are eagerly awaiting.
Ana Lily Amirpour
In the past 5 years, Ana Lily Amirpour has shown up on numerous lists, like the Adrienne Shelly Fellowship list from the Tribeca Film Festival and the LA Film Independent Directors Lab Fellow list.
Amirpour’s background is somewhat musical, and she seems to have gotten her film bug bite from making music videos, but her short film A Little Suicide, a darkly adorable stop motion/live action story of a cockroach ready to end it all and failing miserably, combines all of talents in painting, music, design, and film.
Look for her feature film in development, The Stones, the story of a gay Iranian-American boy learning what rebellion truly is.
Joni Lefkowitz & Susanna Fogel
During the infamous writers strike, Lefkowitz and Fogel took cameras into their own hands and made the successful comedy webseries Joni & Susanna. Hollywood took notice, but we all know that Hollywood takes forever.
The two went on an indie route, bringing their feature film Life Partners to the prestigious Sundance Labs, and in the past 6 months have both inked a deal to be executive producers of their ABC Family show Chasing Life and wrapped principal photography on Life Partners, the story of two best friends who vow not to get married until both of them—gay and straight—can get hitched. Starring Leighton Meister and Gillian Jacobs, this one’s sure to be a crossover indie-mainstream hit, especially if we come out to the theater and support them.
In the past few years, Logan Kibens has been a Film Independent Project: Involve fellow, an HBO/DGA Directing fellow, and a Sundance Labs fellow, along with her partner, writer Sharon Greene. Their upcoming feature film Operator tells the funny/dark story of an obsessive computer programmer who bases the personality for a digital customer service voice on his girlfriend, forcing him to come to terms with some heavy personal issues through technology.
For all those geek girls out there wishing for some sci-fi made by women, this may be your next favorite movie. Because Operator is still in pre-production, you can get your fill of Kibens’s work with her latest music video for MAESA here.
Shawneé Gibbs & Shawnelle Gibbs
The Gibbs sisters are completely unclassifiable. They make comics, magazines, animated shorts, TV shows, games, and a webseries called Old Ladies Driving about two old women driving in a Cadillac, which absolutely represents the Gibbs’s sense of style and humor—simple concepts, original and hilarious execution. There’s a good chance Hollywood will snap these two up soon, but to be sure it does, check out their work and give them some solid Youtube views to show execs WE ARE INTERESTED.
Vichit-Vadakan is one of many new directors reinventing Thai cinema. Her film Karaoke Girl traces the real-life story of a young woman, Sa Sittijun, who is sent to Bangkok to work in a factory and send money home to her family, only she’s forced to work as a lady of the night to make ends meet.
Instead of basing the story on true events, Vichit-Vadakan worked with Sittijun to craft her story in a full, artful re-enactment of the events, starring Sittijun herself and her real-life parents and friends. The result is a low-key, but visceral and moving film, easily one of the most daring entries on the festival circuit.
Did you see Bridesmaids and wish you could have gotten something even crazier and boundary breaking? Headland’s Bachelorette unfortunately bears a similar name to the Kristen Wiig hit, but it’s a huge and hilarious departure from the other equally successful and funny movie.
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, and Rebel Wilson, Bachelorette was easily one of the funniest films to get a limited-theater release last year. Subverting expectations and stretching the roles of women in film, Headland knows how to criticize a lady and make her laugh at the same time. She’s on the cusp of Hollywood right now, so look for more of her work and give her a bump!