There is no denying that there appears to be a numerous amount of male directors that receive incredible recognition for their work. Directors such as, Qeuntin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese have all received awards and praise for their cinematic intelligence. Although there are many successful male movie makers, gender inequalities are slowly starting to change and more women are beginning to be recognized for their work. Jen and Sylvia Soska have recently made a splash in horror circles with their feature debut American Mary (2013), meanwhile the Academy Awards have recently taken notice of Kathryn Bigelow’s contributions to the film industry. But female directors have always been around and many are even household names – despite their lack of official awards, the women in the following list can qualify as successful, by the way fans and critics appreciate their work and by their dedication to keep going, leveling the playing field great film by great film.
6. Deepa Mehta: “I like stories that tell us something about the world we live in”
Drawn to the political, Deepa Mehta is a filmmaker who always has something to say. She is strong-willed and never wavers. This has been most obvious during the process of directing three films that have become known as the highly controversial Elements Trilogy. The set is comprised of Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2001). Fire takes a look at the condition of women, gender discrimination, and same sex romance in India. When the film screened in India there were protests and threats to burn down the theater. Earth goes on to explore the difficult break between England, India, and Pakistan. It includes scenes of graphic violence associated with racism and prejudices. Water quickly became a subject of heated debate when Mehta decided to use it as a platform to investigate the conditions of widows in 1950’s India, who were forced into confinement. The story is told through the eyes of a young widow, still living with her parents. She struggled to understand what has become of her life. Mehta was forced to stand her ground while shooting the film when she came under fire by hoards of angry protesters. Eventually, legislation forced her crew to pack up and shoot the film in Sri Lanka. Against all odds, Mehta’s powerful films continue to be made, allowing her messages to get to the public.
5. Sarah Polley “I want my world to get bigger and not end up in a small corner”
Actress turned Director, it has been a privilege to watch Polley’s career blossom. Starting off on The Road to Avonlea, and moving on to more daring and deep roles such as Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter and Isabelle Coixet’s My Life Without Me, Polley proved she could do it all, including Hollywood. She has starred in box office hits such as Dawn of the Dead in 2004, but remaining true to her Canadian roots has turned down big roles (Almost famous) to focus on local independent pictures. It was no surprise when she began developing an interest in creating her own work. Her three directorial features for now, Away From Her, Take This Waltz, and Stories We Tell have all been critically acclaimed. Michelle Williams was even honoured at the Hollywood Film Festival winning Best Actress for her leading role in Take This Waltz alongside Seth Rogen. The story follows Williams’s character as she begins to question her happiness, only to find that her sexual awakening is just around the corner.
4. Sophia Coppola: “It’s annoying that now in the movies you have to clear it if you want to use a Coke bottle”
Daughter of the Great and Powerful Francis Ford Coppola, Sophia has success coursing through her veins. Some of her most notable works include Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, and Marie Antoinette. Despite her heritage, it is only fair to credit her personal style and signature music choices, as having helped develop her into a household name. Her films, though always a little sad, captivate with aggressive colour pallets, calculated cinematography, and popular songs that manage to enhance the viewing experience even though it is clear that they don’t always seem to fit. It’s no surprise that she has become a critical success. She became the first American woman nominated for Best Director in 2003 for Lost in Translation, and this film also won her an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Furthermore, it launched Scarlett Johansson to a new level of fame. More recently, Coppola became the first woman to receive the Golden Lion (the top award at the Venice Film Festival) for Somewhere. The film features the young Elle Fanning as Cleo, the estranged daughter of a Hollywood actor.
3. Amy Heckerling: “A lot of my movies were completely destroyed by the censors, who can be pretty arbitrary”
Her directorial feature film debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) not only launched some Hollywood acting careers such as, Sean Penn’s and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s careers, but has been credited by critic/academic Robin Wood as anticipating almost everything in the teen movies of the 1990’s. Her niche for capturing the images and feelings associated with coming-of-age in America continued to drive her success with Clueless, and even manifested itself to some extent within her uncredited work on Night at the Roxbury. Today she continues to work in television, directing for series with similar focuses of youth and American culture – notably Gossip Girl and Surburgatory. Even if her name gets forgotten from time to time, her voice can always be recognized in the words of her archetypal characters.
2. Catherine Hardwicke: “The fact that men and women are nominated this year in films that women have directed is good for women filmmakers generally”
From 2003 on, Hardwicke has been steadily producing works that have received critical success, box office success, and cult status. Her debut film direction was Thirteen, a dark coming-of-age story that followed a young girl’s decent into drugs and depression. The film was co-written by Hardwicke and the film’s 15 year old co-star, Nikki Reed for whom the film was semi-autobiographical. The intense subject matter got everyone’s attention and the film was an instant success and garnered multiple Academy Award nominations. Hardwicke continued along her path of success with Lords of Dogtown, The Nativity Story, Twililight (the biggest ever opening for a female directed movie), and Red Riding Hood. As of late, she has been spending some time in television and is currently in the primary stages of a new series, Eye Candy which will be a Drama laden with suspense, set in the dangerous world of online dating.
1. Kathryn Bigelow: “If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that”
Most people love Bigelow’s movies. Her earlier works – Near Dark (1987) and Strange Days (1995) garnered plenty of attention, but in 2008 she made history when she became the first woman to win Best Director at the Oscars for the contemporary war epic The Hurt Locker. But wait, there’s more. She was also the first woman awarded Best Director by the NY Film Critics Circle. In 2013, Bigelow continued her legacy winning Best Director for the second time from the NY Film Critics Circle for a similarly themed film, Zero Dark Thirty. The film dramatizes the events associated with the capture of Bin Laden and as such, has been quite controversial. Needless to say, her work always has people talking and of course, that’s always considered good thing in Hollywood.