This is my first blog post in a long time that hasn’t been a shameless self promotion of one of my own films, and I’m writing it because I think a really important step towards ratifying the dearth in female representation in the film industry is for female filmmakers to support each other and promote the work of the women who inspire them. With that in mind I have created this list of my top ten favourite films by female directors.
Enjoy and please share, as many of these films are fabulous works of cinema that have not had the same platform or promotion as their male-directed counterparts!
10) Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley
Stories We Tell is an inventive, touching documentary about director Sarah Polley’s mother and the tales that inform her families memories of her. Through intimate interviews with her family members, and her late mother’s lovers, Polley pieces together what little truth can be found out about her mother’s vivacious life in a heartwarming tribute and journey of discovery that is unlike any documentary I have ever seen for its raw, personal honesty and exploration of the human condition and relationships.
9) Appropriate Behaviour – Desiree Akhavan
This funny, reflective and again deeply personal film from New Yorker Desiree Akhavan explores the challenges of coming out when you come from a Persian family. The story is told predominantly through flashback and unravels a tale of a life divided, between the excitement of new love, self acceptance and a metropolitan lifestyle and the traditions of a family immersed in a culture that denies you the right to be yourself. Big subjects tackled with dry, ballsy humour. (…Dry ballsy? Sounds painful!)
8) It Felt Like Love – Eliza Hittman
A mumbling ode to that time in every girls life when they’re “not a girl, not yet a woman” (thanks Britney). The story follows awkward constant-third-wheel Lila as she pursues an obsession with being in a relationship with a thuggish older guy to impress her more sexually experienced friend. Wrought with all the confusion and aching longing of burgeoning female sexuality this might not resonate with the boys in the audience (Oh no!) but it really hit a raw nerve for me and I admired it’s unflinchingly honest approach to the subject.
7) Red Road – Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold has become one of the big name female film directors of our time following the success of Fish Tank, and more recently massive traction for American Honey at Cannes 2016. But her debut feature film Red Road is my favourite in her canon to date. A stellar performance from the mesmerising Kate Dickie and a script electrified by drama and impending danger in every page make this film stand out as one of the best debut features I’ve ever seen, regardless of the gender of the filmmaker!
6) Belle – Amma Asante
Belle is as its name suggests, beautiful in every way. Fabulously shot with all the gorgeously rich textures of your average period drama, Belle has a distinctly different aesthetic due to Asante’s choice to use bolder colours than we usually find in the mis en scene of this genre. That’s not the only way in which Belle breaks convention, told from the point of view of a black heiress in the 1700’s this film allows us a unique insight in to a life and experience that we are rarely given the opportunity to explore in cinema, and a history lesson that brings to light some of the most influential and underrepresented characters in the fight to end slavery in England. Crafted with masterful precision, Belle is a defiant and heart wrenching love story that left me in buckets of tears.
5) Adult Life Skills – Rachel Tunnard
This one is still in the cinemas at time of posting! Go see it, now!! Laughed my arse off at this quintessential British comedy drama. A really warming, uplifting film with incredible performances from Jodie Whittaker and Brett Goldstein, who have become possibly my favourite unfathomably awkward on screen romance. What I enjoyed most about watching this film was the hoots of laughter emanating from the male members of the audience whenever jokes about periods and women’s sexual organs cropped up – See, our experiences are f***ing funny people!! It truly gave me hope.
4) Lost in Translation – Sofia Coppola
One of the better known films on my list but no less worthy of a mention is Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s nuanced exploration of loneliness and what it means to her characters as a man and woman at very different stages of their lives. Coppola creates a very real and touching story from small incidences and encounters in this film, building a delicately melancholy romance set to the backdrop of a city all at once bustling and isolating. A seminal piece of work in the female filmmaking archive.
3) Selma – Ava DuVernay
Selma is often overlooked when discussing female directed films, perhaps this is because it doesn’t focus on a female protagonist, or maybe (and this may be controversial, shocker!) it’s because it was so damn good that the average audience member didn’t even question whether a man or woman had directed it. Most probably just assumed it was a man. (-.-) Selma would make my Top 10 on any favourite film list, it’s subject matter is of course one that instantly strikes a chord with almost every human being on earth but apart from that, from a cinematic standpoint, it contained some of the most striking and breathtaking metaphoric imagery I’ve ever seen. Again, I got through about three packets of Kleenex on this one.
2) The Diary of a Teenage Girl – Marielle Heller
Yes, yes, yes on so many levels, yes. It’s about a creative teenage girl, exploring her sexuality, in the 70’s, starring three unbelievable actors. What the hell is not to love!? This film knocked it out of the park for me. Bel Powley’s performance as the sex obsessed Minnie, hell bent on pursuing a relationship with her mother’s boyfriend played by Alexander Skarsgård (so many people weren’t going to watch it, and just changed their minds..) is a wonder. She manages to tow the line between immaturity and explosive sexual energy in a role that could so easily have been misinterpreted by a lesser actor, or under the guidance of a lesser director. I can’t say enough about how awesome this film is so just go watch it, oh and if you don’t believe me Marielle Heller won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature for it last year. Believe.
1) Mustang – Deniz Gamze Ergüven
This film, this mind-blowingly perfect film, caught me completely off guard. Five sisters living in a rural Turkish town dealing with impending womanhood and arranged marriages – how the hell can I relate to this? I thought. I was a fool. I have never related to something so much in my life, not because I have to live a reality like theirs (thankfully) but because this was the most honest representation of girlhood I have ever seen on screen. It moved me to tears simply watching scenes in which no particular drama even took place, just watching these girls being around each other in the way that girls really are. Despite the fact that their stories centred around being forced into arranged marriages and sexual encounters that for the most part they didn’t want, not one single character in this film was meaninglessly sexualised, nor did any of them seem to be there simply to serve the plot of a male character, nor did they feel like they were written by someone who didn’t understand what it is actually like to be a girl. BECAUSE IT WASN’T. And that’s the point, that is why every one of these films is important. Because women know what it means to be a girl, to be a woman, and to be in the middle not knowing what the f**k is going on. And if I, as a white middle class woman from a first world country, can be moved to tears just from feeling represented on screen by this film then imagine how even more acute minorities must feel as they scramble to find some semblance of themselves on screen.
This is important. Our voices are important. Our lives are important. And I hope that the recent trends in support for female and minority filmmakers will not be just that, a trend, but will instead give rise to a new kind of cinema. A cinema that we can all feel represented by and one that will nourish filmmakers in telling the stories that so many of us are hungry to find.