All Artwork by Chloe Leeson
To celebrate International Women’s Day, here at SQ we’re doing what we do best- talking about women in film. Inspired by I.W.D we’re making a huge push to explore every aspect of women in film and will now be running a ‘spotlight on’ section every month where we discuss the greatest women screen-writers, editors, sound designers, costumiers and everything in-between! To keep you busy until then here’s some of our staffers’ favourite and up and coming directors to watch….
Favourite: Lynne Ramsay
Lynne Ramsay is a Scottish writer and director who has been on the scene since her debut feature Ratcatcher appeared at the Cannes film festival in 1999. Ratcatcher is set amongst a backdrop of Glasgow in 1973 and explores the immense poverty that one family faces, particularly through the eyes of the 12-year-old protagonist, James. The concept of children plunged into a world of darkness is one that Ramsay famously explored in her adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. Starring Ezra Miller as the highly disturbed Kevin and Tilda Swinton as his struggling mother, we observe Kevin’s twisted adolescence and the events leading up to a high school massacre. Released in 2011, the film received mass critical acclaim, being described as ‘a masterful blend of drama and horror.’ Completing the triad of her feature length films is the equally brilliant Morvern Callar, the story of a young woman who sells her boyfriend’s unpublished novel after he commits suicide. What is notable about Ramsay’s style of direction are her striking images, with a close attention paid to colour to heighten the unsettling themes of her projects. Ramsay doesn’t present particularly complicated dialogue, instead focusing on cinematography and sound, playing the aesthetics of film to her advantage. Hopefully, Ramsay’s next project is what it is rumoured to be – a sci-fi version of the classic novel Moby Dick, set in space. I have no doubt that Ramsay will explore the gritty themes and present them through abstract, atmospheric visuals which she has done time and time again.
Up and Comer: Marielle Heller
Marielle Heller is a 36-year-old writer and director from California who saw success last year after the release of her first feature length film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Starring Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård and fellow up-and-comer Bel Powley, tells the story of 15-year-old Minnie exploring her sexuality amongst a backdrop of 1970s San Francisco. Heller’s coming-of-age film received a justified amount of praise for it’s an honest portrayal of a young girl’s sexual and creative experiences, her growing independence and her troubled family relationships. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a must-see for every teenage girl out there. Last year, Heller listed her influences for her film, which included other coming-of-age classics like Harold & Maude and The Breakfast Club. In the same article, she criticised teenage films that excluded women, saying ‘there are a number of movies about teenage boys, [in which] the way the girl is feeling in any of those situations isn’t taken into account’, which is just one of many reasons why she’s amazing. Heller’s next project will be the film On the Basis of Sex, in which Natalie Portman will play Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she fights for equality in her career, which sounds like something I will definitely be buying a ticket for. In the meantime, Heller recently won the award for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards, which means she’s definitely somebody to look out for!
Favourite: Mira Nair
I wish we had more from Mira Nair. There is a beauty in her work that strikes me like nothing else! In an interview about the 2012 film The Reluctant Fundamentalist, she states how challenging it was to get funding for a movie where the content is about something that is against America. Also noted in this interview, Nair centres a British Pakistani actor unknown internationally (at the time) against a backdrop of A Listers like Kate Hudson. The fact that the movie was able to be made shows that Nair pushes against challenges to get important and refreshing stories to an audience. Nair’s films are beautiful to me, scenes stick with me for days and the mix of Urdu and English dialogue make me so comfortable. I’m happy I found Mira Nair. In the stunning ‘Mississippi Masala‘, lead actress Sarita Choudhury absolutely wow’s as a young Indian-American women finding love with a black man (played by Denzel Washington). Of course I had some criticism of the movie but I admire Nair for reflecting a sense of self-awareness that this is just one perspective.
Actor Riz Ahmed states that Nair didn’t make ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ with a political motive. While I first umm’d and ahh’d at this analysis – everything is political! – it became clear to me that there is always something else to consider with her movies rather than concentrating on one, seemingly biased, viewpoint. Even with Mississippi Masala, concentrating on relationships within Indian and black communities, there is always room to reflect on more than a few viewpoints. Nair has an ability to create nuanced, non-reductive characters and plots that are otherwise ineffective to me elsewhere in the mainstream.
Favourite: Penny Marshall
I was obsessed with Drew Barrymore as a kid, and this obsession meant watching her films religiously as a child–even the shitty ones (I’m looking at you, Home Fries). One that stands the test of time is Riding in Cars with Boys, adapted from Beverly Anne D’onofrio’s book of the same name. The film owes a great deal of its watchability to director Penny Marshall. Even today, when I think about what movies I could see again and again, her work comes to mind. It’s insane how negatively some critics reacted to Riding in Cars with Boys, citing its sentimentality. And why? Life is very often sentimental. Penny Marshall is great at balancing comedy with drama to achieve a sense of reality. Big, The Preacher’s Wife, Awakenings, and A League of Their Own each manage to deliver the highs with the lows. In the world of film, femaleness is politicized. Female directors aren’t just directors, they’re women—they’re Other. When a guy says his favorite director is Stanley Kubrick, no one bats an eye (except maybe to say they think Barry Lyndon is underrated). When you list a woman as your favorite director, people notice. Despite being over half the world population, women are still treated as a minority within the film industry. Behind the screen, women aren’t represented in the way men are, and female filmmakers are doubted even after they’ve proven their competence. Riding in Cars with Boys was released in 2001, and remains Penny Marshall’s last feature film to date. I’m hoping we’ll hear again from her soon.
Up and Comer: Jennifer Kent
“Well, fuck.” This was my first thought after viewing The Babadook, and it pretty well sums up my feelings toward the film today. My girlfriend and I came across Jennifer Kent’s first feature film late one night while flipping through channels, and we’d heard good things–mostly from other women. Since that night there have been numerous repeat viewings, and each time I notice something different. The camerawork in particular stands out, and it’s clear Kent knows what she’s doing in selecting cinematographers and editors. I’ve spoken with all kinds of people about this movie, and it’s neat to see how one’s sex affects their reading of it. The majority of the women I know had a strong and positive reaction to the depiction of motherhood, as well as the brand of horror Kent was able to deliver through use of subjective narrative. With the men in my friend group, there seemed a fairly general consensus: “It’s good but not scary.” (Interestingly, this assessment was often delivered as fact rather than opinion.) In my own estimation, the film was compelling, visually stunning, and genuinely thoughtful. Jennifer Kent is a vocal proponent of women within the film industry, and I so look forward to her future work.
Favourite: Catherine Hardwicke
If you haven’t heard of Catherine Hardwicke you’ve probably seen, and potentially hated one of her films. This lady right here is the director of Twilight, the 2008 teen phenomenon that put sparkly vampires on the map, and thankfully made me, a gal who loved vampires, feel finally accepted. She also technically introduced me to radiohead and the idea of colour grading in film, so, thank you. Aside from setting off one of the biggest YA adaptations ever, this lady also made the gritty coming-of-age drama, Thirteen. Thirteen is a DIY and complex look at teen friendships and rebellion, starring Nicki Reed and Evan Rachel Wood, the film was shot on a small budget and covers dense topics such as addiction, self-harm and sexuality. She also made one of my favourite films, Lords of Dogtown, a typically ‘male’ film but handled with the emotion and care that she gave to Thirteen. Her grainy, on-the-streets early style made you connect with characters outside of the Hollywood standard; ruffians and drop-outs and rebels.
Believe it or not, but Hardwicke is 60 years old and still kicking it like a 20-something, sometimes I just scroll through her instagram feed and feel out of breath looking at how active and whirlwind her life is. Sure, she’s made some bad movies, namely the horrific 2011 version of Red Riding Hood, but this is also what I love about Hardwicke, she’s a director with staying power, which is rare for a woman director because of the discrimination against them, but Hardwicke comes back fighting, she’s gone from gritty angst-ridden drama to skater biopic, teenage sensation, fairytale adaptation to her most recent heart-warming drama- Miss You Already, which was a complex (if very white) and touching look at the strength of female friendships in the face of adversity.
Up and Comer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Is there any cooler director on the planet right now that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night‘s Ana Lily Amirpour? The answer to that is no. Her twitter icon is cool (an extreme close-up of her in jam-jar glasses), her bio is cool (‘every day is a new chance to not give in to trembling’) and her merging of whatever fucking genre she wants is the absolute pinnacle of cool. She stormed into our hearts in 2014 with self-described ‘Iranian Vampire Western’ with a skate-boarding girl vampire in a chador as the lead character. Shot in b&w and set to a thumpingly brilliant 80s-synth style soundtrack, she showed us that female directors are the best, that genre cinema isn’t dead, and that niche films such as this can be profitable and widely loved by critics and cinema-goers alike. Her mash-up of genres, characters, and references from every aspect of pop culture is not only a breath of fresh air, but EXACTLY what the film industry needs right now. Her next project, The Bad Batch sounds like a dream: ‘a post-apocalyptic cannibal love-story set in a Texas Wasteland’. Jason Moama and Jim Carey are in the leads, so it’s pretty much going to be the greatest thing ever. Why wouldn’t you want to watch something Ana herself describes as ‘Road Warrior meets Pretty in Pink with a dope soundtrack’??
Favourite: Julie Taymor
Although I have only seen two of her films, Julie Taymor is one of favorite female directors. I love directors who take advantage of cinema as a visual medium, pushing the boundaries beyond straight realism. Taymor does this especially well with the beautiful Across the Universe, which uses trippy and kaleidoscopic images to reflect the turbulent decade of the 1960s and theatrically perform The Beatles’ music. I love when directors are able to synchronize the medium of film with music and Across the Universe is one of the best and underrated musical films in recent years. Another work I love is Taymor’s Frida, another film that has striking visuals. Frida’s paintings look as if they’ve been sprung to life with each frame. Taymor’s films represents characters of all races, gender and sexual orientation. Her sumptuous visuals cannot be matched by any other director. Julie Taymor truly breathes new life into film and is vastly under-appreciated.
Up and Comer: Reed Morano
Reed Morano has been a cinematographer or director of photography on excellent films such as The Skeleton Twins, Frozen River and Kill Your Darlings. She recently directed her first feature, Meadowland, starring Olivia Wilde. Meadowland was one of the most beautiful and intimate portraits of grief that I’ve ever seen on film. Morano is not afraid to get up close to her subjects, like Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson, who give amazing performances in the film. Meadowland was absolutely moving and stunning on all levels. Her visceral film will make you feel for these characters to the bottom of your soul. Morano balances haunting, raw and emotional images with beautiful and tender moments. Meadowland is highly recommended. I really look forward to see what kind of stories Morano will bring to the screen in the future.
Favourite: Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola is kind of the patron saint of teenage girls. She is known for her female subjects and poetic depictions of youth and girlhood. She is one of few prominent female directors, and she’s focusing on teenage girls without a creepy male gaze. So of course every teenage girl in the world is going to connect with that on some level, when all we see of ourselves in the realm of independent cinema is Spring Breakers. Coppola takes “teenage girl themes” seriously, honestly, and beautifully. Instead of making a factual bio-pic of Marie Antoinette, she made a coming-of-age film, even placing a pair of converse in Antoinette’s closet to reinforce how young and fun the queen was.
I hate when people (mainly men), don’t take her films seriously, though I also find myself occasionally rolling my eyes at the clichés in her work – though the biggest issue is surely the lack of POC in her films, rather than the rose tinting? To me all this says it that all of her work has such a strong voice and vision it is inspirational! It seems that this “aesthetic” is often not taken seriously because it’s both oversaturated (with Instagram, Tumblr, and Rookie Mag), and also something that’s been created with only teenage girls in mind, like One Direction. It is because of teenage girl’s creativity and collectively obsessive nature that so many of us love, re-watch and re-create her work.
Up and Comer: Amma Asante
Amma Asante is a black British woman and she’s making really interesting work that is culture specific to the UK. Writer-Director Asante’s last film Belle focused on the life of Elizabeth Dido Belle, a mixed race heiress living in 18th century England, niece to Lord Justice. Asante’s period drama portrays conflicted identity many BMAE and dual heritage people feel in England, whilst also dealing with family, romance, and politics. How she managed to do this in less than 120 minutes is beyond me. Seeing a black girl in a period drama – as a protagonist and not a servant just makes me want to scream from the rooftops, especially when it’s an actress as good as Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She also give an amazing Ted Talk:
Assante’s upcoming film, A United Kingdom, stars my favourite British Oscar losers from last year, David Oyewolo and Rosamund Pike.