Last month I shared my love for director Ava DuVernay and her contemporaries, and since this month is Women’s History Month I thought why not celebrate five more amazing female directors? This time around I’ll be highlighting five independent filmmakers who truly have a singular vision and voice, and are examples of what adventurous cinema should aspire to be, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Kelly Reichardt’s latest film Certain Women, based on a short-story collection by Maile Meloy, has been getting glowing reviews. This is hardly surprising though, as all of Reichardt’s films have been critical darlings. That being said, she’s a bit of an acquired taste, as her films tend to be slow and meditative in tone and not what I’d call plot heavy. If you’re interested in giving her work a try, I would recommend checking out her neo-Western Meek’s Cutoff. I grew up in Oregon, and in school we studied the Oregon Trail just about every year in K – 8th grade. Hopefully they’ll start showing this movie in schools (to older teens), as it’s really good, and really does give one a sense of what it might have been like to cross the United States at the pace of an ox — scary, lonely, dirty and discouraging.
Before focusing on the working-class experience in America with her new film American Honey, director Andrea Arnold honed her chops by creating portraits of working-class women and girls in her home country of England. Fish Tank was one of my favorite films the year it came out, although it is challenging and difficult (it’s also the first time I really took notice of actor Michael Fassbender.) It’s a unique and very real look at the experiences of 15-year-old Mia and her difficult home life, including having to deal with the advances of her mom’s boyfriend (Fassbender). It’s something of a darker, grimmer companion to 2015’s surprisingly empowering Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Haifaa Al Mansour
This directorial debut by Haifaa Al Mansour is also the first film directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia, and is probably the most accessible pick on this list. Wadjda is a smart, spirited 10-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to own her own bike, something that is frowned upon in the Saudi Arabian suburb where she lives. While it’s not technically illegal for women to own bikes, it is thought of as something that is “dangerous to a girl’s virtue,” and it’s worth noting that this is a society where women are also not allowed to drive their own cars. The film is subtle and humane in how it handles the slowly changing cultural and gender dynamics in a traditionally conservative, patriarchal society and is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
Appropriate Behavior is another promising debut with a unique perspective. Director Desiree Akhavan is Iranian-American and bisexual, and smartly mines her own personal cross-cultural experiences to dissect the difficulty between balancing the demands of one’s family and cultural background and one’s independence and sexual identity. The movie is also bitingly funny, and has more in common with the TV show Girls than with other cross-cultural-coming-of-age films such as Bend it like Beckham.
German director Maren Ade’s latest film, Toni Erdmann, was nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. While it did not win the Oscar, it has been one of the best reviewed films of the year. While you can’t check it out from the library yet, you can borrow Ade’s two previous (and equally eccentric) films, Everyone Else and Forest for the Trees.
Some honorable mentions also worth seeking out: Mia Hansen-Love, Nicole Holofcener, Lynne Ramsay, Claire Denis and Agnes Varda.
What about you? Do you have any favorite female directors you’d like to share with us?
Looking for a good movie to celebrate Women’s History Month?Check out Haifaa Al Mansour's Wadjda!
Tara is a Librarian in the Music, Film & Audio Department, and loves to make film & book recommendations. Some of her interests include gardening, cookbooks, foreign films, comedy albums and devastating literary fiction.